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Chris Grundy on how to choose a ladder

Summer offers oodles of opportunities for DIYers to take up ladder climbing. Not as risky as rock climbing… or is it? HOSS caught up with Cool Tools host Chris Grundy, onsite in Florida for the filming of Blog Cabin, and asked him for a tutorial. Who knew ladders could be such fun?

These days, we’re spoiled for choice with a ladder for every occasion: step, single, articulated, combination, extension, extension trestle, job-made, fixed, as well as mobile ladder stands and platforms. Not to worry, a trip to the home centre (online or in person) will help you sort out the right type for the project.

Grundy’s favourite? “My ‘sexy ladder’ – a telescoping ladder I first saw on Cool Tools.Literally two feet high, it extends to 18, 20, 25 feet, so you can use it on top of the house, then shrink it down to carry under your arm. And it makes this neat clicking sound when the rungs lock in. When I need a ladder on the site and they ask which one, I say ‘Buddy, you know the cool click, click one.’”

He may put a comic spin on things but, when it comes to safety, Grundy knows you can’t fool around. “Ladders are dangerous tools. More people get hurt using them than most other equipment. Thing is, the majority of injuries are preventable.” Here’s how:

GET A FOOTHOLD

Inspect the equipment before you climb. Check feet, rungs, rails for damage. On an A-frame (step ladder), make sure the metal spreader will lock; if not the feet could spread apart and you’ll come crashing down. Always stand the ladder on a solid surface – not mulch, sand or gravel. If necessary, use a hard board under the feet for stability.

DO THE MATH

We could go into the whole Pythagorean theorem, but it boils down to this: when placing a ladder against a wall, set the ladder base one foot out for every four ft. of ladder length – or ¼ of the distance from the ground to the gutter. Never lean an A-frame up against a wall, they aren’t built for that. And don’t use two ladders to make a scaffold. If the project calls for a scaffold, get one.

READ THE LABEL

Guys don’t read directions, but they should! Ladder labels give important info such as weight totals for bodies plus accessories. Don’t overload, and don’t stand on the top three steps. If you need to go that high, get a taller ladder and have a friend nearby.

WOOD, FIBREGLASS, METAL?

Do you have the stamina to move a heavy wooden ladder around all day? If not, use lighter-weight fibreglass or aluminum. Wood is best for a quick project, or when working near power lines.

NO LADDER HOPPING

A ladder is not a pogo stick. Don’t try the ‘hop-move’, hoping you can shimmy it over a bit. (And don’t have your buddy do it while you’re up there.) Climb on down and move the ladder. If it’s a large ladder, get help.

WEATHER

Painting with bright white paint in direct sunlight can cause headaches. Follow the shade around the house to keep out of the sun's glare. When there’s rain, lightning or a strong wind, put the job off until later. Wear shoes or boots with good grip and make sure the ladder is dry. Old shoes on a wet rung = bad news.

THREE POINT RULE

Always keep three points of contact with the ladder to maintain your balance. That’s two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on the ladder – not one point on the wall. And don’t rest tools or a paint can on the top step. Think of a hammer with claws falling 20 ft. onto somebody’s head. It’s not like we’re installing pillows up there. Use a tool belt, and a hook for the can.

To sum it up, Grundy says don’t be a hero: “We rarely have accidents on the TV job site because we’re taught not to let that happen. Don’t let your ego get in the way of safety. Ask for help.”

-by Chris Grundy