There's a variety of ladders available for use around the home, from small stepladders for changing a lightbulb, to regular stepladders for general handywork, to platform and multipurpose ladders for more specialised work. We'll take you through the types, point out the features to look for, and give a few safety tips on using them.
Note that CHOICE no longer reviews ladders so there is no product review currently available.
Small two- or three-step stepladders are usually compact enough to keep in your laundry or kitchen and are very useful for changing a lightbulb or reaching a top shelf. They often have a larger top step or platform which is safe to stand on.
Regular 1.8m A-frame stepladders are much the same, just a bit larger. The main difference is that most of these don't have a large top step or platform, so you shouldn't use the topmost rung to stand on. Instead, use it to brace your legs as you stand on the second-highest rung. Check the warning labels on the ladder.
Regardless of the stepladder size, it should have strong cross-bracing that locks securely in place so that the two halves can't shift away from each other and collapse.
Regular straight ladders are still easily available, though generally not as popular as stepladders for domestic use as they don't have that convenient built-in stability. They need to be braced against a wall. However they usually have better reach than a basic stepladder.
Extension ladders and stepladders
If you want more versatility in your ladder, but don't need it to be contorted into a dozen different shapes, then a step extension ladder might be the perfect home solution.
The step extension ladder can be used as a standard A-frame ladder, but for more reach you can fold the ladder out and have a longer straight ladder, which effectively doubles your reach when placed against the side of the house. They should have a locking mechanism to hold this configuration securely in place.
Straight extension ladders are a good option if you sometimes need a very long ladder, to reach your roof for example. They can be used as a regular straight ladder but can also be extended to a much longer length: some can go to eight metres or more.
Platform stepladders are like regular stepladders, but they have a wide, non-slip platform near the top to provide a working area where you can stand fairly comfortably, or rest your work tools, can of paint and so on. Others have a few usable steps and a safety rail at the top against which you can brace your legs or body, depending on the rail's height.
Look for a broad, secure platform with a non-slip surface. Ideally, the platform should lock in place.
Not just any old ladder – the multipurpose ladder can be folded into several configurations: various forms of platform or scaffold, a regular stepladder shape, or folded all the way out for a long straight ladder. Afterwards, fold it up into a compact (though hefty) bundle and store it away in the shed.
While these ladders are very versatile, they can also be unstable if not used exactly as instructed. The joint locks that create the impressive folding configurations can be hard to operate, and if you aren't very careful to ensure all the locking mechanisms are completely secure you could find yourself, your paint and your dignity crashing to the ground.
Compared to more basic ladders, multipurpose ladders can be heavy and bulky and can require a fair amount of physical strength to manipulate them into shape.
If a ladder isn't rigid enough, it can 'walk' when you shift your weight side to side — that's when the ladder twists and the feet move unexpectedly. It's a problem that can affect even the smallest, simplest stepladder if it's not braced enough. Ladders that have spreaders (or cross bracing) tend to be much more rigid and are less likely to walk. Although you can't give the ladder a full-on test at the hardware store, you can at least step onto a couple of different models and move around a bit to see if it remains stable.
Watch the load
A ladder for domestic use has a load rating of 100kg. If your weight's about 100kg or more (don't forget to factor in any tools or cans of paint that you might be using while up on the ladder), a better option is a ladder with an industrial duty rating that can support a load of up to 120kg or 150kg.
Fit for purpose
If you want to use your ladder as a scaffold, or put your tools or paint can at the top rung, look for models that specifically have these as claimed features.
Make sure the rungs/steps and feet are made to reduce slippage.
Ladders can be dangerous. A fall from a height of one to two metres can be enough to cause serious injuries, and unfortunately falls from ladders are all too common. There are several deaths each year in Australia as a result of falling from a ladder. Almost all are male, with an average age of 65.
So if you are an older man and love DIY maintenance, treat your ladder like it's out to get you. If you are a senior citizen, have an honest think about whether you're really the right person for any job requiring a ladder. If you don't have a suitably skilled friend or relative, perhaps a tradesperson or assistance from your local council might be a better and safer option.
Regardless of age or gender, everyone needs to be serious about safety when it comes to working at heights.
Prepare properly and read the instructions
Don't read the ladder's safety instructions too casually – read them as if your life depended on it. Open the ladder fully and make sure all joints and spreaders lock firmly in place.
When you have finished with your ladder, store it in a dry, ventilated place to prevent rust and rot. This is particularly important for multipurpose ladders, as there are several angles and joints that can adversely affect the performance and safety of the ladder.
Be seen to be safe
When using your ladder, place it in an area that can be seen by others. Don't use it in front of a door that someone could open onto you and send you hurtling down the stairs.