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Most of us need a ladder now and again, whether we’re painting, putting up holiday decorations, or clearing out the gutters. Extension ladders, which can be adjusted to various heights, are particularly convenient when the job at hand is far from the ground.
Although you may have used an extension ladder on occasion, choosing one for purchase can seem quite daunting. For one thing, they’re sold in a wide range of lengths, from roughly 16 to 44 feet. What’s more, there are different “classes” of ladder to understand, and the various “extra” features (like leveling systems) can further complicate the decision-making process.
Here at BestReviews, we cut through the jargon and give you all the information you need to pick the right extension ladder for your needs.
We never accept free samples from manufacturers, and we pride ourselves on our thorough, unbiased reviews.
If you're ready to buy an extension ladder, please see the product matrix above; it contains our top picks for the best extension ladders available. If you're still unsure what you need, please read our full shopping guide below.
Before settling on a purchase, consider whether an extension ladder is really the right ladder for the tasks you want to perform.
Ask yourself the following questions:
If it's less than 17 feet from the ground, you might fare better with a multi-purpose ladder or a stepladder.
Extension ladders must lean against a sturdy wall or similar structure.
If you prefer the freestanding variety, you'll have to look elsewhere.
To be safe, you should never stand on the last two or three rungs before the point of contact.
Extension ladders are great for outdoor use, but they’re not generally safe for indoor use.
To maximize safety, the top of the ladder should extend at least three feet further than the point of contact with the wall.
When choosing a ladder length, bear in mind that the average two-story house measures about 20 feet tall to the top of the first floor and about 30 feet tall to the apex of the roof.
Extension ladders come in five classes, sometimes referred to as "duty ratings." Make sure you get the right one to suit your requirements.
These ladders are designed for special duty and hold up to 375 lbs.
These ladders are designed for extra-heavy duty and hold up to 300 lbs.
Extension ladders aren't the only type of ladder, so it's important to make sure you select the correct product for your situation.
These ladders are designed for heavy duty and hold up to 250 lbs.
These ladders are designed for medium duty and hold up to 225 lbs.
These ladders are designed for light duty and hold up to 200 lbs.
Don't forget to factor in the weight of the person using the ladder as well as anything he/she will carry. Make sure the total weight doesn't exceed the maximum weight your ladder can hold.
Here are some of the main factors you should consider when choosing an extension ladder:
Think about how tall your ladder must be for your highest need. The taller it is, the more expensive it will be. Taller ladders are also harder to store, so avoid going for the tallest ladder "just in case."
The length given in the manufacturer's specifications is the length of the ladder when fully extended. Because extension ladders are adjustable, you can usually set them at any height in one-inch increments from approximately half the length of the ladder to its full length.
Average safe reach is roughly four feet above the contact point of the ladder, and the ladder should extend at least three feet past that. So, the ladder’s length plus one foot is the furthest you can safely reach from the ground. So if the job is 25 feet off the ground, the ladder should be least 24 feet.
Most extension ladders are made from aluminum or fiberglass. If you work with electricity or near power lines, you must use a non-conductive, fiberglass ladder.
If electricity isn’t a concern, the choice of ladder material is yours. As a rule, fiberglass ladders are stronger than aluminum ladders, but poor-quality fiberglass models can crack.
Aluminum ladders are lighter and therefore easier to move from one place to another. They’re also often less expensive.
Most people never think twice about the feet of a ladder, but they're more functional than you might realize.
A quality extension ladder should have feet designed to reduce slippage. The feet should also swivel so that you can tip them up and dig the ends into soft ground. This makes the ladder more secure when you're using it on a soft surface, like a lawn.
Each year in the U.S. alone, roughly 164,000 people are treated in the ER for ladder-related injuries. Always use your ladder safely to avoid being one of them!
Some extension ladders include a built-in leveling system, so they can be used on uneven ground.
Most leveling systems feature an adjustable section at the bottom of each leg. You adjust each half of the leveling system independently, making one side of the ladder longer than the other so you can use it sideways up a step or on an uneven surface.
If you need to use your ladder on uneven ground, look for a model with a built-in leveling system.
Both the length of an extension ladder and its class/duty rating affect the cost.
On the lower end of the spectrum, you can find extension ladders for around $100. At the top end, expect prices exceeding $1,000.
This will get you a short ladder (in the region of 16 feet) with a Type II or III duty rating, meaning it will hold no more than 225 lbs.
If your extension ladder is hard to slide up and down, you can lightly lubricate the tracks with wax. However, avoid using a regular lubricant (such as WD40) as it could make your ladder too slippery if the lubricant gets on the rungs.
For this price, you'll either get a shorter ladder with a better duty rating (for instance, a 16’ ladder with a Type IA rating) or a longer ladder with a lower duty rating (such as a 24’ ladder with a Type III rating).
At this price point, you can find a medium-size ladder (24 to 28 feet) in a heavy-duty class (Type IA or Type IAA) or a longer ladder (36 to 40 feet) with a lower duty rating.
Once you surpass $600, you're in 40’ to 44’ ladder territory. Closer to $600, you'll find Type I and II models and those that are generally less sturdy and lower quality. But when you approach $1,000, you'll find more Type IA and IAA ladders that are likely to last a lifetime.
Q. What is the safe angle for an extension ladder during use?
A. For every four feet of height between the ground and the ladder's point of contact with the supporting structure, there should be one foot of space between the base of the structure and the ladder’s bottom. For instance, if you lean your ladder against a 20-foot wall, the bottom of the ladder should be five feet from the base of the wall.
Q. How should I store my extension ladder?
A. To protect your ladder from corrosion, store it somewhere dry, such as a shed or garage. If you have a fiberglass ladder, it's important to keep it out of direct sunlight, as sunlight damages fiberglass.
Q. Is there anything I need to do to maintain my extension ladder?
A. Besides sheltering it from the elements, your extension ladder requires little maintenance. Wipe off grease or any other substance that might cause a person to slip when climbing the ladder, and regularly inspect it for any damage or heavy wear and tear.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.