What is a Survey?

(And do you need one for your project)

Topographical or boundary survey maps, commonly referred to as ‘surveys’, are often requested or required for projects that include an addition, especially if the addition is close to perceived property lines (often a fence) or building setbacks. Surveys provide a level of insurance against potential code violations and property disputes.


Surveys can provide a variety of information that may be required by the local agencies, or simply desired by the homeowner, architect or other consultant. The primary types of data that surveys provide are:


  • Topography: Contour lines are drawn to show elevation changes (slope) on the property.

  • Location of site improvements: main house, other building structures (sheds), walls/ fences, landscape and hardscape elements such as pools and patios,  and other man-made features.

  • Property lines: Also called ‘boundaries’. These are what tell you the size, shape and extents of your property.

Surveys provide information such as size and location of existing structures,

locations of property lines, grade changes, and major landscaping elements.

People often choose to forego the initial expense of a survey (starting around $2,000 and up for larger/ more complex properties) only to pay more in time and money later to resolve issues with the planning department or neighbors. While a perimeter fence is often a good general indicator of property lines, it isn’t always exact. This is especially true of older properties and properties with significant grade/ elevation change.


If you are working with an architect, ask their opinion as to whether your project could benefit from a survey. Hiring a surveyor (licensed civil engineer) to prepare a detailed survey map can provide the design team with valuable information and help avoid legal issues or neighbor disputes down the road.