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I cannot come up with a reliable way to keep the ladder steady when it's leaning against the shed roof. I need to paint the trim two storeys up. When the right side of the ladder touches the roof edge at the point indicated by the arrow in the sketch, the ladder's left leg comes up off the ground a few inches. The ladder is then a-kilter, standing on one leg, and I'm concerned it will slide down the roof with me on it.

Is there something painters rig up to solve this problem, short of scaffolding? Something more reliable than a couple of bath towels draped over the drip-edge?


Scaffolding would have been the safest solution, but it was hard to find one in a timely rental (and it's in the back yard and inaccessible to a cherry-picker). I managed to jerry-rig a solution to the tippy ladder problem. My son said to me, you don't want to hear 'jerry-rig' and 'ladder' in the same breath. But the clamps actually held the ladder quite securely.

Makeshift ladder clamp

Tippy ladder on shed roof

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  • What about A-frame ladder and paint-roller with extended handle?
    – jnovacho
    May 24 at 6:56
  • I cannot get the roller well into the corner at the intersection of the trim and the soffit overhang, and when I turn the roller sideways to do get better into the corner, the edge of the roller scrapes off the paint of the perpendicular surface.
    – mr blint
    May 24 at 14:52
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    No way I'd rely on those clamps for safety. They seem good and grippy, but a little wiggle and they'll pop right off. I've used them for many years on many projects (ladders and Quick-Grip clamps). That's the very definition of a false sense of security.
    – isherwood
    May 24 at 21:24
  • @isherwood: Since it was my own noggin at risk, I did give the ladder a good shove, both when I was up on the roof setting the clamps and then again when I was down on the ground. With the clamps the ladder was far more stable than it was when I relied upon "basic geometry" to position the ladder against the edge of the roof. I could not get it to be stable no matter how I tried to position it, probably because the "ground" was a patio that had a slight draining slope to it.
    – mr blint
    May 24 at 22:06
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    I know very well that when anything shifts with that type of clamp they just pop off. There's no middleground. I'd rather go without so I can sense when things are moving than have it pop loose in one catastrophic go under force. Take my word that I know of what I speak. This isn't just general caution.
    – isherwood
    May 25 at 20:27

6 Answers 6

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Rotate the bottom of the ladder toward the downslope a bit, and shift it the same way. Let's not overcomplicate things. That's all it takes. It would be counter-clockwise in your diagram.

It may seem like this creates a tilt in the ladder, but that's actually how things are in balance. All four points of contact are stable.

Here are the various situations demonstrated on a 6:12 pitch roof and level slab...

1. Ladder leaned square with wall, bottom parallel to the wall, top gapped on one side

enter image description here

2. Ladder leaned square with wall, bottom gapped one side, top tight

enter image description here

3. Ladder skewed with respect to wall, bottom rotated and shifted, top tight

enter image description here

enter image description here

#3 is clearly the ticket. This arrangement can be found for any roof pitch, assuming fairly level ground, though at some point things get weird and potentially unsafe (beyond maybe a 10:12 pitch).

If you can't get this to work with just a slight side offset, your ground surface is probably out of level. Use a scrap of wood or masonry to add height as needed, or dig a little divot. Be sure it's not slick, and don't stack things unless you fasten them together. They'll tend to slide when you don't want them to slide.

From there, follow good ladder safety practices:

  • Maintain approximately a 1:3 slope
  • Keep the ladder feet on stable ground which isn't slippery (use the ladder's flippy toes where appropriate)
  • Keep your weight roughly centered over the width of the ladder
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  • I tried this approach but the ladder's legs are never both solidly on the ground when there are two points of contact at the roof.
    – mr blint
    May 24 at 14:46
  • I think it's the drainage slope of the patio, probably 1/4 inch per foot.
    – mr blint
    May 24 at 15:03
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    Then you need to shift the bottom sideways more. Find the right combination.
    – isherwood
    May 24 at 15:19
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    That's... pretty stinking ingenious. TBH, I'd never thought of that (obviously, or would have suggested it in my answer). I'll have to give that a go next time 'round. Fortunately, I've got a straight section of roof right next to where I've got a gable end, but then the issue is getting around the gutter w/o crushing it. This looks like a better option. Def has my +1 (and thanks for the pics - worth 1000 words!)
    – FreeMan
    May 25 at 11:34
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    Yes, I typically do this rather than risking damage to my gutters. Another benefit is that you have an easier step-off due to the decreased angle between the ladder and the roof, and the roof is lower where you land relative to the ladder step (assuming you don't go up past the roof edge).
    – isherwood
    May 25 at 15:36
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ladder standoff image from zoro.com no endorsement implied

A ladder standoff is fairly normal for this sort of issue. Put the feet on the wall.

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    Fine suggestion, but my bad for failing to include some very relevant info. There's no wall, it's a screened-in porch. I'll modify the sketch.
    – mr blint
    May 23 at 17:36
  • The structure of the porch appears to have a wooden frame supporting the screen/scrim. That would be an ideal leaning spot for this stand-off, I would even go as far as securing a temporary or permanent wooden beam to the outside to take this load.
    – Criggie
    May 25 at 0:57
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I would place the top of the ladder against the wall under the overhang.

  • You need to paint the soffit, so this works well for that.
  • You need to paint the fascia. It doesn't work quite so well for that because you have to reach backwards a bit and don't have much reach.
    • Because of the limited reach, you'll need to move and reset the ladder a lot.

Personally, I'd use scaffold. It gives you good, safe, solid access to an 8-10' section all at once. It is (or at least was, last I looked) pretty reasonable to rent a number of sections. It takes a while to set up, but the do make wheels so you can roll it around (you may need to set it on some 2x10" or 2x12" to give you a surface to roll on). The amount of time spend setting it up is recouped by the amount of time not spent in the hospital because you fell off the ladder stretching to reach that one last little spot because you didn't want to move the ladder for the 53rd time.

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  • 7
    "The amount of time spend setting it up is recouped by the amount of time not spent in the hospital because you fell off the ladder stretching to reach that one last little spot because you didn't want to move the ladder for the 53rd time." Words of wisdom :-)
    – mr blint
    May 23 at 16:04
  • I know me. I know that I'd try to stretch for that last little bit and that being on a 24' extension ladder to reach the peak, that little stretch could be deadly. I guess knowing one's self is a form of wisdom... ;)
    – FreeMan
    May 23 at 16:07
  • As for the scaffolding, zero units available for rental at every big box store within a 10-mile radius.
    – mr blint
    May 23 at 16:09
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    Try equipment rental places instead of the box stores. TBH, I would have never even though to check there. An internet search for "equipment rental" should return several firms. There are a couple of major nation-wide companies that are gobbling up all the little local companies, but there are still a few local ones near me. Also, expand your search. A 20 mile drive each way is still cheaper than that hospital stay. ;)
    – FreeMan
    May 23 at 16:12
  • You could also try renting a cherry-picker. If it's only for a few hours it should be reasonably affordable. Companies that do tree removal might be willing to cut a deal. May 24 at 14:01
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I learned what a "headstrap" is while recovering from a fall off an extension ladder leaning on a pole. The normal process is to chain or rope the top of the ladder to the thing you're working on so it can't fall.

Admittedly in this case there's no pole, but you could run a pair of long ropes across the roof in opposite directions, even if it means going clear over the house.


If the porch roof were strong enough to support your weight, then simply stand on the roof while painting and leave the ladder positioned somewhere else around the house. Just paint backward toward the ladder, and avoid literally painting yourself into a corner.

You can stand on the main roof and use a long pole and roller to do the porch roof from above, if its not load bearing.

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  • 1
    I would worry about rope stretch with that long tie-in setup.
    – Reid
    May 25 at 16:39
  • @Reid excellent point - some rope has crazy levels of stretch, and some have none. Shorter would minimise stretch, as would screwing some eye bolts into the roof's wooden framing and tying off directly.
    – Criggie
    May 25 at 19:39
  • All rope has at least some stretch.
    – Reid
    May 25 at 22:07
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My jerry-rigged solution was to clamp an "outside corner" length of wood to the roof and then to clamp the ladder to that piece of wood. You could make one of these pieces by sawing out a section of a 4x4 post to get an "extruded" L-shape.

My feet were on a rung only about 8 feet off the ground. Had I needed to go any higher than that, I would have waited until a scaffold rental was available locally.

I tested this rig to make sure it was secure given my particular set of circumstances, but the safety of this sort of hack depends on the clamping force of your clamps and on the nature of the task.

So, CAVEAT LECTOR!

roof-ladder-clamp

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Looks like you won't be able to reach the middle of the wall above the extension anyway, so get some boards that will straddle the 'joists' on the roof, and use those, getting there up the ladder firmly standing on the grass shown in the pic.

There is (I use one) a leg extension which clamps to the bottom of one stringer. Very safe, but won't really alter the mating between upper ladder and sloping roof. Better for use on sloping ground/steps, etc.

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