Extension ladders consist of telescoping sections. The rails of the top section fit inside the rails of the bottom section and are held to them by brackets at the top of the bottom section. The top section is usually pulled up by a rope; a ratcheting device that engages the rungs of the bottom section prevents the top section from sliding back down when in use.
Most extension ladders have two sections, but a few very long ladders (60 feet) have three sections. In the United States and Canada, extension ladders are sized by the sum of the lengths of the sections. Sizes of 2-section ladders begin at 16 feet (2 sections each 8 feet long) and progress in 4-foot increments to 48 feet.
Because the sections must overlap, the maximum extended length of an extension ladder is less than its size. For example, a 24-foot extension ladder will consist of two sections each 12 feet long, but the maximum extended length will be 21 feet, because the sections overlap by no less than 1½ feet when the ladder is at maximum extension. The longer the sections, the greater the built-in overlap. As a result, the extended length of ladders 28′ and shorter is 3′ less than their size, those from 32′ to 36′ are 4′ shorter than their size, and 40′, 44′, and 48′ ladders are 5 feet shorter than their size.
In Europe, extension ladders are often sized by the number of sections times the number of rungs on each section, for example, “2×16”.
Wooden Extension ladders are intended to be used at an angle of 75.5 degrees, which is equivalent to the length of the ladder being 4 times the horizontal distance between the point of support and the foot of the ladder.
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