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What Should be Included in a Site Survey?

Originally posted by our friends at modFORM LLC on August 2nd, 2020

It is often debated whether a site survey is needed for the building permitting process. In many jurisdictions, it is flat out required. In other jurisdictions it is not always required but is incredible beneficial for the owner and the architect for site planning purposes.

A majority of permitting jurisdictions will require a site plan which is typically prepared by and architect. In short, the site plan shows a scaled airel view of the property and the proposed new structures Many of the site plan requirements will be derived from the site survey. Check your local jurisdiction to understand what is required for a site plan.

Here is a list of items I typically request from the surveyor.

Property lines

Outline of Existing home and other structures such as sheds

Hard surfaces



Walk ways

Street location

Street centerline's

Manhole covers

Catch basins and drainage at street

Fire hydrant locations

Topography - 2' intervals

Height of existing buildings, floor level of existing buildings

Easements - access, utility, easement, etc

Utilities - power, water meter or well location, sewer

Vegatation - more importantly, large trees and the canopy footprint

Fence locations

Exposed rock

Now let's expand into why architects needs all of this info for a site plan Keep in mind, always check with yourocal permitting jursdiction to verify all zoning and building code requirements.

Property lines

This is one of the more important data points of the survey. This allows the architect to better understand the placement of a new home. Most jurisdictions have standard zoning restrictions which will dictate where a structure can be placed. In general, these are the standard setbacks:

Front yard setback

Side yard setback

Rear yard setback

To help visualize this, a front yard setback may be 25', a side yard setback may be 5' and a rear yard setback may be 25'.

With a large one acre parcel, these set backs may not be overly important.

On a smaller 5,000 square foot parcel, these setbacks may limit the overall building footprint.

Outline of Existing home and other structures such as sheds

If you are adding onto a home, it will be important to understand how the existing home sits in relation to the property lines. As you design your addition, you will need to be sure you are not crossing any of the above mentioned setbacks.

Additionally, many jurisdictions will have restrictions on how much hard or impervious surface may be covered. For example, a parcel may only be allowed to have 30% lot coverage. This typically includes all building footprints and hard surfaces. Which brings us to the next topic.

Hard surfaces

Hard surfaces typically include concrete or asphalt driveways, concrete walkways, sometimes decks and sometimes even hard compacted gravel surfaces.

These hard surfaces are typically counted towards the surface area calculation mentioned above.

Again, check with you local jurisdiction to verify what is considered a hard surface.

Street location

Srreet location, width and centerlines are important to capture on a survey. Occasionally street centerline's are used to calculate yard setbacks.

Topography - 2' intervals

Next to property lines, topography is the next important element. On a flat site, topography typically is not as important to understand. However, a site with slope can cause some complexities.

The topography is typically measured realitive to elevation above sea level.

If a new home is to be multiple levels and to be built on a slope, it is important to understand what elevations each level of the home sits at in relationship to the adjacent topography.

In some jurisdictions, there may be restrictions on how steep of slope you can build on or there may be setbacks required from these steep slope.

Height of existing buildings, floor level of existing buildings

A surveyor can capture heights of roofs of existing buildings and floor levels. This can be helpful for calculating overall building height criteria required by permitting jurisdictions.

Easements - access, utility, etc

Occasionally properties will have various easements for utilities, access or other reasons. These easements are typically a part of the properties legal recording process. A survey will be able to access these records and include these easements on the site survey.

Utilities - power, water meter or well location, sewer

Typically another requirement by the permitting jurisdiction. They will want to see where the various utilities enter a property and where the connect to a house.

Vegatation - more importantly, large trees and the canopy footprint

Vegation and more importantly large trees are important to understand where they sit in relationship to a future home. Some jurisdictions may have limitations on how many trees can be removed or what vegatation can be removed.

Check the requirements with your local jursdiction.

Fence locations

Permitting jurisdictions will sometimes require fences to be recorded on site plans. This is also helpful in understanding where a fence sits in relationship to a property line.

Other street elements

Other elements a permitting jurisdiction may require as a site plan include the following:

Manhole covers - these are used as basepoints or benchmarks for surveyor. This in turn can help a builder locate certain elements on a site.

Catch basins and drainage at street -

Sometimes drainage from roofs is sent to the street. It is helpful to understand where the nearest drainage elements are located on the street.

Fire hydrant locations-

Fire hydrant locations are needed sometimes to understand whether a house may be required to have sprinklers. If a hydrant is too far away from a house, the city may require a home to have fire sprinklers to be installed.

Having the hydrant on the site plan can help the city calculat these requirements.

That about sums up the items typically required in a site survey. As mentioned several times, check with your local jurisdiction on requirements and also check with your surveyor and architect. Thanks for reading!

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