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what are topographic surveys?

Performing a topographic (“topo”) survey is necessary before development. They identify natural and manmade features of a defined plot of land, including their locations, sizes, and heights, as well as elevation contours. Unlike a boundary or site plan survey, they focus on elevations first and foremost. Instead of stakes or landmarks, results are drawn as contour lines on a land map. These maps are created digitally with CAD programs, allowing for the final results to facilitate interactive elevation views when used by a trained architect or engineer.

topo survey


Topographic surveys are useful when redeveloping previously used land such as abandoned quarries or landfills, demolished buildings, or changing topographic data. They provide accurate information on how the land has been changed, facilitating better planning for future use.


Topo surveys describe the initial state of land before improvements in construction projects. They provide a natural landscape basis for features like drainage ditches or grading.

residential landowners

Landowners may need a topographic survey for designing road or landscape improvements, locating trees, fences, and buildings, and analyzing property usage. These surveys identify property slope and contours for small-scale projects.

engineers + architects

Topo surveys help designers plan buildings and improvements on a property. They show existing features that affect decision-making on where structures can be placed. The data is used in AutoCAD to manipulate topography for planned improvements.

regulation + permitting

Government agencies may also require topographic surveys for any of a number of reasons—for example, as regulatory requirements for construction codes, or as part of environmental restoration projects.

what’s included in a typical topo?

A topographic survey map details existing site conditions over the natural state of the land as well as features that exist on the ground or slightly above or beneath the earth’s surface. These features include (but aren’t limited to)…

types of

topographic surveys

Topo surveys vary in type and each has unique benefits according to individual needs. It is crucial to comprehend these differences to make an informed decision.

subsurface utility/SDOT

Subsurface utility maps report on underground utility infrastructure, such as electric, gas, and water. It's important for commercial projects to conduct extensive underground utility location to avoid design issues and costs.


Drainage surveys prove properties in the Puget Sound Region don't flood by showing, first and foremost, the direction of water flow.


Building setbacks are established by developers and vary by subdivision. They prevent structures from being built too close together, aid fire spread prevention, and serve as utility easements for power and water companies to access meters.

ground control (GCPs)

GCPs are precise points on the ground with known coordinates used for aerial mapping surveys to accurately map large areas.