Which Laser Distance Measure is Right for You?
The very first laser distance measure I’ve owned was a Bosch – and I still use it. Since I got that GLM 15, laser distance measures have taken off and expanded with new technologies. Not everyone needs the highest range with all the bells and whistles, though. So which one is the best for your job?
Here’s a breakdown of the important features so you can decide.
What to Look for on a Laser Distance Measure
Are you working indoors or out? Residential or commercial?
If you’re working on residential jobs, 50 feet of range is often going to cover all your needs for indoor measurements. If you’re estimating fencing or other outdoor products, you’ll likely want to go longer.
Commercial applications are usually on a larger scale, so you’ll want a longer range.
Make the Call: Consider the longest measurements you need a laser distance measure for. Get a model that will extend a little beyond that.
Most laser distance meters will have either 1/8-inch or 1/16-inch accuracy at 30 feet. For basic estimating, the 1/8-inch accuracy is absolutely fine. Even if you don’t need to bump up to 1/16-inch, you’ll often find that you’ll get it on laser measures that have a longer range.
Make the Call: Most applications for a laser distance measure will be fine with 1/8-inch accuracy. But more accurate is still more accurate.
A basic laser distance measure doesn’t have any memory storage. The best it will give you is the ability to hold a measurement. Others might give you storage for 200 measurements or more. The key here is to decide how comfortable you are recording measurements in a notebook or on your phone. If you’re a good note taker or just don’t trust technology, memory might be a big deal. On the other hand, if you tend to leave your notebook behind, having those figures in storage might save your bacon.
Make the Call: This is a judgment call. I like a laser measure with at least 50 data point storage so I can have an entire house worth of measurements. I still record them in a notebook, though.
The two major screen types you’ll find are LCD and LED. LED is much brighter and easier to read, including in bright sunlight. Many LCD displays have a backlight that helps in low light conditions, but can be tough to read in the sun.
Make the Call: Both screen work just fine, but we prefer LED if we have a choice.
Real-time measurements give you instant feedback as you move the laser rather than waiting for you to press a “measure” button. It gives you the ability to find an exact distance away from a wall or ceiling so you can make a mark before punching a hole through it. None of our Pro team is interested in a laser distance meter that doesn’t have this feature.
Make the Call: Real-time measurement is a must-have feature on every laser measure.
Addition and subtraction are handy features to have when you need to combine two lengths that you can’t measure in one shot or need to exclude part of a measurement. It works in conjunction with area and volume. If you’re doing an estimate for painting, it’s an easy way to take out the area of doors and windows as you go.
Make the Call: This is a function you’ll find on all but the most basic laser distance measures and it’s pretty helpful on area calculations in particular.
Chances are that if your laser measure has addition and subtraction, it will also have area, volume, and indirect measurement (see below). This simply allows you to take two (for area) or three (for volume) measurements and automatically does the multiplication. If you’re estimating for paint, drywall, flooring, airflow, and more, it’s an essential function.
Make the Call: Aside from making a basic measurement, area and volume functions are among the most helpful. You’ll want it on your laser distance meter.
Indirect Measurement (Pythagorean)
Indirect measurement goes hand in hand with area and volume functions. The difference is that you measure straight to the base of the material (the leg of the right triangle) and from the same point to the top of the material (the hypotenuse) to get a height that you can’t measure directly.
Make the Call: This one’s not a make-or-break feature for most of our team, but you’ll probably get it along with area and volume.
Wireless Connection (Bluetooth)
If you’re on the tech-savvy side of things, a Bluetooth connection can help you transfer data from your laser distance measure to your phone, tablet, or computer. There’s likely an app to go along with it and the ability to overlay measurements on pictures or drawings of the work. When you’re putting together a bid or quote, it’s a great way to show your client visuals that brings an extra layer of professionalism to your reputation.
Make the Call: There’s a learning curve that comes with adding this layer of technology. Those who learn to use will be a step ahead and possibly be more efficient. While Bluetooth is helpful, it’s not an industry standard, so it’s completely up to your comfort level if you want it.
A digital viewfinder is most helpful on a long-range laser distance measure where it’s difficult to see where the laser dot lands. When you’re measuring distances closing in on 400 feet, being off by a couple of degrees can make a big difference in your results.
Make the call: You can only see red lasers out to so far before you need to bounce it off a target card and possibly have a second person helping. The digital viewfinder is really helpful for longer range outdoor applications.
Some laser distance measure models add a camera to their digital viewfinder, making it easier to generate a photo with measurement layovers. This will work alongside a Bluetooth connection to transfer into an app. This is a feature you’ll find on high-end laser measures and it will come with a premium price.
Make the Call: This is most helpful on commercial sites where there’s a lot of technology in place to get information where it needs to go quickly. However, using technology like this as a residential contractor will definitely set you apart.
Many laser distance meters use AAA or AA batteries as a power source and some have an integrated lithium-ion battery. Standard alkaline batteries are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. On the other hand, a rechargeable battery means not having to carry around spares… as long as you remember to charge it!
Make the Call: There’s not really a bad call here – alkaline batteries will keep your initial cost down and lithium-ion is more convenient. I like lithium-ion, but the majority of our meters are alkaline.
How much you’re willing to spend is the first thing you need to consider. Laser measures can be as little $20 and run close to $1000. The best bet for you in one that checks off all your needs and stays within budget. Any of the bonus features you can get for the same price are, well, a bonus!