How to Survey Land

Aimee Gelwick provides an introduction to land measuring for the layperson and beginner's guide to the necessary tools and equipment in this two-part series.

| July/August 1975

Like most of MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers, you're probably into doing things on your own. Some skills, though, are just too complex and specialized to be realistic propositions for the lay person and most likely you'd expect surveying to be one of them. Not at all! A mastery of the basic techniques is within your reach, and can save you time, money, and labor on your land.

Perhaps you haven't yet found your homestead, and in that case your first real life encounter with surveying may occur when you size up a tract for possible purchase. If there's no survey on record — or none that describes the plot's boundaries in detail — you can't be sure, for example, whether that desirable stream is on "your" place or the adjoining property. Only actual measurement of the acreage you're considering, on the basis of the description in the deed, will show exactly what you're being offered. (See Chapter 8 of Les Scher's Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country for an attorney's view of this subject. If the exact course of a property line makes a crucial difference to the value of a tract you desire, you'lI probably want a professional survey but your own preliminary work should at least help you decide whether or not you want to continue negotiations — MOTHER.)  

In some states, land transactions are lawful only if a survey — recent enough to be considered legally binding — is on file with the county recorder. You may not be allowed to carry out this work yourself, since many jurisdictions recognize only licensed surveyors' reports for official purposes. A phone call or letter to the nearest Government Land Office will tell you whether or not this is true in your case. Even if it is, however, an authorized professional's signature on your field notes will sometimes be accepted. Talk to your area surveyor's office about this possibility.

If you're interested only in surveying inside your property line, of course, the joy of mapping your kingdom is yours without hassle. And it is a joy. An examination of your tract with rented or borrowed instruments could be your first step toward a new relationship with the land, the true understanding of all its rills and byways that comes only from close inspection. In addition, your findings will help you lay out your homestead sensibly and give you accurate information on which to base decisions about building, gardening, farming, landscaping, etc., projects of all kinds.

How to Survey Land

Precise land surveys depend on three fundamentals:

[1] The determination of distances.

[2] The determination of elevation.
5/27/2018 1:17:16 AM

I used the plans at WWW.EASYWOODWORK.ORG to make my own – I highly recommend you visit that website and check their plans out too. They are detailed and super easy to read and understand unlike several others I found online. The amount of plans there is mind-boggling… there’s like 16,000 plans or something like that for tons of different projects. Definitely enough to keep me busy with projects for many more years to come haha. Go to WWW.EASYWOODWORK.ORG if you want some additional plans :)

7/6/2015 1:03:04 PM

This is really good to know, I wanted to initially survey the land myself. It would make my life easier if I could do a preliminary survey. If I like the place, then I can hire someone to really do it. I appreciate all the DIY surveying tips!

4/2/2015 10:50:21 PM

I didn't know that you could do your own topographic survey. It seems like it could be pretty easy if you have the right tools. I wonder what the most basic tools are that you would need to do this kind of job by your self.

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