Ladder Safety Guide for Homeowners

Outdoor maintenance is a large part of homeownership, some of that maintenance requires climbing a ladder. There is never a time when using a ladder is free of risk. For larger projects it might be best to call in a professional but for those smaller projects here are some safety guidelines for using ladders. While taking into consideration our guidelines, it is extremely important to review all the warnings and labels on your ladder for specific guidelines for your ladder, including weight restrictions. 

There is no “one size fits all” ladder for projects. The ladder safest to use will depend on the height of your project and the working conditions. 

How to choose the right ladder for your job

Ladder Height:

Choose a ladder for the height of your work space, it is safest to be able to look down or be at eye level with the area you need to work in. Reaching over your head for a project or extending your reach beyond the ladder frame can get dangerous.

To get onto a roof it is best if the ladder you use is about four rungs higher than the roof access point, in this case it is not about getting onto your roof easily, it is more about getting off your roof without injury. 

Ladder Material:

Most ladders are made out of aluminum or fiberglass, fiberglass is only necessary for working near powerlines or doing electrical work. If your home maintenance project is close to powerlines, we do not recommend that you do it yourself, it is best to call in a professional.

Aluminum ladders tend to be lighter in weight than fiberglass which makes them easier to move around your project. If you have a wooden ladder, you should consider upgrading it to an aluminum or fiberglass ladder. If you’re going to use a wooden ladder for your project, check each rung on the ground before using it to check for any damage to the wood (including: rot, splitting, or usage wear).

How to use different types of ladders:

Step Ladders

Often used for small projects indoors, like changing light bulbs. Step ladders can vary from manufacturer whether or not it is safe to put weight on the top step, be sure to read all warnings on your specific ladder. Step ladders can support their own weight and do not need to be leaned against a surface for use.

Folding Ladders

Just like step ladders, folding ladders do not need to be leaned against a surface for stability. They are able to support their own weight, which is great when your project is not near a solid surface, like working in a tree. When using a folding ladder, be sure that the ladder is folded out completely. Most folding ladders cannot support weight on the top rung, please read all the warnings on your folding ladder to be sure of the restrictions.

Straight ladders and Extension Ladders

Extension Ladders are extendable straight ladders, both are used in a similar way. Extension ladders are most commonly used for higher projects such as getting onto your roof or cleaning your gutters. Extension ladders are also the only ladders we use to replace and repair roofs. Extension ladders need a sturdy surface to lean against, like your roof line. Never lean an extension ladder on a part of your home that looks damaged, like warped gutters, and never lean an extension ladder against a window or any glass surface. If there isn’t a sturdy surface to lean your ladder against, we recommend buying a ladder stabilizer. Ladder stabilizers attach to extension ladders and make it so you can lean onto the surface of a roof or move the support to either side of a window. 

Extension ladders need to be placed at a 75 degree angle or follow the 4 to 1 rule, which is for every four feet of ladder height the base of the ladder needs to be away from the supporting wall by one foot. Extension ladders are great because their height can be adjusted, using a ladder that is too tall for your project can also be dangerous. Never use a ladder if it extends much past the support point, this can create a dangerous see-saw situation if the fulcrum is closer to the middle of your ladder than the top. So make sure to adjust the extension ladder to a proper height for your working space.

Tips for staying safe on a ladder

Don’t work alone

Canopy Co-founder suggests getting help from a family member or friend,  “If you have some trusted friends nearby, they could really be of service when it comes to ladder safety. If someone is stabilizing your ladder for you, your chances of a fall start approaching zero.” In a worse case scenario if you work with a partner they can get you help if you end up falling, injured, or stranded on a roof.

Ladder position is key

If working along your roof line, for hanging holiday lights or cleaning gutters, move the ladder often, never extend your reach far beyond the ladder frame, this causes instability. Make sure your ladder can get close enough to your working area so that you can keep both feet on the ladder while working. Make sure the ground the ladder is on is free of debris (including leaves and gravel). If the ladder feels a little unsturdy while you are on the ground, it will feel much worse when you’re at the top. 

Ladder Grip

Don’t climb up a ladder if it is raining or if a layer of frost is present. Avoiding slippery surfaces is a good way to prevent a fall.

When climbing up and down the ladder, it is vital to keep two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot on the ladder at all times. This technique is often called the 2 and 1 rule.This means no climbing a ladder with tools in your hands. Place your tools in a tool belt or tool caddy that can attach to your ladder to keep your hands free. 

Following this guide and being aware of the risks that come along with climbing up on a ladder should keep you safe while working around your house. We do not recommend that homeowners go onto their roofs for any reason, especially if there are signs of damage. If you think your roof is damaged at all, call a roofing professional, any reputable roofing company will do a free inspection of your roof.

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