How to Measure Your Property for a Landscape Design
How to Use Measuring Tools to Measure Your Landscape
Designing your landscape on paper can be intimidating when you don't know where to start. This article is a guide to helping you with the first step of designing your landscape; measuring your property and putting these measurements on paper.
Measuring the space you have to work with and putting it on paper to scale is the first essential step you must do to begin laying out your design and to get started designing your landscape. Here are the steps to take to accomplish this first step, along with some helpful guidelines:
Here are the tools that I use in order to measure properties of my landscape design clients.
- Short Measuring Tape (25 feet long)
- Long Measuring Tape (100 feet long)
- Measuring Wheel
- Laser Distance Measure
- Screwdriver (an old one)
- Pens (fat black pen for the house, thin black pen for property elements, colored pens such as red for measurements)
The short and long measuring tapes, notepad and a pen/pencil are the absolute minimum essential items. The other items are useful but not absolutely necessary - you can make do without them but it may cause you hours of extra work if you have a steep slope, odd shaped lot, long curving driveway, or other such circumstances.
Begin with Measuring Your House
First, it is easiest to start measuring your house. I measure in two steps. To start, draw the outline (shape) of the house footprint on a blank piece of paper, and get all of the walls drawn as best you can. The object here is not accuracy, but recording your tape measurements taken from the tape measures in the property. Later you will draw things accurately, but you can't do this until you have all your measurements notated on your notepad.
To measure your house, first measure all of the outer walls. Write the measurements for the entire length of each wall on the outside of the house. Use the short tape for walls shorter than about 20 feet, and use the longer tape for longer walls.
Secondly, measure all of the doors and windows. I usually use the short tape for these measurements. As you go around the house again to take these second set of measurements, draw in the location of each door and window and take the measurements as you go for each wall, one at a time. It is easier this way to keep things accurate. Write the measurements for the doors, windows and spaces between each of them and spaces to the wall corners, on the inside of the house outline. The location of doors and windows does not have to be completely accurate - you just want an idea of where they are in relation to the landscape so that you won't end up putting a tree in front of the best view of the house, or some other such design error.
TIP: Do not measure to the inch. Instead, measure to the quarter of a foot, where 3", plus or minus an inch is a quarter foot, 0.25; 6", plus or minus an inch is a half foot, 0.50; 9", plus or minus an inch is three quarters of a foot, 0.75, and 12", plus or minus an inch is a whole foot, 1.00. Use either the short tape or the long tape, depending on how long the wall is. If the short tape won't reach, use the long tape.
TIP: It is possible for one person to take all the measurements, without someone else holding the end of the tape. If you have a helper, that is nice, but not necessary. A little trick is to take the end of the tape and make sure that you hold the tension on the tape as you walk and pull the tape along until you reach the other end. Sometimes the end of the tape falls, and you have to do it again, but after once or twice you'll get the hang of keeping the tension on the tape and you'll be able to measure all the walls yourself easily.
Measuring The Perimeter of the Property
When measuring your property's perimeter, it is usually measured along fence lines. Take your long tape in most cases to take these measurements.
First, draw the perimeter fence lines and the property edge along the property lines (if there are no fences). Draw an outline of the house within the property in the approximate location, so you can position the house on the property relative to the property boundaries.
Measuring the Property Boundaries
Measure with a long tape all distances surrounding the property.
Also for odd lots that are not square, or where the house is not squarely positioned on the property, it is extremely useful to measure distances off of the corners of the house, "square", to the property lines (continuing the line of the two edges off of the house). Measure straight lines off of the house corners, square with the house, in both directions of the corner, straight to the point at which it hits the property line. The laser measuring tool is very useful for this. Draw in a dashed line for these measurements since they are "invisible" lines on the property, and note the distances. Then, note the distances from these points to the nearest corners of the property line. This tip alone can greatly reduce your measuring frustration and save hours.
TIP: How to tell if you are squarely lined up along the edge of the house: Stand with your back up against the fence or property line, and position your line of sight to be in line with the edge of the house so that you are looking parallel right down the face of the house. That is the point you want to take your measurement to the corner. This is useful with a long tape. Secure the long tape end with a screwdriver staked through the end of the tape into the ground. Stretch the tape and line it up parallel with the house edge, both ways, off of one corner. You have two edges that meet at each corner, so line the tape up with both of them and measure to the property edge/fenceline.
TIP: You can also use the laser measuring tool off of the edge of the house. Lay it flat against the edge of the house and point it fairly level at the fence. This will be just about as accurate as measuring with the long tape. Try it both ways and you'll see how close each is.
TIP: Don't forget to measure to the quarter foot (as seen in the earlier tips section, above).
Measuring What's In-between House and Property Line
Now all there is to do is to measure the remaining landscape elements that are going to remain in your new landscape project.
If you are tearing out an old patio or deck, you may not wish to measure it since it will be gone. However, I tend to take rough measurements of these things to get a feel for the space that was there before, and the improvement I can make in the new design.
Measure the following elements, using the short or long tape measure, or a combination of both:
- Front Porch / Patio
- Back Porch / Patio
- Air conditioning units
- Crawl Space Openings
- Location of Water Meter
- Downspouts at house corners (note as "DS" at the corners)
- Trees or significant shrubs to remain
- Anything else that will remain
TIP: When measuring trees, it is important to at least get the size and position of the tree trunk. Measure the circumference of the trunk at chest height. Locate the tree on your landscape by taking measurements to the fence or property line at a 90 degree angle, and to something else closest to it, beside it, such as the edge of a concrete walkway or house wall, or something similar. Measure this to a 90 degree angle as well. These three measurements are usually suitable enough to locate the tree for purposes of your design. For a large tree with a significant canopy that shades a large portion of your yard, you should also measure to the edge of the canopy in four directions and approximate the oval shape the tree canopy extends to. This edge is also known as the tree "dripline". Maintaining healthy soil conditions to the edge of this line is important, because the tree's roots will usually extend to this dripline underground, and you won't want to dig and damage these roots or compact the soil excessively within this area. If you have any doubts, simply check with your local arborist and they can advise you what to do.
GETTING IT DRAWN UP ON PAPER:
Stay tuned for the next step, getting it all drawn to scale, either on paper or in the computer...
by Ami Saunders, MLA, Landscape Designer, Principal, SAUNDERS DESIGNS | Landscapes + Gardens