How Does Land Surveying Work?

The science of land surveying goes back centuries and its impact can be seen everywhere when you look out of your window. 

Wherever homeowners need to establish property boundaries, wherever developers want to make sure it’s safe to break ground, and wherever vital infrastructure like roads and pipelines need to be established, the first action taken is to employ a surveyor.  

In its simplest terms, land surveying is the act of taking accurate measurements and mapping to determine a plot’s characteristics, size and boundaries. The same tools have been used by land surveyors to perform land surveys for hundreds of years. Although, many of them have since received a digital makeover to ensure greater accuracy and precision as well as easier recording.

Land surveying is carried out for a variety of reasons, and standards within the industry are growing more stringent, but land surveyors still tend to use the same tried and tested techniques and equipment.

But, how do you do a land survey? 

Here, we’ll look at the reasons land surveys are carried out, what land surveyors are looking for when carrying out their work, and how long the process usually takes.

Why are surveys needed?

At its core, land surveying is about taking measurements and using the principles of geometry to accurately measure the dimensions, angles and alignments of an area and its features.

Professional land surveyors will use a range of different tools for this, including a surveying total station (the modern descendant of the time-honoured theodolite), surveying drones, GNSS systems, digital levels (used in the same way as a spirit level to measure the straightness of lines), prisms, reflectors, and even sophisticated 3D laser scanners.

These tools will be used, along with the skills and experience of a professional surveyor, in a variety of contexts. Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why a survey may be needed:

  • Establishing boundaries for landowners – Landowners will often need to know the exact boundaries of their land to ensure that they can develop it without encroaching on their neighbours’ property. They will inevitably commission a land surveyor to remove doubt and ensure that a new project can go ahead, or erect fencing or walls to deter trespassers.

  • Construction or renovations of property – When a property owner or developer wants to construct or renovate a building, a land surveyor will be needed to ensure that the plot is suitable for building on.

  • Obtaining planning permission – An up to date land survey will also need to be carried out when property owners apply to their local council for planning permission.

  • Agricultural mapping – A geodetic survey may be needed to map agricultural land, depending on the size of the space to be farmed. Or, a soil survey may be needed to check the composition and structure of the land to ensure it’s suitable for farming.

  • Preventing legal disputes – Easements and encroachments can complicate the boundaries between different properties. As such, a professional land surveyor’s boundary survey may be required to prevent future boundary disputes.

  • Mortgage applications – When a prospective homeowner applies for a mortgage, a land survey may be a prerequisite of the mortgage process. Simple land surveys will deny or confirm the property’s value, while more complex land surveys will test the structural integrity of the property.  

What are surveyors looking for?

We have established that the science of surveying is mostly a sophisticated form of measuring.

It incorporates technologies as advanced as GPS and laser scanning, and as rudimentary and timeless as spirit levels and measuring wheels. But what are surveyors looking for when they carry out these measurements? 

There are various different types of land surveys including boundary surveys, construction surveys and geodetic surveys.

Each is looking for something subtly different. However, the overall aim of any kind of survey is to measure a plot of land as comprehensively and accurately as possible. 

What do surveyors check?

What exactly a surveyor checks will depend largely on the type of survey. A construction survey, for instance, will measure the physical characteristics of a construction site including slopes, elevation and drainage patterns. 

There may also be an “as built survey” carried out at the end of construction projects to document the final location and elevation of all facets of the finished building.

Construction surveying may also include monitoring of settlement, water levels and vibrations to ensure the safety and stability of new structures. 

Geodetic surveys will usually measure the size, dimensions and characteristics of large areas of land. They may use laser mapping, GPS receivers and total stations to understand the precise position and coordinate various control points to create accurate maps for navigation and satellite positioning. 

A boundary survey, however, might involve a combination of field and desk research, locating physical boundary markets on-site as well as tracking down boundary descriptions in legal documents. 

Special surveying equipment will also be used to accurately measure and document a property’s boundary lines. 

What do land surveyors use to do a land survey?

Professional land surveyors will use a variety of tools to collect data. Surveying is an ancient discipline, and many of the tools that they use have been used for decades or even centuries. However, many have received a 21st-century upgrade. 

The total station, for instance, performs the same functions as a theodolite – measuring angles along horizontal and vertical axes. The difference is that the total station employs electronic distance measurement (EDM) and stores survey data with an onboard microprocessor. 

Some of a surveyor’s most commonly used tools include:

How long does it take for a survey to be done?

Because the discipline of land surveying is extremely multifaceted with a broad range of use cases, there is huge variation in lead times between different types of surveys. 

A home buyer’s survey, for instance, may be carried out in a few hours by a licensed chartered surveyor. On the other hand, a commercial land survey, or construction survey, can take much longer as it involves not only a great deal of fieldwork, but the retrieval and interrogation of legal documents or even an analysis of the soil beneath the land.

These types of land surveys can take between 30 and 60 days. 

However, new advances in the field of land surveying equipment are continually working to reduce unnecessarily long lead times by providing faster and more precise measurements with more robust field data storage – reducing the capacity for human error and resulting in fewer checks required. 

The KOREC Group has been working with surveyors for over 50 years, and it’s our mission to provide the geospatial, civil engineering and construction industries with the highest standard of professional land surveying equipment and support. 

As new technological advances continue to shape the methodology of land surveying, we remain on hand to provide the tools, guidance and expertise to help land surveyors deliver a high-quality and timely service. 

If you have any questions about land surveying or you’d like to hire land survey equipment, just get in touch with our friendly team who are always on hand to help.