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How to Use Ladders Safely

This Old House general contractor Tom Silva and TOH TV host Kevin O'Connor show the proper techniques for using all types of ladders

In this video, This Old House general contractor Tom Silva and TOH TV host Kevin O'Connor show the proper techniques for using all types of ladders.


1. Ladders made from wood and fiberglass are preferred by electricians because they don't conduct electricity.

2. Aluminum ladders are lighter and less expensive than comparable wood and fiberglass ladders. However, don't use aluminum ladders around electrical wires because they conduct electricity.

3. Never exceed a ladder's maximum weight rating, which includes the total weight of you and all the materials and tools you're carrying.

4. It's best to store ladders indoors, away from the harmful effects of the elements.

5. Thoroughly inspect any ladder before using it. Check wood ladders for cracked rungs, broken rails, or loose, wobbly connections.

6. On fiberglass ladders, check to be sure the rails aren't fraying and aren't cracked or punched with holes.

7. Inspect aluminum ladders to ensure the rails aren't bent, twisted, creased, or deformed in any way.

8. When climbing a ladder, keep your hips centered within the rails. Don't overreach too far to the left or right.

9. Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder: two hands and one foot, or one hand and two feet.

10. Wear a tool belt so that both hands are free to grab the rungs.

11. Stepladders are designed to be used in the spread-open position. Never lean a stepladder against a wall.

12. Don't stand on the top step, the very top of the ladder, or the paint-can tray. And never climb up the rear of the ladder.

13. To stand up an extension ladder, have a helper brace the bottom of the ladder with his or her feet, or simply set the ladder against the house's foundation.

14. Raise the ladder by pushing it up rung by rung to the upright position.

15. Grab the bottom of the ladder and walk it away from the house.

16. To achieve the proper climbing angle, position the bottom of the ladder a distance from the house that's equal to one-fourth the ladder's height. For example, if the ladder is 16 feet tall, set its base 4 feet from the house.

17. Another way to confirm the proper ladder angle is to stand upright with your toes against the base of the ladder. Reach straight out with both arms. If you can grab the rung without leaning forward or bending your arms, then the ladder is at the proper angle.

18. When working on soft terrain, pivot the extension-ladder feet to a vertical position and push them down into the ground.

19. If the ladder is equipped with adjustable levelers, use them to steady the ladder on uneven terrain.

20. To extend an extension ladder, start by moving the ladder out away from the wall. Then, pull on the rope with one hand and push up on the ladder with the other. Be sure both rung locks are engaged before climbing.

21. Attach a stabilizer to the top of an extension ladder to increase stability and provide easier access to the wall.

22. An articulating ladder can be locked into various configurations, and can be used as a straight ladder, stepladder, extension ladder and trestle ladder.

23. When using an articulating ladder, be sure all locks are fully engaged before climbing.

24. If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable, unsteady, or hesitant, stay off of ladders. It's not worth risking serious injury or worse.