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What Does a Construction Surveyor Do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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In general, a construction surveyor inspects and measures land parcels under consideration for various construction projects. The specifics of this person’s job depend in many ways on the type of project at issue; surveying for a large project like an airport requires a different set of skills than, say, planning a single-family residence. In nearly all cases, though, all jobs rely on the same basic knowledge and concepts. A person trained in this field will collect information on land characteristics, including size, elevations, boundaries and curves of the land plot. He or she will also usually map the land and compose reports assessing the ways in which certain building plans could make use of the space, and identifying any problems with topography, soil density, or other land-specific issues. This information is used by landowners, engineers and other land developers to determine the best ways to use the land and to plan safe and effective buildings.

Understanding the Surveying Field Generally

Survey work is an important part of planning for almost any type of construction project. Most architects and construction engineers are trained in the mechanics of buildings and composing sound structures, but the success of these projects often depends as much on the integrity of the buildings themselves as the security of the ground on which they’re built. This is where surveyors come in. Surveyors in the construction world are specially trained in how to assess land not just for its features, but also for its suitability when it comes to serving as a site for various buildings. Things like elevation shifts, likelihood of flooding, and topographical challenges all play a role.

Different Work Environments

A person in this position may work in many different environments. His or her scope of surveying projects might range from residential developments to high-rise commercial buildings, shopping malls, highways, and airports. People with this expertise often have a lot of different projects available to them, and they often work in widely varying settings depending on the circumstances. Some work for private companies, such as a construction, architectural, or engineering firm, or with local and regional government agencies.

Plat Preparation

One of the most common things professionals in this field do is to prepare plats, which are maps that clearly define property boundaries and describe the land's geographic features. The surveyor normally presents the plats in conjunction with consulting on land development plans. These planning and analysis sessions regularly include communications with the construction crews, survey staff, and clients.

Boundary Line Assessments

Determining the boundaries and characteristics of a piece of land is not always easy. Sometimes old documents and drawings must be used to determine where the legal boundaries actually are. Many surveyors use electronic devices and computer software to aid in their analyses of land plots. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can help a surveyor chart exact positions and coordinates, while specialized software can help analyze current field data and compare it with previous maps and surveys.

After the plans and blueprints are complete, the surveyor normally continues to work with the builder for a time. He or she may confirm findings on elevations and preferred points for construction to begin prior to ground breaking. If the builder has questions on altitudes or boundaries, the construction surveyor is generally expected to provide answers.

Required and Useful Tools

To accurately assess land parcels, the construction surveyor and her crew utilize assorted tools and instruments, some of which are unique to the profession. Specialized surveying instruments include tools that measure angles and altitude, called transit theodolites and altimeters. The property being surveyed often is marked with simple stakes and rods to designate boundaries and denote recommended points to initiate construction.

Getting Started in This Job

A construction surveyor is normally required to have a bachelor's degree in civil engineering or a similar field. Previous experience in land, project, or construction surveying is highly valued. Some regions also require licenses or an apprenticeship period during which the novice surveyor works for a more experienced professional in the industry.

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