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How to Read a Land Survey

Land surveys are an important part of heritage and history and without them who knows what the world would look like.  In fact, if it weren't for land surveys, we would not have maps. And although you should always consult a professional land surveyor regarding measurements on your property, let's look at how to read a land survey.

What is a Land Survey?

The term land survey can be considered to be very broad as it encompasses a wide range of different types of surveys. However, a land survey can more simply be defined as a certificate of land location that demonstrates the boundaries of a particular property.

Almost every home that is sold in the USA will have a land survey created before it is sold. This gives the new owners a legal document that indicates exactly what land is theirs when they purchase the property.

Land surveys can be very complex and not all land surveys simply pinpoint boundary lines. Depending on the purpose for the survey it may include other elements such as elevation of the land and features of the land among other things. We shall look at the different types of land surveys below.

Types of Land Survey

There are dozens of different types of land surveys produced, each with a different purpose and each containing different elements.  Also see this article:  


Some of the different types of land surveys include: hydrographic land surveys, topographical land surveys, geological land surveys, cadastral surveys, construction surveys and geodetic surveys.

How to read a land survey depends on the type of land survey that you are looking at. Many types of land surveys are very detailed and it is very hard to understand or read them without having prior training.

For example, construction land surveys are covered in a huge number of details such as position of fences, buildings, roads; horizontal positions; detailed dimensions and more.

Below we shall look at how to read a land survey.

How to Read a Land Survey

For the purposes of this article we shall look at the most common form of land survey - a boundary land survey. Understanding how to read a land survey of this kind is very simple especially compared to some of the more elaborate types that we looked at above.

A boundary land survey is used to establish the true property lines corners of a parcel of land. There are several reasons why property owners may request a boundary land survey including for the purposes of building a fence, to resolve property disputes with neighbors and to obtain building permits. In many cases boundary land surveys are also required as evidence in court.

So how to read a land survey? The first thing you will need to do is read the description of the property written in the appendix of the land survey. This will give you a general idea about what the land survey contains as well as basic measurements that are used on it.

You should then lay out the entire document on the floor or a table (they can often be very large) and find the legend for the survey so you understand what all the symbols on the map represent. The most common symbols include roads (or varying sizes), fences and natural and artificial landmarks.

On the land survey you will find a grid pattern across the entire survey - each grid represents one square mile. If you are looking for your personal property on the land survey then use identifiable roads and landmarks as a reference to locate your property.


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