What is surveying and mapping?
Land surveying is the science, art, and profession of determining the positions of points on the surface of the earth and measuring the distances, directions, angles, and elevations between them. This data helps accurately create maps and determine plot boundaries.
Surveying and mapping has been a known science since at least Ancient Egypt. In fact, three out of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore were land surveyors. Surveying fulfills important needs in various fields, such as civil engineering, construction, architecture, and real estate.
What is a land surveyor?
Land surveyors determine property boundaries and prepare maps and survey plots of sites. They perform the measurements required for building a map of an area. Land surveyors may work with field equipment such as theodolites, levels, plumb bobs, and total stations, and software such as auto-CAD. They can also serve as expert witnesses in court cases and provide expertise to engineers, architects, and developers.
“Professional surveys are the only legally binding documents that show where your property begins and ends. Because of this, they can be the deciding factor in property disputes and are crucial when purchasing and developing land.”
How do you become a land surveyor?
In order to be eligible to become a licensed land surveyor in Florida, you must meet one of these two requirements:
|Degree||Bachelor’s degree in surveying and mapping or a similar field (geomatics, geomatics engineering, land surveying, etc.)|
|Experience||Four years as a subordinate to a licensed surveyor where you were responsible for the accuracy of the work.|
|Degree||Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field and 25 semester hours in related course work.|
|Experience||Six years as a subordinate to a licensed surveyor, five of which must show you were responsible for the accuracy of the work.|
After meeting these requirements, you are eligible to apply for the license. After your application is approved by the board, you are entitled to take the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam, the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam, and the Florida Jurisdictional exam.
There are two types of issued licenses:
LS (Land Surveyor)– this designation gives the surveyor a license to practice surveying and mapping. Professional land surveyors can sign and seal legal documents and is responsible for the accuracy of the data and maps.
LB (Surveying and Mapping Business) – this license designates a licensed land surveying business.
To learn more about becoming a licensed land surveyor, visit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website.
Why do I need a land survey?
There are many reasons one may need a land survey:
|Before purchasing land, so that you have legal proof that what you think you’re buying is what you’re buying;|
|Before building a fence around your property, so you can determine exactly where it will go;|
|If you are selling your property, having a recent survey on file will make the land more attractive to prospective buyers;|
|Before building any new structures on a property. Surveys will be able to tell you where your property lines lie. They will also determine whether the new structure is complying with zoning and neighborhood regulations;|
|If your neighbor stars building anything new and you suspect they may be encroaching on your property;|
|Before establishing a land easement, so that you can be sure you and each involved party knows what the easement entails. Title surveys will also show any existing easements.|
|Professional surveys are the only legally binding documents that show where your property begins and ends. Because of this, they can be the deciding factor in property disputes and are crucial when purchasing and developing land.|
What is a legal description?
Legal descriptions provide a clear definition of a parcel’s dimensions and boundaries. They are different from addresses because they use existing township grids to define the location of the parcel and are unique to each plot of land. Because of this, they reduce confusion over where each parcel of land lies and provide legal evidence on where its boundaries begin and end.
Sales contracts, deeds, and mortgages all use legal descriptions. They can be found on property deeds or property tax statements.
What are the different types of surveys?
There are several different types of land surveys and services:
ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys
These surveys provide a detailed representation of a property. They follow a set of standards created by the American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) and provide thorough information on the boundaries, real property, easements, encroachments, liens, and land ownership data of the property. ALTA/NSPS surveys are necessary during the construction, development, and permitting phases of projects. They are considered a standard in commercial real estate deals.
Commercial/Residential Boundary Surveys
Commercial/Residential Surveys determine the boundary of a specific piece of property. This survey is necessary for many reasons, including buying or selling land, clarifying property lines, building on land, if there is no plat on file or it has been too long since the last survey was conducted.
Construction Layout Services
Commonly referred to as construction staking or site layout surveys, these surveys determine the precise location of new structures on construction sites before they are built. They ensure the construction is on schedule and on budget.
Lot Splits and Boundary Line Adjustments
Lot splits involve splitting a plot of land into two new lots. This process is useful for multiple reasons, like when a lot has multiple owners and needs to be split, or a property owner wants to maximize profits by selling two lots. When a property line needs to be adjusted, land surveyors create boundary line adjustments. Drawing lots involves complying with zoning and size requirements, so land surveyors familiar with these requirements are necessary for these two services.
Platting Services and Lot Staking
Platting services fall into a similar category as Lot Splits and involve mapping the entire property. Lot Staking then comes into play when the division between the subdivided lots needs to be pointed out. A surveyor to use wooden stakes (where the term “staking” comes from) to mark the boundary.
Topographic and Tree Surveys
Topographic surveys gather detailed data about the elevation points of the natural and man-made features of the land. Tree surveys give detailed information on the trees on a plot of land. They can reveal the species of the tree, its age and physical measurements, overall health, and life expectancy. Both surveys help land owners identify the state of their land and what can be built on it.
Surveyors create as-built documents after a structure has been built. These documents show the condition of the structure and point out any changes that may have been made to the original design. They are also a certified record attesting to what was built.
Wetland & Environmental Surveys
Environmental Surveys determine the environmental status of a piece of land. Wetland Delineations are a facet of environmental surveys that determine the existence and size a wetland. These delineations are important because wetland lots must comply with rules and regulations that may not apply to other types of lots.
Hydrographic & Mean High Water Surveys
Hydrographic surveying deals any body of still or running water and is used to define shorelines and water features. Mean High Water Surveys determine the boundaries on private and state coastal waterways. These surveys are specifically important peninsulas, such as Florida.
FEMA Elevation Certificates
FEMA elevation certificates determine the overall elevation of new buildings and substantial improvements in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs). Therefore, they are necessary when applying for flood insurance and help reduce the cost of insurance premiums. Surveyors determine the level of elevation of the property to verify whether it meets the requirements for the certification.
Sub Surface Utility Locations
This survey maps the location underground utilities. They reduce the risk of any issues associated with the construction of or around subsurface utilities. These risks can include unexpectedly running into underground utility systems that may negatively affect the original design.
Aerial mapping (often referred to as Photogrammetry) utilizes survey aircrafts to create high definition topographic maps of larger areas. These areas would otherwise be difficult to capture with traditional means.
Experts in the Field
Aaron Hickman, PSM
Aaron Hickman is Director of Surveying at CHW Professional Consultants in Gainesville, Florida. Since joining the firm in 2003, his role has grown. Aaron has 14 years of land surveyor experience and is responsible for managing 300+ land surveying projects per annum. Aaron’s areas of specialization include boundary, topographic, ALTA/ACSM land title surveys, as-built surveys, route surveys, quantity surveys, survey data analysis, survey project management, subdivision plat review, and construction layout.
Jason Claus serves as Director of CHW's office in Jacksonville. Jason has over 26 years of experience and is a certified professional land surveyor and mapper in both Georgia and Alabama. He is proficient in AutoCAD, robotics, GPS equipment, and field software. Jason is responsible for overseeing all aspects of CHW’s office in Jacksonville including operations, quality control, accuracy and attention to detail while always emphasizing professionalism.