I'm looking for suggestions on how to reach this outside light.

I have a pole to change the bulb but I need to get up there to repair the socket.

  • I have a 14 foot stepladder. To use it over the Bilco door I'd have to build a platform about 3 feet high for two of the legs. Is there a practical and safe way to do that? By practical, I mean, not crazy expensive. 3 feet high would require a wide and strong base.
  • I could rent a 20 foot extension ladder (I don't own one) and place it on the stairs beneath the door, leaning on the wall to the left but then I'd be facing the wrong way while I'm on the ladder.
  • I could build a leveler for the rented ladder using a concrete block, perhaps with some shims underneath, placed on the staircase with the doors open. Then I could lean the ladder on the right hand wall and would be facing the right way. Is there a safe way to do this? Build my own ladder leveler for use with a rented ladder? What length ladder should I rent? It would be resting on a stair that is about 16 feet below the light.
  • I don't think the windows are a good option. The one on the left is fixed, and over 100 years old. I'm not touching it. The one on the right can open but 1) it's boarded up from the inside and behind some shelving and 2) It's about 2 feet above the light. I'd have to remove the shelving, the boarding, and be hanging out the window from my waist. I don't think so.
  • Any better ideas?

enter image description here

  • Maybe coming at this in a roundabout way, but what is the square gray pipe that runs along the corner of the house there? Is it a defunct drainpipe?
    – Willk
    Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 18:25
  • David Beneath the door is a staircase to the basement. My third and fourth ideas make use of it. Is there ever anything else under a Bilco door? Willk The gray pipe is a decorative cover for the A/C pipework. And I think it has been (ab)used to run NM cable up to the attic too. If you have an idea that makes use of my flimsy aluminum fake pipe I'm looking forward to it. :)
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 18:31
  • There are ladders or leg attachments that have the ability to have the length independently adjusted.
    – Alaska Man
    Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 18:32
  • @AlaskaMan I cannot find a ladder with leg adjusters for rent. The leg adjusters are about $100 to buy. Plus ladder rental, and if the rented ladder has feet riveted on I can't use the leveler. Hence I'm considering leveling with a concrete block and shims. Not thrilled with that or any of my ideas.
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 18:34
  • 1
    Yes re the conduit. I was changing the bulb with a pole-mounted suction cup. The old bulb WAS working, it was CFL that needed to replace with a dimmable LED. I felt the new bulb mis-thread and while trying to free it I loosened the locknut holding the socket to the box. So I now have a misthreaded bulb on a loosely dangling socket. Also, the conduit goes to a box that I just tidied up myself. I'm pretty confident that's all still good.
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 14:51

5 Answers 5


I love all the creative thinking, especially the climbing harness with lavish promises made to the assitant/witness/person in charge of summoning emergency services help, but..

Rent a longer extension ladder: 24 or 28, even 32 feet if necessary. Stand it on the ground in front of the cellar door. Lean it against the left wall above the fixed-pane window. Adjust those two points until the ladder crosses slightly below the light fixture at a comfortable position, then climb up and work on it.

You can stand with both feet on a rung, lean your left hip against the ladder, and twist your torso to the right to work on the fixture. You might have to adjust the ladder a time or two to get the positioning comfortable, but you can check that while standing on the lowest rung -- the angles and distances are the same all the way up. Personally, I'm most comfortable when working this sort of thing between elbow and shoulder-high relative to my footing and a little more than a forearm's length away.

  • While this was my least favorite answer, I'm marking it correct because while I was debating which other answer to attempt, I had the gutter cleaners over with their ridiculously long extension ladders that I would never brave, and one of them did it exactly as described here and it took him about 30 seconds start to finish. I would have spent the better part of a day renting or building some kind of rig.
    – jay613
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 18:47



That's right.

  1. Rope up and over the house. Throw a ball with a string and use it to pull the rope over the top.

  2. Pull it over until the knots you have placed to facilitate climbing up are in the right position. Secure it well on the far side of the house.

2a. If throwing rope over house does not work after many tries, hang rope out of window.

  1. Put on your $29 harness and climb up there. Having someone hold the bottom of the rope steady will help. Promise her a grilled burger meal. After you survive.

  2. When you get to the right knot, clip carabiner on harness to ring you have tied onto topmost knot.

  3. Did you remember to turn off the circuit breaker?

  4. Send assistant to turn off circuit breaker. Promise her expensive wine when you don't die.

  5. Change socket. Send assistant to turn on fuse and make sure it works. Promise brownies.

  6. Give decorative pipe a pat for Willk.

  7. Try to climb down.

  8. Unhook carabiner. Climb down. Love life! Start grill.

  • While not a bad idea, a climbing harness for someone who has never done climbing before could be just as dangerous as the ladder options. Also, climbing rope that would enable one to not die when falling are expensive and single-use (i.e. one fall and they must be discarded - they're not designed to take two falls). Safely anchoring the rope presents challenges equal to or greater than stabilizing the ladder.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 13:12
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    I +1 this for the sole reason of having woven the pipe into the solution. Aside from that, the jokes write themselves. I'll start with this one (more later): The last time I climbed a rope was 40 years ago, when my high school gym teacher provided me with what I will euphemistically call "great motivation". Step 10b here would be "call fire department to get me down" and if I'm going to do that I think I'd stick with "call professional to do the job" or even "install new light somewhere else".
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 14:38
  • The harness IS a good idea,if I resort to hanging out the window. Easy to attach it to a ceiling joist inside and makes that a safe and re-usable solution for various things outside various windows. The only issue, then, with this particular window is the degree to which it is inaccessible from inside. It's still plan B.
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 14:41

If the door, or, more accurately, the framing around the door, is sturdy enough to support weight, I'd build a platform out of plywood & 2x6, then set the ladder on top of that.

  • One 4x8 sheet of 3/4" plywood to be the horizontal platform above the door.
  • Four 2x6 to act as joists underneath it (this span calculator says that 2x6 on 16" centers will span 9 feet). Place one 2x6 at each edge, the other two in the center at 16" centers.
  • Additional 2x4 or 2x6 as necessary to build a frame work (wall) to support the "high" end of the platform (on the ground). Include some diagonal bracing to ensure the wall doesn't rack and collapse under you.
  • One 2x4 at the top end (opposite the temporary "wall") to support the joists and ensure the weight is borne by the Bilco door's framework and that the weight isn't resting solely on the door itself.
  • Place the framework over the door.
  • Place the ladder on the platform, leaning against the wall to the right.
  • If necessary/desired screw down some 2x4 as stops to prevent the ladder legs from sliding backwards. This may be necessary if the ladder angle to the house wall is a bit too steep, which may be unavoidable due to the width of the door/platform.

With the cost of lumber today, this may well run you the $300 you mentioned elsewhere. However, using screws for assembly means you can easily disassemble when you're done and have reasonably reusable lumber for your next project and it's not a totally lost cost.

The span calculator linked above indicates that a 2x4 is good for about a 6' span. Depending on the exact placement necessary to get the ladder under the light, you may only have 6' of the 4x8 over the door and could get away with using 2x4s instead of the 2x6s for your joists. Also, depending on your tolerance of risk, and since the load will be near the end of the span instead of the center, you may decide to stretch the load limit of the 2x4 instead of going with a 2x6. (This would be your decision, I'm not recommending it.)

Since all the weight of you and your ladder & equipment will be borne by the edge of the plywood farthest from the house, and this is a temporary, single use construction, you could offset the two center joists to that edge, maybe putting them at 6" OC. The shorter span should increase the load carrying capacity in that region and may help serve to reduce any bounciness in your plywood. If I were doing that, I'd leave one joist at the other edge, just to help support the plywood and to give something solid under the temporary wall at that edge. I'll leave it to the more engineering skilled to comment whether this would, in fact, still be safe, but for temporary use, I would feel comfortable considering this as an option.

The platform above the door has the benefit of lifting the entire ladder closer to the light fixture, thus, you should be able to use your existing 14' ladder instead of needing to rent/buy a longer one

  • My 14' ladder is a stepladder. I think I can adapt this to something that is simpler and safer than anything I had thought of, and much simpler than what you describe. I need to digest it a bit first. The door is very strong. Steel doors on concrete base. I can jump on it. I would have no issue with two legs of the stepladder resting directly on the door.
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 14:45
  • Ah! step ladder. I did miss that little detail. All in all, though, I'd suggest a platform anyway, though to get the top of the A frame close enough to the light fixture to work on it, you may need the platform to be all the way at the top of the door, not part of the way down. If the door is that strong, some of the framing described shouldn't be necessary. In any case, do be careful! You've provided many good answers, and we'd hate to have this source go splat...
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 14:53
  • that's very kind. <3. So I'm considering four options now: 1) I can rent a 12 foot scaffold with independent leg heights for $70/day. That gives me 17 foot reach at shoulder height. 2) A modification of your answer for the stepladder that would only need to support two legs. Basically a strong, wide, sawhorse made of 2x4s. 3) A rented extension ladder resting on the stairs (with the doors open) and a concrete block as a leveler. 4) If I could buy said scaffold used for about $300. Wouldn't mind having one of those around the house.
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 18:49
  • The other advantage of the platform, @jay613, is that you can keep it, stored in pieces, to use as a ladder support for next time you have to change the light bulb. :) Your next bulb change won't cost anything more than the bulb and a bit of time for reassembly.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 14:11
  • 1
    I'm thinking of a sawhorse-style thing that, if I used some old pine planks instead of plywood, could then double as a bench for the fire pit. With appropriate finish I could call it "Distressed" or "Reclaimed" and with that stroke of marketing I could even give it to my wife as a present. :-)
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 15:35

I've discovered something that is growing on me. A rented "Baker Scaffold" with independently adjustable legs. The one pictured can be rented for $70 a day for both levels with guard rails and outriggers. I could only use three outriggers in this location. I'd remove the casters and make wooden shoes to protect the doors from the legs of the scaffold.

enter image description here

Pros: This is by far the safest option and it's cheap. Cons: It will be an entire day's project including fetching and returning the thing.

I'm also thinking of approaches to build a platform for my own ladder. I think I can do it for less than $100. It would also be a whole day's work and less safe. The key to making it cost less is that I do not need an actual 4'x8' platform, I only need strength where the ladder's feet will be. So a large beefy sawhorse made entirely of 2x4s to hold up two feet.

  • 1
    This is, I'm sure, the safest way to do it, assuming you have levelers long enough to reach down to the basement step on which one end needs to rest. That shouldn't be an issue to rent those. My FIL & BIL purchased 4 sections of scaffold ~25 years ago. We used it a couple of summers ago to work on a porch rebuild. I rented adjustable legs & feet to accommodate ~4' difference in height from one end to the other. 2x8 blocking on the steps would help make up for leg levelers that aren't long enough. It's very easy to set up, too.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 13:14

Based on a comment that the only maintenance necessary is to tighten the lock nut holding the socket to the box, I'd seriously consider getting a trusted friend/family member to hold tight to my legs while I leaned out the window.

For the minute or two necessary to remove the old bulb, tighten the lock nut, then install a new bulb, this seems like a reasonable approach and the others would take more time to setup/tear down than they would spend in use.

Of course, it's your neck dangling out the window... Maybe, if you're a bigger guy, you do the anchoring and bribe/coerce the other (smaller) person to do the dangling.

  • The time and effort is similar. It's an old house that has been severely reconfigured over the centuries. Behind that window is now a linen closet. Emptying and refilling the closet would take an hour. Removing the shelves not too difficult. The window has been boarded up and, I looked, using headless pins (not screws). That's another hour to remove and replace. Then I'm hoping the window mechanism works, the screen doesn't break when I remove it, and goes back in without a monumental fight. So all in all this solution is roughly as daunting as the rest.
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 11:55
  • 1
    Fair enough, @jay613, but the point stands for others in the future contemplating a similar situation, but without all the closet disassembly.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 12:02
  • Looking now at the answer I just posted and imagining the effort to build and take down that scaffold with no prior experience, this answer (the window) is now creeping its way to be my favorite.
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 13:02

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