You need building measurements and you need them to be accurate. The good news is that modern technology is on your side. Thanks to the progression of technological advancement, you don't need to send a junior member of your organization 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 they really don't have the expertise, let alone the correct tools, to create an accurate set of measured drawings.
In this post, you'll learn the risks and benefits associated with three different ways to get an existing conditions survey of a building:
- Capturing building measurements yourself
- Hiring a land surveyor
- Working with a specialized firm
1. The Do-It-Yourself Method
Utilizing your staff for the hands-on approach of measurement is still a viable option, but there are many other ways to achieve accurate building measurements that are worth exploring as well. Many professionals start by conducting their own existing conditions survey.
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 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:
- Tape measure (laser distance meter preferred, if possible)
- Pencil and paper
- Phone or camera
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, being sure to clearly mark 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.
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 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
While you won't necessarily get the most precise building documentation, a good land surveyor can help you better understand the relationship between a building and the land it sits on. This is especially useful when designing drainage systems, determining land boundaries, and building out infrastructure for public spaces.
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 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 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.
The Benefits of BIM Technology
While other means of capturing accurate building measurements work, the question eventually becomes one of risk management. 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 Building Information Modeling technology (BIM).
Learn more about how new technology can augment, or even replace, your historic building drawings in this blog post.