Measuring tapes are a basic and necessary tool. When the dimension to be measured is inaccessible, handheld, laser 
distance-measuring tools may be the only safe and practical solution. 

There are many options today for taking measurements on structured-wiring projects.

Laser measuring tools

A laser distance meter calculates distance by measuring the time it takes a laser beam to hit a target and return. Some models add, subtract and calculate areas and volumes.

“Laser distance-measuring tools are excellent alternatives to tape measures, particularly for longer distances that make tape measures cumbersome,” said Sean O’Flaherty, director of product management, Klein Tools (, Lincolnshire, Ill. “For example, a laser distance tool can measure 30–100 feet instantly.

“When volumes or area measurements are required, laser distance tools can also be very useful by automatically performing calculations with the two- and three-dimensional properties based upon a sequence of linear measurements,” he said.

Brandon Miller, group marketing manager, Milwaukee Tool (, said, “Features that benefit user the most are a simple/intuitive interface, accuracy and memory storage.”

Milwaukee Tool offers laser distance measurers, magnetic tape measurers, long tape measures and measuring wheels.

“Moving a project from a paper plan to a physical location offers many challenges,” said Erik Charpentier, facilities instruments product manager, Fluke Corp (, Everett, Wash. “Laser measurement tools answer many of those challenges.”

Laser distance meters are extremely helpful for measuring points in a physical location and marking key points in a building according to the blueprints.

Leveling tools

“Laser levels help the contractor extend those points to other parts of the building,” Charpentier said. “By marking the position of light fixtures on the floor, for instance, the contractor can accurately transfer those marks to the ceiling. A continuous line laser can throw a mark around an entire room, making alignment of outlets, switches and other fixtures far more accurate while also saving time.”

There are similar benefits for making layouts of cable runs.

Depending on the model, “laser distance meters make the user’s job faster and easier by performing a number of math calculations for area, volume, addition and subtraction of measurements, minimums and maximums, Pythagoras calculations for determining distance indirectly from two other measurements, and saving results to memory, eliminating transcription and reading errors,” Charpentier said.

Laser levels have multiple applications, including transferring layout points from a schematic to a physical structure; aligning outlets, switches, receptacles and other fixtures; and plotting ductwork and conduit runs.

“Laser levels offer a number of advantages over plumb lines and bubble levels,” he said. “Laser levels tend to settle faster. They make it far easier to project level and plumb indicators over distances that bubble levels and plumb lines cannot reach.”

Contractors have been using laser levels for some time, but Charpentier believes they have often been disappointed by the tools’ fragility.

“We have designed and tested laser levels to survive a 1-meter drop,” he said. “That means they will survive the everyday handling that occurs during the course of a normal job.”

Tayler Brinson, hand tools product manager, Southwire Tools (, Carrollton, Ga., said electricians often use common levels. He cited Southwire’s Speedset conduit level as an advancement. It has dual-axis vials that allow for 4-in-1 usage as a conduit spacer, compact torpedo level, dog-leg preventor and bending tool.

Measuring with sound

Zircon (, Campbell, Calif., offers handheld sonic measuring devices that calculate distance by the amount of time an ultrasonic pulse takes to bounce off the target. The tool’s useful range is rated at 50 feet.

To make a measurement, the user points its laser at the target and presses the “Read” button, and then the distance—shown in either feet and inches or metrics—appears on the LED screen. The instrument stores measurements for calculating square footage or volume.

Measuring tapes

Laser tools offer many benefits, but they have not made conventional measure tapes obsolete. Quite the contrary; a good measuring tape is a basic tool found in every toolbox or pouch.

Indeed, the evolution of measuring tapes is a good example of how a basic tool can be adapted to perform routine measuring tasks more easily and more efficiently.

Because contractors often work with metal materials such as cable trays, racks and steel studs, magnetic tape measures are very useful for quick, accurate measurements.

“Contractors often have to refer to blueprints, so blueprint scales on the tape measure [are] also a useful feature,” Miller said. “Durability also is very important, as tape measures often fall off ladders and are prone to dropping.”

Key considerations when comparing tape models is ease of use, durability and applicability to the trade.

“Bold, easy-to-read numbers and scale markings are extremely useful for making quick, accurate measurements,” O’Flaherty said. 

Because integrated systems technicians and electricians often work in areas of reduced ambient lighting, the focus on scale and visibility is an important benefit.

O’Flaherty said scale marking orientation on the back of tape measures are optimized to pass through holes in studs drilled out for conduit, and facilitate measurements on pipe and conduit which are critical applications for electricians.

“As a convenience for electricians, there also is a detailed conduit-bending multiplier chart on the back side of the tape to help increase efficiency on the job site,” he said. “Magnetized tape measure hooks are an important feature for stabilizing the tape for accurate measuring. With a double hook, the top hook is designed to grasp onto the end of a conduit section to efficiently measure the conduit.”

Regarding durability, O’Flaherty said the tape-measure case needs to be made of durable materials that can withstand drops, and the case needs to prevent dirt, dust and water from entering the tool. The latest tools have soft overmolding on housings with rubberized nonslip materials and an overall ruggedized design.

“An enclosed tape-retraction-control brake button in the product allows slow, controlled retraction of tape, and easy, one-touch control of the tape in an extended position while making measurements,” he said. “Enclosing the control in the product brings benefits: fingers are protected while retracting the tape, and, by keeping fingers off the tape, debris from work-gloves is less likely to be pulled into the case. By minimizing dust and water debris from collecting in the housing, the usable life of the tool can be extended.”

Southwire Tools’ Brinson said tapes are ideal for measuring pipe, conduit, sheet metal, siding, paneling and much more. 

“Our 25-foot tape with conduit hook features an oversized, double-sided end-hook and a heat-treated spring for durable, smooth tape recoil,” he said. “It has bold inch markings and protective coating on the blade. The impact-resistant, rubberized case protects the end-hook and button.”