Home Inspection Ladder

As a home inspector, a ladder and good flashlight are my two most important tools (after my brain, eyes, and hands of course). There are many long dialogs on home inspector forums about choosing the right ladder for the job. Unfortunately, there are also many sad stories told about ladder accidents and an injured home inspector is not able to work which is devastating for a small business operator. 

According to WorkSafeBC, from 2001-2010, there were 9,403 injury claims based on ladder accidents and a startling 51.1% of these claims were for 'serious' injuries (at least a month off work). WorkSafeBC only tracks the work related accidents leaving countless more unrecorded personal household accidents. Regardless of the source, with over 50% of accidents being serious in nature, ladder safety and selecting the right ladder for the job is critical.

Personal Mis-Fortunes

I've had the mis-fortune of having three ladder accidents over the years. The first was on a 4' step ladder when I was 18 working on a construction site. I was in hurry and put the ladder on uneven ground, then I overreached to access my work and I came crashing down (yes, you can crash down from 4' in the air, trust me). Physically I had some bumps and bruises but I learned one lesson that day which stuck with me about ladders. 

My second ladder accident was also when I was about 18 and was much more serious and resulted in emergency surgery. While trying to erect a 30+ foot extension ladder with a co-worker, the ladder collapsed and caught my hand and fingers in the crossing steps. It was about 3 months before I was able to move my left index finger again. These long ladders should have safety devices to prevent this type of collapse but my employer had removed them so the ladders fit on the truck better. My co-worker and I knew these safety devices were not in place and if I was older and wiser, we never should have tried using it.

My last mis-hap was decades later, just after I bought a new collapsable ladder. I was only up a few feet looking at a low carport roof during a home inspection but I had not made sure the locks were in on one rung and the ladder collapsed one rung nearly sending me off.  Fortunately, I had the suggested 36" of clearance at the roof and other than a scare, I was safe and am again wiser.

What type of ladders do I Use Now?

As a home inspector, I need ladders for a variety of hard to reach spots. Unfortunately, I'm also typically working around a finished home, moving around tight closets and spaces, and hauling a ladder up and down stairs. With experience, I’ve learned that a collapsable step ladder is the easiest ladder to carry around a job site and is best at getting through houses and into tight spots. My extendable ladder is a 16’ reach Metaltech ladder which in most cases can do inside the house and get me onto a single story roof. I can also usually access a 2 story roof from a deck or balcony with it.

Home Inspection Ladder

My second ladder (which spends most of the time in the back of the truck) is a 21’ Cosco multi-position ladder. This ladder is fantastic in versatility as it can be a tall or short ‘A’ frame ladder, it can adjust legs heights for uneven accesses (like on stairs), and it extends high enough to reach most 2 story roofs. The down fall of this ladder is it’s weight. It is a brute. It is also exceptionally awkward to move around a home inspection as there are 4 sets of rungs in the closed position.

What About Safety Concerns?

Many inspectors can tell stories about peers they know who have injured themselves on both these types of ladders. I’ve developed a routine now before using either ladder.

  • Do I need the ladder? CAHPI(BC) Home Inspection Standards of Practice put the Inspectors Safety first. The inspector can decline to access an area if they feel it is not safe, particularly if there is a way to inspect the element without using the ladder. For example, if we can view the roof from window or balcony accesses and view the rest with binoculars, this will yield nearly the same information about the roof and is much safer.
  • Placement - If we do need the ladder, are the feet on a firm surface? Can I place it where I have something to hang onto at the top? (Putting a ladder at a corner of the roof provides extra fall security and something to hold when getting on and off the ladder)
  • Angle - The ladder should have an angle so that 1/4 of the reach of the ladder is out from the bottom of the wall. On a 16’ reach ladder, that allows about a 12’ vertical safe reaching height. Too steep and you risk the ladder falling backwards, too shallow, and the stresses on the ladder are too high and it may fail.
  • Step Locks - On the extendable ladder, I check both right and left clips on each rung to ensure they are ‘green’. Every few jobs I catch one not locked in and am grateful for this check. On the multi-position ladder, I double check that all 4 of the locks are fully in place and level with each other.
  • Escape Plan - Before even a test step, I ask myself, if this goes wrong, what will happen? Will the ladder go through a window? Will I fall down a basement set of stairs? Did I really pick the best place to do this? Are the results of this climb critical to my inspection? I've moved the ladder more than once to a safer spot at this point. 
  • Test Step - Once I am confident the ladder is safe and the use of the ladder is necessary, I take a test step. The ladder should remain firmly planted and level. I also do a quick double check of the remaining climb then proceed with the inspection.

If you want more information on using a ladder safely, WorkSafeBC provides a considerable amount of training I highly recommend. We have even had them speak to us at Home Inspection learning sessions on this topic as it is so important.

At Solid State Inspections, we put the safety of you and your family first. We feel that in order to do that we also have to live out this safety in the way we do our work and you can always count on us to be professional, throughout, and safe when inspecting your home.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.