No matter if you’re painting the walls in your home to refresh the look or changing out a light bulb, having any type of ladder at your disposal is a must to help you accomplish a host of other tasks in and out of the house. They’re popular for household tasks, but many people use different types of ladders in professional industries like shops, construction, contracting, and more. Since ladders are useful in several jobs, they come in a large range of sizes and shapes.
You have to pick out the best type of ladder when you’re ready to purchase a new one. Although some of them function to take you to the desired height, not all ladders work well for every task. Depending on the job or chore you wish to accomplish, most types of ladders come with unique integrations to help you finish your project more conveniently, efficiently and safely. Picking out the type of ladder will make it more convenient and safe to use, and it can help prevent accidents.
Despite ladders seeming to be easy to use and handle, if you miss stability and balance with them, you can fall and get seriously injured. This is why it’s critical to understand which types of ladders work with different tasks, and we’re going to outline several options below for you to choose from.
Ladder by Mark Z / CC BY-NC 2.0
Defining a Ladder
A ladder is loosely defined as any tool that has repeated rungs or steps that get placed in the middle of two rails or poles. The primary purpose of different types of ladders is to allow you to reach high spaces because some structures or objects are simply out of your reach. A ladder can help you reach these areas by giving you additional height. By using one, it allows you to finish your projects efficiently and safely.
Ladders can come made out of different metals, including aluminum, steel, rope, fiberglass, and wood. Some types of materials are more durable and stronger than others, so you have to compare your options when you shop. Also, it’s important to note that ladders serve different functions, depending on the type you pick out. This is why it’s important to be able to tell what different ladder types are, so you can narrow down the best choice for your needs.
14 Popular Types of Ladders
Many people are surprised to learn that there are actually several different types of ladders available, and they make the mistake of picking one at random and finding out later that it’s not the safest option for their needs. This is why we’re going to outline the most popular types below.
1. Extension Ladders
An extension type of ladder allows you to reach greater heights than many options on the list, and this makes them a great help for projects like repairing a roof or repainting the house. A telescoping ladder is a variation of the classic extension ladder that has a greater flexibility to extend to virtually any height you need while staying stable and safe. They have a fly and a base.
The latter is the component that extends to reach your intended height. Unlike using a step ladder, this isn’t a model that is self-supporting. So, you’ll have to lean it up against something to keep it stable as you climb upwards. The fly slides upwards using a rope and pulley system or hooks. It also comes with safety features like non-skid feet, and you could even get a secondary set of hooks to secure it at the top.
Raclin Extension Ladder by Collin Anderson / CC BY 2.0
2. Step Ladders
The classic step ladder is the single most popular type of ladder available because it allows you to use it for such a large range of tasks. It’s a self-supporting choice that allows you to take it where you need it. You get dual sets of rungs that are evenly spaced apart with a top cap in place that connects the two sides. You can use one or both sides to climb, depending on the design of the steps. The twin-step ladder allows you to use both sides.
However, some models only allow you to use one side of it, and they’re called front step ladders. The other side acts like support. Spreaders join both sides, and they dictate how far you can move each out from the center of the ladder. The spreaders will lock in place to keep the ladder from buckling as you step up on it. The bottom part of this type of ladder has shoes or feet, and they usually feature an anti-skid material on the end to stop the ladder from slipping.
151011-ladder-step-wooden.jpg by r. Nial bradshaw / CC BY 2.0
3. Platform Trestle Ladders
A platform trestle type of ladder gets built with a shelf-like platform positioned between two ladder legs. You can think of it as a close design to the popular A-frame ladder, but they’re much more sturdy because you’re supposed to use them in pairs to double the amount of legs they have.
The platform gives you enough room to put a paint can and walk a few steps back and forth without running out of room. The platform can be a two-by-four piece of wood, a second ladder, or whatever you come up with. You typically use this type of ladder outside to take on tasks like painting a tall garage door, house trim, or window frames without having to struggle to reach.
Orphan Girl Mine headframe by James St. John / CC BY 2.0
4. Attic Ladders
An attic ladder is a type of ladder that will drop down from the ceiling when you need to get into the attic. These ladder types are very convenient for smaller spaces because you can stack the extensions onto one another and store them away in the attic without taking up a huge amount of space.
You’ll get very static, strong support with them. The primary purpose of this ladder isn’t centered around portability like most other ladders because they get directly attached to the attic floor. The ladders work to allow you to enter your attic if you don’t have room for a full flight of stairs. They work well in garages and two-story barns too. They come in two general types, including:
- Drop-Down – The drop-down style of attic ladder works like regular stairs. They usually come with a cord that you can pull to encourage the ladder to glide downwards. It also has roughly a 40° inclination, and this is more comfortable to navigate than the steep inclination you get with folding-style ladders. This ladder is more expensive though, and the installation process can be extensive.
- Folding – This is the ideal type of ladder to have if you have a smaller attic. They’re easy to install and inexpensive too, so they’re great for people on a budget. However, they are steeper, and most of them come in at a 65° inclination, and they’re generally less stable than a drop-down ladder.
Up the Ladder by chaim zvi / CC BY-NC 2.0
5. A-Frame Ladders
Almost everyone has an A-frame ladder as a standard household accessory laying around. The ladders are much sturdier as they come outfitted with a double-sided frame and braces that make them more stable. You’ll typically use these ladders when you have both hands full performing a task like hanging up Christmas lights or helping to hold kitchen cabinets as you attach them to the wall. They’re very useful if you don’t have anyone else around to help you hold the ladder and support you as you work.
This type of ladder gives you excellent stability so you can finish tasks quicker than normal, but this is only the case if you use them correctly. The manufacturers warn you not to step higher than a specific step on the ladder because this increases the danger level of falling and getting hurt.
‘A’ Frame by Michael Coghlan / CC BY-SA 2.0
6. Telescopic Ladders
A telescopic ladder will extend out to reach the advertised length, and each subsequent step will get more narrow in some types of ladders while other styles keep the same step width. Once you finish using them, you can easily push the ladder down to a compact size to make it much easier to store between uses.
This ladder type doesn’t rank very high when it comes to stability though, so you have to keep this in mind. However, if you’re sure you’ll have people around to hold it for additional support each time you use it, they’re nice to have. You can store this ladder under the bed or in larger cupboard shelves if storage space is at a premium.
Telesteps in action by Mark Hunter / CC BY 2.0
7. Warehouse Ladders
Just like you’d get from the name, this type of ladder is the most suitable pick if you have a barn-like or warehouse facility. This ladder will help you move things from point A to point B and store them in much higher places while staying safe on a stable ladder. They’re also very useful when you’re trying to install a drop ceiling or drywall alternative in your home.
This type of ladder usually has a built-in platform on it with safety railings to ensure that you stay stable when you get up on it. Some will get attached to tracks where you can move yourself along horizontally while staying on the ladder and not having to get down. Other warehouse ladders come with petals that allow you to step up in increments to move yourself around quickly and easily.
Ladder and extending platform by Clarence Risher / CC BY-SA 2.0
8. Malleable Ladders
A malleable ladder is a unique type of ladder that rolls up like a ribbon between uses instead of stacking it up. This design quirk makes this ladder very portable and flexible to take from project to project. You can roll them up and slide them into your car or bag, and one of the main uses is to store them and use them as fire escape ladders in an emergency situation.
This is a great ladder to have when you’re outdoors. For example, they make it easy to climb down from a window on your second floor or for climbing up into your treehouse. A malleable ladder can be metal, but they also encompass wooden or rope ladders that are more common.
Up the fire escape by J J / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
9. Articulated or Folding Ladders
Just like you’d get from the name, the biggest feature on this type of ladder that makes it popular is the ability to fold it quickly between uses to minimize how much storage space you need on hand. This is the ladder many people prefer to have around for small tasks that you run into during day to day life. You can easily change the height to fit the project you have going on.
For example, you may have to use a table or chair to reach areas in your home, so keeping this ladder handy will make it an easier and safer process. You can use it to clean fans, change light bulbs, or clean windows with ease. They’re very lightweight, and this makes them easy to move. Also, they occupy less space overall.
Rope and Dowel ladder by Matt Elsberry / CC BY-ND 2.0
10. Scaffold Ladders
This type of ladder is another one with a unique design element to it because it comes with detachable hinges. So, you can easily unlock whatever hinge you want at any time to create several different ladder designs out of a single ladder. The articulating pieces are typically used to create a platform to walk across like you would traditional scaffolding.
You can use the hinges to create a ladder or a platform without a problem. It allows you to work on bigger tasks without worrying about losing stability, and this can help to keep you safe and prevent falls or other injuries.
Leith walk by Dom Crayford / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
11. Step Stool
Although this is a smaller type of ladder, it’s extremely handy to have around the house if you’re someone who routinely grabs things from high cabinets, shelves, vertical gardens, or a cupboard. This product usually comes outfitted with a single step on it, but you can get models that come with two, three, or four steps built in. The step ladder and step stool have a host of similar features. Both ladders will stand by themselves because they come equipped with an A-frame design. The main difference is the size because step stools are usually compact and small.
Also, step stools come with a folding mechanism that means it won’t require you to have a large amount of storage space. It’s also very portable and lightweight, so you can carry it around the house from project to project with ease. A step stool has a large range of benefits, but it also has limitations to consider. It’s not as stable as other types of ladders, and it’s short. So, you may not be able to reach very high places with it.
Shaker Step Stool Complete 1 by Jason Nemec / CC BY-NC 2.0
12. Orchard Ladders
An orchard or tripod ladder is a great thing to have to help you tackle various gardening projects. You should keep in mind that gardens usually have uneven grounds or slopes, and this type of ladder is ideal in this environment. It comes outfitted with a triangular base that helps ensure it stays stable when you work at higher places. Also, it has adjustable legs that ensure your ladder is stable when you bring it out to use on hills or other uneven terrains around your yard.
Aside from the features we outlined, this type of ladder comes with specialized feet that let it stand solidly on soft ground. Most tripod ladders come with a platform that helps you work comfortably and safely. It also has a very lightweight design that lets you move it around your yard easily. However, it does have a bulkier design to it, so you will have to dedicate storage space for it.
DSC_8806 Ladder in orchard by Apple and Pear Australia Ltd / CC BY 2.0
13. Podium Ladders
A podium ladder is a type of ladder that is very close in design to a platform-style ladder. The biggest difference between both of them is that a podium ladder has a bigger step compared to a platform one. Because it has this feature, you’ll be able to stand on the step very comfortably. In fact, it’s large enough for you to be able to move around without slipping or accidentally falling.
This type of ladder also comes with strong legs and a strong frame, and this makes it very safe and stable for use on different projects. It is outfitted with anti-slip feet, and this stops it from tipping over or slipping while you’re on it. A podium ladder works well for tasks that require you to be up on the ladder for longer periods. For example, it would be nice to use this ladder to clean a wall or paint. However, this ladder can also be bulkier and heavier because it has this larger top step. So, this can make storage an issue, especially if you’re tight on space. However, they’re excellent for construction and painting work inside and outside of your home.
Fête Des Hauts Fourneaux by Robert Glod / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
14. Five-Step Portable Ladders
Generally speaking, most ladders are very mobile and allow you to take them from one part of the room or house to the other without a huge issue. However, most ladders aren’t outfitted with wheels due to safety issues, so it can be difficult to pick your ladder up and carry it if it’s bulkier. This is where the five-step ladder comes in, and it comes outfitted with wheels on the bottom to make it easy to move around when you need to as you work on your projects.
Also, this type of ladder has a slightly different design to it. You get railings on the side to give you more stability when you climb up or down to your desired height. Also, it has totally straight back legs that lets you get rid of the negative space between the area you want to work on and the ladder itself. It’s a single unit, so it does take up more space when you store it since you can’t take it apart or fold it.
Step Ladder by Binomialphoto / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Five Common Ladder Materials
The material your type of ladder is made out of will factor into your final buying decision because it directly impacts the typical usage that the ladder is safe for and the cost. This is why it’s important to know the five most common ladder materials as you shop.
There’s a reason why aluminum makes a popular siding material, and it’s also why it’s one of the most common build materials for different types of ladders. It’s very strong, and it can take a lot of use and stay intact. It’s also lightweight, and this will make a huge difference when you have to carry it from project to project. Also, it’s affordable. One reason for the affordability of this material is because almost 50% of all aluminum in the country is recycled. So, instead of having to mine it, all you have to do is break it down and reuse it to save on costs.
However, aluminum does come with one large downside to it. Since this is a metal, it can conduct electricity. So, you shouldn’t use it for any projects that are around wires or electrical equipment due to the increased risk of electrocution or shocks.
Fiberglass is a nice middle-material that offsets some of the common disadvantages that other ladder materials have. For one, it’s very durable and strong, and it can withstand heavy use. It also doesn’t conduct electricity like aluminum does, and it’s durable enough to survive years of use. It is slightly more expensive though, but the longer lifespan can help offset the original cost.
Also, fiberglass comes with another great feature that makes it very popular for anyone who does work outside in the garden or to the house. Any aluminum ladder you get will reflect the ambient temperature, so it won’t be comfortable to use on hot or cold days. Fiberglass doesn’t have this problem.
You can find plastic ladders that are on the lower end of the budget spectrum, and they usually feature glass-fiber reinforcement with a polyester resin body. It can be suitable for some situations if you can’t afford to spring for anything else.
Steel ladders are usually something you’d see used in a warehouse instead of for your typical DIYer. However, they offer several nice advantages. They can handle really heavy loads, and they’re very resilient to make them a more practical choice. However, they’re also very heavy, and you have to really watch how you store them so they don’t rust and become unstable.
Steel ladder between Tuiti & Tunui by Andrew / CC BY 2.0
Wood is one of the most common choices for most types of ladders, and it has many of the same advantages that you’d get with aluminum. It’s a very affordable option that is easy to find at your local hardware or home improvement store, and it doesn’t conduct electricity so you can use it anywhere you need a little more reach.
However, wood is very heavy, and it can weigh up to two times as much as an aluminum ladder. The longevity is also a concern because wood will quickly deteriorate if you leave it outside and exposed to the elements. They also can’t have any opaque coating on them except with correct labeling due to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) regulations.
Ladder Duty Ratings
You’ll find that the different types of ladders have several regulatory fronts that they have to meet. One big thing to look at is the duty rating, and this will outline the ladder’s maximum weight capacity. They include:
- Type IAA (Extra Heavy Duty) – Up to 375 pounds
- Type IA (Extra Heavy Duty) – Up to 300 pounds
- Type I (Heavy Duty) – Up to 250 pounds
- Type II (Medium Duty) – Up to 225 pounds
- Type III (Light Duty) – Up to 200 pounds
This duty rating refers to the maximum weight of whatever you want to haul onto it plus your weight. The cost will vary with the duty rating with the higher duty ratings being more expensive. You can find this information on the side of the ladder. The ratings also fall into three general categories. Type Is refers to industrial products with Type II referring to commercial applications. Finally, Type III is for household use.
We’ve outlined 14 types of ladders that you can use to complete your projects and touched on the duty ratings so you can tell which one is going to work best for your needs. We encourage you to take a look and see which one will allow you to safely and effectively tackle all of your household projects.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.