When the fates dealt me a one-two punch one afternoon, a ladder stabilizer saved my life. I was rebuilding soffits and fascias three stories up on my 40-ft., fully extended ladder. As I juggled tools and lumber, rising winds began buffeting the ladder. It wiggled and jiggled, but withstood the gusts, thanks to the stabilizer. Then, in a Keystone cop-like maneuver, my partner accidentally banged a 1×10 across the bottom of the ladder. It shuddered even more, but stayed put. Without the stabilizer, that ladder and I would have slid off the gable wall and crashed to the ground.
A ladder stabilizer (also called a stand-off) is an accessory with wide tubular arms and non-skid rubber pads that grips a house wall, increasing both a ladder’s stability and your “reach”working aloft. Stabilizers mount on all types of extension ladders, allowing them to straddle wide windows or “stand off”farther from a house to reach deep eaves, while providing a rock-steady workstation. We’ll show you how a stabilizer can extend your ladder’s capabilities and how to use it to work faster and more safely.
Stabilizers help ladders do more
Photo 1: High windows
Working around high windows is easier with a stabilizer set up in a wide stance. Something as light as a gallon of paint can safely hang from the stabilizer’s arms, but otherwise avoid placing weight on them.
Photo 2: Overhangs
Paint trim on a wide overhang without performing a backflip. A stabilizer permits a direct view of the work area and makes this kind of work safer and less tiring. Fixed-depth stabilizers, like this one, attach to an extension ladder by slipping (and locking) over the top two rungs.
Photo 3: Hanging gutters
Use a stabilizer to stand a ladder away from a deep soffit—providing a gap to lay a gutter section in—and making working alone easier. Some adjustable stabilizers, capable of multiple configurations, can be set up to work in front of soffits as deep as 24 in.
Although ladders are the No. 1 tool for helping you work up high, their narrow, 16- to 20-in. stance sometimes limits their ability to position you properly and safely for tackling these tricky tasks:
- Accessing all sides of a wide window (Photo 1). With a stabilizer, you position the ladder only once to efficiently reach all areas around the window.
- Painting the rake board of a wide overhang (Photo 2). A stabilizer allows you to see and reach the work from a more comfortable position.
- Working around a deep soffit to hang a gutter (Photo 3). If the ladder rests against the house, you have to bend back too far to work on the fascia. If it leans against the fascia, the ladder interferes with placing the gutter.
Renting scaffolding can solve most access problems. But you’ll save a lot of money and setup time by renting or buying a ladder stabilizer instead.
Be aware of overhead power lines. You could be electrocuted if you touch them with your ladder or stabilizer.
Adjustable stabilizers are the most versatile
Photo 4: Stabilizer attachment method
Carefully attach a stabilizer to an extension ladder. Read the directions and determine whether the stabilizer is designed to fit aluminum and/or fiberglass ladders. Attach the stabilizer only at the top of the ladder and position the U-bolts and angle clips correctly on the side rails and around the ladder rung.
Photo 5: Converting the stabilizer
Convert adjustable-type stabilizers so they have a wide stance and shallower stand-off OR narrow stance and deeper stand-off. The foot pads and the stabilizer arm sections can flip-flop into either the wide or deep configuration. The rubber foot pads are detachable and set up on either end of the stabilizer arms. The rubber pads allow the firmest grip on siding. To prevent black marks on the siding, cover the pads with accessory fleece bonnets.
Stabilizers can be divided into two groups: fixed-depth and adjustable. Before renting or buying either type, verify that it’s intended for use with your aluminum or fiberglass ladder. To install a fixed-depth stabilizer,like the one shown in Photo 2, slide it over your ladder’s rungs and lock it in position with the safety clip. A typical model spans about 45 in. and holds the ladder 10 in. away from the house wall. They have a load capacity of 300 lbs. and are sold at home centers. Adjustable stabilizers are the most versatile. Attach this type to your ladder’s side rails with U-bolts (Photo 4). It too has a 300-lb. load capacity and quickly converts from variable widths of 49 in. to 65 in. (at a 12-in. depth), to a narrower width of 48 in. (but at a 29-in. depth). You can get one at a rental center or from home centers and large hardware stores.
Use your stabilizer safely
Apply this ironclad rule: When installing a stabilizer, position it so it will be between the house and ladder (Photo 5). Follow these other rules too:
- Don’t use the type of stabilizers shown here on most folding (also called “articulated”) ladders. Use only the manufacturer’s recommended stabilizer for the model and duty rating of folding ladders.
- If necessary, enlist a helper to raise the ladder (with stabilizer) into position, especially around power lines and trees.
- Don’t stand on the stabilizer.
- Stabilizers aren’t load-rated to carry the additional weight of ladder jacks and walk planks hung from the ladders. Also, don’t use the stabilizer arms to support planks.
- Working aloft using old joint compound buckets to carry tools and materials is wonderfully efficient. For maximum safety, limit the weight of the filled bucket so the total load (including your weight) doesn’t exceed the capacity of either the ladder or the stabilizer. Tie a rope to the bucket, climb the ladder, haul the bucket up and tie it to the ladder rails, not the arms of the stabilizer. Stabilizers can give you an increased sense of security aloft, but know your limits! Avoid a mistake caused by overconfidence—like overreaching to get an additional 6 in. closer to a spot—that could lead to tragedy.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- Extension ladder