How to Use a Ladder Safely While Working on Gutters

worker standing on a ladder against a roof

Whether you’re cleaning, repairing, or replacing your gutters, you’re probably going to be on a ladder. The bad news? Ladders are notoriously dangerous, causing more than 5,000 injuries and 150 deaths a year across the U.S. But if you know how to use a ladder safely while working on gutters, you can avoid a painful and expensive emergency room visit.

Choose the Right Ladder

The first step in gutter safety is choosing the correct ladder for the job, and one of the main considerations is how high you need it to reach. Ultimately, that depends upon the size of your home. You also need to account for the ladder losing some height due to the angle at which you’ll place it.

Find the best ladder; make sure that you read our article on the best and worst ladders for cleaning gutters before you get started.

Ladder Height

ladders set up haphazardly on a house roof
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Here are common ladder heights:

  • One-story home: For a one-story home, you may need a ladder between 15 and 17 feet
  • Two-story home: Two-story houses may need a ladder of between 18 and 22 feet 
  • Three-story home: Working on gutters on three-story homes is best left to professionals

These are only estimates because not all homes are the same size. To find out the size of the ladder you need, measure the vertical height from the ground to your gutters. Choose a ladder that is 2 or 3 feet taller than the roofline you’ll be working on.

According to California State University, a person’s maximum safe reaching height is approximately 4 feet higher than the height of a ladder. You should never lean away or overreach from the ladder while using it. Leaning and overreaching are dangerous. Make sure you’re fully comfortable working on your ladder and that you’re at the correct working height. 

 Ladder Type

Which type of ladder is right for you? There are different ladder types you can use, which include:

  • A step ladder: Best for lower heights
  • An extension ladder: Ideal for reaching higher areas
  • A combination ladder: The best of both worlds; can be used as a step ladder or an extension ladder, depending on your needs

Ladder Material

worker carrying a ladder
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Another aspect to consider when selecting the right ladder is the material. Picking suitable ladders from the right materials makes a whole lot of difference. The best ladder materials for working on gutters include:

  • Aluminum: Weather-resistant, non-conductive, more affordable, and lighter
  • Fiberglass: Weather-resistant, non-conductive, more durable, stronger, and heavier

Ladder Duty Rating

Depending on your gutter project, you also need to choose the correct ladder rating. There are 5 ladder ratings recognized by the American National Standards Institute:

  • Type IAA (Extra Heavy Duty): 375 pounds
  • Type IA (Extra Heavy Duty): 300 pounds
  • Type I (Heavy Duty): 250 pounds
  • Type II (Medium Duty): 225 pounds
  • Type III (Light Duty):   200 pounds

Your ladder needs to be suitable to handle:

  • Your weight
  • The weight of your clothing and equipment
  • The weight of your tools and supplies

Clothing and Equipment

combination ladder
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Now you should know more about which ladder to pick, but it doesn’t end there. You should also make sure that you have the right clothes for the job and that you have all the necessary equipment handy.

Clothing for Working on a Ladder

Your clothing choices are important. The right clothing will improve your safety and comfort while you work on your gutters.

What clothing should you wear before using a ladder?

  • Non-slip shoes
  • Steel-toed shoes can protect your feet against heavy objects that may fall on them during your project
  • Avoid clothing with tears or loose parts like straps and belts
  • Avoid laces, especially long laces; shoes with buckles, zips, or velcro straps are ideal. If you have to wear laces, be sure to double-knot them to shorten them.

Additionally, you can use a variety of safety equipment to keep your ladder in place and help you work on it safely and comfortably.

Equipment for Working on a Ladder

worker with a harness and hard hat
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Additionally, you can use a variety of safety equipment to keep your ladder in place and help you work on it safely and comfortably.

What special equipment could you need? Here are a few examples of ladder accessories that may be useful for your gutter work:

  • A ladder leash or lock: Use either one of these to help secure the ladder in place and prevent it from sliding or tipping over.
  • A lashing strap: You can use this to secure the ladder to a stable surface and prevent it from slipping or falling while in use. It may especially be necessary when the surface you’re working on is wet.
  • A ladder stabilizer or stand-off: A ladder stand-off can hold your ladder away from your home’s wall and make it easier for you to work on your gutters. Plus, it can prevent damage resulting from working too closely to the wall.
  • A ladder hook: Get one of these smart pieces of equipment to hang your tools on your ladder.
  • A harness: A ladder safety harness can prevent falls and provide extra support while working at heights.

Set Up Your Ladder

wooden step ladder
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You picked your ladder, and you think you’re ready to go. Here’s how you set it up.

Note: Don’t forget to ask someone to help you set up your ladder and help you use it. It’s important to prioritize safety when using ladders, especially when working at heights.

How to Set Up a Step Ladder

  1. Make sure your step ladder has a level, solid footing. 
  2. Check your ladder for any damage before you use it.
  3. Make sure the area where you’ll be using your ladder is clear and ready for you to work in.
  4. Your step ladder should be fully open and locked in place before you climb it. 
  5. All four feet of your ladder should stand firmly on the ground. The surface beneath it should be level and stable.

How to Set Up an Extension Ladder

  1. Make sure you have a level, solid footing. You may need to use a leveling device or accessory. Some ladders also come with built-in levelers. Many also have feet that can dig into soft surfaces (i.e., grass).
  2. Check your ladder for any damage before you use it.
  3. Make sure the area where you’ll be using your ladder is clear and ready for you to work.
  4. Lay your ladder down so that its bottom part faces your home’s foundation.
  5. Position your ladder so that it has at least 12 inches of solid support on both sides once you raise it.
  6. Check for any overhead power lines before you raise your ladder.
  7. The next step is to raise your ladder to put it in a vertical position. Pick up the top part of your ladder and place it against the wall. Your home’s foundation will hold the bottom part of the ladder in place as you put it into position. You can also get help from someone else to raise your ladder instead of using your wall’s foundation to keep it in place.
  8. Once you put your ladder in a vertical position, move it away from the building. Look up while you move it so that you keep it stable.
  9. While still keeping the ladder in a vertical position, extend it to the desired height and engage the ladder locks.
  10. You can now lean your ladder against the building at the correct angle. For your safety, the space from the bottom of the building to the bottom of your ladder should be 1 foot away from the building for every 4 feet of the length of your ladder (from the base to the upper support point). 
  11. Test your angle. Stand in front of your ladder with your toes touching the bottom of the side rails. Then, extend your arms; you should be able to touch the top of the rung nearest to your shoulder level. If not, be sure to adjust your ladder to a better working position.
  12. Secure your ladder before you use it. 

Video Ladder Setup Guide

If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a video guide that goes through ladder setups in more detail:

Use Your Ladder Safely  

According to the American National Standards Institute, ladder accidents are mainly caused by incorrect practices. To work safely, it’s important to follow proper ladder usage guidelines.

Be Wise About It

You should never use a ladder unless you feel mentally and physically fit to do so. Working at height is a risky job. If you can, you should ask another person to help you set up the ladder and help you with your project.

Don’t Use Your Ladder Incorrectly

Ladders can become unsafe when they’re not used for their designated purpose. So what does that mean? For starters, you shouldn’t sit or stand on top of your ladder. Specifically, you shouldn’t stand on the top three steps (including the step ladder top) of a swingback step ladder or the top three rungs of an extension ladder. This makes your ladder top-heavy and prone to tipping.

Additionally, climbing the back sides of ladders rather than the front of your ladder, or using a close step ladder is just asking for trouble. The ladders weren’t intended for it, so your chances of injuring yourself are high. Also, don’t forget to check your ladder for defects and damage before you start climbing.

Use 3 Points of Contact

You’re less likely to slip or lose balance if you climb slowly using the three points of contact method. It’s an easy rule to follow: It means always maintaining contact with the ladder using either two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand. As you climb, set one foot before the other and move one step at a time. 

Don’t Overload Your Ladder

Too much weight on your ladder can also cause it to tip or fall, leading to injury. Make sure that you have a ladder with the right ladder duty rating, and that your tools and equipment aren’t too heavy for it. You should also never let more than one person work on the ladder at one time. 

Be Smart About Tools

Carrying tools in your hand while climbing is dangerous and may lead to accidents, so don’t carry tools while climbing except in a small tool belt if necessary. You can also use a rope to pass tools up and down instead of carrying them in your hands. However, be careful with heavy items so they don’t cause the ladder to lose balance.

Don’t Overreach

You need to be able to reach without having to lean on one side of the ladder. Overreaching may lead to losing balance. If you can’t do your job without overreaching, your ladder isn’t long enough.


Can you clean gutters from the ground?

You can do some gutter cleaning from the ground, but it will be slower and possibly less effective

What could I need a ladder for?

When it comes to working on gutters, you could need a ladder for a number of tasks, including:

● Installation
Installing downspouts
● Repairs
● And more

What’s the 4 to 1 ladder rule?

You should place your extension ladder so that it’s 1 foot away from the building for every 4 feet of the ladder’s height (from the base to the upper support point).

Final Thoughts

DIY gutter installation and maintenance may be intimidating. However, some gutter cleaning jobs, like cleaning, may easily be done from home, as long as you’re fully comfortable using a ladder. Nevertheless, it’s important for all homeowners to take safety precautions. Not your cup of tea? Never use a ladder if you’re not feeling up to it. Remember that you can always call a local gutter pro instead.

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Judith Gallova