If you’re currently involved in some sort of construction project—having a home custom-built, for example—it might be difficult for you to tell the difference between a surveyor and an engineer. Both visit the site frequently to examine the work as it progresses. A surveyor and an engineer will often be found working on the same project; these two professions have complementary skills, but vastly different jobs, though the differences can be difficult to ascertain if you’re not a trained professional.
An engineer may be trained in a variety of different types of construction, from aeronautical to architectural, and from mechanical to structural to electrical. Each type of engineer typically works on a particular type of construction project, or is involved in a particular step of the project. No matter what type of construction project it is, the engineer will nearly always need to interact with a surveyor.
A surveyor provides site information to both engineers and architects, allowing them to take site-specific details into account when making their plans. For example, the engineer determines how much weight a bridge can hold, while the surveyor provides input on precisely where the bridge footings should be located on the land. The surveyor is nearly always called upon to survey the site before any construction or planning begins. The survey undertaken by the land surveyor provides the basis to advise the engineers on the optimum location for the structure. The engineer’s drawings must take into account the actual lie on the land; the engineer cannot simply assume that the land in question is perfectly flat and devoid of obstructions.
The land surveyor’s responsibilities are many, particularly when it comes to dealing with engineering. Surveyors are often involved during the blueprint-drawing phase of the project, providing GPS coordinates and other data for inclusion in the plans. This data will then be referred to by the construction crews.
Throughout the entire construction process, surveyors ensure that the engineering plan is being followed, often down to mere millimeters of deviance away from the plans drawn by the engineer, conducting additional surveys throughout the process to make sure that the engineer’s structural plan is properly aligned in the correct location when it is actually constructed on the land. These surveys, called “as-built” or construction surveys, check the location of every part of the structure against the engineer’s plans.
On the construction site itself, rarely will the surveys be conducted by a single person. Even with today’s technology, engineering projects usually require a team of surveyors to generate all of the distances and angles that need to be measured at a given site. This is particularly true as the project is being constructed, resulting in many more possible measurements than the site as vacant land. Wherever you find construction or an engineering project, you will invariably find at least one surveyor, or more likely a team of them. Depending on the specific activities being undertaken at the site, the surveyors may be conducting a property survey, a construction survey, an as-built survey, a topographic survey, or any number of other survey types.