Building Surveys

The term “building survey” can mean different things to different people. Below is a partial list of how different professionals may use the term.

Architects, Drafters, Engineers, and others in the AEC Industry

Def.: The act of field measuring an existing building, in order to create a drawing of it.

This type of building survey is typically simple and created from measurements taken with a hand held laser distance measuring device and hand held tape measure.

Building surveying of this type is a trade, learned through hands-on experience. Therefore it could be performed by someone who has the understanding of what would need to be documented, and who has the skill to accomplish it.

Historic Preservationists

Def.: The process of documenting the nation’s historic architectural, engineering and landscape features.

The preservation program HABS (Historic American Building Survey) uses the term in the manner above.


Def.: The act of field measuring a building by employing the techniques and standards of a licensed Surveyor, in order to create a signed and sealed drawing of it.

A building survey of this type may require the use of surveying equipment such as a level, theodolite, total station, and tripod. The measuring would be done in reference to a global coordinate system. And the drawing created from the field measuring would be legally stamped by a licensed land Surveyor.

The Context

Often times a building survey is required on a building repair, retrofit, or upgrade project, when no plans for the building can be found. A typical scenario would be something like this:

A building owner would like to gut out and remodel his six story building, and so he hires an Architect to design the interior renovation. At the start of the project the Architect cannot find plans for the building. Therefore, the first step to remodeling the building would be to perform a building survey (i.e. measure and draw the building).