Using Ladders Safely & Effectively For House Painting

Jeremy Holderness

House Painting Tampa Ladder SafetyLadder use is a must when tackling a house painting project.  But many people are intimidated by the thought of scaling one...and for good reason.  Over 150,000 people are sent to the emergency room each year as the result of a ladder accident.  

With so much misinformation floating around the DIY world when it comes to safe and effective use of ladders, the best way to ensure an accident-free project is to get the facts when it comes to using ladders.


General Guidelines For All Ladders

What They're Made Of:  There are three basic materials used to manufacture ladders -- wood, fiberglass, and aluminum.  Wood and fiberglass ladders are very sturdy but can prove a bit heavy to move around all day.  Probably the most popular choice is the aluminum ladder because it is also extremely durable and typically much lighter in weight.  

The one drawback to aluminum ladders is that they are a conductor of electricity.  So if you're going to be using a ladder to perform any electrical tasks you should opt for the wood or fiberglass.


How Much Weight Will They Support:  All ladders have a weight rating that should be clearly marked on the side rail of the ladder.

Type III: 200 lb
Type II: 225 lb
Type I: 250 lb
Type IA: 300 lb
Type IAA: 375 lb

It is important to match the weight rating of any ladder you'll be using to the total weight that the ladder will need to support.  This not only includes your own body weight, but the weight of any tools and/or materials that will be accompanying you.

How Tall Does It Need To Be:  Choosing the appropriate ladder length or height is important because many accidents are caused by people standing too high on the ladder trying to reach overhead.  Below is a general guide for properly sizing a ladder that will keep you from choosing a ladder that is too short, causing you to over-extend yourself to an unsafe working height.

• To reach 7 feet: 3-foot ladder
• To reach 8 feet: 4-foot ladder
• To reach 10 feet: 6-foot ladder
• To reach 11 feet: 7-foot ladder
• To reach 12 feet: 8-foot ladder
• To reach 14 feet: 10-foot ladder
• To reach 16 feet: 12-foot ladder
• To reach 18 feet: 14-foot ladder
• To reach 20 feet: 16-foot ladder

Extension Ladder
• To reach 15 feet: 16-foot ladder
• To reach 19 feet: 20-foot ladder
• To reach 23 feet: 24-foot ladder
• To reach 27 feet: 28-foot ladder
• To reach 31 feet: 32-foot ladder
• To reach 34 feet: 36-foot ladder
• To reach 37 feet: 40-foot ladder


Best Safety Practices:  Always inspect the ladder before you use it to make sure there's nothing broken, cracked, or bent

Keep your hips in between the side rails of the ladder (don't over-extend in either direction to reach your work).  

Always keep 3 points of contact (2 feet and 1 hand when working, or 2 hands and 1 foot when climbing).  

Avoid carrying tools in your arms up and down the ladder, instead use a tool belt so you can maintain your 3 points of contact

Always face the ladder when going up or down.

And, of course, steer clear of power lines


Using An Extension Ladder

Setting Your Ladder:  Extension ladders are usually comprised of two sections (can be three section on very long ladders).  The stationary section is the one with the feet attached, which should remain in contact with the ground, and be placed closest to the structure it's leaning against.  The outer section is the moving section that can be moved up or down to adjust the overall height of the ladder.

When setting the ladder into position place the feet against a solid surface (a partner or the foundation of the house) so it doesn't move on you as you push the top of the ladder up rung-by-rung until it's standing straight up.  Lean the top of the ladder against the house and gently walk the bottom of the ladder out and into the proper distance from the structure, so that it's leaning at a safe angle to the house.  The correct angle being about 75 degrees between the side rail of the ladder and the ground, or 1 foot out for every 4 feet in extended height.  

Another good rule of thumb is to stand up straight facing the ladder with your toes touching the feet, reach your arms straight out to grab the rung that is closest to shoulder height.  Your palms should rest comfortably on that rung.


Get A Good Footing:  The rocking feet on an extension ladder should be in the correct position depending on what type of surface the ladder is setting on.  The rubber base of the feet should be in contact with the ground when the ladder is placed on hard surface such as concrete or asphalt.  When on a soft surface such as grass or landscaping beds, the feet will rock toward you allowing the teeth to dig into the ground to keep it from slipping.


Extending The Ladder:  When extending the ladder, stand it straight up and hold it steady.  Grab and pull down on the rope on the back side of the ladder with one hand while pushing up on one of the rungs on the front side of the ladder until you reach your desired height.  Make sure that the rung locks are seated firmly, and that your ladder angle has been adjusted before climbing.


Safe Working Height:  Don't ever stand higher than on the fourth rung from the top, leaving three unoccupied rungs above your feet to avoid the ladder becoming top-heavy and tipping.

If stepping onto the roof of your home, make sure the ladder extends 3 feet above the point of it's contact with the structure.  Hold onto the ladder with both hands and swing one leg around the ladder to step onto the roof.  When getting back onto the ladder do the same thing thing in reverse order.


Safety & Productivity-Enhancing Accessories:  

Ladder levelers are a bolt-on accessory that can be attached to the bottom of the stationary portion of the ladder.  Since safe operation of any ladder dictates that it should alway be plumb (or straight up-and-down and never leaning) these devices will extend out from the bottom at different lengths on each side rail, allowing you to safely work on an uneven surface.  They start at around $60 for the Louisville Ladder brand and go up to over $100 for LeveLok and other brands.

The Pivot Ladder Tool is an alternative to the bolt-on type of levelers.  This a small, portable, triangular-shaped, non-slip platform that can be used underneath one of the feet of your extension ladder to help create a level working surface in many situations.  Cost:  around $80.


A Ladder Stabilizer, or "stand-off" as they are sometimes called, is an aluminum cross-brace that is designed to be attached to the top rung and side rails of your ladder giving you a wider contact point against the structure.  Not only does this make the ladder much more stable it also pushes you back away from your work area (hence the term "stand-off"), will help you straddle a window while painting it, and will keep you from having to rest your ladder against your gutters and risk damaging them.  At a price of $20 I believe they are a no-brainer of an insurance policy.

Corner Stabilizer is very similar to the regular ladder stabilizer except it's to be used to rest your ladder against the corner of your home when you need to safely access a section of gutter, soffit, or fascia without over-extending.  If you find yourself in this situation, you can pick up a set for about $30.


Extension Ladder Covers are basically rubber boots that slide over the end of your ladder's side rails.  They are made to protect the surface that you're leaning against from accidental damage, as well as create more friction to help minimize the rails from sliding if you're not already using a ladder stabilizer.  You can usually pick them up for less than $10.


Paint Can Hook is a very simple and inexpensive metal device that attaches to your ladder so you can hang a paint bucket from it.  Using one of these will enable you to keep your paint handy while maintaining your 3 points of contact.  These can be purchased for literally a couple of dollars.


Using A Step Ladder

Step ladders are something that most homeowners have and feel reasonably comfortable with -- even if they are a simple 2-foot step you use around the house to change light bulbs.  Most everyone knows how to use them, so rather than talking more about that I'll just mention the few no-no's when it comes to using them.

Step ladders are meant to be opened when used, and never closed and leaning against a wall -- as they can slide out from underneath of you.  When you open a step ladder make sure that the spreaders (the horizontal safety bars) are locked into place so it won't accidentally fold-up on you while you're standing on it.

And lastly, never step on either of the top two steps, the fold-out paint tray, the spreaders, or the narrow rungs on the back side of the ladder.  None of these are intended to be stood or sat on, and could result in serious injury.


Using An Articulating Ladder

One type of ladder that we haven't discussed is the popular Articulating Ladder that has been made famous by the 'Little Giant' infomercials.  This is by far the most versatile type, so if you're only going to own one ladder, this would be the kind that would help you to tackle more projects than any other.

They do come in different sizes and can be safely used as either a step ladder, an offset step ladder for uneven surfaces, an extension ladder, or taken apart and used as trestle ladders along with a walk plank for small scaffolding.

They have a locking hinge where a normal step ladder is hinged, as well as locking extension adjustments on both sides of the side rails.  Always make sure all locks are properly seated before climbing on one.



That covers the basics of using ladders safely and effectively for most any house painting project you might get yourself into.  If you still feel uncomfortable working off of a ladder it may be best to leave it to the pros to do.

But if you hire a painting company make sure that they know and implement good ladder-safety practices.  Don't assume that because they are a licensed contractor they will have had any training in this area.  It's ok to ask them questions about what kind of safety training they've had as a company, and if they have a written company safety program in place.  

If you ever notice your contractor using unsafe ladder practices on your job, don't be shy about immediately addressing it with them.  If they are unsure about or unwilling to work in a safe manner you should ask them to leave your property and hire someone else who is concerned about safety.

The last thing you want is for a neighbor to report your contractor to OSHA and have them show up on your job site, or worse yet, have someone be badly injured because of something that could have easily been prevented.


If you're in the Tampa, FL area and would like some assistance with your house painting project please give us a call at 813-570-8800, visit our 'Contact Us' page, or click on the button below to have us contact you.


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photo by:  Collin Anderson / CC BY 4.0









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