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Last time I was using a 40' extension ladder, it was a major challenge to retract it back from being extended and up against a wall. There were two of us and it was seriously scary. Could have gone wrong and crashed, doing damage or worse to nearby building, vehicles and us, due to it size and particularly weight.

Is there a way to do this securely or is it always, for the lack of a better term, a crapshoot?

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    I changed your question to remove the references to folding. There are "folding" ladders, like the Little Giant. You have an extension ladder. – longneck May 24 '16 at 20:45
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Your ladder should have a rope and pulley mechanism for extension and retraction. Make sure you understand how it operates to prevent finger injury. Normally it's simply a matter of pulling down on the front rope to raise the ladder. To retract, lift the ladder a few inches using the rope, which allows the retention brackets to release, and lower the ladder extension with the rope.

Walking the bottom out to lay the ladder down isn't a good option. It puts huge torque on the person holding the upper portion of the ladder and risks damage to the building.

A single fairly strong person can safely stand and lower a ladder by simply placing the ladder base against the wall our foundation and walking it up from underneath, or by backing away.

Watch a firefighter do it.

  • That doesn't work really when the ladder is that tall and heavy. Works with my 20 footer – amphibient May 24 '16 at 14:41
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    In what way does it not work? With two people it should be easy. – isherwood May 24 '16 at 14:42
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    Then the only solution is more or stronger people. :) – isherwood May 24 '16 at 14:58
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    It doesn't sound like the OP doesn't know how to operate the ladder, it sounds like they're having trouble managing the fully extended ladder. – Tester101 May 24 '16 at 15:23
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    The OP mentions two people. I took it as given that we were dealing with two, and that one would play a supporting role. Obviously all of this depends on a persons size and strength. I'm not sure what's up with all the nitpicking. – isherwood May 24 '16 at 20:19
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Folded as in a folding ladder? Or as an extension ladder?

I think the safest method would be to have two people hold the ladder so that you can walk the bottom of the ladder away from the wall while keeping the top of the latter close to but not actually against the wall. That way if the ladder falls, it will fall towards the structure, and not fall far before it stops, resting against the wall.

Folding ladder: Once the ladder is low enough then you can fold it up.

Extension ladder: Release the catches on the ladder while holding the lifting rope and lower it to its shortest height before walking it back from the wall.

  • I don't know the terminology but usually a 40' ladder consists of two 20' parts that slide together – amphibient May 24 '16 at 14:14
  • If it's hinged, it's a folding ladder. If the two 20 foot ladders slide against each other to get longer, it's an extension ladder. – The Evil Greebo May 24 '16 at 14:15
  • So I guess it is an extension ladder. Have you ever seen a 40' "folding" ladder? Is that the same as a stepladder? – amphibient May 24 '16 at 14:16
  • Slide together... – amphibient May 24 '16 at 14:16
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    +1 for saying "two people". I occasionally had to manage a 40' aluminum ladder when I installed gutters for living, and it was never easy. One notable day I needed to take down the ladder alone, and there was no room to brace the foot against the building (the neighboring building was too close); I ended up sliding it closed while close to the wall, carrying it upright to an open area, and "walking" the rungs with my hands until I ran out of leverage at which point I just let the top fall. I wouldn't recommend this method to anybody. – KJP May 24 '16 at 16:33
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The way to handle a long extension ladder safely is to learn how. That sounds tautological, but the point is that you shouldn't mess with it until you've had training and practice , in a safe, open area. If a ladder that long is too much for you to handle, then leave it to the experts.

If you want to learn, here are a few pointers.

1) Make sure the rope is clear of obstructions and that the pulley runs smoothly.

2) Keep the ladder close to the house when raising it, and keep it dead vertical while raising it (not easy). Once it's long enough -- which is to say well above roof level, rest it against the roof and slowly pull the base away until it's at the recommended angle.

3) Before stepping onto the ladder make sure that (a) the rope is tied to a rung as a safety factor to avoid accidental telescoping, (b) the ladder is not tilted to either side, and (c) the ladder's feet are solidly seated on the ground. I recommend a base stabilizer, which is a roughly U-shaped bar that bolts to the ladder and provides outrigger feet to stop the ladder from falling sideways.

To lower the ladder, reverse these steps.

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It sounds like you need more than two people (or some special jigs) to handle the weight safely.

Two people can hold the ladder. One person controls the rope, using his body not just the forearms to pull and then gently let out the rope. That's three people.

The ropekeeper can use his body as a capstan. His own weight, not his arm strength, holds the weight of the ladder-half. Let it slide out with friction against your trunk, or turn in place.

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