Ladder Types and Grades: Choosing the Right Ladder For Any Job

If you're completing painting projects, changing light bulbs or scaling rooftops, it is important to choose the right ladder for the job. The right ladder choice is about more than height—it also deals with convenience, safety, durability and application.

Whether you are a homeowner or a business owner, it may not be practical to own and store several different types of ladders at once. How can you make the most out of your ladder investment while still maintaining safety and convenience? Take a look at the following ladder types, grades and materials to find a solution that will work for your needs.

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6 Different Types of Ladders

Before you begin, consider what type of ladder may fit best for your projects. There are a variety of different ladder configurations with unique features that may enhance your workflow. Here are a few common ladder types to consider.

1. Stepladders

A stepladder is one of the most common ladder types with nearly universal application. It features an upside-down V-shaped self-supporting structure, which means you don't have to prop it against a wall or other structure to use it. Stepladders also fold together for easy transportation.

Common characteristics of a stepladder include:

  • Height: Non-adjustable length ranges from 4 feet to 20 feet
  • Structural design: Expanding upside-down "V" shape that is hinged for easy storage
  • Sides: Two-sided, but only one side is climbable
  • Capacity: One person only
  • Ground support: Requires level ground support for all four feet

One benefit of a stepladder's design is that you can set it up almost anywhere with level ground. This versatile capability makes it one of the best multi-use ladders available. If a stepladder provides the right height for your project, it may be a good choice for painting, changing light bulbs, decorating, construction, landscaping and more.

2. Straight Ladders

Straight Ladders

Also known as single ladders, straight ladders look like one half of a stepladder. As a non-self-supporting ladder, straight ladders require some form of anchor at their topmost section. Straight ladders are portable, but they do not have hinges that can decrease the amount of space they occupy when not in use.

Common characteristics of a straight ladder include:

  • Height: Non-adjustable length ranges from 4 feet up to 30 feet
  • Structural design: Two side rails connected with evenly-spaced rungs
  • Sides: Single climbable side
  • Capacity: One person only
  • Ground support: Requires level ground support for two feet

Unlike the straight ladders on wheels you may have seen in lofty libraries, you must descend a common straight ladder before repositioning it. Though straight ladders require a sturdy wall to prop against, their lack of a second side allows you to get closer to that wall than you could with a stepladder. For this reason, straight ladders work well for roofing, construction and exterior maintenance projects like gutter cleaning.

3. Platform Ladders

A platform ladder is a self-supporting ladder with a platform at the top. The ladder's topmost platform typically features a railing on three sides, with the side closest to the rungs open. A platform ladder's design enables you to stand at its highest point, which you typically cannot do with other ladder types.

Common characteristics of a platform ladder include:

  • Height: Non-adjustable length ranges from 2 feet to 18 feet
  • Structural design: Features a platform with railings and is hinged for easy storage
  • Sides: Two-sided, but only one side is climbable
  • Capacity: One person only
  • Ground support: Requires level ground support for all four feet

Like a stepladder, a platform ladder's two-sided design enables you to set it up anywhere you have level ground. One advantage a platform ladder has over stepladders is that when you stand on the top, your height adds to the platform ladder's length. These ladders can be great options for projects that require you to stand on a ladder safely for longer periods. Some of these projects may include landscaping, painting, installing hardware in high places, arranging displays, construction and more.

4. Extension Ladders

Extension Ladders

Much like straight ladders, extension ladders are non-self-supporting ladders with one side. The distinguishing factor in an extension ladder is its adjustable length. Extension ladders use two or three sections on guided tracks to provide additional length as needed. Many ladders feature rope and pulley systems that attach to the adjustable sections to aid in extension.

Common characteristics of an extension ladder include:

  • Height: Two-section ladders are adjustable from 32 feet to 60 feet. Three-section ladders are adjustable from 60 feet to 72 feet.
  • Structural design: Two side rails connected with evenly-spaced rungs in addition to two or three adjustable sections
  • Sides: Single adjustable side
  • Capacity: One person only
  • Ground support: Requires level ground support for two feet

The ability to adjust extension ladders makes them a versatile choice for jobs where you need to reach tall heights and have close access to the project point. Some of these projects may include roofing, construction and various maintenance jobs.

5. Trestle Ladders

Also known as double front ladders, trestle ladders are designed to do what most ladders can't —support two people at once. Trestle ladders are self-supporting and portable, so you can set up and use trestle ladders anywhere you have level ground.

Common characteristics of a trestle ladder include:

  • Height: Non-adjustable length up to 20 feet
  • Structural design: Hinged for easy storage
  • Sides: Two climbable sides
  • Capacity: Up to two people at once
  • Ground support: Requires level ground support for four feet

Note that bothindividuals must descend a trestle ladder before it can be moved. Because trestle ladders can support two people at once, they may be optimal for projects where you will be working in close proximity with others. This may including painting, multi-person installation or decoration, volunteer service projects and more.

6. Multi-Way Ladders

Multi-way ladders often incorporate more than one ladder type into a single, transformable ladder. These ladders usually come as two-sided self-supporting structures with the ability to function as a stepladder, extension ladder, trestle ladder and more. The specific manufacturer and product will determine what kind of capabilities a multi-way ladder has.

Common characteristics of a multi-way ladder include:

  • Height: Adjustable length from roughly 4 feet to 13 feet
  • Structural design: Transformable structure with hinges for easy storage
  • Sides: Typically two-sided
  • Capacity: One to two people
  • Ground support: Requires level ground support for all four feet

If you complete a variety of projects with different ladder needs, purchasing a multi-way ladder may be the most convenient and economical choice for you. Scenarios that may warrant multi-way ladders include home renovations, small business maintenance needs, various interior or exterior cleaning projects and more.

What Are Ladders Made Of?

What Are Ladders Made of?

In addition to ladder types, different ladder materials present unique pros and cons. A majority of ladders are made from metal, wood or fiberglass. The material that works best for you will depend on your budget, project requirements and transportation requirements.


Most metal ladders are made from aluminum, which offers key advantages and disadvantages.

The pros of aluminum ladders include:

  • Lightweight: Aluminum material keeps ladders light and easy to transport. This can save time and energy on projects that require frequent ladder repositioning.
  • Affordable: Compared to other materials, aluminum is inexpensive. This can help you save costs when buying multiple ladders.
  • Durable: Aluminum is corrosion resistant and won't deteriorate in harsh weather conditions. This can be a great choice for getting long-term use out of your ladder.

The cons of aluminum ladders include:

  • Conducts electricity: An aluminum ladder can complete an electrical circuit between an electrical source, the ladder and your body. If you're working on an electrical project, aluminum ladders may cause shocks that could lead to falls and serious injuries if you come in contact with a live wire while standing on one. If your projects frequently involve electricity, an aluminum ladder may not be the best choice.
  • Reflects ambient temperature: When you use an aluminum ladder in extreme sun or extreme cold, the metal will reflect your environment's ambient temperature. If you plan to use your ladder outdoors in the summer or winter, aluminum may not be conducive to comfortable work conditions.


The pros of wooden ladders include:

  • Non-conductive: Wooden ladders do not conduct electricity, which makes them a safe choice for electrical projects.
  • Affordable: Like aluminum, wooden ladders are relatively inexpensive. This can help you save costs when buying multiple ladders.
  • Resistant to ambient temperature: Wooden ladders won't become as hot or cold to the touch in extreme weather conditions. They may be a good choice if you need a reliable ladder during the summer or winter.

The cons of wooden ladders include:

  • Heavyweight: Solid wood ladders are much heavier than aluminum ladders — especially if they are tall. If you're working on a project that requires frequent ladder repositioning, a wooden ladder may become cumbersome.
  • Potential durability issues: If wooden ladders are left outside in the rain, snow or extreme heat for long periods, they may begin to deteriorate. Wooden ladders may not be the best option if you plan to store your ladder outside or attach it to the outside of your company's work vehicles.


The pros of fiberglass ladders include:

  • Durable: Fiberglass is strong and will not crack or splinter. This may be ideal if you need a long-lasting ladder.
  • Non-conductive: An advantage of fiberglass versus aluminum ladders is thatfiberglass does not conduct electricity. If you work with or near electrical components, fiberglass ladders may be a good option.
  • Resistant to ambient temperature: Fiberglass material does not retain as much ambient heat or cold as aluminum. This may be ideal if you plan to use your ladder outdoors in extreme heat or cold.

The cons of fiberglass ladders include:

  • More expensive: Compared to aluminum and wood, fiberglass is more expensive. This may stretch your ladder investment beyond your budget.
  • Heavier: Fiberglass material is heavier than aluminum, which may add strain to projects that require frequent ladder repositioning.

What Are Ladder Ratings and Why Do They Matter?

Another important consideration beyond ladder type and material is ladder grade. Also known as duty ratings, ladder grades assign maximum weight capacities for each ladder. These weight counts encompass all of the following:

  • A worker's weight
  • The weight of worker's clothing or protective equipment
  • The weight of tools or supplies that are carried or stored on the ladder

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recognizes five ladder grade categories:

  • Type III (Light Duty):This grade holds up to 200 pounds. Type III is a common ladder for home use on projects with painting, reaching tall items, climbing to a roof and more.
  • Type II (Medium Duty): This grade holds up to 225 pounds. This type includes ladders used in construction and other commercial contract work.
  • Type I (Heavy Duty): This grade holds up to 250 pounds. Type I is often used for industrial applications that require heavy equipment or gear.
  • Type IA (Extra Heavy Duty): This grade holds up to 300 pounds. This type supports industrial applications with extra heavy equipment or gear.
  • Type IAA (Extra Heavy Duty): This grade holds up to 375 pounds. It supports special jobs with extremely heavy equipment or gear.

Observing duty ratings is a crucial step to keep you safe on the job. Whether you are completing a DIY building project at home or working on industrial machinery, choosing the proper ladder grade will help you remain safe and compliant. Looking at duty ratings can also help narrow down your ladder choices when browsing a large selection of products.

Ladder Use and Safety Tips

Regardless of the ladder types and grades you use, there are several best practices and safety tips to keep in mind. These tips cover best practices from ladder selection, inspection, set-up and use.

Tips for ladder selection include:

  • Choose the proper length: On most ladders, you cannot use the topmost rung. If using a stepladder or trestle ladder, make sure the second-highest step will give you access to what you need.
  • Close any gaps: If using a straight ladder or extension ladder to climb up to a point where you will step off the ladder and onto a roof or structure, make sure the ladder extends at least a foot higher than the upper support point. If there is a gap between the top of the ladder and the step point, you run the risk of falling and incurring serious injuries.
  • Check overlaps:When using an extension ladder, make sure the top of the ladder does not extend more than three feet beyond the upper support point. Excess overlap can act as a lever and cause the base of the ladder to swing out.

Tips for ladder inspection include:

  • Check before use: Whether you last used your ladder a day ago or a year ago, you should inspect it before each use.
  • Check rubber feet: The rubber covers on ladder feet are integral to proper slip-prevention. Inspect them to ensure they are not cracked or worn down.
  • Clean ladder steps: Excess grease or oil on ladder rungs may become a slip hazard. Clean any visible particles from the ladder steps to preserve traction.
  • Check hardware: Inspect a ladder's bolts, rivets, rail connections and spreaders to ensure nothing is missing or broken.

Tips for ladder set-up include:

  • Choose an even surface:To prevent your ladder from tilting or toppling, ensure all of its feet sit flat against even ground.
  • Choose proper proximity:Position your ladder as close to the work area as possible. If you have to lean or strain to reach the work area, you may lose your balance and fall.
  • Choose an adequate ratio:When using extension or single ladders that require an upper support point, make sure to set up with a safe ladder angle. Aim for a 75-degree tilt with a 1:4 ratio. For example, if your ladder is 20 feet long, sit the ladder feet 5 feet away from the support point.

Tips for ladder use include:

  • Check yourself: Avoid climbing a ladder if you feel dizzy, faint or sick. If something happens while you are on the ladder, you could fall and incur serious injuries.
  • Climb carefully: To avoid falling, scale ladders slowly and wear clean, slip-resistant shoes. When descending, position your body toward the steps and hold the ladder sides with both hands.
  • Stay centered: It may be tempting to try to reach faraway spots while painting or working on a ladder. However, the safest posture on a ladder is to remain in the center of the steps.
  • Move carefully: Be sure to climb down before repositioning and ladder, and do so with care. Tall extension ladders may become top-heavy if moved quickly, so take your time and enlist help.
  • Use accessories: Use ladder accessories like utility buckets or tool belts to help store items while working on ladders. Attempting to ascend or descend a ladder while holding supplies could cause you to lose balance and fall.

High-Quality Ladders for Every Job

Whatever ladder type and grade you need, Construction Fasteners and Tools has a product to match. Shop our inventory of ladders, ladder accessories and more to stock up for your business or DIY projects. When you shop with Construction Fasteners and Tools, you will enjoysame-day shipping and free shippingon some orders over $99.

For reliable products and quality service,shop our selection of laddersorcontact us for more informationtoday!

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