Who Should Perform As-Built Surveys?

by Zhong Chen, PE, PLS
01 November 2012

Tagsas-builts, bim, laser scanning, surveying

Good as-built surveys have the potential to be incredibly valuable to the owners and operators of infrastructure facilities and to all stakeholders in large infrastructure projects. When as-built surveys are obtained soon after project completion, or are actually updated during construction, and when they are completed to high standards of accuracy, they have multiple uses during the operations phase of large facilities. For example, as-built surveys can:

  • Document the location of underground utilities and other “hidden” assets like piping and conduits that run underneath floors or behind walls. If the information is accurate and published effectively, a great deal of time and money will be saved when maintaining, repairing, and/or upgrading the facility.
  • Serve as the basis of a GIS. This can be part of a system used onsite for functions like work order issuance or inventory management, or transferred to government agencies for use in their systems. The combination of good digital maps and databases has proven over and over to create value for owners.
  • By serving as base maps and providing a place to capture knowledge gained during facility operation, as-built surveys help owners plan and design their next project or the next phase of the current facility.
  • Serve as an assurance to owners and designers that design fidelity has been achieved, and that the completed project meets owner goals. In a sense, the completed as-built survey works together with contracts to increase clarity and utility for all project stakeholders.

These are just a few of many conceivable uses of good as-built surveys. Put simply, accurate and well-organized facility information will always be valuable to progressive facility owners and operators.

However, attaining quality as-built surveys isn’t always easy under the current system, where contractors often do the survey work themselves to fulfill contract obligations. The reason is simple: obvious conflicts of interest.

How to Avoid the Conflicts

Contractors should not be the ones performing or subcontracting as-built surveys for a number of reasons. For one thing, since as-builts are always one of the last “punch list” items, they tend to be done in a hurry by people who have mentally moved on to the next project. And also, of course, one primary purpose of as-builts is to check on the work of the contractor and verify contract compliance; since as-builts are a form of inspection, they shouldn’t be performed by the party whose work is being checked.

Instead, the subject of as-builts should be carefully addressed in contracts. They should be completed by a third-party specialist, usually a surveying firm, and ideally they should incorporate interim surveys that locate and verify features like underground piping that are usually covered during construction. Owners should work directly with as-built surveyors to avoid conflicts with contractors and subcontractors.

Future Directions

It’s an exciting time for the infrastructure industry; as amazing new technologies like laser scanning, building information modeling (BIM), and mobile computing become standard, all phases of the infrastructure lifecycle are being affected.

As-builts have the potential to be a key part of this infrastructure revolution. Consider the implications of just one new technology: laser scanning. If laser scanning is performed before, during and after construction, and published as 3D digital as-builts, multiple stakeholders will have powerful new insights into project impacts and optimization. Contractors will generate extremely precise earthwork quantities and projections, heavy equipment will be easily guided by machine control methods, underground assets will be located precisely and made part of clash detection routines, owners will virtually fit and rearrange large machines before installation, designers will conduct more sophisticated analysis of factors like sunlight and wind shear… and the list goes on.

The point is that many desirable results of new technology are applied, organized, and made available by as-built surveys.

All of the above advantages rely on effective, accurate survey work performed by survey professionals who know what they’re doing. So once again, by embracing their role as expert measurers, surveyors have another opportunity to act as generators, aggregators, and brokers of critical infrastructure project information.

In today’s infrastructure world, information is the most valuable commodity of all. Probably this has always been true, but in a digital reality, information—fast, accurate, organized information—is the very lifeblood of complex projects, and the rewards for information experts are significant.

Zhong Chen, PE, PLS

Zhong Chen is a professional engineer and land surveyor who founded Dynasty Group Inc., in 1994. Dynasty Group has offices in Chicago, IL, and has also completed projects in mainland China. Chen is also a principal of uGRIDD, a web-based service for georeferencing, manipulating and processing infrastructure data.


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On November 01, 2012 Scott Warner wrote:

I would like to begin by saying that I am reacting to the title of the article, and I did not read the article.  I do this from time to time to keep myself objective.  I usually wait for a reply to my comment and then read the article so that I can identify bias, on my part, on the part of the commentors, and later assess the details, in an attempt to fully weigh in on those details.

Who should perform As-Built Surveys The first thing that comes to mind is “who should not perform them, and why?”.  I am of the opinion that it depends on what has been built when determining which kind of professional or team of professionals should be involved.  I must certainly acknowledge that “As-Built Survey” contains the word “survey”, which is a broad subject; one that cannot be fully demystified in a single statement like this:  A surveyor should perform an “As-Built Survey” because it is a survey and it takes a surveyor to survey something.  This is nonsense, of course, since a land surveyor may have no pertinent role at all in many “As-Built” Surveys.  Perhaps only in a case where a land boundary or property line is relevant to the “As-Built Survey” would a land surveyor be the best candidate for such a survey.  The word “survey” means many things, and it has applications beyond that of a surveyor who is licensed to practice only a fraction of the definition.  I am licensed.  I get it.

Scott D. Warner, R.L.S.

On November 01, 2012 Zhong Chen wrote:

Thank you for the comment. I would love to learn more of your thought about the topic. I also believe that our profession has the needs to address this kind of issues.

As-built survey may also be called as-built documentation. I’m not trying to be particular on the term, rather, on how the data can be best captured for all subsequent usage.

Zhong Chen, PE, PLS

On November 02, 2012 Clifford Culhane, PLS wrote:

I have to admit, it is always encouraging to read future leaning articles showcasing the available latest technology and what appears, to most of us, to be the right and proper opportunities our profession pursue to establish an edge.  To me, it’s is an obvious leap.  It’s like basking in the glow of epiphany.

BUT…While I would like to buy the T-shirt espousing the concept. The simple truth and the issue that becomes the battle for us as professionals is the value to not only the “progressive” as marketed in the article, but the committed deference to a compressed schedule driven workflow encountered in pursuit of maintaining our profitability, our customers profitability and the lofty goal of actually utilizing and presenting all of our data to our clients in a more “wow” factor platform.  All things are demanded yesterday and redlines will be fine…thanks for playing.

With that said, we circle around to the age old definitions of “As-Built”, “Record-Survey” and when do the aforementioned transition to the always useful “Existing Conditions Survey”.  (This is rhetorical, by the way.)

As for who should perform them?  I believe as you do that regardless of what you consider this type of survey it exists for purposes of engineering confirmation and is a form of inspection used to release funds to the contractor, among other things.  Therefore the contractor has no business performing said operations, in my opinion.

Sadly and most sobering, regardless of your ethical bend on this subject the industry has been forced to make do with less, perform more work on tighter margins than ever before and survey seems, to these folks, the first place ripe for the slashing. 

Spend a dollar now or spend a hundred when Survey has to return to the site.

On November 03, 2012 Tom Beauford wrote:

As-Builts or Record drawings required by law to ensure engineering and architectual projects were constructed to function as designed and permited.  They must be signed and sealed by a licensed surveyor in my state anyway.

There is also a seperate important need to properly keep track of the as-built location and description of all the same work in case modifications or repairs are needed.  While qualified people still need to be used a license is not required.  Our facilities department has it’s own specialized software and staff for keeping track of all our buildings and does the job very well. 

I do wish utilities were able to provide good GIS data to aid in the design and construction of road projects, but with existing tech that problem will hopefully fix itself.