A step by step guide to recording a building
First, the essential safety bit!
work alone (unless you are surveying your own house!)
of 3 or 4 are ideal; 2 to hold and read measuring tapes, 1
to write down, and 1 to gain information from the occupants of
sure you have the owner’s permission and do everything possible
to avoid damaging the property
- Always work safely. Don’t
climb unless necessary. Use the correct equipment for the purpose.
Check loft ladders are safe before using. Wear a hard hat in
a loft or empty building. Never enter a building which is derelict
unless you know it has a sound structure
Consider how you wish to record the building before you begin.
ideal survey will consist of measured drawings, written description
and photographs. If drawings are not possible, then consider a thorough
written description with a full set of photographs.
measuring tapes. 30m is perfect
- Short hand tapes
- A4 clipboards and plenty of paper
pencils with erasers
- Pencil sharpener
- Peg or skewer
for fixing the end of the tape when measuring outside
Drawing the ground plan
- Sketch the ground lay-out of the building
in rough, but large and clear enough to add measurements. It should
fit on one A4 page! Include doorways, windows, fireplaces, walls,
overhead beams (in broken line). A plan is normally done at waist
height or thereabouts. Begin with the ground floor and then do
- Now begin measuring room by room. Starting at one corner, one
member holds the long tape at zero, whilst the second moves along
the wall stopping at significant points to read out the measurement
to the third person. Take these running measurements over as long
a stretch as possible, i.e. until there is a turn in a wall.
is usual to begin at the left-hand end of each wall and work clockwise,
starting at zero on each corner.
- If something sticks out into
the room, such as a chimney breast, measure in front of it first.
Then return and measure its depth using a hand tape.
- Marking the
measurements onto the sketch needs care! Start with a zero, showing
which direction you are measuring. Write each measurement at right
angles to the point it was taken. Write 1.05 for 1 metre 5 centimetres
or 0.86 for 86 centimetres.
- Remember to measure wall thicknesses
both from inside to outside and between rooms. This can be done
through an open window or by carrying measurements through from
one room to the next.
- Unless the room has definite right angled corners
(few rooms have!), you will need to take diagonal measurements
as well. And consider whether any walls bow out or bend in; if
so, you will need to set up a straight string line and measure
from it at right angles to ascertain the curve of the wall.
Example of a first floor sketch (right) with the finished scale drawing
of the whole floor plan
- It is not always necessary to measure upper floor plans
because internal walls and chimneys are often directly above those
on the ground floor. It may be possible therefore to add variations
onto a plan drawn to ground floor measurements. In the case of a jettied
building, a new plan will be required, since the upper floor will
differ in size to that of the ground floor.
- Remember to check upper outer
wall thicknesses as these may vary above the level of the floor joists.
Consider whether an elevation drawing is required; a photograph
might be enough for a simple building. If doing an elevation drawing,
a different team might be used, if sufficient members are available.
- Begin as before with a sketch plan, but try to get proportions correct
because vertical measuring can be tricky.
- It is generally helpful
to set up a level string line across the front of the building, from
which to measure upwards and downwards.
- The sketch plan should record
door and window openings, breaks in walling, plinths, parapets.
is possible to produce a sketch by counting brick courses, which will
give reasonably accurate dimensions (for a brick building obviously!!)
- To measure heights you will need to use a rod but for some tall
buildings you may need to drop a tape down from an upper window and
use a rod to reach up to the eaves. If you really cannot reach to
measure, then make a decent estimate by, for example, counting brick
courses or using the known height of features such as windows as a
- If other
elevations are significant, they will need recording as well as the
A timber-framed building will require a lot more work! The positions
of upright posts should be marked on the plan. The elevation will need
to show the relationships between horizontal and vertical timbers, position
and sizes of bracing timbers and positions of doors and windows.
- Roofs are normally drawn in cross-section. In sketching a
roof section, draw a truss as seen from straight on, ignoring everything
behind. Anything in front, coming towards you, should be drawn in
a broken line.
- If there is a principle truss, this is what should be
- For a section, stretch a tape across the floor from
one side to the other and measure all the horizontals off it, using
a rod to identify the position of upper parts along the tape. Use
the running measurement method as before.
- Now leave the tape in position
on the floor and measure verticals up from it with a rod or steel
tape, at each point identified on the horizontal plane.
- It may also be
helpful to measure the depth of a blade top and bottom and a diagonal
- Record these measurements on your sketch perpendicular to
that direction. You may wish to make two sketches, one for the vertical
measurements and one for the horizontal.
Sketch plan and drawn section of roof truss
This completes the basic recording process but there is a lot more
The sketches need to be turned into scale drawings, photographs
need to be taken and a report needs to be completed.
There are separate
guides to drawing up and report compilation.
Hutton, B. 1986.
Recording Standing Buildings. The British Archaeological Trust