DIY Tools

8 Types of Ladders Every Homeowner Should Know

Find out which type of ladder is best-suited to that next home project, and make working at heights easier and safer.
Bob Beacham Avatar
A person climbing a ladder to reach the gutters on a home.
Photo: istockphoto.com

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn More ›

A good ladder is an indispensable part of most every experienced homeowner and DIY arsenal, providing a safe platform for working above the ground. And the right ladder helps us avoid problems that occur when we try to make do: using a ladder that’s not appropriate for the task. The wrong ladder not only makes the job more difficult, it’s also dangerous.

So in this article we’re looking at the best ladders for a wide variety of purposes. Some of them you’ll probably know, others you might not, but each of these different types of ladders has a specific purpose that makes projects easier and safer when working around the home and yard.

Many people, me included, have been guilty of over-reaching on a ladder. Don’t do it. CDC figures tell us thousands of people are injured every year in ladder falls, and more than 100 die as a result. Get down. Move the ladder. Climb back up. It’s a lot less trouble than a trip to ER. Check out this article for other ladder safety tips. — Bob Beacham

1. Step Ladder

A werner step ladder against a white background.
Photo: acehardware.com

This is probably the most common of the ladder types, and there can’t be many homes that don’t own one. Step ladders are a general-purpose folding model that are compact enough to store relatively easily. They open to provide a useful height for hanging pictures or shelves, painting door frames, and completing other projects that aren’t very high off the ground.

Most are designed for DIY use and range from 3 to 5 feet tall, but some can reach 20 feet. Modern versions have a locking mechanism to prevent accidental closing while in use. They may have rails on both sides but normally only one side can be used for climbing and the top step should not be used as a step. They rest on four feet so being able to position them on a relatively level surface is important.

Best For: General-purpose decorating and DIY, and also useful for reaching tall cupboards or shelving.
Our Recommendation: Werner 4 ft. Fiberglass Step Ladder at Ace Hardware for $89.99 
We featured Werner in our best step-ladder review. This fiberglass and aluminum step ladder is a sturdy, durable, and affordable all-rounder ideal for everyday use around the home.

2. Extension

A Werner extension ladder against a white background.
Photo: acehardware.com

Extension ladders are the optimum choice when maximum height is required. They are similar to a simple ladder but there are two or three sections of ladder that slide over one another. The smallest extension ladder is 16 feet tall and can go as high as 60 feet, but 24 feet tall is a common height for those who own a 2-story home. When choosing the height, bear in mind standing on the top 3 rungs is not recommended as support is limited.

As the sliding ladder is raised and the sections spread to extend the ladder to full height, some kind of catch or lock automatically clicks into place. This catch prevents it from closing when you stand on it. Usually a cord is pulled to release it. Common features are nonslip rungs, non-marring pads at the top, and feet that tilt or have textured pads for better grip. Extension ladders are not self-supporting—they need to lean against something.

Best For: Reaching 2nd-story windows, fascia, gutters, and roofs.
Our Recommendation: Werner 24 ft. Aluminum Extension Ladder at Ace Hardware for $279.99 
This model is light but strong with slip-resistant rungs, heavy duty spring-loaded safety locks, and dual-action feet for better grip on hard or soft surfaces.

3. Telescoping

A person carrying a telescoping ladder in one hand.
Photo: amazon.com

It can be difficult to store and transport tall ladders. They’re long, and frequently awkward to manage. Telescoping ladders are a clever and convenient solution. They are very compact when not in use—small enough to fit in the trunk of an average sedan—yet some models can extend to anywhere from around 12 to 20 feet. Locking mechanisms hold each rung in place when extended.

The use of aluminum alloy makes these portable ladders light and strong, and most have integrated carry handles. Many also feature a ‘no-pinch’ system so they won’t trap your fingers between the rungs when closing. Closure itself may be foot operated. Telescoping ladders can sometimes feel less sturdy than fixed ladders, but many meet American National Standards Institute (ANSI) ratings as heavy-duty ladders which should reassure potential buyers about their safety.

Best For: Portability with good reach, particularly for those who want to carry a tall ladder in a sedan or small van.
Our Recommendation: Xtend & Climb 12.5 ft. Telescoping Ladder at Amazon for $288.99 
This model took top spot in our telescoping ladder review going from a compact 32 inches when closed to a useful 12.5 feet when fully opened. Other sizes are available.

4. A-Frame

An A-frame ladder against a white background.
Photo: istockphoto.com

A-frame ladders are a bit of a hybrid, and can be found in a couple of formats. Some look like a step-ladder with a sliding extension on one side for greater reach. This type of ladder is popular in Europe, but it’s more common to find A-frames that are telescopic in the U.S. While they can be used like a step-ladder, they also can be extended straight up for maximum reach. Hinge locks and stays provide safety and stability.

The A-frame ladder offers portability, plus the benefits of both a freestanding ladder, and a tall ladder. While most achieve this successfully, it’s not a surprise that they tend to be bulkier than a standard telescopic ladder and more expensive than many step ladders. That said, if you frequently use both and need to take them from place to place, the A-frame ladder could be the perfect answer.

Best For: Combining portability, versatility, and reach by eliminating the need for a step ladder and a telescopic ladder.
Our Recommendation: Soctone 16.5 ft. Telescoping A-frame Ladder at Amazon for $169.99 
When not in use it’s just 34 inches tall, but extends to almost 8 feet as a step-ladder or 16.5 feet as a straight ladder.

5. Multiposition

A multi-position ladder against a white background.
Photo: homedepot.com

This is without doubt the most versatile ladder type. It can be a step ladder with height adjustment. It can also be a straight ladder. When multiposition ladders are used as step ladders, one of the key features is the ability to set each side independently, making them safe ladders to use on different levels: on stairs or between the garden and a deck. Some are designed to be used in tandem to create a work platform or scaffold base. Tool hangers might also be included.

These are usually very sturdy constructions with strong hinges, robust mechanisms, and wide, comfortable steps. However, while you can’t beat a multiposition ladder for flexibility, higher prices mean they may not appeal to those who would only use them occasionally.

Best For: Providing a multitude of different working platforms in a single ladder.
Our Recommendation: Gorilla 22 ft. MXPA Multiposition Ladder at The Home Depot for $239.00 
This is a recent upgrade to the model that took top spot in our best ladder article, and it is a tough, versatile example of why this type of ladder is so popular.

6. Fire Escape 

A person using a fire escape ladder out a window.
Photo: amazon.com

According to the American Red Cross the most likely places for a fire to start are the kitchen or fireplaces and stoves. As a result, they often leave people trapped on upper floors. Fire escape or fire safety ladders provide a fast way to exit a burning building from an upstairs window.

Most are very compact when not in use, and can be stored in a cupboard or under a bed. When needed, they are hung from a window ledge or railings. They are usually a combination of tough nylon rope with metal rungs, and are suitable for buildings of up to 4 stories. As might be expected, ease of use is a key feature. Additionally, it’s worth checking weight ratings as some are capable of supporting more than one person at the same time.

Best For: Providing a fast, safe escape route from upstairs windows in the event of a fire.
Our Recommendation: First Alert 3-Story Fire Escape Ladder at Amazon for $121.90 
This 24-foot model was the overall top pick in our best fire escape review combining compact storage with rapid deployment, and a weight rating of 375 pounds.

7. Attic 

An attic ladder against a white background.
Photo: amazon.com

Many people access their attic using a step ladder or telescopic ladder but for those who use the space on a regular basis, there’s no substitute for a proper attic ladder. They offer unrivaled convenience: concealed when you don’t want them, but easy to open and climb when you do.

Made from wood or metal, some have wide steps that may be grooved for additional safety. Hand rails may also be provided. Important aspects to check are the size of opening required and the height from floor to ceiling. If you’re investing in one of the electric models that extend and retract automatically, you’ll also need a power source. Fitting an attic ladder isn’t usually particularly challenging, though it’s certainly easier with help. Another option is to have it professionally installed.

Best For: Quick and convenient access to the attic.
Our Recommendation: Fakro LMS Metal Attic Ladder at Amazon for $458.81 
This is the best attic ladder we found in our recent review. It has a well-balanced action, and it comes as a comprehensive kit with hatch surround and insulated door.

8. Library 

A library ladder against a white background.
Photo: amazon.com

Of all the different types of ladders designed for home use, a library ladder might be the one that homeowners consider least often. Yet they aren’t just designed for those who have tall bookcases. They can be equally useful for getting to the kind of high cupboards that maximize storage in kitchens, bedrooms, and even garages, providing immediate access when needed

Many often use a step ladder for these tasks, but it can be a pain to keep fetching it and putting it away again. A library ladder is a permanent solution that usually slides along rails at the top and often glides on wheels at the bottom. They can be any height, and either bought pre-assembled or as a kit. The latter can make them very affordable. The main consideration is space. Since they are always present, they are not well suited to small rooms.

Best For: Reaching tall shelves and cupboards that are in regular use.
Our Recommendation: DIYHD Wooden Library Ladder Kit at Amazon for $300.00 
This self-assembly model is unfinished so it can be stained or painted to suit room decor, and it represents excellent value even though sliding hardware is extra.

Ladder Duty Ratings

All ladder types (except fire escape ladders) should have a label giving their duty rating as set by ANSI. This is the maximum safe load including the weight of a person, any tools they are carrying, and any items hung from the ladder (a paint can, for example). Here are the five duty ratings:

TypeWeight Capacity
Type III (light duty)200 pounds
Type II (medium duty)225 pounds
Type I (heavy duty)250 pounds
Type IA (extra heavy duty)300 pounds
Type IAA (extra heavy duty)375 pounds