In this article, I will break down the pros and cons as well as the different uses for the various kinds of ladders out there. We will discuss ladder stand-offs, leg levelers, sectional ladders, step ladders, and extension ladders.
The first kind of ladder I will be discussing is the folding step ladder. This is a very handy ladder to have for a variety of jobs. You will use it mostly for storefronts and in the interior of homes for windows along the wall of a vaulted ceiling. It's good to have a 6 footer and a 10 foot step ladder. Aluminum will be your best bet as it is light enough to easily carry around. Wooden step ladders offer exceptional compression strength, but are too heavy for efficient carrying.
Now, for cleaning exterior residential windows above the 1st floor, you will want to have an extension ladder. Generally, these will be made of either fiberglass or aluminum. They will have swiveling feet and a rope and pulley system to extend them.
The fiberglass-framed ladders have the advantage of being safer around power lines as fiberglass does not conduct electricity. Furthermore, they are a bit more rigid than the aluminum ones.
However, they are also more expensive.
Extension ladders come in different sizes. You will want to pick one that is long enough for most of your jobs without it being too cumbersome. Common sizes are 24', 28', 30. 32. and 40'. Twenty foot extension ladders are tall enough to reach most second story windows. If the house is 3 stories, or is on a steep incline, you may need a 30 foot ladder in order to clean all the windows. A forty foot ladder is gigantic, and few window cleaners need a ladder that tall. A window cleaner just starting out could get by pretty easily with a 24 foot ladder and could always rent a larger ladder if the occasion demands it.
Important add-on ladder features are stand-offs and leg levelers. Stand-offs (often called stabilizers) are made of aluminum and attach the top of the ladder. These make the ladder more stability and also allow the window cleaner to have more room to wash the window. These are typically after-market products that you bolt to you ladder and do not generally come with the ladder.
Note: When it comes to window cleaning round, you can build a window cleaning round on your own.
Leg levelers are affixed to the bottom legs of the ladder (or come built in) and offer a means of adjusting the legs to different lengths. These are essential if you are going to be working on uneven terrain. I have done quite a few jobs that would be impossible to complete if I did not have adjustable legs.
Finally, I will discuss sectional ladders. These are often called "window cleaning ladders" and have been specifically designed for this task by certain ladder manufacturers. These are made of either wood or aluminum in most cases. Both are suitable for the job. Sectional ladders, come in (you guessed it) sections! They are separate segments of ladder that can lock together.
There are 3 types of sections: a tapered top section, the middle section, and a flared base section. Most window cleaners use 4 or 5 sections. They start with the base segment and put 1-3 middle segment on top of the based, and then they top it off with the tapered top segment. Many cleaners only use 4 total sections because they say that it unsafe to add more.
The advantages of sectional ladders are that they are extremely portable. Since you can carry one section at a time, if you want, it is an extremely easy ladder to transport. Also, they are easy to fit through doorways for interior work. After all, it can be pretty difficult to pull a 24 foot ladder through someone's front door especially if the house is angles in a way that doesn't allow this.
The other advantage of sectional ladders is the tapered top section. If you have a storefront with the grid windows, or an A-Frame style house with a lot of windows right next to each other, there may be no place to rest the top section of your ladder against. Remember, you never want to lean your ladder against glass. The sectional ladder solves this problem as you can place the very narrow tapered section right on a glass divider, and you will have plenty of room to work without the ladder getting in the way.
However, there are a few disadvantages to sectional ladders. The first is that they cannot go beyond 21 or so feet. They aren't designed to reach beyond this. Secondly, they are more expensive than other ladders. A sectional ladder with 4 sections can easily cost $500.