As with many inspectors, when I need a tool for work, I research what's available to find the one that will best fit my need. To this end, I wrote an article on telescoping ladders in 2006 for another national home inspector organization. Based on the research for that article, my first big purchase was a Little Giant and then later, an Xtend & Climb. Six years later, those ladders are starting to show the signs of daily use.
Ladders are one of those tools we tend to take for granted. In the fire service, we are expected to look at them monthly and do major inspections on a yearly basis. How often do you inspect your ladders for wear and tear?
Personally, I pull out my ladders twice a year to clean, lubricate and inspect them. Recently, I noticed my Xtend & Climb was starting to show its age. I could tell the locks were getting worn and occasionally were sluggish. The feet also were showing wear, nearly ready for replacement. So, I had a choice: to repair or replace the ladder? I know I could get new feet, but the locks are internal so lubrication is the only way I know to service them.
Having made the decision to replace my ladders, I decided to look at both articulating and telescoping ones for this article. I invited Little Giant, Xtend & Climb, Werner and Telesteps* to send their latest products appropriate for home inspectors. Since I currently own an Xtend & Climb and a Little Giant Model 22, I'm also using them for the comparison. One of the differences from my previous review and this one is the inclusion of fiberglass ladders. Many commercial ladders now are fiberglass to meet OSHA standards for nonconductivity. Fiberglass ladders are slightly heavier than their aluminum counterparts and easier to damage.
Photo, l to r: Xtend and Climb 770P, Werner Compact Extension Ladder,Little Giant Conquest, Werner Multi-Ladder and Little Giant Model 22
Xtend & Climb
When I first incorporated the Xtend & Climb into my inspections I thought I would use it as a dedicated interior ladder, but in a matter of weeks it became my primary ladder. It works on all the single-story climbs and gets me into all the attics, especially those high garage ceiling attics. I received the 12.5-foot model 770P for review and the biggest change is the bright yellow trim and locks. At 27 pounds, the weight is the same. In the original model, the lock indicators are a bunch of rivet heads that aren't obvious. In the new model, the locks have green indicators that are visible when the sections are locked in place. The new model seems to descend more quickly with loud thumps when it's on a hard surface. Although, the new trim makes it harder to catch a finger, you quickly learn the hand positions, as this ladder will bite. The fit and finish are superior and sections join tightly together when extended. It's important to keep this ladder clean. I noticed when it is dirty, the sections do not close easily and the locks can be tough to operate. Xtend & Climb recommends cleaning the ladder with Pledge™ because it has a lubricant and repels dust.
Xtend & Climb now makes a 15.5-foot model, which I really wanted, however; it wasn't available for this test.
Little Giant Conquest
The Conquest was built with "real estate professionals" in mind. It's a fiberglass ladder, so it's non-conductive and feels far stiffer than its aluminum sibling. The rocker locks took a little bit to get used to, but once familiar are easier and quicker to operate than other locks. One welcome change is the straight rails on the top section. I now realize that I was avoiding raising my old Little Giant sufficiently above the gutter line because I didn't want to have to step around the flared side rails. With the Conquest, the rails are straight at the top, making it easier to transfer from the ladder to the roof and back again. The Conquest has a carrying handle on the side rail for moving it around. At this point, there is only one size of the Conquest, the Model 17. When fully extended, it has a climbing height of 15 feet, which means you will not be able to use it to access a two-story roof. I hope they produce a model 22 that will get you onto a two-story roof.
Little Giant also has the Revolution XE, which is a lightweight aluminum model. This model still has the flared ends, but does have wheels for easy movement. We did not test this model.
Werner Compact Extension Ladder
This is a fiberglass, 18-foot ladder with three sections. The quality was good and, unlike larger two-section ladders, there is no rope and pulley to raise it. I took it out on a couple of jobs, but didn't like the way it felt when extended. Also, I noted on several occasions that one of the dogs would not lock and had to be manually engaged on the rung. I found the method of raising and lowering awkward, but to be fair, with practice, I am sure it would get easier. Werner also has a 24-foot model that retracts into a 9'3" package. For most home inspectors, I don't see any advantages of using this ladder over the multi-ladder design.
Twelve years ago, I bought my first Werner Multi-ladder and used it for my first two years as an inspector. I was interested in seeing what changes have occurred in its design. Werner's Multi-ladder features compare favorably to those of Little Giant's Classic Ladder.
The locking mechanisms are cast aluminum; the fit and finish is very good. The ladder is slightly heavier than the Little Giant Classic. In daily use, there was little difference from the Classic. What does set this ladder apart from the Little Giant is the cost. Shopping on Amazon, I found the Little Giant Classic 17 for $293 and the Werner MT-17 for $175. For those starting out on a budget, this would be an easy decision. From a price/performance perspective, I believe the Werner Multi-ladder is a winner.
The days of having a full-size truck with a ladder rack on it are coming to a close. With inspection fees staying stagnant and costs increasing, we need to look for ways to save money. By replacing my truck with a Subaru Outback, I was able to save approximately $3,500 a year in fuel. Most clients don't even realize that I am carrying two ladders in the back of the Outback. For those who need longer ladders, both Werner and Little Giant have models with climbing heights of 23 feet that will fit in an 8-foot space.
Obviously, you have to look at your needs and decide what works for you. If you need a 24-foot ladder to scale roofs every day, a compact ladder may not be for you. However, if those rooflines are the exception, and most of your inspections are on one- or two-story homes, one of these compact ladders should be in your tool kit.
*Telesteps chose not to participate in this review. From what I could tell, the design of the Telesteps locking mechanism has not changed and given poor performance in the previous test, I cannot recommend this ladder.