You should always choose the right type of ladder for the height and nature of your task. Our guide will show you how to choose between ladders, stepladders, work platforms or scaffold towers, one step at a time.
You should only buy a stepladder or ladder that conforms to the relevant British or European Standard, and one which is clearly marked with the load it can safely support.
If you hire or borrow equipment, inspect it very carefully before you use it to check there are no dents or splits. The feet should also be non-slip and in good condition.
For safety reasons, always lean your ladder at the correct angle. The foot should be one measure out from the wall for every four measures of wall height, so if you want your ladder to reach the 5.2m eaves of a typical two-storey home, the foot should be 1.3m away from the wall. You can check if the angle is correct by standing with your toes touching the feet of the ladder and putting out your arms. You should be able to grasp the rungs at shoulder height.
Stepladders and multi-purpose ladders are ideal for indoor tasks and light outdoor jobs, such as window cleaning, as they generally reach up to three metres. Above that height it's best to use a ladder or scaffold tower.
Choose a stepladder that lets you reach the ceiling, and to the top of the ground-floor windows outside. It'll have a locking mechanism to stop the two halves sliding apart - so make sure you use it. Here are some other important things to remember:
• Set your stepladder to face the work area, otherwise it'll be unstable.
• If you're working outside, make sure you're standing on firm, level ground. If the surface is soft, lay down a large wooden board to spread the load.
• If you have to reach out or stretch, move your stepladder straight away.
• Keep one hand on the guard rail and both feet on the treads while you work.
• Never let someone else climb on the stepladder while you're on it.
• Never stand on the top platform. If you need to go higher, use a ladder or a platform.
If you need a steady platform to work just above head height, a simple step-up is a good solution. They're sturdy and easy to handle, and some come with a handle - which is ideal if you feel unsteady.
When you need to go beyond the reach of your trusty stepladder, it's time to buy, hire or borrow a ladder.
If you need to put your ladder on an uneven patch of ground, try bolting some stabilisers to the bottom of both sides to stop it rocking. It's also very dangerous to rest your ladder against guttering. Instead, hook a metal stand-off to the top of the ladder to hold it away from the wall, so that it's weight doesn't rest on the gutter.
A proper roof ladder is a must, even if you're just planning some minor repairs for your roof. It has wheels on one side and hooks on the other. Stand on an ordinary ladder and push the wheeled side of your roof ladder up the roof. Then turn it over and slide the hooks down onto the ridge tiles to hold it in place.
Don't be tempted to walk across the tiles or slates though, as this will damage them - and you could slip off. For larger jobs on a roof, you must - by law - put up proper scaffolding.
If you need to work at height, but not on a roof, a simple extension ladder can be a good solution as this will allow you to safely reach a number of working heights outdoors. As the name suggests, these expand to reach their maximum height. Usually comprised of two or three parts, the sections are slid apart and locked into position ready for use. This makes it possible to store a large ladder in a more compact space, such as a garage or shed.
It's wise to choose a ladder to match the dimensions of your home. You should allow for at least one metre above the highest point at which you expect to work, so a ladder that reaches 7-8 metres will probably be ideal. A double-extending ladder measures up to 4.5 metres long when it's closed, but if you only have limited storage space, look for a triple-extending ladder.
If you are planning on making regular use of a ladder, combination ladders are an ideal choice. Suitable for a range of household tasks, including decorating and cleaning, a combination ladder can be used in a range of formats - as steps, a short ladder, a stairwell work platform or low-level staging. This provides plenty of options, making it easier to match your ladder to the task in hand.
If you're using a combination ladder on a staircase, set the ladder in place. Then, if you can, clamp some strips of scrap wood across your stair treads to stop your ladder feet slipping off the treads.
Work platforms and scaffold towers
When you need to reach a large area of wall or roofs up to about 9m high, it could be worth buying or hiring a scaffold tower. This is made of lightweight alloy sections that clip together, framing a set of boards and a guard rail that give you a safe working area.
With lockable wheels that make it portable and safe to use, it lets you make a variety of mobile work platforms that you can use inside and outside your home. Once you've put up your tower, use the stabilisers to keep it solidly in place.
Work platforms and scaffold towers are especially popular for interior and exterior decorating projects, where regularly moving a ladder would be impractical. With a tower, it is possible to reach a larger area at time, speeding up the job.