Types of Ladders: How to choose the right one

Types of Ladders: A Buying Guide

There are many different ladder types and ladder sizes. You can find step ladders, telescoping ladders, extension ladders and others. How do you know which one is right for you? What should you look for when buying a ladder? What is the difference between a No. 2 and No. 3 ladder? This ladder buying guide will briefly explain the main types of ladders and their purposes. You will also learn about sizes, materials and number ratings. With this information, you will be prepared to pick the right ladder for your needs.

Picking a Ladder by Size

Ladder size is one of the most important aspects to consider. It is vital to pick one that will allow you to reach the correct height. With standard ladders, the highest safe working height is on the third step down from the top. Never stand on the top of a ladder. In a later section, you will learn more about the safe overhang range for high places. The 4-to-1 rule is another important guideline that relates to ladder size. For every 4 feet the ladder rises to the point where it touches the wall, it should be 1 foot away from the wall. For instance, you should lean a 12-foot ladder 3 feet from the wall. Following ladder size and height rules can help reduce the risk of falls.

Types of Ladders by Material

Some common ladder materials are wood, fiberglass and metal. Each material has its own pros and cons. Weight, budget and project type are some important considerations for choosing a material.


Aluminum is the most popular type of metal for ladder construction. An aluminum ladder is affordable, durable and light. However, it also conducts electricity. If you are working on an electrical project, aluminum can be a hazardous material. Also, it reflects ambient temperature. It may not be ideal for outdoor projects when temperatures are extremely cold or hot.


Fiberglass does not conduct electricity or reflect ambient temperature. It is also durable. However, it is also heavier and more expensive. If you need a lightweight ladder, this material may not be ideal.


Wood is an affordable material. It is resistant to temperature and electricity. The wood on a ladder is usually solid, which means it will be heavier. Also, wood ladders can be less durable. If they are exposed to moisture, the wood can rot. Wood ladders are best for people who can keep them indoors most of the time.

Ladder Ratings

What is a type 1 ladder? If you read something about a type 1 or No. 1 ladder, it probably indicates the ladder’s rating. Ladders typically come with ratings of IA, I, II or III. Ratings show how much weight a ladder can hold. The total weight capacity includes user weight, tool weight and equipment weight. For example, imagine that you are installing a ceiling fan. You need to add your weight, the weight of the fan and the weight of any tools you carry. That number should not exceed the maximum weight for the ladder’s rating. These are the ratings and their weight limits:

  • Type IA typically holds up to 300 pounds.
  • Type I usually holds up to 250 pounds.
  • Type II can hold up to 225 pounds.
  • Type III holds up to 200 pounds.

What Are A-Frame Ladders?

These ladders are shaped exactly like the letter that inspired their name. A-frame ladders have hinges that make them easy to fold, and they support themselves. With this design, there is no need to worry about leaning them against vertical surfaces. Additionally, they do not require much horizontal storage space. They can be safe ladders if you use them correctly and pick the right material for your needs.

What Are Step Ladders?

Nearly any individual or business can benefit from owning a step ladder. This type of ladder is versatile and has a self-supporting A-frame. While some have rungs on both sides, others have them on one side. Most step ladders that are manufactured today have anti-skid rungs for added

safety. Step ladders may come in sizes from 4 feet to 20 feet high. They are useful for maintenance, light painting, changing lightbulbs and similar tasks.

Extension Ladders: Versatility for Greater Heights

With an extension ladder, the top three rungs are not meant for climbing. Also, it should not extend more than 3 feet beyond its support point. For example, an extension ladder with a minimum height that is 5 feet higher than your roof is too tall. It is not a self-supporting ladder. It includes a base section, fly section and rail. The rail holds the sections together and allows you to extend the fly section. Extension ladders often make good construction ladders because of their versatility. People use them for tasks like exterior repairs, roofing and painting. Many of these ladders have locks, anti-skid rungs and other safety features. If you use one to reach a roof, allow a 1-to-3-foot overhang to safely access it. Consider reading an in-depth buying guide for extension ladders before you choose one.

The Multiple Uses of Multi-Position Ladders

This is another type of versatile ladder. As the name suggests, it has multiple hinges and can fold into several shapes. You can turn it into a straight ladder or an A-frame ladder. If you have a project that requires basic scaffolding, some models can even fill that role. Most multi-position ladders are affordable. You can use them for painting, trimming trees, routine maintenance and much more. These ladders come in a variety of heights.

Telescoping Ladders

Although a telescoping ladder can reach high places, it has a different design from that of an extension ladder. It combines the reach of an extension ladder with the convenience of a step ladder. This type of ladder has extendable legs and rungs that can be moved up. You can move up as many rungs as necessary to match the chosen leg height. When you are finished, simply move the rungs and legs back down. The rungs typically have locks or buckles that keep them securely in place. A telescoping ladder must lean against a support surface. However, it is versatile enough for a wide range of indoor and outdoor projects.

How to Choose the Right Ladder for You

Unless you cannot use a leaning ladder, a telescoping ladder may be a good choice for both indoor and outdoor projects. A-frame and multi-position ladders are better if you need one that can support itself. For higher heights, extension and telescoping ladders are better. A step ladder is great for most light tasks. In earlier sections, you learned about weight ratings, materials and height. You can usually base your decision on your budget and the types of projects you have planned. Be sure to consider both minimum height and maximum height if you are working in higher places. With any purchase, make safety your top priority.

Find the Right Ladders at True Value

Now that you know the different types of ladders, you can start shopping. To make the process easier, create a list of your requirements. Find the ladders and ladder accessories you need for your projects at your nearest True Value.