Share what you do: Site measurement and base mapping

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by Steiner, Nov 12, 2012.

  1. Steiner

    Steiner LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 409

    Just went yesterday and measured a large back yard for a fire feature, new landscaping, a pool, and patio. During my second visit after I have had the customer sign a design contract I typically go out and take measurements of the existing site.

    Here is how I do it but i would like feedback on ways to speed up or improve my process:

    1. Ask for plot plan of home if available (this one was not ugh!)
    2. Main structure: Measure home using a standard tape. I use the running measurement technique for this and my long tape.
    3. Put all measurements down on graph paper using 1/4" = 5' for a large property. Rough sketch but I do count out all items and place it appropriately on the graph paper. I usually also include measurement and location of all windows as that is important for all planting material location.
    4. Features that stay. All decks patios, and stairs as well as other items not on the main house that will likely stay.
    5. Triangulate all existing trees. This takes forever.
    6. Photograph all the house features with a DSLR and a 17mm lens. I try to note all the gutter drains, as well as take pictures of plants and areas that show how a potential client takes care of the landscape. I photograph the views as well for screening purposes.
    7. Take a general note of how the land lays roughing it out with my eye. Very rarely do I bring the laser level to shoot grades although I am thinking I should just bring it and do it while I am there.

    I usually go by myself and use a 200' tape and a 25' tape. On larger sites I will bring an 11x17" graph paper but most jobs I just bring a 8x10". I also utilize an old screwdriver to hold my tape as I am usually solo. I will also bring my architects scale depending on how many measurements I take.

    So what do you do? How do you make the process quick and efficient? How do you deal with rain or windy weather?

  2. Steiner

    Steiner LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 409

    over on the other forum I was searching for help on site mapping and found that a few guys are loving the new laser tapes. For a 100 bucks if it speeds me up I am going to have to get one! Has anyone tried one?

  3. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    I don't even try to get a scaled drawing going when I'm on site. Other than that, my process is similar to yours. I measure to locate all windows and doors on the house, stoops, decks, patios, and walks. Then I flip the page and get trees and other critical points not attached to the house. Then I shoot grades (unless it's a planting plan). If it's an easy lot I'll grab 8-12 spot grades, otherwise I lay out a 15'x15' grid in the area I'm designing. Then it's lots of photos with the DSLR.

    I generally spend between 10-30 minutes measuring a site unless there's a lot of complexity. Then I go back to the office and basemap it in AutoCAD, starting with the plat if possible. That makes the question of rainy/windy days a lot easier - I just need to keep the sheet dry long enough to write my notes, then I'm out of there.
  4. andersman02

    andersman02 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 579

    My way is just like your except I use a wheel for the most part, seems to make things much easier especially with a electric wheel
  5. SDLandscapes VT

    SDLandscapes VT LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 581

    two man system using a collection of tapes--if possible we directly enter into dynascape and build the base plan as we measure--not always possible
  6. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778

    I'm just like papercutte and Steinerr. Graph paper, not to scale, general sketch, but good measurements, then draft in Acad.

    I do use a laser (Bosch DLR-165). It will cut your measuring time by 70%. You'll still need a tape for some stuff. Don't get a cheap laser. Mine runs $150, but I can get three times as many measurements and much longer shots than with the $99 Home Depot special I started with. Sometimes the conditions (light or surfaces or distance) will give you an error message or you just can't see the dot on the target - this is a big problem with the real cheap ones and not much of a problem with the better ones. Figure that they will be good for about 60% of the distance that they are rated for.
  7. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    A couple other things to make your life easier.

    - I always get a spot grade at the first floor threshold, garage door, top of siding, and bottom windowsill of the basement windows. I always do these first so I don't forget.
    - I always measure the lap on the siding, the height of one brick + one mortar joint, and one "brick" on a stamped foundation wall. That way if the client calls and says "hey, can we add a pergola/step/whatever" I can use my photos to count rows of brick and math out a good guesstimate of the height.I wouldn't trust it for adding a roof structure but it's fine for most things.
    - If I need to hold my 100' or 300' tape on something, I keep masonry nails, skinny picture framing nails, woodworking clamps (with a little felt they won't damage downspouts), and bungee cords in the car. I'm a big fat guy, I don't want to get 120' from the house and have the tape fall off the corner.

    GoiLawn is surprisingly useful. Any time it's more than a simple planting plan I try to pull the aerial imagery and a survey plat before heading out. That way when I get there I can see exactly what I need to locate, and what I can get off the existing documentation. I did a plan for a guy who had a front walk that was squiggly like a goat's intestinal tract. I could've spent 25 minutes pulling a grid, but instead I traced over it on the aerial photo. Done.
  8. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778

    I thought of this thread when I was out on a site that did not lend itself well to easy measurements in terms of orientation to the house or any other well anchored points to measure from, yesterday.
    Last year I bought a "double right angle prism". This allows me to measure off of a line and know that I'm accurately doing so at a right angle. It costs about $100 and is a little bigger than a film container with a 2" handle on the bottom of it. On one side there is a window that you look in. The top of the window looks 90 degrees to your right, the middle looks straight ahead, and the bottom looks 90 to the left. Using this and a laser distance meter is a wonderful thing.

    I was at an odd flag shaped lot with no bounds, a curved driveway and a house at an odd angle to the circular cul-de-sac with 30 trees, two light posts and a driveway to put on my plan - all of it more than 50' away from the front of the garage and offset to the right of the garage and house as you look at it ... with some topography going on. The road is 150' from the face of the garage.

    I hang my laser around my neck with a lanyard (that came in a bag of promo stuff at a trade show), carry my clip board with graph paper and prism , and mechanical pencil in my teeth. I lined up with the end of the garage, looked at it in the middle windo of the prism, walked backwards until I saw the first tree in the top window - when the tree lines up with the end of the garage in the prism widow, Iknow I am at the 90 degree angle point, I shoot the beam at the garage for my x coordinate and shoot the tree for my y coordinate ... step backwards and repeat for every tree.

    I simply plot them out by extending the lines of the face and side of the garage and using the offset and fillet commands with the appropriate distances and copy a dot and annotation to each.

    I overlayed a google earth image as a check. The tree shadows indicate a pretty good measurement ... maybe 45 minutes in the field. I got distances in excess of 150' (low light conditions) with my Bosch DLR 165 laser (~$150).

    google view.jpg

    cad view.jpg
  9. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778

    .... and the chicken scratch of the graph paper note page...
    Crude, but quick, effective, and reasonably accurate.

    This is upside down compared to the above images as I was looking back at the garage (upper left) with the road at the bottom of the page. Descriptions to the right, crude sketch to the left. Dashed line represents the projection from the end of the garage. Measurements are distance to the face of the garage in the left column and the distance 90 to the tree being located (all to the right in this case). Also noted how far some trees were from the edge of pavement in order to layout the driveway in my plan.

    Last edited: Nov 16, 2012
  10. andyslawncare

    andyslawncare LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 812

    I use goilawn when possible to triagulate trees, etc--I'll do a google map search after taking the call to see if it is possible or not, and several times show up to the first view with measurements--absoultley worth the $4 since I can also measure the lawns nearby to quote weed control, which it then put into my database of priced properties. Also, video camera + mixture of pictures, measure wheel, and long tapes can really shorten the time--in most cases I'll run video and chant off information. I use a 6'' nail to hold the tape where I want it, and it stays pretty well if I pull the tape hard enough to retract it to where I stand. If triangulating trees do several at 1 vantage point before changing points. If I'm too busy or don't want to mess with a particular design, I have a freelancer on call...I can generate more money while someone else works on the design.

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