Painting Your House Exterior Using Ladders

Updated on April 6, 2016

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 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 2 or even 3-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 2 story homes to reach the 2nd story soffits, and 3rd 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 3-4 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 5 or 6 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

Reaching 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 4 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 5 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 4 or 6 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 colourful painting.

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    • profile image

      brent 2 months 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 2 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 2 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 4 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

      Jeffn19 4 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.