I can't count the number of times I've needed the dimensions, square footage, or volume of a room quickly and wished there was a faster way. In new construction, getting measurements with a tape is time consuming. In remodels, taking these measurements can be tedious. The only solution is to put my aluminum clipboard down?not on the piano and not next to the Faberge egg?and pull my tape. The same problem surfaces during exterior applications (minus the egg). Whether you're squaring foundations or measuring siding or concrete slabs, you can pull your tape and punch numbers into your calculator, but it takes time, the occasional helper, and, very often, ladders.

For preparing bids or change orders, tracking work progress, laying out framing modifications, or loading in materials, faster measurements mean saving time. Laser distance meters (LDMs) are the next generation of measuring devices and the first things I've seen that can beat a tape measure.

Test Criteria

As much as I love innovation, before I adopt a new technology it must prove to be better than what I'm already doing. Laser distance meters look promising, offering incredible accuracy ("How They Work," below), one-position measuring, and onboard memory storage while eliminating tape measure acrobatics.

I tested six distance meters ranging in price from about $360 to $495: the CST/Berger LT1 Disto, Hilti PD 28, Leica Geosystems Disto Classic5, Pacific Laser Systems PLS1, Stabila LE 100, and Trimble Spectra Precision HD150. I used them in interior applications to calculate square footage and room volume, and for finer measurements like a kitchen remodel, trim, replacement windows, and new doors. I also tested them in exterior applications to calculate square footage for siding, stucco, and concrete slabs, and for squaring a foundation. I looked carefully for accuracy, ease of measurements, and laser dot visibility. I examined the user interface for ease of operation, too. Finally, I looked for unique features that made measuring faster or easier than using a tape.


I laid out a range using my 100-foot tape with targets at 30, 60, and 90 feet, then positioned all the tools on the same reference line. Since all the tools measure to 16th of an inch or out to two decimal points (except Hilti's, which measures to the 1/32 inch), the slightest variation in how or where I placed a tool relative to the reference line generated fractional discrepancies in the results. Carefully moving each tool right to the reference line equalized the results and illustrated that each of these devices is more accurate than the tools I have to measure them with.