Nicki & Karen

Understanding Your Land Survey for Fence Projects

Nicki and Karen » April 29, 2024

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If you plan to install a fence around your property’s perimeter, ensure you have access to a land survey. This document displays your property’s zoning information, boundary lines, and utilities, which should help you minimize mistakes during your project.

This document can also inform you about the location of any easements on your property. An easement allows another person or entity to gain access to your property. If you’re building a fence in your backyard, easements still need to be accessible.

A land survey provides a property layout. This document effectively maps a property’s boundaries while displaying its many features. When a homeowner wants to sell or start a fence project, they must know how far the boundaries extend.

If your fence is placed on your neighbor’s property, you may be forced to tear it down. You can avoid this hassle by reading a land survey before starting your fence project. When you open the land survey, you may notice considerable information on the map and the report. This guide delves into land surveys and how to decipher them.

Understanding the Components of a Land Survey

Land surveys have two main components: an illustrated map and a written report detailing the property’s boundaries and structures. Identifying these aspects of a land survey is necessary for proper interpretation.

Land survey reports may include information about zoning requirements and various legal restrictions determining what can be done with the property. You must adhere to these restrictions to avoid fines and other consequences.

Deciphering the Legend

Once you’ve identified the map, look for the legend, which is effectively a list of all the symbols and what they mean. You can use the legend to interpret the features and symbols shown on the map. While legends can be found in different map areas, they are usually placed at the bottom corner.

Utility lines, fences, buildings, and other symbols might appear in this section. Most legends include a scale displaying the distance ratio between the property and the map. Understanding how this scale works is essential for accurately measuring property boundaries.

Orienting Yourself with the Survey

If you know how the legend works, the next step is to orient yourself with the survey. You must know how the direction of the study compares to your home. These surveys typically include a small compass just above the legend.

Remember that there’s a difference between astronomical and magnetic north, which may be shown on the compass. Astronomical north points directly to the north celestial pole. In comparison, magnetic north takes the Earth’s magnetic field into account. It represents the direction in which an actual compass will point.

While land surveys can include both designations, most land surveyors use astronomical north. Before you begin your fence project, you must align the map with your property for an accurate interpretation.

Paying Attention to Scale

As previously mentioned, a map’s scale is often displayed near the legend. The only way to make accurate measurements for the placement of your fence is to use the map’s scale when noting property boundaries. The scale might include a one-inch bar equal to 20 feet. In this scenario, a single inch on the map represents 20 feet on your property.

Let’s say that your backyard is three inches long on the map, indicating a height of 60 feet. When building a fence, you must obtain precise measurements of your backyard and the boundaries of your property. If you calculate incorrectly, you could accidentally order too much wood or build it into your neighbor’s yard.

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Locating Property Boundaries

Most fences are designed to be placed around property lines. Understanding the boundaries is necessary to help you keep the wall on your property. Most land surveys display property lines with a solid line. You may notice measurements and angles beside each of these lines, which allows you to identify the specific spots where your land begins and ends.

Property boundaries are often shown with distance and bearing. The property’s bearing comprises seconds, minutes, and degrees. Each component is joined by compass point letters, which include N, E, S, and W. The purpose of the bearing is to display the angle between east and west or north and south. An example of a survey bearing is N 40° 04′ 10″ E.

The boundary lines are measured in feet and often placed below the bearing. Before you build your fence, you must clarify ownership and responsibility of your land with your neighbors. Even if you’re confident in what the land survey tells you, verifying this information with your neighbors is a good idea.

Identifying Important Structures and Features

It’s time to learn more about the map’s features and structures, including easements and natural elements. As mentioned, easements give people, government organizations, or companies the right to use a portion of their property for a specific purpose.

For example, utility companies often have easements to ensure they can access underground utility lines on someone’s property without problems. Even though fences are allowed on easements, the entity that has access to this area can choose to have them taken down.

Natural features can also impact the placement and construction of your fence. These features include everything from slopes and trees to creeks and rivers. If you have a large oak tree in the path of your fence, it may only be possible to complete your project if you tear it down altogether. The types of features that are often displayed on land surveys include the following:

  • Driveways or roadways
  • Shared sidewalks or fencing with a neighbor’s property
  • Water features, which might consist of a stream or lake
  • Physical boundaries
  • Overlapping boundaries
  • Utility locations, which extend to everything from water pipes to telephone lines
  • Any structural improvements or modifications of the property
  • Existing points of egress or entry

Reading the Full Report and Notes

Knowing how to read the full report is as important as understanding the map. If the illustration includes any notes about your property, you must know how to read them. These notes specify that constructing a fence or other buildings on a specific portion of the land could create a legal or safety issue. Read these notes before starting your project unless you want to spend considerable money tearing your fence down.

Land survey reports also guide hazards, zoning, and restrictions, which you can use to determine where you should build the fence. The notes on a land survey may include information about the former owners of your land. If the land survey was performed correctly, more in-depth explanations of the map notes should be included in the written report. The report should also contain helpful legal information.

Seeking Professional Assistance if Needed

You can hire a land survey company to help you understand zoning regulations and restrictions. They can also answer any questions about the map and written report. To make sure you receive expert assistance when you hire a land survey company, write down all areas of concern or confusion you have after looking at the document for the first time. It’s a good idea to jot down your thoughts about the survey while they’re still fresh.

Have a family member or friend read this document alongside you. They might have a unique perspective about something you overlooked. Once you read through the entire document, schedule a meeting with a land surveyor as soon as possible. Hiring professionals to assist you in this regard can be highly beneficial. It can save you time and money by helping you avoid building on your neighbor’s property or placing the fence on an easement.


Land surveys show you where the boundaries of your property are, which should make it easier for you to build a fence or add a room to your home without making costly errors. You can’t successfully plan your project and construct your fence without being able to interpret a land survey accurately. Now that you know how to read a land survey with the tips from this guide, you should have the confidence you need to complete your fence project. If you require clarification in some areas, seek professional assistance.

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