Preconstruction Survey 101: What It Is & Why It Is Important

Written by Bridget Cooper

DateMar 16, 2024
Reading time6 min read
planning construction site

Just a few weeks into your building's construction, you’re forced to pause: a neighbor has filed a damage claim. Or, you’ve completed your months-long construction project only for adjacent property owners to accuse your contractors of property damage.

Exchanging allegations and counterclaims without verifiable evidence won't resolve these property damage issues.

You need visual and documented evidence of the conditions of the construction site and adjacent buildings before the construction started. This is where a pre-construction survey becomes invaluable.

But what does a pre-construction survey entail? We’ll examine its scope and it is essential in preventing:

  • Disputes over damage claims arising from construction activities
  • Financial losses associated with damage claims and project delays
  • Reputational damage and legal problems due to non-compliance with established laws and regulations

What Is a Pre-Construction Survey?

A survey during pre-construction is the investigation and documentation of the existing conditions at a site and its surrounding properties before construction activities begin.

Its objective is to review signs of exterior and interior damage in adjacent properties the before construction process.

A pre-construction survey is complemented by:

  • Construction survey: carried out throughout the project’s lifecycle
  • Post-construction survey: done after the project is completed to identify any new damages to adjacent buildings

Scope and Components of Pre-construction Surveys

Pre-construction surveys are integral in the project’s planning or construction scope, design, and execution phases. That’s why they have an extensive scope to help capture the “before” conditions of a construction site before any work begins.

The scope of pre-construction surveys includes the following components:

Documentation of Existing Conditions

This involves recording detailed information about the existing conditions of the site, adjacent properties, and the surrounding areas before construction activities begin.

Documenting the site's current state helps identify any existing defects that can be affected by construction work.

Existing conditions can be documented by:

  • High-resolution photographs and videos: These provide clear records of the condition of buildings and surrounding areas. They help identify any visible signs of deterioration, damage, or defects.
  • Measurements: Accurate measurements of structures, properties, and site features help determine the extent of the survey and potential risks to adjacent properties.
  • Written reports: Detailed written reports highlighting the condition of adjacent buildings and surrounding areas can serve as evidence in case of disputes or claims.

Identification of Anomalies and Defects

A pre-construction survey identifies and documents any defects at a property adjacent to the site that construction activities can impact.

Common defects include:

  • Cracks: Cracks in structures such as boundary walls may indicate structural stress
  • Ground settlement: Sinking of the ground that can lead to uneven foundation support and structural instability
  • Water damage: Water seepage and efflorescence can weaken structural components

In addition to photographs and videos of identified defects, a written report should note their general and specific locations and types. Include size and direction if the defect is a crack.

For example, a crack in a wall can be presented as follows:

  • General location: Exterior south-facing wall of the building, approximately 3 meters from the southwest corner
  • Specific location: Midway up the wall, directly above the second window from the left.
  • Anomaly type: Crack
  • Photograph: A high-resolution image of the crack is included, showing its position on the wall relative to the windows, and other features for context

Description of the crack:

  • Size: Approximately 1.5 meters long and varies from 1 to 3 millimeters in width
  • Type: Hairline crack that appears to affect only the outer layer of the wall's finish
  • Direction: Runs vertically, starting from approximately 0.5 meters above the window's top edge and extending upward
  • Observations and notes: No visible signs of moisture or other damage associated with the crack, and it appears to be stable with no evidence of recent movement or widening ** Expert Tip:** In the case of cracks, crack monitoring gauges can be installed over identified cracks of adjacent buildings to help monitor any changes during and after construction.

Zone of Influence Assessment

"Zone of influence" are areas that might be affected by construction activities like blasting, pile driving, or heavy equipment operation. These areas are found around the construction site but are not directly surveyed.

Examples of potential indirect impacts include:

  • Ground vibrations from pile driving or demolition can affect nearby structures
  • Dust and noise generated during construction can disrupt neighboring properties
  • Changes in water flow due to excavation or drainage modifications can impact surrounding areas

Identifying the zone of influence helps contractors implement measures to minimize structural settlement or damage. It also helps communicate the potential impacts of the construction process to nearby property owners beforehand.

Benefits of Pre-Construction Surveys

Pre-construction surveys have benefits that cut across the key stakeholders involved in a construction project: contractors, subject property owners, adjacent property owners, and the community.

For the Subject and Adjacent Property Owner

A pre-construction survey provides the subject property owner with legal protection. The documentation of pre-existing site conditions safeguards them against claims during and after construction.

It also provides a baseline for any insurance claims related to the construction process.

Pre-construction surveys help adjacent property owners to file claims for damages caused by the construction. This is because they have evidence of their properties’ state before the construction.

For Contractors and Construction Companies

For contractors, a pre-construction survey has the following benefits:

  • Risk mitigation: identifies and allows for the strategizing against potential site-specific challenges. This helps in proper project planning and budgeting.
  • Claims defense mechanism: offers evidence to counter false claims of construction-related damage.
  • Regulatory compliance: ensures adherence to local, state, and federal construction regulations, avoiding legal and financial penalties.
  • Baseline comparison: serves as a point of reference for a post-construction survey. This helps contractors identify any damage to adjacent property resulting from construction activities.

Bonus Idea: Pre-construction surveys also build trust and cooperation between the construction entity and the local community.

Opt for Professional Pre-construction Surveys Today

Professional pre-construction surveys will save you multiple "they saw, he saw, she saw" counterclaims when the adjacent property owner alleges that damage was caused by ongoing or recently completed construction.

You need professional preconstruction survey services to enjoy a high level of thoroughness, accuracy, and objectivity, which is crucial for the success of your project.

A pre-construction survey offers you peace of mind, assuring you that your response to any damage claims will be supported by comprehensive documentation.

Written by Bridget CooperUpdated on Mar 20, 2024

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