The best extension ladder
Extension ladders come in numerous sizes, from around 16 feet to more than 40 feet. They provide a quick, convenient, and affordable way for DIYers and business owners to carry out tasks that would otherwise require extremely expensive mechanized equipment. There's lots of choice, but picking the right one isn't just a matter of getting the height right. We've been looking at what's available, and our findings will help you decide which is best for you. Our favorite, the Louisville Ladder, is a very well-made, general-purpose model, equally suited to the homeowner and to a variety of commercial uses.
Considerations when choosing extension ladders
All extension ladders should carry a duty rating (or class) that specifies purpose and load. Maximums are for the user and their gear, and must not be exceeded.
Light duty (homeowner). Type III. Supports up to 200 pounds.
Medium duty (general commercial). Type II. Supports up to 225 pounds.
Heavy duty (industrial). Type I. Supports up to 250 pounds.
Very heavy duty (industrial). Type IA. Supports up to 300 pounds.
Maximum duty (specialist industrial). Type IAA. Supports up to 375 pounds.
Today's extension ladders are almost always made of aluminum or fiberglass -- neither is prone to rust. Aluminum is lighter (and favored for shorter ladders), but isn't as strong or as stiff as fiberglass. Cheap fiberglass extension ladders have been known to crack, but it's not a common problem -- particularly if you invest in quality.
Fiberglass also has the advantage that it doesn't conduct electricity. However, it can deteriorate when attacked by the sun's UV rays, so you should always store it in shade when not in use.
Rungs are usually 'D'-shaped, and may be ribbed to provide a little extra grip. They are either bolted to the frame (a four-point attachment), or inserted through a hole in the frame, and then the end is crimped over so they can't come out. Although this method is often claimed to be more secure, they can work loose over time. Though highly unlikely to come out, they can rotate when you put your foot on them, which could cause you to slip.
The U.S. safety standard covering extension ladders is ANSI A14.4. In Canada, it's CSA Grade 1 or 2. There's no legal requirement to make extension ladders to these standards, but many of the better manufacturers do.
Most extension ladders are fitted with some kind of security clip to stop the top part from sliding down accidentally under load.
A rope is fitted to taller ladders to help you raise and lower them. Nylon is more durable than natural fiber.
Non-marring pads/hand holds are often fitted to the top, to reduce the chances of the ladder marking whatever it's resting against.
Better models have steel feet with rubber grips. These swivel, providing a larger contact area with the ground, and therefore more stability.
A few models come with a leveling system so you can keep your extension ladder upright on sloping ground, or on a stepped area. Bear in mind there's a limit to the angle they can accommodate. Similar devices are also available separately, but it's important to check compatibility.
Extension ladder prices
Given the strength and safety demands, it's no surprise that there's really no such thing as a cheap extension ladder. You're unlikely to find one built to the proper standard under $100. A good quality 28- or 32-foot model will cost you between $300 and $400 and is all most people need. Heavy-duty industrial extension ladders can easily be $800 or more.
Q. What are the safety precautions for using an extension ladder?
A. Before use, check that the whole structure is sound -- no cracks or loose rungs. Use a 4:1 ratio for the angle against the wall: for every four feet of height, move the bottom out one foot. Make sure the legs rest securely on a firm surface, and it doesn't rock from one leg to the other. Once up on the ladder, never stretch or reach far out to the sides; climb back down and reposition the ladder.
Q. How do I calculate the best ladder height?
A. It's tempting just to go big, but that can make storage a problem. Better to be specific, if possible. The safe reach from a ladder is one foot more than its maximum height. You should stand two or three rungs down from the top for proper balance. It might be possible to reach higher, but you should never stand on the top rung. So, as an example, the roofline of an average two story house is 25 feet. If you want to clean the gutters you need a 24-foot ladder.
Extension ladders we recommend
Best of the best: Louisville Ladder FE3228, 28-Foot Extension Ladder
Our take: A superb all-rounder for home and trade use.
What we like: Clever latch and lock mechanism provides excellent security. High quality throughout with great attention to detail. Rated Type IA for 300 pounds.
What we dislike: A bit heavy. Latches can stick occasionally.
Best bang for your buck: Werner D6216-2, 16-Foot Extension Ladder
Our take: A good value model for DIY tasks around the home and garden.
What we like: If you don't need great reach, this is a well-built alternative. Rated Type IA for 300 pounds. Lower section can be used on its own.
What we dislike: Poor factory packaging can lead to damage in transit. Short.
Our take: Big industrial-grade ladder for professional use.
What we like: A brand known for quality. Immensely strong, rated Type IAA for 375 pounds. Well designed and durable. Long-lasting nylon rope.
What we dislike: High price.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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