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Need Accurate Building Measurements? Here Are 3 Ways to Get Them

Need Accurate Building Measurements? Here Are 3 Ways to Get Them

You need building measurements, and you need them to be accurate. The good news is that modern technology is on your side. Thanks to technological advancements, you don't need to send a junior organization member into the field with a tape measure and a pencil.

Bolstered by enthusiasm, that team member would likely jump at the opportunity to prove themselves. The reality, however, is that they really don't have the expertise, let alone the correct tools, to create an accurate set of measured drawings.


Accurate building measurements are crucial across various industries, including architecture, engineering, construction, real estate, and facility management. They serve as the foundation for design, renovation, and maintenance projects. Inaccurate measurements can lead to costly errors, delays, and safety hazards. Therefore, investing in precise measurements is essential to ensure project success and mitigate risks.


In this post, you'll learn the risks and benefits associated with three common ways to get an existing conditions survey of a building:

  1. Capturing building measurements yourself
  2. Hiring a land surveyor
  3. Working with a specialized firm

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1. The Do-It-Yourself Method

Tape Measure

Throwback photo to the year 2000, before laser scanning when measuring a building was done by hand.

Utilizing your staff for the hands-on approach of measurement is still an option, but it can be used to create cohesion between multidisciplinary project teams. Many professionals start by conducting their own existing conditions survey.

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What is an existing conditions survey? According to the American Institute of Architects, it's a comprehensive appraisal of a building's as-built conditions. These can range from a 3D BIM (building information model) of a building to a basic 2D drawing of the building. Many teams also capture photographs on-site and use them as references in their design process.

Existing conditions surveys are conducted and act as records of what actually exists at a specific moment in time: today. As opposed to the drawings used to determine how to build a structure in the first place, an existing conditions survey shows what's there now. All buildings change as they are renovated, adapted, and improved over time. A reliable set of measured drawings can be used to create cohesion between multidisciplinary project teams.

What You'll Need to DIY:

  1. Tape measure (laser distance meter preferred, if possible)
  2. Pencil and paper
  3. Ruler
  4. Phone or camera
  5. Time on-site to measure the building fully by hand

Then Vs. Now

Left to right, a photo from 2015 shows Joe Sullivan, Senior Project Manager, and Drone Pilot, using the 'old ways' of measuring a building's roof with a tape measure and a single-point (“disto”) laser, and a photo from 2024 measuring a building’s roof with the state-of-the-art Leica RTC360.

Understanding the space you need measurements of is critical. Before beginning, thoroughly assess the space to determine its scale and size. Next, draw the space and indicate important areas such as walls, windows, and doorways. Create a basic floor plan on paper, clearly marking all major dimensions. For more detailed areas of the space, such as a kitchen, consider beginning on a fresh sheet of paper and providing more detailed measurements.

Emphasizing these potential limitations and risks is crucial to help building industry professionals make informed decisions about whether DIY measurements suit their projects. While DIY methods may offer some convenience, they may not always deliver the precision and reliability required for critical projects. As stated by our client Sally DeGan, Principal at SpaceCraft Architecture, “We conducted a study where we measured and created drawings ourselves but found that there are no cost savings in doing it in-house. Engaging Existing Conditions for these services actually results in savings for us.”

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3D Revit Model, 3D Point Cloud

3D Revit model and 3D point cloud of a Bedford Street residence in Lexington, Massachusetts, delivered to SpaceCraft Architecture.

 

2. Use A Land Surveyor

Hiring a land surveyor to create building measurements is not necessarily your best option, but can be a good solution if accuracy is not a top priority. As their title suggests, a land surveyor's specialty is surveying land. They are professionals at determining the precise three-dimensional positions of points and the distances and angles between them. This service is very important in landscape architecture, infrastructure, and construction projects.

Land surveyors specialize in capturing accurate measurements over a large working area. They also have access to technology that increases efficiency within the process. Surveyors often choose their tools according to the project’s needs.

Some common land surveying tools include:

  • Theodolites to measure angles
  • Altimeters to measure the slope
  • Total stations to measure electronic distance
  • 3D scanners to capture changes in elevation and topography
  • Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to utilize satellites for measurement accuracy

If accuracy is your top priority, a land surveyor may not be the best choice, and here's why: While their expertise lies in surveying land, their focus on large working areas and specialized tools may not always translate to the precise measurements needed for building projects. As stated above, land surveyors typically prioritize capturing expansive landscapes and geographic features, which may not align perfectly with the meticulous requirements of architectural and construction endeavors where accuracy is crucial. In such cases, utilizing a specialized firm will offer the experience and expertise to provide the experience and expertise, and deliver the accuracy required for intricate building measurements.

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Our project at The Hartford Times Building is the perfect example of this. This project is a high-profile and historic building that underwent 3D laser scanning and modeling in Revit, provided by a separate land surveying firm. New York City architect firm Robert A.M. Stern and Associates was unable to use the original drawings from the land surveyor and selected our firm to rescan and remodel. Given the pressing deadlines, we were entrusted with the task of completing the project within a tight timeframe of ten days.

3D Revit Model - Hartford Times

3D Revit model of The Hartford Times Building in Hartford, Connecticut.

 

3. Utilize A Specialized Firm

"I could go to Home Depot and purchase the most expensive hammer that they sell. Doing that won't make me a master carpenter." - Kurt Yeghian, Founder and CEO of Existing Conditions.

When it comes to getting accurate building measurements, the best results come from working with a team that has both experience and expertise. Those characteristics – plus the right equipment for the job – will provide you with the greatest probability of project success. The best-specialized firms will have a history of adaptability and will be able to provide you with measured drawings in a variety of formats, from Computer-Aided Design drawings (CAD) to Building Information Models (BIM).

Working with a team of specialists to capture accurate building measurements allows for all members of a project team – from architects and builders to owners and brokers – to harmoniously work from the same sheet of music.

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Leica RTC360

Left to right, on-site photo of Kelvin Jolalpa, Operations Associate, and Jesus Bravo, Operations Director utilizing the Leica RTC360 laser scanner.

 

Benefits of BIM Technology

While other means of capturing accurate building measurements work, the question eventually becomes one of risk management. The traditional DIY approach and hiring land surveyors offer viable options, but for intricate measurements requiring millimeter accuracy, collaborating with specialized firms equipped with experience, cutting-edge technology, and expertise is crucial.

When the data is off, even marginally, it can be enough to present structural instability and put people at risk. For example, if a column grid is off by a foot, the walls are at the wrong angle, and the floor-to-floor height is off by a few inches, that would translate into major problems at the end of the project that could include change orders and potentially even litigation. However, a ton of unnecessary risk and unpleasantness can be avoided by hiring the right firm to produce an accurate set of as-built drawings.

Learn more about how new technology can augment, or even replace, your historic  building drawings in this blog post.

 

Ready to elevate your approach to building measurements and ensure project success?

Collaborate with our team of seasoned professionals equipped with cutting-edge technology and expertise. Contact us to learn more and get started on your next project!

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