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What is a Land Survey?

If you are a homeowner, you should have had experience with a land survey.  Every deed and title should contain a detailed description of the property’s boundaries.  These property lines are determined and mapped as a result of a land survey.

What is a land survey? The American Congress on Surveying and Mapping defines land surveying as “ the detailed study or inspection, as by gathering information through observations, measurements in the field, questionnaires, or research of legal instruments in support of planning, designing and establishing property boundaries.” Surveying has been an element in the construction of the human environment since before the Egyptians built the first pyramid 5000 years ago!

Role of the Land Surveyor

Any development, neighborhood, subdivision or city starts with accurate measurements of the property to be developed.  Surveyors can and do measure just about everything on the land, in the air, or under the ocean. They perform a vital role in the construction of every structure, roadway and transportation system. Surveying is also crucial to the mapping and defining of legal boundaries for real property ownership.

Surveyors work in the office and in the field to perform their job. A surveyor must be fluent in geometry and trigonometry, physics, engineering and law. In the office, they must have an understanding of complex computer programs such as Auto-cad to draft plans and create maps using onsite field measurements. They may work on projects as diverse as land subdivision, mining exploration, tunnel building or major commercial construction, sometimes all in the same week. Surveyors may be called upon to give advice or council to engineers, architects and developers.

The Purpose of Land Surveys

Land surveys are performed for many different reasons. A surveyor can map a parcel topographically, plot a subdivision, or delineate a wetlands area for protection. There are many different types of land surveys performed for specific purposes. 

They Include:

  • Boundary Survey: determines the property lines described in a deed. A boundary survey can also indicate any existing easements or encroachments and may show the limitations of use imposed by state or local laws.
  • Topographic Survey: is used to determine elevation, contours and existing features above and below the surface of a piece of land such as trees, buildings, utility lines, retaining walls etc. It may also show perimeter boundary lines and easements.
  • As Built and Mortgage Survey: also known as a Mortgagees Inspection. This survey is used to locate improvements on a property. One of its primary purposes is to determine that improvements are not in violation of easements, setback requirements or property lines.
  • Land Title Survey: used by a Title Insurance company to insure title to a piece of property. Typically required for a real estate transaction, a title survey includes boundary improvements, and easements.
  • Construction Survey: is used to stake out markers and reference points to guide the building of new structures such as roads or buildings.
  • Wetlands Delineation Survey: is used to determine the boundaries and size of a wetlands area to prevent encroachment during construction and is usually performed in conjunction with an environmental specialist.

Land Surveying Tools and Techniques

Throughout history land surveyors have used a variety of tools and techniques. Many of the earliest techniques are still in use today. Earliest distance measurements were taken using a chain known as a Gunter’s chain, with links whose length was predetermined. Horizontal angles were measured with a compass. Another method of measuring longer horizontal distance was called triangulation. This was used primarily for topographical measurement over longer distances. Many of these techniques were used until the 1990’s.

Today, survey measurements are mostly done electronically using modern technology such as GPS and laser range finders. A modern instrument called a total station is the most common tool used today. Modern total stations are often fully robotic, can email point data to the home office computer and can connect to satellite positioning systems such as GPS. This new technology has increased the speed and precision of modern surveying and are accurate to with 20 – 40 millimeters.

If you’re looking for a Columbia, SC land surveyor, contact us to schedule a land survey for your property.

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