Whenever I saw a professional on a ladder, there was someone else at the foot of the ladder holding the sides of the ladder.

Now that my rain gutters are frozen solid, they are creaking, and I'm concerned the load may break them.

Is climbing to the gutters above the second level really a task that an amateur should not tackle, certainly not alone, or does there exist a way to dig the feet of the ladder (by spokes into the ground, perhaps) to stop the ladder from sliding?

Update: The unstated (but, I figured, pretty obvious) reason why I'm asking this question is that I'd like to save myself from even the most mundane of fall injuries.

In other words, please do not add comments saying it's dangerous. If you'd like to mention that repairing a slightly chipped tooth is far more expensive than hiring someone to do it, well, I know that. Feel free to write instead as an answer why this is so dangerous that no amateur should tackle it. Some tasks (such as rolling/unrolling garage door springs) are so risky, no amateur should tackle them. Some are outright illegal for an amateur to tackle (modifying the gas pipelines). Cleaning gutters is clearly not in the latter category. Is it in the former? Arguing for this is a perfectly valid answer.

  • 2
    Possibly broken gutters are much cheaper than a broken (head, neck, back, etc.) Ladders explicitly warn against being set up on frozen ground, among other locations. Leave the gutters to their fate. In summer, either replace them if they break, and/or install heating cables you can turn on safely from ground level (or inside) when they freeze up again. You don't need to run those cables all winter, just when needed to free up a path for water when they freeze.
    – Ecnerwal
    Feb 12, 2021 at 15:28
  • 1
    By the way, the "professional" holding the sides of the ladder will not keep the ladder from sliding out. They'll just go along for the ride as well.
    – isherwood
    Feb 12, 2021 at 15:31
  • I would put cinder blocks in front of the legs to increase friction and stability. Also, err more on a tip-prone angle than a scoot-prone angle of the hypotenuse than you might on a summer day, which might strain your neck but is better than breaking it...
    – dandavis
    Feb 12, 2021 at 16:15
  • 1
    @dandavis I'd be concerned cinder blocks would slide. I was seeking confirmation that some idea such as removing the 4" of snow/ice from the ground, followed by digging a pair of 4" holes in the grass, then putting the two legs in them, would stabilize the ladder—plus, ideally, confirmation that grass would repopulate the refilled two small holes without much trouble.
    – Sam7919
    Feb 12, 2021 at 16:19
  • 1
    @Sam Most houses would not have have good places to tie ropes. Used to walk on my shingled roof all the time, they have good sliding resistance. Replaced shingles with steel and was very worried when had to go up. Kind of like changing from walking on dirt to walking on ice.
    – crip659
    Feb 14, 2021 at 15:17

5 Answers 5


Now that my rain gutters are frozen solid, they are creaking, and I'm concerned the load may break them.

You don't need a ladder. A garden hose taped to a long stick plus hot water will do the job just fine. If you can poke it out of a roof window, you'll need a shorter stick. You could also use a spray nozzle, but the water jet will be cold by the time it arrives on the ice you want to melt.

Plus you won't have to smash the ice which risks destroying your gutters in the process.

  • 1
    For an amateur this is likely the best option for anything higher than 9-10ft. I even used it once to solve clogging, but by blowing water from a hose through the down-pipe. I thought it was beginner's luck, or a fluke. It will be nice to see that there is a system to it.
    – Sam7919
    Feb 19, 2021 at 13:50
  • Yeah garden hose is verrrrrrry good to unclog pipes too.
    – bobflux
    Feb 19, 2021 at 14:07

The question doesn't have a specific answer since ladders, ground conditions, and tools-on-hand vary. Here are some ideas.

  • Use integrated spikes. Many extension ladders have feet which can be spun around to expose metal claw edges. These are not ideal on pavement, but work well on softer surfaces. If your ladder doesn't have clawed feet you may be able to flip the feet to the outside so the ladder legs dig into the ground.
  • Dig small holes for the ends of the legs.
  • Park a vehicle bumper against the ladder, or against a strong object which is against the ladder and can't flip over or slide out.
  • Anchor the legs to a fixed object with the tension oriented under the ladder.
  • 1
    I highly recommend a ladder with adjustable-length feet on the bottom <i.imgur.com/23R1nR3.jpg>. I'll never buy anything else - the ground is almost never flat and level. Werner is one brand, and has a built-in bubble level to make sure you've gotten the ladder as vertical as possible. They also sell just the legs that can be added to an existing ladder.
    – Blobfish
    Feb 14, 2021 at 19:07

Most ladder accidents are not a result of leaning back until it tips, or indeed the footing slipping away, but from over-reaching & sending the ladder sliding or even spinning sideways.

The simplest, safest way to prevent ladder slippage & mitigate for over-reach is to attach wheels… to the top.

This means the force on the ladder is closer to vertical. The wheels allow for the full weight to press into the ground, reducing ground slip & are less prone to sideways slip at the top.

You can get these either in-line or attached to a wider stand-off, which is even more stable.

enter image description here

You still have to contend with your potentially slippery ground surface in this case. I would dig a 6" mini trench to park the feet in. Avoid the concrete apron in icy weather.

  • I'm not sure about the "close to vertical" thing. You still need adequate slope (about 1:3) to prevent backward tipover. This device doesn't change that, and actually requires that the ladder base be further from the wall.
    – isherwood
    Nov 6 at 17:24
  • @isherwood - I didn't say 'close' I said 'closer'. Putting wheels at the top removes the frictional force against the wall, transferring more weight directly to the base. Of course the base can still slip if you don't make adequate preparation - but the base slipping is not the prime cause of ladder accident; unbalancing is.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 6 at 17:28
  • Typo on my part, but your answer is still unclear to me. I think what you mean is that the gravity on the ladder feet will be greater, increasing friction. That's not really a matter of "vertical".
    – isherwood
    Nov 6 at 17:41
  • Gravity is vertical. Removing friction against the vertical increases the direct downward force. The force horizontally against the ground increases, but so does the frictional resistance. Shear forces become less significant & traction increases. This is exactly the same bit of physics that makes bouncing up & down in the back of a truck on a muddy field work.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 6 at 17:49

I hate heights. I have done a lot of roof work - I was a shingle demo boy in my teens. And I hated heights.

I can tell you from experience - because I will notice the least amount of wobble is that you can do whatever you want at the base. You can dig it down a foot.

It doesn't matter.

The risk isn't you tipping backwards (unless you set up your ladder foolishly). The fear once you start getting 12-15' or higher is sideways. It is psychological too. If you have a gutter 20' up you clean out and do whatever and lets say you reach a 3' span easily. Well you want to reach out an extra foot because you don't like going up and down that many times...

You lean a little too much and that ladder be sliding. Yes have had it happen quite a few times. You shat in your drawers and try to lean the other way. I was a teenager at the time and guess in my mind I thought I will jump and hang onto the gutters!

So that was a big speech that could be summed up by saying... once you go over 12-15' you either have to have some sort of side support for upper part of ladder or a spotter (big guy) at the bottom.


Some more ideas, assuming the goal is to avoid ladder kickout...

I had an idea sparked by a page to put a 2x4 near the legs and pound it in with two huge stakes into it. Maybe add some sandbags? Put a big rock outside the lowest run? Pound a wedge into it/put it in a hole? :)

More standard advice is to tie it off at the top (rope to something on both sides, lock jaw ladder grip that grabs the gutters, ladder anchor that grips a board). Use a stand off. Wear a harness that's anchored from up high or the other side. Drill a screw into the wall so you can attach to it (or something through a window?) and/or harness yourself to the ladder itself.

Or multiple of the above. Or scaffolding. Or a lift machine with a bucket. I'll admit the lock jaw ladder grip makes the ladder feel secure, as do stand offs though a little less. You want something at the bottom (if unsafe to climb), then something at the top. At least something at the top. Good luck!

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