RLF Consulting


Topographic Surveying

What Is a Topographic Survey and Why Do You Need One?

A topographic survey is a map of a property that shows all the features on the land. This includes things like contours (the peaks and valleys), vegetation, physical attributes, and utilities. It is important to have this information before starting a construction project so that the team knows what they are dealing with.

The survey is conducted by a licensed surveyor using different methods, depending on the size and features of the land. A topographic survey locates all surface features of a property and depicts all-natural features and elevations. In essence, it is a 3-dimensional map of a 3-dimensional property showing all natural and man-made features and improvements.

The goal of a topographic survey is to locate and map each surface feature of a specific property. The survey will show the following elements:

  • Contours: This line indicates each peak and valley of the land. The contour will show where there’s a significant drop in vertical height. The contractor and surveyor will have a better idea of what they’re dealing with by having this information on hand.
  • Vegetation and physical attributes: Streams, large boulders and wooded areas will all be identified in the topographic survey.
  • Utilities: Any manmade utilities are shown in a topographical survey. This might include utility lines, electrical boxes or pipeline markers. The information can then be cross-referenced with any existing plans to identify underground utilities.

In summary, all of this information is key to knowing exactly what is being dealt with prior to embarking on a big construction project. The more data obtained, the more detailed the survey will be.

When is it needed?

The topographic map is often the building block for all future planning and design. Failing to get the information before construction begins can lead to some very expensive challenges later on. The topographic survey equips the project team to properly deal with the land, which helps keep the project on budget and on schedule. Additionally, many governing bodies will require a topographical survey as part of the approval process.

How is it conducted?

Topographic surveys use three different methods to produce a topographical map

  • Aerial: LIDAR and UAV photogrammetry technology are utilized to identify the contours of the area.
  • GPS: State-of-the-art GPS mapping technologies are an alternative survey method for any areas that aren’t large enough to merit an aerial approach.
  • Total stations: A field crew will directly map each feature within the project site. This is the most effective option when tree cover blocks other tools or the area requires more detailed information due to unique geological features or varying elevations.

A topographic survey must be conducted by a licensed surveyor in order for it to be considered legally binding during topographic surveying.

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