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Surveying & Layout

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Basement Slab

The plot plan shows the property lines and the placement of the structure on the property. Depending on how complex the plot plan is, it might also show ground elevations, ground water drain plan and utility locations. The location of the house on the property is dictated by building code.

The local codes specify the setbacks required for all structures. Setback is the term used to specify the minimum distance your house must be from the property lines. Typical setbacks for the area might be as follows: The structure will be no closer than 25' from the front of the lot, and 30' from the back of the lot. The house will have a minimum of 10' on each side of the lot. Setbacks are enforced for various reasons such as fire control, privacy, etc.

Setback variance
If you want to locate your house outside of the required setbacks, you will need to obtain a variance from your local board of adjustments or zoning commission. Generally, a variance (exceptions to the standard codes and rules) can be obtained when it can show that a hardship exists and that the variance will not adversely affect neighbors or adjacent property owners.

View plot plan example

Besides setbacks, city and zoning regulations often require that a building lot meet certain size requirements. Usually the property will need to be a certain square footage, and minimum width and length to be a buildable lot. If you are building in a rural location, a certain number of acres is usually required. Often, when a piece of land is for sale at an unbelievably low price, it's because it doesn't meet the minimum size requirements, and therefore is not a buildable lot.

There are a couple of options when laying out your house. You can hire a licensed surveyor to mark the house from the plot plans, or you can do it yourself. If the lot is an improved lot that has recently been surveyed with marked (or obvious) property line, consider laying out the house yourself. It is generally best to hire a surveyor if your property lines are not established, or you have a complicated foundation plan.

A surveyor is used to mark the lot lines, the excavation lines and to establish a grade. The surveyor is able to establish property lines from coordinates provided by the city/county maps. Surveyors use an instrument called a theodolite to establish property lines.
After the property lines are established, the surveyor can mark the excavation and grade lines according to the plot plan.

Laying it out yourself.
Materials needed: Hammer, bundle of wooden stakes, 100' measuring tape, 300' string, florescent marking paint.

It is easier to lay out your house with the help of an assistant. Use your engineers rule to determine your actual set backs from your plot plan. Once you have determined your front, back and side setbacks your ready to go.

Here is a method to layout a simple rectangular foundation:

Measure from the front of the lot the required setback, then from he side the required side setback, and drive a stake at that corner. Next, determine the length of the house from the foundation plan. Measure the length and drive a stake at the other front corner. Measure from the front of the lot to the second stake to make sure the setback is correct. Make the necessary adjustments. Now that you have two of the front corners identified you can lay out the house from the dimensions of the foundation plan. After all of the corners of the house are staked in place measure diagonally to square the structure. If the distance of both diagonals is the same the structure is square. Tie the string to each stake going around the perimeter of the house. Double check the setbacks in the front back and sides and compare it with the plot plan.

Marking the perimeter
Depending on your type of foundation you will need to add 2'-4' around the perimeter of the foundation outline. This is called the "over dig". The over dig area will give you the room needed to set forms for footings and foundation wall forms. For a slab on grade an over dig of 2' is probably sufficient. For a crawlspace and basement foundation 4 feet of over dig is necessary. Use a stick or string that is the correct length. Have you assistant hold one end of the string even with the foundation perimeter while you hold the other end. Use your marking paint to paint the ground. For example if you had a rectangular shaped basement foundation that is 60' by 30' your hole would need to be 68' by 38'. Remember 4' around the perimeter.

Notes to the owner builder
Laying out the excavation lines is not difficult if the property lines are clearly marked. When laying out remember that cities often have a right-of-way that extends a foot or two from the sidewalk or street into your property. So, if your setback requirement is 25' from the front of the property, the actual setback may be 26' or 27'. If you do decide to layout your excavation lines, have the city inspector check them before excavating.