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Construction Surveys: Why & When Custom Homes Need Them

When embarking on the journey of designing and building a custom home, construction surveys may not be top of mind. While the custom home process is exciting and filled with the promise of a unique space tailored to your dreams and lifestyle, residential construction surveys rarely get anyone too excited, but they are a critical part of both the site evaluation, design and construction process. In this article, we’ll delve into what is a survey, why you need one and when you need one.

construction surveys

What Is A Survey?

I am certain that we have all seen a construction surveyor or two as we drive around town. They sport those fashionable orange caution vests, hard hats and are often holding a pole topped with equipment or they are looking intently into a small telescope looking thingy.

So, what are these folks doing?

When we see a surveyor out in the field, they are capturing a variety of information about the land or the structures on that land. Here are some examples:

  • Terrain and Topography: One of the foremost reasons to conduct a survey when designing a home is to gain an understanding of sloping terrains and drainage patterns. Surveyors capture the land height of exact locations and show these on the survey of the property. It will also show if a property is in a flood zone. Armed with this information, architects and designers can optimize the home’s layout to work with the natural features of the land.

  • Property Boundaries and Zoning Regulations: Capturing accurate delineation of property boundaries is fundamental to any construction project. Surveys provide a clear demarcation of the land, preventing encroachments and legal disputes with neighbors. Equally important, understanding property lines is essential for adhering to local zoning regulations and building codes. A property survey reveals setback requirements, which dictate the minimum distance between buildings, fencing and property lines. Adhering to these regulations is not only a legal obligation, but it also ensures that the custom home is in harmony with the surrounding environment and neighboring properties.

  • Utility Mapping: Efficient integration with utility infrastructure is a key aspect of a custom home design. Surveys can include mapping of existing utilities such as water lines, sewer systems, and electrical cables. They also show easements that utility companies may have put in place to maintain their infrastructure. Understanding the location of utilities helps in the planning of new infrastructure for the custom home.

  • Trees: Knowing the location and size of large trees can be very important. Depending on local regulations, certain trees may not be removed depending on the type of tree and size. Further, there might be protective radius around certain trees to protect their root systems. All of this is critical information for the design of a custom home.

  • Structures: Lastly, surveys show the location and foundation height of structures. This can be particularly helpful during construction to ensure the custom home is built in the correct location and at the proper elevation.

Why Do You Need a Survey?

While we shared how important it can be for certain items earlier, there are three main reasons why a survey is critical for a custom home.

  • Risk Mitigation: No construction project is without challenges, but a survey acts as a preemptive tool for identifying potential risks and challenges. Issues such as changes in topography or flood-prone areas can be revealed through a comprehensive survey. This proactive approach not only safeguards the investment but also contributes to the long-term stability and resilience of the custom home.

  • Design Feasibility: Custom home design involves translating creative ideas into feasible and structurally sound plans. Surveys provide essential data for designers to evaluate their design feasibility. For example, the presence of a steep slope might necessitate adjustments in the floor plan or incorporating additional structural elements.

  • Securing Financing and Insurance: Surveys are not only beneficial during the design and construction phases but also play a key role in securing financing and insurance approvals. Lenders require a survey to assess the property’s value and verify its boundaries. Insurance companies use them to evaluate potential risks and liabilities. Having a recent and accurate survey can expedite these.

residential construction survey

When Do You Need A Survey?

You might be thinking that you only need to get your property surveyed once and you’re done. Not so fast. Surveying is important at several steps in the process.

  • Pre-Construction: Before the design even begins, a comprehensive survey should be the first activity completed. With this in hand, designers can be much more productive for all the reasons we have discussed above.

  • Construction: During construction, surveyors conduct multiple visits. Once the land is cleared and before any foundation work begins, surveyors will mark the corners of the custom home and set an elevation mark. That way the builder can accurately locate the position of the home and ensure that the foundation is built at the right height. Prior to the foundation being poured solid, surveyors will visit again to confirm the building is correct. Finally, once the foundation is poured, the surveyor will update a foundation survey that shows the new structure on the property, as well as its actual elevation.

  • Post-Construction: Once the home is completed, a final survey will be done. This will show not only the footprint of the home on the survey, but also any other elements that have been built such as pools, patios, sidewalks, and driveways.


The importance of surveys in the custom home process can’t be overstated. From understanding the lay of the land to ensuring compliance with local regulations, construction surveys are a foundational step that sets the stage for a successful project. By investing time and resources in these surveys, you and your team can navigate the complexities of the construction process with confidence, creating a custom home meets your vision.

Additional Resources

  • Before you Schedule - Some tips before you schedule that survey

  • Types - The 9 different types of surveys

  • Who Pays - Article on who typically pays for the survey

  • Myths - Common survey myths

  • 10 Reasons - Key advantages of why you should survey your property


“I have known Jon for many years. He and his team at Owners’ Ace are an invaluable resource to anyone looking to design and build a custom home. Having their assistance makes a complex process so much easier and successful. I recommend Owners’ Ace to my clients and to anyone looking to build their dream home.”

BG Holmberg, Top Custom Home Realtor in Tampa Bay Area

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