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topographic survey

A topographic map is the best way of showing hills and undulations on paper. You’ve no doubt seen one before. It’s a map with lines that demonstrate the contours of the land. A mountainous area would have many complex lines to show all its various elevations. A flat area would have few lines, as its land is mostly uniform in elevation.

Topography isn’t just of interest to geology majors and battlefield historians. Contractors, architects and other professionals must also know the contours of a parcel of land if they intend to do anything productive with it. That’s why Compass Consultants offers topographic surveys as a standalone service and as part of our other, more detailed surveys.

What Is a Topographic Survey?

A topographic survey is created using specialized tools and equipment that measure the elevation at any point on or below land and even underwater. Sea level is typically used as the reference surface; all points on the survey are above, below or equal to it.

Once sufficient topographic data have been collected, the surveying team creates a comprehensive map of the area: one that reveals all the contours of the subject area, and which also includes the exact locations of both natural and man-made features.

When Should You Get a Topographic Survey?

If you’re commencing a construction or land development project of any size, then it’s crucial to understand how the land’s elevation will affect its overall usability. A topographic survey can help you avoid building where you shouldn’t, as well as indicate where drainage and leveling are required. This is why an ALTA land title survey (i.e. the most comprehensive type of survey available) includes a Table A Item, Item 5; Vertical relief with the source of information (e.g., ground survey, aerial map), contour interval, datum, with originating benchmark, when appropriate, as an option.

While it’s always advisable to get a topographic survey before breaking ground, it is especially important to commission one as part of preparation for any of the following projects.

  • Acquisition of Right of Way – Is your department acquiring land for the purpose of transportation improvement? Whether the acquisition is temporary or permanent, you’ll need to know if the land’s physical features will suit your project before making such a large investment.
  • Runoff Management System Installation – Are you designing and installing a system to safely channel away runoff? Understanding the directions and rates at which precipitation, snowmelt and irrigation flow – and where they will accumulate – is paramount to developing an effective runoff management strategy. Whether your system includes grading, drainage pipes, or both, it cannot be successful unless it is built around a topographic survey.
  • Large Projects – We would never advise doing it, but plenty of people have built houses on land they haven’t surveyed. (The pioneers did not keep surveying tripods in their covered wagons, after all.) But if you’re planning a large construction project – be it infrastructure, industrial, or commercial – you need to know how water will move around the parcel, and whether you need to change its slopes to prevent water from pooling where it shouldn’t. Ensuring a large building’s structural integrity is simply impossible without an accurate topographic survey.
  • Permitting – Some jurisdictions require builders to prove that land is fit for development before commencing work on it. Others may require developers to create surveys for conservation purposes. In either case, a topographic survey is usually needed to satisfy the governing bureaucracy’s approval criteria.

If you are planning construction or a land development project in Minnesota, then you have already found the best solution to all your surveying needs. Contact Compass Consultants today to schedule service at the site of your upcoming project!

construction land surveying - compass consultants

Construction Surveys: Build With Confidence

Architects, engineers and construction managers all share a common goal: to ensure that each project is built exactly to specifications. They will not achieve their goal without careful planning, which includes gaining a comprehensive understanding of the land they are building on.

Fortunately, a single point of reference exists to provide all the information these professionals need so they can proceed with the utmost confidence. This is a construction survey (aka construction layout or construction staking): a detailed report containing everything of interest to builders while they are planning and carrying out construction.

What Is Included in a Construction Survey?

A construction survey begins with a boundary survey: an exact representation of the property lines which ensures the builder doesn’t encroach on neighboring properties. Once those data are established, the surveyor adds the following details:

  • Utility easements, including any legal rights utility companies may have to cross or otherwise access the property
  • Locations of existing buildings, including any encroachments created by neighboring landowners’ properties
  • Locations of underground structures, including sewer and cable lines which mustn’t meet the teeth of an excavator bucket
  • Lay of the land, including topographical information which bears heavily on the project’s placement, floor plan and elevations

A construction survey doesn’t merely represent the land as it exists before the project commences. It also details the locations of roads, buildings and other structures that will have been created by the completion of the project. That provides the contractor with a comprehensive overview of the finished project, thus giving them sufficient time to make changes before it is too late.

When Do You Need a Construction Survey?

Construction surveys are typically required for new residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural building projects. They usually aren’t required for general maintenance projects when no expansion is proposed (i.e. roofing, interior remodeling, residing, etc.).

If you are planning a construction project, it is paramount to determine whether the job site’s governing jurisdiction requires a construction survey before you break ground. But even if you aren’t legally obligated to commission a construction survey, the document is simply too informative to proceed without.

What Is an As-Built Survey?

Whereas a construction survey is created before the project commences, an as-built survey (aka record drawing) is drafted afterward. Instead of its intended layout, an as-built survey formally documents precisely how the project was installed.

In addition to demonstrating that the specifications of the original construction were satisfied, an as-built survey can provide an invaluable point of future reference. Plans are frequently altered during construction projects. An as-built survey accurately documents any changes that were made, which enables the property owner to plan accurate and efficient updates for decades to come. As-built surveys are also crucial to planning the property’s ongoing maintenance needs.

If you are planning construction or a land development project in Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota, then you have already discovered your solution to all your surveying needs. Contact Compass Consultants today to schedule service at the site of your upcoming construction project!

existing conditions survey

Imagine you are about to lie down on the ground. What do you do first? That’s right: you check the site for broken glass, pointy rocks, creepy crawlies, and other things that aren’t good to lie down on. It’s instinct.

Now, imagine you’re planning to build something: a house, a gas station, a pharmacy, a creamery – you name it. What do you do first? The same instinct should compel you to order a site-planning survey.

What are Existing Conditions Survey?

An Existing Conditions Survey doesn’t pinpoint the locations of every stone and centipede on a piece of land. Even so, it’s quite detailed. It maps out many of the parcel’s most important features, including:

  • Boundaries
  • Topography
  • Existing structures
  • Trees & shrubs
  • Driveways
  • Utilities
  • Physical Improvements
  • Bodies of water
  • Wetlands
  • Zoning Information
  • Recorded Easements

Insurance providers and attorneys may find value in the information contained by existing condition surveys. Even so, existing condition surveys are typically ordered for the purpose of new construction.

Why Is an Existing Condition Survey Useful for Construction?

Land is seldom ready for construction without preparation. Brush must be cleared. Large trees must be cut down. Some or all of the land must be leveled, or partially removed if the project includes cut and fill foundation work.

The importance of building on level ground cannot be overstated. Uneven terrain leads to structural issues, which are among expensive issues a property owner can have. Ungraded land can also have drainage issues that lead to basement flooding.

In essence, an existing condition survey tells the contractor or foreman everything they need to know before they break ground. It makes the all-important planning phase of their job easier, as well as produce accurate results.

Although its legal uses are limited, an existing condition survey can spare the property owner an enormous legal headache down the road. Knowing the exact locations of boundary lines will help the builder avoid creating an expensive encroachment. No one wants to discover part of their house is located on their neighbor’s lawn.

What Does an Existing Condition Survey Not Have?

An Existing Condition survey is not comprehensive. Unlike an ALTA survey, it may not show plot recorded easements or potential encroachments. Unlike a subdivision survey, it does not break the land down into smaller parcels. An existing condition survey also may omit the legal, economic, social, and political constraints that would have been detailed by a location survey.

What Happens During an Existing Condition Survey?

Different projects may call for different steps, but an existing condition survey usually goes like this. Once we have reviewed the property’s deed, we arrive at the site with boundary and topographic surveying equipment. We pinpoint the parcel’s boundary corners. We collect the elevation data from several points throughout the parcel. We then analyze, validate and collate the data until they form a correct survey of the site. Once we have delivered our client’s final documents, it is only a matter of whether they would like us to monument property corners.

If you are planning construction or a land development project in Minnesota, then you have already discovered your solution to all your surveying needs. Contact Compass Consultants today to schedule service at your property.