The Beauty of 3D Laser Building Surveys

By Ian Wilson, Bsc hons, Pdip, AIA, RIBA, RIAS,  Principal, TK Architects International

August 2016

Laser Building Surveying, 3D model example

Laser Building Surveying, 3D model example

If I could name one major source of construction change orders in renovation or remodeling of existing buildings, it would have to be the surprise discovery of actual built conditions not matching the available as-built drawings.

Of course we could send an architect and engineers to survey a property and expect to catch all as-built discrepancies from the drawings. Of course the general contractor is to visit the site and become generally familiar with the conditions under which the work is to be performed. However, the reality is that a human being cannot economically guarantee a survey of the existing conditions.

Like most new technologies there has been a slow uptick in the use of outsource laser building survey companies. “Why?!” you would ask. One of the foremost reasons seems to be clients’ reaction to the initial cost. However, the client’s belief that the cost of laser survey is greater than having an architect provide the survey in a traditional manner is a huge misconception. So is the misconception that the accuracy will be the same. We have found that sitting down with our clients and sharing our findings on the actual benefits we are experiencing with the projects, where we have used laser surveying, extends to all team members, and reduces requests for information and added costs.


Actual cost to send a consultant to prepare an on-site Verification survey involves travel cost, professional time and reimbursables.  Then, most importantly, the overall accuracy a traditional survey can provide is limited at best. The fact is, laser survey costs have now decreased so much due to technology advances, the cost variant is negligible.

Laser survey provides an amazing opportunity to deliver 100% accurate information that is tailored to individual client record needs at a cost that is easily absorbed. TK Architects has been using 3D BIM models & panoramic photo documentation provided by the consultants for a while now.

YES! 100% accurate survey. Bold statement!

I have not been able to challenge the statement on any projects in which we have used the services of laser survey consultants. This for me has alleviated much of the stress regarding traditional survey accuracy and the liability and expectations it places on us as professional architects. It has allowed me focus on my documents and service we provide to our clients. One of the most exciting things for us is having the Information to find issues on the as-built facility that does not match what was drawn. This often means, it does not meet code and could be a potential liability to our client.

I must state, on our initial use of the survey services, the single most difficult thing to learn was to trust in the accuracy of the survey information that was provided.

  • “Wait, the drawings say a 1:12 ramp slope. The survey measures 1 1/4″ slope. This doesn’t meet code! That is not what was drawn!”
  • “Hold on, that riser is 1/2″ taller than permitted by code, it cannot be right! That is not what we drew.”
  • “That room is a foot narrower than what the documents say? That can’t be!”

I assure you the conflicts were all correct as surveyed. Construction tolerances or !! intolerances are real and often difficult to believe when seen.

By using the laser surveying services we have been able to provide our clients with an additional line of defence against liability and added construction costs.

Unforeseen construction conditions can lead to client consultant tension and issues of trust. The client might say to an architect, “You were there! Why didn’t you see and catch it?! Why should we pay for it?” No architect wants to hear those words from the client. We would want to provide excellent service and have the client’s confidence in the project.

Laser building surveys can be one such service that enhances architect’s credibility, accuracy and care to his or her clients. We have an opportunity, let’s use it.