Everything You Need to Know About Topographic Surveys

In this article, we provide all the information you need to know about topographic surveys including when they are needed, the different types of topographic surveys, their objectives, the steps involved, and the equipment used to conduct them.

What is a Topographic Survey?

A topographic survey gathers data about the natural and man-made features of an area of land. A type of land survey, topographical surveys measure the features, boundaries and levels of a site. Conducting a topographic survey is a vitally important step in the design process of a site, and should be completed before any detailed design work is undertaken.

Permanent features such as buildings, fences, trees, levels and streams accurately define the ground and its boundaries. The digital data captured by specific survey instruments provides accurate records of a site’s assets, topography, and existing configuration. A topographic survey forms the basis for any site feasibility, planning, or development.  

What Does Topography Mean?

Topography is the study of the shape and features of land surfaces. The topography of an area refers to the surface shapes and features on the ground and their arrangement. Traditional definitions require a topographic map to show both natural and man-made features.

woman standing in lake using a piece of equipment to conduct a topographic survey

When is a Topographical Survey Needed?

A topo survey is commissioned for various purposes. It can be used to aid the design work for infrastructure projects or planning works for housing or property development. Additionally, it can also serve as the foundation for other survey works, such as utility mapping. 

What Are the Objectives of a Topographical Survey?

It is crucial to determine the appropriate level of information and accuracy before commencing any site work. Failing to survey specific assets or features can result in delays to the project and design works. For instance, if trees, level changes, or service covers are not indicated, this could adversely affect the foundation designs, drainage plans, or proposed building heights. Therefore, it is important to conduct a thorough survey to avoid any potential hurdles and ensure a smooth and successful project implementation. 

What Are the Different Types of Topographic Surveys?

It is important to agree upon a specification of works to determine the purpose of a topographic survey and the desired output. There are various types of topographical surveys available, such as a general land survey, a 3D detailed survey suitable for infrastructure projects, and a basic outline survey useful for boundary survey purposes. 

man in high visibility jacket standing on pathway using equipment to conduct a topographic survey

Steps Involved When Conducting Topographic Surveys

  1. Understand the purpose of the survey 
  2. Determine the specification of works through the Architect, Engineer, contractor, property developer or property owner. Ensure all consultants involved in the project confirm their requirements for the survey works.  
  3. Gathering information, i.e. the survey area to be included, including the road extents where relevant, the level of detail, accuracy and data output.  
  4. Pricing the works with a project programme and agreed delivery date.  
  5. On instruction, capturing the survey data on-site using the most efficient survey technology to fit the purpose, specification and agreed output.  
  6. Processing the survey data captured and preparing the final survey output ready to be quality-checked by a senior member of staff.  
  7. Internal quality assurance by a senior member of the staff 
  8. Delivery of the final survey output to the client and consultants working on the project.  

How Long Does the Survey Process Take?

The time taken to complete a topographical survey depends on the size of the area to be surveyed and the complexity of the terrain. For instance, a 5-day site survey usually takes 7 working days to complete from the start date. After we have estimated the duration of the survey, we discuss the schedule of work with the client. This could involve the allocation of additional resources to meet specific project milestones or deadlines. 


Are you looking to book a topographic survey? Our expert team can unlock the potential of your project with precision and accuracy. Call us on 01483 230 080, or email us at enquiries@technicsgroup.com.


man standing on road using equipment for a topographic survey

What Would You Use a Topographic Map for?

Normally, a topo survey is used as a basis for design decisions. An architect or consulting engineer will need an accurate digital plan of their site area to produce good design and construction drawings. The survey and data can also be used for other purposes, including new housing developments, new road layouts, land registry submissions or volumetric calculations.

Is There Any Special Equipment Used to Conduct a Topographic Survey?

Robotic total stations are commonly used to survey different features on a construction site. The instrument has a built-in feature code list that enables the surveyor to measure all survey points. For example, if the surveyor wants to outline a building, they can use a specific code to string the survey points together. Depending on site access, specification, and terrain, a GPS GNSS RTK Rover, UAV, and laser scanning equipment can also be utilised for the same purpose. 

How Would I Read a Topographical Survey?

A topographic survey can be presented in multiple formats; the output is subject to the client’s need. For example, if clients are submitting a survey for Land Registry purposes, then specific scales and outputs are required for compliance. However, the standard output is AutoCAD dwg, and 3D data can also be presented in Revit.

woman in high visibility jacket standing on pavement on sunny day using topographic survey equipment

Why is Topographic Surveying So Important for Architects, Engineers and Contractors?

Architects require accurate digital data of their client’s site to properly design their commissions, with the level of detail or specification tailored to the purpose of the survey.

A thorough survey of all the features is critical for planning, design and construction. Any features that are not surveyed can cause costly delays at any stage of the development.

How Much Does a Topographic Survey Typically Cost?

Costs are based on the time we need to spend on the project. The time is calculated on the extent of the site area, terrain and visibility. The specification will also itemise the features we need to survey, which is also considered in our calculation.

Who Are Your Most Regular Customers?

We have a wide range of customers who use our services, ranging from architects, engineers and contractors, to housebuilders and private individuals. We have a strong reputation in the industry for providing accurate data on time and budget. Clients trust us to deliver.

Meet our Topographical Surveyors 

All surveying staff at Technics undergo professional training, which is supported by industry experts such as The Survey Association, Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors, and the RICS. Our surveyors understand the importance of maintaining client confidentiality and professionally conducting themselves at all times. 

To discuss your project with us and to find out if it could benefit from a topographic survey, give us a call or email us at enquiries@technicsgroup.com.