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Site Visits – Be Ready, Be Efficient

By Jonathan Stevens, Assoc. A.I.A., LEED AP BD+C

Site visits are a critical aspect of an architect’s or an engineer’s job.  Through site visits, one gathers valuable information that is used to create detailed and accurate drawings of the existing conditions.  The more accurate the drawings, the less time and money spent on corrections and change orders, substantially increasing the probability of the project being completed on time and within budget.  

There are various reasons why a site visit is necessary:  to evaluate existing conditions, to perform test cuts, mockups and punch lists.  Whatever the reason for visiting a site, one must always be prepared.  

Before every site visit, prepare a checklist to make sure you have all the necessary materials.  That checklist should include the following items:


  • Measuring devices
    – A standard 25’ tape is adequate, but if you have access to a laser tape, it is more efficient and accurate.  For site dimensioning, a roller tape is very useful.
  • Sketch pad – A gridded sketch pad is preferred for ease of drawing scalable details and drawings.

  • Writing utensils
    – at least two
  • Digital camera with back-up batteries – There is nothing more unprofessional then having a camera stop working while at the site with a
    client.  Also, make sure the camera has an appropriate amount of disk space to take as many photos as needed.
  • Original plans, elevations, and details – If available, they’re can be very useful to make notations directly on the drawings as information is gathered.

Along with all of the above items, it may be helpful to bring along a few additional tools, such as a hammer, pry bar, screwdriver, dental mirror, and a flashlight.  All of these will help you be prepared for any situation that may arise at the site.

Upon leaving the site and returning to the office, some of the most valuable items resulting from the visit are the site photos.  Taking the right photos can save you from having to revisit the site because you did not fully document a condition and don’t have enough information to do your work properly.  When taking photos you need to think about the scope of your work and the surroundings, down to the smallest details.  For instance, if you get back to the office and all you have is a photo of a door sill, you’ve missed a lot of critical information.  Using the door as an example, start by taking a photo of both sides of the door in its context so you have a full understanding of what else may be impacted when work on the door is started.  Second, take a full photo of door, again from both sides, from a closer distance that shows the door and its immediate surroundings.  Finally, take photos of every angle of the door, jambs, sill, head, hinge connections, hardware, and any other areas of the door that will allow you to have a full understanding and description of the door when you return to the office.

By being prepared and bringing the proper tools, you can make the most of your site visit saving your client and company time and money.