Tools for the Office
Measure Master Pro Foot-Inch Calculator
Calculated Industries has dominated the foot-inch calculator market for years. They have a ton of different models that are targeted at contractors, engineers, and homeowners. However, we think the best model for an architect is the Measure Master Pro (model 4020). This is the simplest and most intuitive calculator on the market. It does the standard foot-inch calculations, but it also allows you to convert between metric and imperial on the fly. It will also handle volume measurements, which is handy for engineers.
The physical calculator is great, but if you want to have this on your phone it is actually cheaper. Calculated Industries has made this exact calculator available on both iOS and Android. Check out our Best Mobile Apps article for a more detailed overview of the app.
This one is a specialty product for architects spending a lot of time modelling and rendering. The 3Dconnexion Space Navigator allows you to navigate through your model while still using your mouse for pointing, clicking, and selecting. It has been shown to save time, but navigating with the Navigator is much more fluid and intuitive than using the mouse.
The main drawback for this device are that it does take some getting used to before you will become fluid and before you start to see the time savings. You really need to stick with it for a while. Another issue is that the Space Navigator doesn't work with EVERY program so you want to check before purchasing to make sure your software is supported. The big programs are supported: Revit, Autocad, 3ds Max, Rhino, ArchiCAD, and VectorWorks.
Price: Around $120.
As former Android junkies this is very hard to write, but the best mobile tablet for architects is the iPad. We came to this conclusion after our trusty Nexus 7 died. While researching replacements it became clear that the iPad was the best device because of the app ecosystem they have developed. Many of the apps architects use, like the Autodesk 360 apps, are built for the iPad only. At the same time, almost every app is designed for iOS first while Android users have to wait for features already available on iPad.
For casual websurfing and reading emails, the iPad Mini is perfect. However, for architects using their tablet for work related tasks, we suggest the iPad Air. The larger screen size is required for reviewing and marking-up drawings.
The iPad Pro has been released recently, but we haven't been able to get our hands on one yet. They are also very expensive - as much as an entire laptop - so we don't see them becoming the norm until they are able to completely replace a laptop.
Also, be sure to check out the stylus section below, the tablet holster further down, and our list of the best mobile apps for architects.
Buy: iPad Air 2.
Buy: iPad Mini 4.
Unfortunately, we haven't found a stylus that is perfect for sketching and drawing on a tablet. Due to the way tablet screens work, it is hard to develop a stylus with a very fine point that actually works. That leaves us with two main options. First, there are styluses that have a clear disk that allows you to see through to the center of the tip. The other option is an active stylus like the Apple Pencil or the ReGear Pro Stylus.
In the inexpensive inactive class, there is the Adonit Jot Pro, which features a clear disk that allows you to see where the center is tapping with relative precision. The Jot Pro costs around $25. The biggest drawback is that, because of the plastic disk, there is a noticeable clicking noise when you tap the screen. It also works best for drawing, but we found something odd about using it to write - your experience may vary.
The second option is the ReGear Pro Stylus, which is an active stylus that has a very fine tip because the pen provides an electronic signal in the tip that the tablet senses. The ReGear costs $45, but you need to buy a AAA battery. This stylus also have a plastic tip that clicks when you tap the screen. We found that it works well with our iPad, but it really goes through batteries like crazy. You'll want to have rechargeables for this item.
Finally, we are very excited about the new Apple Pencil, which is an active stylus. However, this stylus only works for the iPad Pro so we can't test or recommend it until it works with all of the iPads on the market.
Headphones are important to any designer who needs to get into a zone by shutting out all of the noise from the office. Of course, headphones are a personal choice type of item, but if you want to check out the options, we have some websites that might help. Besides, there are plenty of other reviews of headphones that go into much deeper detail than we ever could.
We, at archtoolbox, aren't audiophiles so we are going to leave the headphone reviews to others. Our favorite reviews are: Marco Arment's Portable, Closed Headphones Mega Review, Headphones on The Wirecutter, and any of the Headroom blog posts tagged Buyers Guide.
Tools for the Field
When it comes to visiting the job site, everyone knows that you need sturdy boots, a hardhat, and safety glasses. But there are tons of other helpful items out there to make your life a little easier. Here are our selections.
You'll want a flashlight when you are in the field. Sometimes the power is off and sometimes there isn't a lot of light in a basement or mechanical space. There are hundreds of LED flashlights on the market. You can find cheap ones at the gas station for $5 or you can spend over $50 on a deluxe model. We think you can go with the middle-ground.
The photo at left and the link below are for the MagLite Mini LED flashlight, which uses two AA batteries and provides a very bright light. We've been using MagLites for years and they are very sturdy flashlights that stand up to being dropped and banged around.
Price: Around $20.
Also Consider: Keep in mind that most cell phones have a flashlight app that will either use the camera flash or a bright white photo on the main screen. This is very convenient, but will drain your battery fairly quickly.
Stanley Lever Lock 25-foot Measuring Tape
Every architect who spends time in the field doing construction administration work needs a solid tape measure. We've used a lot of them and we like the Stanley Lever Lock Measuring Tape. This tape features an auto-locking feature that is helpful when you are alone trying to take measurements - it locks when you pull the tape out and you have to press the button to release the tape.
This tape also has foot-inch markings in addition to the typical inch markings - the tape will be marked 18" and 1'-6", which is very helpful with longer dimensions. We suggest checking whatever tape you purchase to make sure it has foot-inch markings. You don't want to spend all your time converting inches into feet.
Price: Under $15.
Also Consider: If you don't like the auto locking feature, you can go with the classic Stanley Power Lock Measuring Tape for $10. This is a solid tape measure and you won't go wrong with it - in fact, it is one of the most popular tape measures on Amazon.
Bosch GLM 80 Distance Measuring Tool
If you spend any amount of time taking field measurements for existing conditions, you want to own a Laser Distance Meter. These tools use a laser to provide an accurate measurement to within 1/16" or better.
After spending some time using a few laser distance meters and a lot of time researching various models online, we think that the Bosch GLM 80 provides the best bang for the buck. For meters in the $200 price range, the Bosch GLM 80 measures from 2" up to 265 feet and provides the most useful features for architects within the best package. One feature we appreciate is the inclinometer, which provides an angle in degrees -- this is especially useful for measuring ramps or in determining the height of tall buildings. The other feature we like is the rechargeable battery that will provide up to 25,000 measurements -- LDMs eat batteries so the rechargeable battery is very helpful.
Our only concern with the unit, and frankly with all LDM units, is the ability to handle drops. We didn't drop ours to test it, but the GLM 80 is supposedly drop-tested to 3 feet. This should cover most use, but if it gets dropped from a ladder then there may be some issues. Most LDM units are also drop-tested to 3 feet so there aren't really other options.
Buy: Bosch GLM 80 on Amazon.
Also Consider: Newer (and more expensive) models have Bluetooth technology, which allows the laser distance tool to communicate directly to a tablet or laptop. This allows an architect to draw in the computer on site and pull the dimensions into the computer in real time. If you are interested in this feature, check out the Bosch GLM 100c or the Leica Disto E7100i.
Mighty Pouch Tablet Holster
If you ever spend time on a job site with your tablet, you will be familiar with the fear of dropping your expensive device. Try climbing a ladder while holding your iPad securely and you will understand why a tablet holster is a must-have for architects and engineers.
Our choice for best tablet holster is the Mighty Pouch Quick Holster. These pouches are made from neoprene and nylon so they are durable and protective. They have a variety of closure methods and different ways of attaching them to your belt - you get to customize the holster for your particular needs. Each holster is custom made in the USA, so it will take a few days to ship.
Our tablet holster has the metal belt clip (or easy on-and-off) and the standard Bungee-with-Velcro closure. We are very happy with the ease of access and the security of the belt clip. The belt clip can be a bit hard to get on and off, but once you get used to it there shouldn't be a problem - after all, the point is for the clip to be secure. The standard black color is great for architects, but it shows dust and dirt from the job site. There are color options, but we were hesitant to try the gray color because they can't be returned (due to the custom nature of the product).
Price: Starts at $30.
Flir One Thermal Imaging Device
Renovation work often requires an understanding of the amount and distribution of insulation in exterior walls - finding and eliminating cold spots is critical for energy savings. A thermal imaging device allows architects to record thermal data for walls, doors, and windows, eliminating the need to unnecessarily open walls or guess about the insulation. The thermal imaging device can also be used to review electrical panels for potentially overloaded circuits.
Our favorite device is the Flir One, which is available for both Android and iOS devices.
Do you have anything to add? If so, let us know and we will try it out! We are always looking for cool new products that help architects and engineers do their jobs better, faster, and safer.