Rex Bernard As-built drawings are the foundation of all the work we do. They start out as hand drawn field notes (drawn on-site) usually consisting of floor plan, plenum (above ceiling) plan, storefront elevation, storefront section, enlargements of critical areas, and electrical panel elevations. Many projects require full longitudinal and transverse building sections, a reflected ceiling plan, a roof plan, and fixture plans.

The next step is to pass these field notes to CAD technicians in the office. They will re-draw everything on the computer. At this point, they are able to lock in all the dimensions and ultimately create a usable template for the design architect to build upon.

When the CAD work is complete, I will thoroughly check it before it is shipped to the client.

Here is a list of information I provide for typical as-built drawings

Typical Floor Plan Information

  • Demising walls including thickness and type of construction
  • Storefront construction including mall or base building bulkheads
  • Structural columns, x bracing, and shear walls all tied into the shell walls
  • Vertical chases, ducts, pipes, electric conduits, etc.
  • Elevators, escalators, stairs, dumb waiters, etc.
  • Floor coverings, floor changes, spot elevations, expansion joints, etc.
  • Doors and windows, if necessary
  • Interior walls and mezzanines, if necessary
  • Red flag mark ups of damaged areas or potential problem areas

Typical Plenum Plan Information

  • Structural beams, joists, deck, bracing etc. (as much as can be accessed)
  • HVAC units, main ducts, high sidewall grills, smoke evac, etc.
  • Roof drains, sewer pipes, sprinkler mains, etc.
  • Electric conduit runs, water mains, etc.
  • Demising wall termination at deck, insulation, roof hatch, etc.
  • Red flag marks ups of damaged areas or potential problem areas

Typical Storefront Elevation Plan

  • Thorough mall bulkhead information
  • Detailed neutral pier information
  • Basic existing storefront (if it will be demolished)
  • Adjacent tenants noted
  • Any information that will affect new construction

Typical Storefront Section Plan

  • Tenant floor versus mall floor variations
  • Mall bulkhead framing (heights, construction type, etc.)
  • Existing tenant framing (heights, construction type, etc.)
  • Structural beams, joists, bracing, etc.
  • Structural deck and beam heights, etc,


Why do you hand draw your field notes?

When I first started out, many years ago, I used existing drawings and red lined them with my marker adding all the dimensions. This system is the most common way that surveyors work. The problem is that many times there were no existing drawings to use or the ones I had were so inaccurate that they were more of a problem than a help. Those discrepancies were causing me to get distracted, bring in sloppy looking field notes, and make many mistakes. It also was more difficult for the CAD team to read. When I switched to starting with a clean sheet, I was able to present the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.Field Notes

Why do you draw your field notes to scale?

When I travel to a job site, I usually fly halfway across the country to get there. The client pays for my travel expenses and expects me to get all the information they need in one trip. When I draw to scale, it helps me to find discrepancies while I am on site. It is a form of real time reconciliation. Right Neutral PierIt is a huge visual aid to spot things that don't add up. When I draw something that does not line up like it should, I immediately investigate. I keep looking until I figure out what is wrong. It is the best way I have found to consistently bring in accurate information and to do it in only one trip to the job site.

Is that a microphone and recorder I see you wearing?

Yes, after a few years of carrying my sheet around and drawing as I measured, I decided to try something different. I needed to measure some very busy mall restrooms and I needed a way to get in and get out quickly. So I went in with a small recorder and measured and dictated the dimensions into the recorder. It was a rudimentary start, but it worked.

Rex Bernard After that, I decided to explore the idea further. I began to train myself with proper habits that I needed to listen to my recording and to be able draw from A to B to C. I customized my gear and developed methods that worked for me in harsh conditions like high noise areas, windy rooftops, or rainy sidewalks.

After I taught myself how to do this and became more experienced, I discovered that it opened up all kinds of opportunities I never had before. The most important one was the decreased time that I needed in a space. I used to work in a store or office 8 to 10 hours a day walking around measuring and then drawing on my paper right there on the sales floor with customers all around.

When I used my dictation method, I could ease through a space and get the same amount of information in 2 or 3 hours. I would then find a table in a remote location and draw. This especially worked well for clients that needed me to survey OPP (other people's property) because I could get in and out quickly.

Are there other dictation method benefits?

Another great thing about using dictation is the better quality of my field notes. Before I dictated, it was not practical to draw to scale. It was also not practical to draw with a multitude of different colored markers. Before dictation, I carried my paper around all day. I would measure, then unfold my paper and write on it, then fold it up, and measure again. I used a red marker for dimensions and blue for everything else. By the end of the day, my paper had been folded and unfolded hundreds of times. It had become soft and limp like tissue paper. Often times, it was tearing apart.

When I started using the dictation method, my paper was on the table most of the time. All my colored pens were spread out in a tray and easy to reach. It enabled me to color code different items so my field notes were easier to read by the CAD team. This made for fewer mistakes and increased speed and productivity in the office.

Rex Bernard Table drawn field notes mean a faster turnaround time for the CAD team because they look clean enough in photographs to send back to the office while I am still on site. They are very easy to read on a computer screen. Because of this they can get an early start. (Without this method, CAD work doesn't start until the field notes arrive back at the office by FedEx). If they see any discrepancies, they can contact me to check it out more thoroughly while I am still on site. It is a win win for everybody!

Why the big tool belt?

Rex BernardMy former life was construction contracting. We wore tool belts and carried as many tools as possible to get the job done quickly. Less trips to the truck tool box meant higher productivity. Having the right tool at the right time was (and still is) important to me.

In my tool belt, I carry markers of all shapes and sizes, a 25 foot tape measure, heavy duty screwdriver, utility knife, a custom wall poker, door wedges, small pliers, speed square, etc. DistoD8I carry a Canon 18 mega-pixel digital SLR camera, a small laser level, a calculator, an expensive laser distance measurement tool (Disto D8), and a high quality high lumen flashlight.

I have a rolling travel bag used for nothing but tools and paper. It has to be checked baggage at the airport because of the sharp tools. In that bag, I also keep a Sheetrock saw, more small tools, backup electronics, a 100' tape measure and other items too numerous to list.

Disto D8Some surveyors pride themselves in traveling light with no check-in bags at the airport. Because of that, they cannot carry some important tools that they need. For instance... many ceiling access panels are difficult to open and require a large good quality screwdriver to turn the screws. Many are also painted shut and require a utility knife to cut through the paint of the joint. Surveyors that don't have these tools (because they cannot carry these on the plane in their carry-on bag) use a coin for a screwdriver. If that doesn't work, they may ask to borrow a tool from the store (assuming the store is occupied) or they simply skip over it or write "no access" on their drawing. Important plenum information is lost!

Do you reconcile with the base building drawings?

Yes. Always. I reconcile while on site and my CAD team also reconciles in the office. It is the only right way to do it. Please forgive me for this long answer but this issue is near and dear to my heart. Let me explain.

It used to be that base building drawings were hard to find. They were stored in a forgotten closet and buried under tons of junk. Because of this, many survey projects were never reconciled with base building drawings because those drawings were never found.

That is mostly in the past now because everything is stored digitally and landlords can furnish electronic copies of anything they have. So now, architectural surveyors have access to site plans, base building drawings, structural drawings, tenant improvement drawings, shop drawings, and the landlord's lease outline drawings. Of all the kinds of drawings available, base building drawings are the most valuable to the surveyor.

ReconcileI believe it is the surveyor's responsibility to compare what is on existing drawings to what is being found on site. It is most important with the base building drawings. This can prove to be a very time consuming job. It could involve hours of studying old drawings. That information must be compared with the information on site to see if they reconcile.

Some field surveyors simply do not do this. They go out, measure, take pictures, write dimensions down on old, inaccurate plans and come back. They leave the reconciling up to the CAD team. The problem with this is they cannot go back for more information if the CAD team finds a problem. The building, most likely, is halfway across the country and access is no longer available. In this case, some CAD people will... what I call, "fake it in." Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn't, and the client may have problems in the construction phase. That is, of course, if the CAD team is even making an effort to reconcile and finds a problem. If they don't reconcile, there is a good chance that the client's design architects will reconcile and discover the problem themselves.

With this in mind, I put the electronic drawings on my iPad and study them thoroughly on the plane. As opposed to printing out on paper a few select sheets, I have all pages at my disposal. FAA now lets passengers keep their iPads out while taking off and landing which is a huge help.

What if your drawings don't reconcile?

If my drawings, for sure, do not match up with the base building plans, and I have determined that I have made no mistakes, then I counsel my client to go with my drawings. After all, that is why they contracted with me in the first place.

What information do I need?

The list of typical plan information on the left side of this page is the best place to start for most projects. However, sometimes when I get on site, things are more complex and additional drawings are needed. Those could be a roof plan, a reflected ceiling plan, interior elevations, full building sections, and more. If this happens, I always contact my client while I am on site to recommend additional drawings.

If my client gives me a feasibility drawing of what will be built in the space, then I can be especially mindful of anything I see on site that hinders that. I have been doing this a long time, and my clients trust me to get what they need!