I have a two storey house and need to get onto the roof to apply some heat paint on my furnace exhaust pipe before winter.

It looks about 20-22' from the ground to the edge my eaves, so to be safe I figure I need a 28' extension ladder.

The ground around my house is level and there is plenty of room.

How do I correctly position my ladder? Do I need to attach it to my roof somehow so it won't fall over (with me on it)?

  • I've often wondered the same thing. My old house had an inside corner that would let me climb the ladder and then step sideways onto the roof. My new house doesn't have such a convenient way on the roof.
    – Josh Bush
    Dec 5, 2011 at 3:45

2 Answers 2


Personally, I hate ladders with a passion. :) Heights are best left to birds, squirrels, etc. Having said that...

A ladder stabilizer can often help. This is a bracket that attaches to your ladder. It makes the ladder much more stable when leaned against the house. A nice thing about the ladder stabilizer is it lets you lean the ladder on the wall of your house, NOT against the edge of your gutter, possibly causing damage to the gutters.

Ladder-Max Stand-off Stabilizer

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Next, make sure the ground is flat and solid under your ladder's feet. If the ground is not so, I made a wooden wedge to place under one of the feet of my ladder to make sure the ladder will be happily placed. The bottom of that wedge has spikes sticking out of it, so it will not slip on the grass. You can also buy extension ladders with one leg than can be adjusted in length to account for uneven ground.

To climb onto the roof, you want to run the top of the ladder past the roof, so it extends far enough that you can hold on when you step on and off. I'd suggest it should be at least 3 feet past the edge of your gutter, and 4 feet is better. I also have a helper hold onto the bottom of the ladder to stabilize it. A helper is a good idea in general anyway. One thing you don't wish is for the ladder to fall down when you are standing on the roof, leaving you with no way down, and nobody around to put the ladder back in position (or, as my wife might add, to call 911 when necessary.) A picture is worth a thousand words though:

fireman pic

Getting back onto the ladder off the roof is merely a matter of reversing your steps, as you hold onto the top end of the ladder with your hands.

Obey this setback rule: keep the base of the ladder at least 1 foot out from the house for every 3 feet in height. (Yes, many say to use a 1/4 ratio, but I often tend to go for 1/3.) So if the top of the ladder touches the house at 15 feet up, the base wants to be between 4 and 5 feet out. The trick is to not have it at too steep of a pitch, as then it would too easily tip away from the house - a bad thing especially if you are on it. The idea is that when you are standing on the ladder, you always want the center of gravity (of you plus the ladder) to be between the foot of the ladder and the house.

If I have an extension ladder standing on my deck, I'll often screw down a 2x4 cleat outside of the feet. This prevents the feet from moving/slipping out when I am on the ladder. On a grass or dirt footing, the feet of an extension ladder can swivel into what are effectively spikes that can be set firmly into the ground. These prevent the base of the ladder from moving out from under you.

Other rules - don't climb a ladder if you can avoid it when it is windy, or if you are even remotely tired or not completely focused on the matter at hand. If you are very uncomfortable with climbing ladders, money solves all problems here, as you can always hire even small jobs out.

Here are a few links you might find useful:

How to Climb a Ladder Safely

The Right Way to Set Up and Climb a Ladder

  • 7
    A good trick to get a safe angle, is to stand with your toes just at the base of the ladder, then extend your arms straight out in front of you. If your fingers just touch the rung, your ladder is at the proper angle.
    – Tester101
    Dec 5, 2011 at 11:48
  • 4
    Another thing that should always be mentioned with ladder safety, Do not overreach. When working on a ladder, your torso should always stay between the rails. If you cannot comfortably reach something to the right or left of the ladder; don't reach for it, climb down and re-position the ladder.
    – Tester101
    Dec 5, 2011 at 12:52
  • If the feet of the ladder are on uneven ground, consider digging some dirt out from under the lowest leg to level it. This is often a safer alternative to placing an object under the highest leg. Aug 24, 2016 at 21:10

From somebody who has done this many times, occasionally for money

Get help. You can set this up to look rock solid, but no matter how secure you think it is when climbing one wrong move and you're learning to fly in milliseconds. Having a trusted friend or family member hold the ladder at all times is the only way to make this as safe as possible.

Conversely, having this kind of assistance will let you use even the crappiest of ladders with relative confidence.

Yes, various technological solutions will make solo climbs suck less, but nothing is as effective as 2 hands and a brain.

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