Back in 2011, my wife and I became first-time homeowners. We needed a slightly bigger house than we could budget for, so we bought a fixer-upper. Beyond furniture placement, a lot of work on that property required precise measurements. We had to remove a wall that oddly jutted out into the middle of a bathroom, find space for closets in rooms without any closet space, and more.
While the house had no floor plan, it did have a lot of nooks and crannies. Measuring the entire place with just a retractable measuring tape seemed like far too much work, so when I found the Bosch DLR130K Laser Measure (since discontinued), I bought it. As I recall, it was about a hundred bucks.
The idea of a laser measuring device is you point and shoot. A laser shoots out of the device, bounces off its target, and the device reads a precise measurement, which it shows on a digital display. I loved this thing and, in my article about it at the time, called it my Magic Measuring Machine.
Last year, when we evacuated Florida due to Hurricane Irma, we wound up in a temporary rental house in Salem, Oregon. While we didn't intend to stay in the house for more than a year or so, I needed to set up my studio and workshop for work.
To do this, we needed to make a floor plan of the house to figure out which room could support the necessary camera, lighting, and focal distances required for green screen shooting. To get those measurements, I ran down to the local Lowes and picked up a cheaper version of the Magic Measuring Machine (reasoning that I had a good one back in Florida that would eventually reach Oregon).
I bought the Bosch Blaze GLM 20 Indoor Laser Distance Measurer for about fifty bucks. It turned out that my studio had to be in the small dining area attached to the kitchen, because that was the only area that could accommodate the dimensions required by the lights, green screen, and camera. Doing recordings and voice-overs in a kitchen is far from ideal but we managed. We recorded the 5G and Mac future roundtable videos, among others, in that space.
Finally we found a house. The challenge was that it's weirdly laid out. One part of the house was originally built about 50 years ago, and then other parts were added on. I needed a floor plan for this, not only for furniture and gear placement, but to be able to figure out how to run heating ducts, plumbing, and power cables.
It isn't 2011 anymore. This is 2018 and app-enabled devices are everywhere. The one thing that really annoyed me about using the laser measuring devices I'd used previously was transcribing all the measurements from the device to paper, and then from paper to plans.
I reached out to Bosch and they provided me with the Bosch GLM 50. This device has a Bluetooth connection and Bosch has an app called MeasureOn. It's actually quite a comprehensive app, allowing you to draw a floor plan based entirely on measurements from the GLM 50.
I didn't use that feature because I'm using Live Home 3D, an impressively full-featured floor planning tool I'll be reviewing shortly.
I did, however, extensively use the ability to take a picture of an area on my iPad using MeasureOn, draw a line on that picture, and then point the measuring tool. The measuring tool took a measurement using its laser, and inserted the precise measurement in the photo.
The following image shows this functionality in action. In it, I've got a wall-to-wall measurement, as well as measurements that show exactly where the supporting upright is located.
Another area where I found this tool to stand out is in difficult room measurements. Our utility room has a very complex HVAC system, necessary because half the house had no heating or cooling when we bought it. I used the GLM 50 in combination with the MeasureOn app to map out both the vertical and horizontal layout of the room, with special attention paid to the headroom clearances in the space.
All told, I took fifty or sixty photos with MeasureOn and my iPad, and hundreds of individual measurements. These are now available to me anywhere I am, so I can reference just about anything about the structure or layout of the home at any time.
I also used these measurements as the basis for both a top-down basic floor plan, and 3D modeling and pre-visualization of object placement and room layout in Live Home 3D.
Also: How to use the Measure app in iOS 12 CNET
Beyond just the reduced effort that came from not having to write down every single measurement, the Bluetooth app-enabled capability of this latest Bosch measuring device increased my accuracy because there was no possibility of transcription errors. I'm convinced it saved me a lot of time.
The new Bluetooth enabled GLM 50 is about $125 vs. the $99 I spent seven years ago. Given how impressively helpful the app-enabled Bluetooth feature is, the GLM 50 is substantial upgrade for a relatively small price increase.
With Apple's push on ARKit and Google's push on ARCore, you'd think that measuring dimensions of visible areas would be an ideal application for AR. And you'd be right... sort of.
There are a couple of issues with this, compared to a laser measuring tool. First is accuracy. AR measuring works by capturing image data and using AI to try to discern edges and distances from the content of the image. Laser measuring works by sending out a beam of laser light and measuring the time for a reflection to occur.
These are two very different methods of determining distance, and because the laser is measuring a specific, reliable, very bright light, it's going to be quicker, faster, and often, far more accurate.
Also: These are the devices that can run Google's AR measurement tool TechRepublic
In addition, you're able to very reliably say "this is what I'm measuring" because you can place the back of the measuring device on one wall and aim a target dot on the other. With AR, you're going to have to properly hold your phone or tablet and get the picture "just so" in the camera. As someone whose now taken 50 or 60 wall pictures for my project, I can tell you that it's not easy getting clear photos of every angle and wall in every room.
My take on it is that for basic room dimensions, an AR app will do. But if you're doing pro work or you really do need clear and reliable numbers, go with the laser.
What do you think? Have you ever used one of these tools? Do you have other helpful app-enabled tools to recommend? If so, let me know in the comments below.
You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.