Feb 6, 2021

New Real Estate Survey measurement rules

Not all surveyors have two right feet. But some do.

For more than 100 years, there have been two different survey definitions of the 12-inch measurement known as a foot. But change has been afoot for some time for the official measurements used by U.S. surveyors.

Many land surveyors use the widely accepted International Foot for measurements. However, the “U.S. Survey” foot is still used by some land surveyors in 40 U.S. states and territories. Texas is one of them.

Soon the International Foot will be mandated for use throughout the U.S. The National Institute of Standards and Technology states that the International Foot will become officially used by all surveyors by 2022. That means the Texas system of using the U.S. Survey Foot will need to get the boot. The Texas Legislature designates the state standard for survey measuring applications in the Texas Natural Resources Code, Subtitle B, Chapter 21.

The difference between these measurements is miniscule. When measuring a mile, the International Foot is about an eighth of an inch smaller. So it’s not going to make a difference in your average residential survey. But it can make a difference when measuring large distances. In a measurement of 1 million feet, the difference is 2 feet.

The problem started almost 90 years ago. In 1893, the U.S. government definition of a foot was 1,200 meters divided by 3,937. That makes a foot equal 0.3048006+ meters. In 1933, the International Foot was created. It was defined as 0.3048 meters, exactly. The last digits were eliminated. By 1959, the U.S. government switched to the International Foot and mandated its use – except for surveying and mapping applications.

The minor difference may seem insignificant, but it has caused problems for surveyors, engineers, and planning officials for high-speed rail and bridges in some states. It seems prudent to use the same measuring stick like the rest of the world to avoid errors, confusion, and additional costs. Discontinuing the use of the U.S. Survey Foot is expected to bring uniformity and accuracy for professionals in the surveying, mapping, and engineering businesses.

Industry icon Barry Rhodes with Burns Surveying has worked in the surveying business for more than 50 years and is responsible for more than 120,000 surveys in North Texas.

“The difference in measurements are so minute for local surveyors,” says Rhodes. “The difference isn’t usually a big deal unless you’re dealing with long pipelines or something similar. When you go really long distances, you have the curvature of the earth to deal with.”

Rhodes doesn’t expect the change to create problems for Texas surveyors. “I always use the U.S. Foot. But if the state says to make the change, we’ll do it,” Rhodes said. “Our software probably has the option to convert.”

The next time someone tells you that a foot is 12 inches, you might want to add that the official definition of a foot is actually 0.3048 meters. Even in Texas.
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