Laser tape measures—what their manufacturers call "laser distance meters" or "laser distance measurers"—are valuable tools. These meters measure by sending out a laser beam to a target and then measuring how long it takes for the reflection to return back.

For us wood flooring pros, these devices are extremely helpful when it comes to estimating jobs. Instead of trying to fish a tape measure under a couch or around a bunch of stuff in someone's home, you can simply hold it on the wall above these obstructions to take your readings. Some of these meters will even do the square footage for you, and some can log those measurements and send them to a phone or tablet.

I've been using a laser tape measure for years now. It saves a lot of time, and it's really accurate. In fact they are so fast and accurate that I even lost one job after using it during an estimate—the homeowner didn't hire me because she thought I didn't measure the job! "Well, I didn't hear a tape measure, so how do I know you even measured the job?" she told me. She wasn't very into technology.

For the past few weeks I've been testing out eight laser distance meters. Here are the results, which I have grouped into Basic Meters and Pro Meters.

Note from the editor: Most manufacturers offer hand-held lasers from the most basic models to high-end devices. We've tried to represent a selection in that spectrum here; of course, the companies that offered tools for testing in our "basic" group also make higher-end meters, too—we just couldn't test them all. Some of their other models are also listed.

 

BASIC

These are very simple measuring devices. They have only one function: point and shoot. I would say these meters would be best suited for rough estimating, because they are not designed to be precise. (Depending on the manufacturer, they promise accuracy within ⅛ inch.) I took dozens and dozens of readings from the same exact point and found that to be true. All three of these companies make higher-end meters (one of the Johnson meters is included in the next group), so for wood floor pros like us, I would say it's worth it to pay the money for one of their more expensive models.

 


DeWalt DW065E

Per the company:

  • High-contrast LCD display
  • Measures area and volume
  • Max distance: 65'
  • Retail: $55

My notes:
PROS: It has a sturdy construction and seems like it would take a fall pretty well. It's very easy to use.

CONS: The screen is really dark and hard to read in certain light.

Some other options from DeWalt:

  • DW099S with Bluetooth (max distance of 100', retail: $83)
  • DW03050 (max distance of 165', retail: $99)

 


Milwaukee 48-22-9801

Per the company:

  • Backlit screen
  • Continuous real-time measurements
  • Memory storage for three readings
  • Max distance: 65'
  • Retail: $50

My notes:
PROS: This meter has a button on top and on the side, and it's nice having the button on the side for taking readings at different angles. It has a very nice easy-to-read screen and can switch from metric to inch/feet.

CONS: No real cons.

Some other options from Milwaukee:

  • 48-22-9802 (max distance of 150', retail: $100)
  • 2281-20 (max distance of 200', retail: $229)

 


Johnson LDM100

Per the company:

  • Backlit screen

  • Displays in English or metric units with decimals or fractions (for English units)
  • Max distance: 100'
  • Retail: $50 (will be available in November)

My notes:
PROS: The company's most basic meter, it's compact, fitting inside a metal clipboard nicely, and is easy to use (it measures only length from the front or back of the meter).

CONS: It has a very small screen (the smallest screen out of all the devices I tried).

Another Johnson meter is reviewed in the next group.

 


 

PRO

I found these meters are suited for professionals who need a more accurate and reliable measuring device day-in and day-out. I tested them over and over from the same spot and found they were very accurate. They all have a lot of helpful features. For anyone who has to measure jobs for estimates and be very detail-oriented, I would strongly suggest the Hilti device. It does everything! This is by far the most high-end meter I've ever used. The only issue is the price, but with all the features, you can't go wrong. You can take photos and assign measurements to the photos?! That's crazy!!!

But if you're looking for a really good laser measuring device and don't wanna break the bank, you can't go wrong with any of the other options in this group. Personally I'd go with the Bosch because it has a couple more features than the other devices. It's really well-built and easy to use. It makes estimating jobs easier and accurate when used with the Bosch app for your iPhone or tablet. This meter is priced at $149 (although I found it on sale online for $110) and, in my opinion, well worth it.

For the devices that had bluetooth capability, I tried downloading the apps and sending measurements, which takes a little bit of messing around with your phone or tablet and then also syncing the measuring device to that device. This was all easy with the Bosch model. The Hilti and Leica took a little bit of reading through the manual and some video searches. It's a nice feature to have, but personally I think it's best to write the measurements down as you get them so you don't lose them or they don't get screwed up as you are measuring a whole house. If all you did was estimates day in and day out, I'd say maybe look into using this feature a little more for inputting into spreadsheets and more detailed bid work.

All these devices are well-made, and another function they all have in common is that they will turn off automatically after a few minutes of not being used—a nice feature.

 


Hilti PD-CS

Per the company:

  • Touch screen
  • Backlit color screen
  • Micro USB socket for charging
  • Camera
  • Bluetooth
  • Single measurements and range (multiple) measurements
  • Internal flash memory
  • Max distance: 656'
  • Retail: $999

My notes:
PROS: Everything!!! This device has it all. It's like having a smart phone with a laser distance measuring app. It's crazy how much this thing can do, from taking time- and date-stamped photos to being able to draw on those photos and then assign sets of measurements to those photos. Then you can email, Dropbox or app-share whatever you're working on. It has a calculator, which is always nice. You can browse the internet through Wi-Fi, add music, contact lists, email accounts and take voice memos. It has a very large full-color touch screen. You can recharge the device when the batteries run low with the charger and added country adapters. The PD-CS has everything you need to take care of bids without the need for laptop or desktop computer. If you had a bid app to be able to transfer the data into, you could easily email off a bid from this device.

CONS: Price? Although if you really take full advantage of everything this device has to offer, I think it would pay for itself in no time.

 


Bosch GLM 50 C

Per the company:

  • Backlit color screen that rotates when you turn the device
  • Measures distance, area, volume, indirect, multi surface area, stakeout
  • Digital level
  • Bluetooth connectivity that works with the Bosch professional app and floor plan app
  • Max distance: 165'
  • Retail: $149

My notes:
PROS: This device has a nice well-lit screen that's easy to read. The function select is really easy to navigate. Overall I'd say this is probably one of the easiest devices to use straight out of the packaging.

CONS: While taking a reading, I kept hitting the function button when trying to hit the clear button as I moved to another room. But then again, if you hit the read button again after measuring up the square footage for one area, it will clear out so you're ready to measure another area.

 


Leica Disto D2

Per the company:

  • Illuminated display
  • Ten-reading memory
  • Bluetooth ready—able to send measurements to a phone or tablet
  • Max distance: 330'
  • Retail: $190

My notes:
PROS: This is a really well-built device that feels like it can take a decent amount of abuse. It's simple in design and has a lot of the same features as the Bosch.

CONS: The only thing I didn't really like was that the function display menu is really small.

 


Johnson LDM195

Per the company:

  • Backlit display
  • Measures length, area, volume, 2-point pythagoras, 1-point pythagoras, stakeout, angle
  • Max distance: 195'
  • Retail: $150

My notes:
PROS: This is the smallest out of all the devices; it fits very nicely in your packet or clipboard. It's nice and light and still packs in a bunch of functions. This device, just like the other Johnson meter, has a list of error codes on the back. That's a pretty nice thing to have handy when you're at a job site measuring things up and all of a sudden you get an error message. It's much easier to reference one of those codes instead of trying to look it up on your phone.

CONS: None.

 


Makita LD080P

Per the company:

  • Backlit LED display
  • Nine measurement functions including area, volume, pythagoras, stakeout
  • Records 20 measurements
  • Timer
  • Measuring reference/units
  • Max distance: 262'
  • Retail: $170

My notes:
PROS: This device has a nice well-lit display and reads out in either feet or meters. One pretty cool function is that it has a timer. So if, say, you have a really odd cut-up room, you can put the device on a tripod or counter and set the timer so you can walk over to areas with a target to get accurate readings.

CONS: It takes a little messing around with the unit to figure out all the functions. The instructions supplied with the device were not the best.

 


To wrap it up, if you're interested in purchasing a laser distance meter, I highly recommend you do it! A meter will save you lots of time and help with accurate and efficient estimates. Plus, as an added bonus, they're fun for playing with your clients' pets. 

From the Editor: WFB will be including tool reviews in future issues of the magazine. Would you like to be considered as a tool reviewer for WFB? Contact us at editors@woodfloorbusiness.com.

 

Laser Distance Measurer Basics

Never used one of these before? They're pretty straightforward: You simply turn the device on, go to "function" and select where you want the measurements to be taken from (either the front, middle or back of the device). I like to take readings from the back of the device (1) because I can hold it on the wall and take a reading. This is the most accurate way to get measurements.

Once you select where the device is going to read from, you then go to the menu or functions settings and select the function you want to use. For measuring square footage, you select the Area option and Squared (2). Now you just go to your first wall, hold the meter to the wall (3), and take that measurement. Then go to the second wall, and take that measurement. Then it adds it up for you (4). All you need to do now is write it down and go on to the next room. Or take notes about that room and your measurements. (I like to use the NWFA job-site checklist when I'm measuring up a job; this way I can write down measurements and take notes at the same time.)

 

 

What WFB readers had to say

Gary Colwell
"I have been using both for about four years now after 31 years with just a tape. I like the lit screen on the laser."

Chad Cumbie
"Once you go laser, you don't go back ... at least for me anyway."

Shane Jones
"I've gone back to the traditional tape; it's too embarrassing trying to find batteries halfway through a quote. I also struggled measuring small quantities with the laser, too, like how wide is an existing plank. Why carry two tools when one will do?"

John Westphal
"I use a Bosch laser; it adds square feet so I don't make mistakes … but it's always good to carry a tape."

Brad Neubert
"Tape—no room for error. Why change something that's simple and works."

Ron Teljeur
"I use a Bosch laser but only in large open areas. For normal measures I always use a good 25' Stanley tape with 13' holdout."

Sean James is owner/contractor at Santa Cruz, Calif.-based SJ Hardwood Floors. He is NWFACP-certified in Installation and Sand & Finish.