Unlocking the Secrets of the Land: A Guide to Surveying

If you’re in the market to purchase a property or are a landowner that wants to build on your property, surveying is an essential skill. There are seven types of surveys that can help you locate property lines, split your parcel or prepare for a construction project. This guide explains each of them and why they’re important.

Land Surveyor


Surveying is a fundamental engineering operation that determines three-dimensional relationships between different points. It’s a key element in civil engineering and helps engineers plan construction projects, including railways, highways, canals, skyscrapers and more.

Surveyors use equipment like a distance chain and compass to measure distances accurately. They also use total stations and theodolites to measure angles.

A common practice is to start a survey from the top and work downwards to the bottom. This helps surveyors avoid errors caused by overlapping measurements.

Boundary Surveys

Boundary surveys, also known as mortgage or title surveys, are conducted by licensed surveyors to determine property lines. They can be commissioned by homeowners, building companies and property managers to ensure that they don’t encroach on another owner’s property, which can lead to disputes or lawsuits.

They are recommended prior to buying, subdividing, improving or building a property. This prevents the expense and frustration of defending a lawsuit, moving a building or resolving a boundary dispute.

A boundary survey is a process that involves combining research with field work to determine the boundaries of a parcel. It is conducted by a professional land surveyor who will visit the property and look through historical records.

Topographical Surveys

Topographical surveys are an essential tool for architects and engineers, providing them with accurate digital data to design on. This helps save time and money on construction projects, which can be impacted by terrain-related errors.

In order to carry out a topographic survey, a land surveyor will visit the site physically and set up their total stations and reflective prisms on metal nails hammered into the ground (control stations).

Then, they will measure the land, one point at a time. These measurements will be coded and downloaded onto a computer to produce the final drawing / report.

Depending on the scope and accuracy required, different survey instruments will be used. These include GPS or total station units that are able to measure points and produce fixed lines.

ALTA Surveys

Typically conducted as part of commercial construction projects or at the request of title insurers and parties to land transactions, ALTA surveys are an essential part of the real estate due diligence process. Designed to provide an unbiased opinion about the property’s physical features, ALTA surveys adhere to a set of survey standards established by the American Land Title Association and the National Society of Professional Surveyors.

A typical ALTA survey includes a boundary survey plus detailed depiction of any improvements, easements and other land-ownership elements impacting the property. This information, which a standard boundary survey would miss, provides crucial protection against potential encroachments or other issues that can complicate land-ownership and legal disputes.

These surveys also indicate zoning classification and other pertinent information, including water boundaries. These surveys are especially important when collaborating with government agencies on land-use planning and redevelopment projects.

DIY Surveys

DIY survey research is increasingly popular, especially for companies who want to gather quick feedback on a few specific topics. It is also a cost-effective option when budget is limited.

A few do-it-yourself platforms provide an end-to-end solution that rolls up questionnaire design, fieldwork/panel management and reporting in a single tool. Clients use it to test consumer preference and behaviours, brand equity and more.

Most DIY tools require panel membership or rely on a panel renting company. This can lead to lower quality data.