Tools for Field Surveying
by Evan H. Shu, FAIA
When architects begin a renovation or addition to a building for which no plans are available, they are often faced with the tedious chore of measuring existing conditions and creating plans from scratch. Not too long ago, the most efficient process involved a three-person team — one with a clipboard and two with a measuring tape, calling out distances. But in recent years, several aids have been developed that make it easier, even for one person alone, to make measurements fast and accurately.
One low-cost, relatively low-tech aid is a sonic measuring device. About the size of a big hand-held calculator, these units can be purchased at any good building supply store. They vary in quality and features, but they are usually accurate to an 1 inch (25 millimeters) or so at a range of about 50 feet (15 meters). One limitation is that they need a flat surface to bounce their sound off of.
You hold sonic measuring device with its back against one wall, aim it toward another wall, press the button, and listen for a quick series of clicks. You can then read the distance on the display screen. It is advisable to measure each distance several times and check it against your common sense in case the sound is bouncing off some intermediary object. Some of these units incorporate basic calculators that allow you to add distances together or multiply them to get room area and volume.
A better but more expensive measuring device is a laser meter. You aim the meter's small red laser dot at the surface you want to measure to. This improves on the sonic device because you get visual confirmation that you're measuring to the correct surface. >>>
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Traditional field tools like manual tape measures are giving way to technical aids such as sonic devices (lower left) and laser meters (lower right).
Photo: Zircon, Keson, and Leica
Another level of technical aids for field surveying are PDAs with CAD programs such as ZiPCAD.
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