Measured surveys: What are they and do you need to have one?

survey being carried out
(Image credit: Getty)

Measured surveys offer peace of mind, allow for accurate plans and drawings to be carried out and ensure you are making the very most of the house or plot you are building on. 

Organising the right house surveys should be high on your list of priorities and carried out way before any work begins on your project. 

"Whilst an empty garden plot might appear completely flat, leading you to believe you should design a house suited to a level site, in reality, the garden may fall away with a steep gradient," explains architect Neil Turner. "A measured survey would not only show something like this up, but will also record all the physical objects on the land including trees, manholes, and services (if there are any)."

In this guide, we take a look at what a measured survey is, how to go about arranging one and the kind of costs you are likely to face when having one carried out. 

What is a measured survey?

Measured surveys are not to be confused with building surveys

"A building survey is a report on the physical condition, repair and state of the building," clarifies Neil Turner. "A measured survey is a detailed and accurate drawing of the current size of the building or plot, including plans and elevations.

"The process of measuring a building or site used to be a case of a tape measure, pen and paper — and on small jobs this is still (in my opinion) the best way. However, things have developed and now laser measures and full computer digital surveys are usually preferred."

Depending on whether the survey is being carried out on a building or plot, a measured survey should include:

  • Site plans
  • Floor plans
  • Roof plans
  • Cross sections
  • External elevations

Will I need a measured survey?

So, will your project require you to have a measured survey carried out or is this a step you could afford to skip? While there are no laws to say you have to have one, most experts agree is it always better to arrange to have one.

"Many clients ask me if it’s really essential," says Neil Turner. "With an existing house, the plans and elevations will usually be required for a planning application anyway so it makes sense to have them produced accurately at the outset. In addition, your architect will also be able to make far better progress with up-to-date and accurate plans when creating the existing and the proposed information. These drawings will be useful through the whole build process for suppliers and sub-contractors to measure and design their elements. 

"Some clients pass across copies of old drawings and ask if this saves the bother of a survey. If these drawings are manual then they can help inform and allow some initial sketching to take place, but they can’t be made into a CAD file for the computer and invariably you can’t rely on the old drawings being accurate. So again, the advice is get the measured survey. There is never a circumstance where is not helpful to have one."

What other types of house survey are there?

Measured surveys can be carried out on plots and existing buildings, although the way in which this is done is obviously slightly different.  

  • House surveys: This involves a surveyor or architect going around every room and measuring all the spaces in order to create a shape, joining them them together to form a house plan. "This plan shows up thickness of the walls. Chimneys, windows, doors and staircases are then all added, along with radiators and internal features. The elevations will include the outside features of the building in order that the plans and elevations can be read accurately together," says Neil Turner. "Surveying now involves 3D surveys, meaning that complicated shapes can be modelled, allowing the latest 3D drawing packages to be used even when working on older buildings. However, on domestic work 2D surveys are still more than sufficient. The accurate drawing allows the designer to understand and ‘read ‘the building. Structural walls can be determined by looking at their thickness and clues to the original layouts can also be gleaned, helping to build up a knowledge of the history of the building."
  • Plot surveys: "On an plot, seeing accurate levels and falls will allow the architect or designer to come up with a solution perfectly suited to the gradients of the site," explains Neil. "Without this information the designer has to guess and that can only lead to problems. It may be that a split level design is required or site alterations are needed to mould the site to the shape of the required design. The biggest costs on site are the earthworks, foundations and drainage, so it is vital that the architect, quantity surveyor and builder have calculated all of this before starting and agreed the building costs.
    "On a large plot, having the trees positioned correctly on plan allows you to work out the best position for the new house based on its proximity to the existing trees and their roots. This also allows you to plan ahead for future planting."

Who can carry out a measured survey?

There are several options when choosing someone to carry out a measured survey on your site — architects, specialist survey companies or independent surveyors.  

"I have always undertaken the survey myself throughout my career and I insist on my staff undertaking the surveys themselves or being present when it’s been completed," says Neil Turner. "You can learn so much by walking around the building, room-by-room, absorbing the information. It is a skill to undertake a survey and architects need to be taught how to complete one properly. With the advent of specialist survey companies, I have seen less interest from younger architects wanting to do surveys. A survey is not something that could be undertaken by a client trying his hand for the first time.

"Specialist survey companies are particular useful on larger properties and site surveys. They have the latest measuring equipment and are able to create 3D work now being used on commercial projects. If you are using a survey company you need to be very clear on your requirements, timescales and outputs for the survey and again I would advise that your architect is better placed to negotiate with these survey companies as they ‘speak the language.’"

How much does a measured survey cost?

There is no fixed sum charged for measured surveys as they are generally priced according to site or building in question. 

At the lower end of the price scale, for small terraced or semi-detached houses, expect figures of around £800. These can easily rise to £2,000 or more for very large detached properties or period homes. On average, expect costs of between £1,400 - £1,500.

Neil Turner
Neil Turner

Architect Neil Turner is director at Howarth Litchfield Partnership and specialises in residential design.

Neil Turner

Architect Neil Turner is director at Howarth Litchfield Partnership and specialises in residential design.