Painting Your House Exterior Using Ladders

Updated on April 10, 2019
paintingToronto profile image

Expert design advice, information, and tips all about house painting, written by a professional painter and decorator.


Painting With Ladders Safely

Some homeowners want to paint their home's exterior, but the thought of working on ladders is enough to make them cringe, and they end up putting it off or hiring a professional. Painting at heights can be a daunting task, and it is a good idea to leave this job to a professional painter, or at least let them take care of the high soffits and roof areas.

This can be hazardous work and requires skill using ladders and sometimes even a harness system, as well as steady nerves. But if you are set to tackle this project on your own, there are important guidelines one should know to be successful and not end up on a stretcher! This article will discuss the methods of safe and effective exterior painting on ladders, so that you can paint your two- or even three-story home on your own.

The first step is to obtain the right equipment. This means a tradesman (commercial) grade and fully functional ladder. Don't borrow just any old ladder; you need it to function properly. Ladders are rated as Grade 3, 2, 1, and 1A, which indicate their durability in increasing order (1A being the highest, rated for 300lbs, and industrial use).

Grade-3 ladders are homeowner grade, and they can be quite narrow and are not advisable if working higher than 20 feet off the ground. Grade 1A ladders are very rigid, but the downside is that they are heavier, which can cause safety issues when moving the ladder. In most cases, you want grade 2 for painting; they are robust, rated at 225 pounds, and will also be light enough to maneuver safely.

You can rent ladders if necessary; you’ll need a 28′ or longer for many two-story homes to reach the second-story soffits, and third-story areas will require a 32′ or a 40′ ladder. It is usually more cost effective to buy a ladder or two, since you won't be rushed this way, and you are saving lots of money anyway by doing this job yourself. For lower areas, you want a shorter ladder. Some of the most versatile are called "3-way" ladders, which can be set up as an A-frame, or a small extension ladder, which makes reaching various first story house extremities easier.

The next step is to know how to operate your ladder safely and effectively. When setting up, always make sure it is sitting on level, solid ground. if you are on dirt or grass, dig the spiked feet into the soft ground to avoid slippage. You can also dig out a hole for a leg of the ladder is on an incline. It is also very important to erect the ladder at a safe angle.

There is a rule of thumb to obtain the right ratio: you want three to four feet of rise for every foot of run. This means that if you set up against a wall, and your ladder is extended to a total 20 feet, you want the base of the ladder five or six feet from the wall. Staying near this recommended ratio minimizes chances of the ladder slipping on the ground or moving at the top.

ladder "arms" in use. safely clearing the gutter.
ladder "arms" in use. safely clearing the gutter.
Using ladder stabilizers around a window.
Using ladder stabilizers around a window.

Working on Ladders

The areas that you want to paint from the ladder should be within a comfortable reach. Set it up at a height that is just below the area you need to work. Your body should stay centered on the ladder and still be able to work effectively on the surfaces scraping and painting. But always keep one hand on the ladder, and scrape or paint with the free hand. This can be tedious work, but you will be sorry if you lose your balance! You should also never step above the four rung from the top, so that you can keep a hand on the top of the ladder comfortably.

A few other important safety tips:

  • Get a paint can hook. You don’t have an extra hand to hold a can of paint when working at heights!
  • Work when it is not too windy. Wind can be quite strong 30′ off the ground, enough to cause you to lose your balance.
  • Have a helper to assist with the ladder, especially with ones longer than 24'.

A great tool that I highly recommend for all exterior painting are ladder stabilizers, also known as "stand-off arms." In their most common design, these are simple metal loops that slide into the topmost rungs of the ladder, and add both stability and versatility in positioning. They effectively allow the ladder to 'stand off' the wall a little over a foot and are a great way to have better reach of soffits. And as the name implies, they add stability to the ladder in general, so they are a great addition when there is space to use them.

If you have some tricky areas to access, such as a dormer above the roof line, you may also employ ladder stabilizers to place the ladder on the roof. They give that extra clearance over gutters so that you can position a ladder a few feet up the roof (depending on the pitch of the roof). The ladder arms are also great for working on or around windows, since you can rest them on either side safely.

Another important safety issue is working near electrical wires. If you need to paint an area near the electrical connection point on your house, you must use a fiberglass ladder, since these will not conduct electricity. The safe rule is to never go within five feet of live wires with an aluminum ladder. Even though they may be insulated, its not a chance you want to take; and the wires should not be touched under any circumstances. If significant prep work must be done around wires (such as if they run closely alongside the house) you may need to contact the city to have power temporarily disconnected.

If, despite your best ladder-positioning efforts, you still can't quite reach an area, stay safe by employing this final pro painter trick. Paint stores will sell a simple device that allows you to fix a brush onto an extension pole. Use a four- or six-foot pole, and you can usually cover the gap in your reach. Though it take some skill to maneuver a brush on a pole, its certainly better than risking a fall. You can also of course attach rollers to an extension pole as needed, and you can bring your paint with you in a bucket on a hook and with a roller grid so that you don't need to fuss with a paint tray.

Using a ladder is usually the greatest obstacle to painting your own house, but it is certainly possible if you proceed methodically and don't skip steps that could jeopardize your safety. Once you have the hang of it, you can focus on a great paint job, and adding lively colorful painting.

Ready to Paint?

Are you comfortable painting your house exterior, or should this task be left to a professional painter?

See results

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      2 years ago

      but dont paint your wifes house if she doesnt give a shit if you are going to die doing it or not!

    • Buddy Products profile image

      Dan Dattilo 

      4 years ago from Venice, Florida

      When painting from a ladder, a new product called the Buddy System from Big Boy Ind. allows a painter a hands-free solution by having a paint bucket holder that attaches to your belt with a custom designed removable dripless paint bucket that fits into the holder. The paint bucket also has a brush holding magnet to carry the brush.

      The dripless paint bucket holds over a quart of paint which is more than enough paint to cover the area you can work from a ladder.

    • profile image

      Marcus Morgan 

      5 years ago

      I am looking to paint the outside of our house. I will have to use a ladder to the upper level of the house. I am a little nervous, so I am researching and looking for safety tips so that I don't get hurt. This article was exactly what I needed and has a lot of great tips and things that I can do in order to keep me safe.

    • profile image

      Jeff Willan 

      7 years ago

      Hello, I just wanted to say that is blog is great!Very good safety tips for people! I would love to share this on my Face Book Page! Here is the link stop by if you when. I will be waiting on your next blog .... Thanks Jeff

    • Jeffn19 profile image


      7 years ago from Boston, MA

      We of course use a range of ladders for all our roofing needs. We typically go through Home Depot to get ours. We do a lot of commercial painting in Boston MA, and make sure extreme precautions are taken with all our ladders.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)