Association of Nova Scotia Land Surveyors

by Fred Hutchinson, BA, NSLS, CLS

How often have you heard this saying?  How often have you not done it?  If experience is the best teacher, then chances are that anyone who has ever stretched a tape measure knows what I'm talking about.  What I would like to address is how relevant this often quoted cliché "measure twice, cut once" applies to construction surveying. 

 Survey principles dealing with boundaries and construction projects have not changed for thousands of years.  The tools, however, have changed and "boy" have they changed.  It wasn't long ago that a house was positioned by pacing from the old rock wall to square the structure with a boundary or roadway.  If it looked good, then out came the toolbox.  Electronic measurements, computer interfacing, global positioning and digital transfer are but a few of the new tools.  Today, we are faced with large homes being built on small urban properties having minimum side-yards and street set-backs.  The new home, in some developments, is even built with the foundation wall right on the boundary line with an easement over the neighbour's property for roof overhang and maintenance access.

 The accurate placement of structures, no matter what the type, is critical.  No one wants to 'tear up' any part of a construction project because it was laid out incorrectly or that wrong measurements were provided.  The surveyor must ensure that the drawings being used are mathematically correct.  A square is only a square when all sides are equal.   The same applies to the square when it is physically marked on the ground with the words 'dig here'.

Time must also be provided for a review of all drawings and the evidence or control that will be used during the survey.  There is the expectation, in some situations, that the surveyor should be pounding wooden stakes into the ground or providing an alignment within minutes of arriving on the project site.  This may be the case with an ongoing familiar project, but not so if the job is new.  The projects that generally need the greatest attention to detail and accuracy are the ones that are already behind schedule or over budget.   The surveyor, who is stooped over a tripod with one eye closed and field book in hand, does not need the assistance of the excavator operator scratching at his heels, or the construction foreman stating that the surveyor is holding up work.  Yes, time is money but mistakes also carry a price tag.

Care is the key word for any surveying activity.  A single measurement, without being verified by a second or third observation, can be a costly procedural error.   Surveying is involved in every construction project, road layout, property line location and real estate transaction.  The results of survey activities last for hundreds of years and are relied upon by the client and general public to be correct and error free. 

The next time you stroll along the sidewalk, mow your lawn or fly across the county, look down at the trail that the surveyor has left.  "Measure twice, cut once" is a good motto for any industry.


Fred Hutchinson has been the Executive Director of the Association of Nova Scotia Land Surveyors since 1999 and also is a Past President of the Association.  Mr. Hutchinson was licensed in 1971,
employed by municipal government for nearly six years and spent over twenty-two years in private practice.