Update on Ladders and Ladder Accessories
Accessories such as ladder stabilizers increase safety and hold the ladder away from the building for unobstructed access to the work area.
Like it or not, many home repairs and maintenance chores require working atop a ladder. From simple indoor jobs, like hanging a light fixture, to roof work and gutter cleaning, there’s a ladder to fit every job. Here’s a look at a few advances in design and accessories that make ladder work a little less daunting for the home handyman.
Extension Ladders & Accessories
Although I’m willing to work on a ladder on my split-level house, I won’t pretend to like it. I don’t like heights in general, and two stories is probably my limit. So, it’s not a happy moment when I’m halfway up a ladder and feel the thing sliding from beneath me. That’s happened in the past, and I managed to awkwardly jump to safety with my neck intact as the ladder crashed to the ground. I was lucky—and careless—but I learned a lesson: Always set up a ladder carefully before climbing on top.
The most elevated work around the home often requires an extension ladder, and the higher the ladder, the more important it is to exercise all safety precautions.
For work on extension ladders, I suggest adding a stabilizer to the top ladder. Stabilizers are available from a variety of manufacturers, and they generally consist of arm-like extension braces with rubber pads that grip the work surface to keep the top from slipping sideways. The Werner version that I bought simply clamps to the ladder frame beneath the top rung using a couple of wing nuts. These accessories distribute the load to prevent damage to materials like metal siding. Ladder stabilizers are also wide enough to span window openings, and they hold the ladder away from the building for easy, unobstructed access to gutters and overhangs. Prices for stabilizers usually range from $25 to $70 dollars, and they’re sold at most hardware stores and home centers.
The easiest way to raise a long extension ladder is to do it with two people. In this case, the ladder is extended as necessary and one person “foots” the first rung, holding the bottom of the ladder securely to the ground as the second person walks toward the house with the other end of the ladder, raising it with the first person’s help.
In some cases you can raise an extension ladder alone, but the ladder needs to be collapsed to its shortest height. First, brace the foot of the ladder against the wall and walk it slowly toward the base, rung by rung and hand by hand, until the ladder is upright. Rest the top of the ladder against the wall, roof or other solid surface. Then, lift the base out to a slight angle where it can temporarily rest without your support. Extension ladders are equipped with a lanyard and pulley to help extend the ladder. To use the lanyard, first foot the bottom rung, carefully tilt the ladder backward with one hand and pull the rope with the other to extend the ladder as necessary. Be careful of hazards to nearby power lines, people or other accidents waiting to happen.
Positioning the ladder at its final correct angle is one of the most critical steps of the setup. Too much angle and the weight of the user could bend the ladder, or the bottom could slide out of position. Then again, if it’s too steep the ladder could tip over backward. An extension ladder should be set with the base 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet the ladder reaches, or roughly a 75-degree angle.
Next, secure the feet. The base of the ladder should rest on level ground with the feet flipped in position. On some surfaces, such as wooden decks, you can nail a board down behind the feet to act as a cleat and prevent slippage. When setting up on uneven ground, it often helps to dig a small trench beneath the high foot of the ladder to level the base.
Some ladders now come equipped with adjustable leg-leveling extensions. These extensions are also available as add-on accessories, such as the Xtenda-Leg ladder levelers that bolt onto the bottom of your ladder. The ladder levelers allow you to adjust the length of each ladder stile independently of the other one—very useful for the many of us with sloped yards (www.ladderlevelersllc.com).
Before climbing aboard, make sure all locks are engaged and that the ladder is supported securely at all contact points. If the setup still seems the least bit unstable, then tie ropes to the ladder stiles beneath the lowest rung and anchor them to something solid. You can also secure the top of the ladder using rope or wire fastened to a couple of eye screws mounted in the fascia board.
Use both hands, while climbing, but if you must carry something, face the ladder and hold on with one hand. Never stand above the fourth rung from the top of an extension ladder.