Did you know? Surveying Basics

One of the best ways to describe surveyors is to say that we are the eyes and ears of property owners. Many property owners, public or private, are not always familiar with the land they are trying to develop or improve. By doing a survey, we can show and note on a survey any easement, zoning restrictions, or improvements that affect the property either negatively or positively. Our goal is to provide an accurate depiction of existing improvements and restrictions situated on and adjacent to the property, aiding in the engineering and design of future improvements.


When you see surveyors wearing orange vests on the side of the road, we are locating topographic features, property lines, roadways, fences, water meters, water lines, utility poles, or storm drainage. While many people often think we use a camera to take pictures, the instrument you see attached to a yellow tripod is called a transit, or total station. The total station measures the angles and distances relevant to two known points to enable data collection and calculations during the survey. The red and white pole you typically see one of the survey crew members holding is called a prism pole. Mounted atop the pole is a prism, which reflects a laser to the total station, where the total station calculates and records the distance between the total station and the prism pole.

Below are three types of surveys we complete almost every day:

  • A Boundary Survey establishes boundary lines of a new parcel of land or reestablishes boundary lines of an existing parcel of land.
  • An ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey must adhere to national standards set by and adopted by the American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). The standards for these surveys require a more detailed report than the typical boundary survey, including 20 items, such as details about easements benefitting or encumbering a property, access to public roads, zoning setbacks, flood zones, water boundaries, building height, and more. We also work with the various Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements to ensure that the existing grade for wheelchair access meets ADA requirements.
  • A Topographic Survey identifies and maps the contours of the ground and existing features on the surface of the earth or slightly above or below the earth’s surface. This can include trees, buildings, streets, walkways, manholes, utility poles, and retaining walls.

Each survey comes into play with our site engineering and traffic/transportation projects. Often, the survey is one of the first steps in development, and it all starts with the guys in orange vests on the side of the road.