Sunday, August 5, 2012


Time schedules for production of construction documents seem to be getting less generous with each passing year. It’s often necessary to start project specifications before the rest of the design team has resolved the design, let alone committed the design to paper.  Or to pixels.

A prime example of the challenges a spec writer faces in writing about things that haven’t been drawn yet is specifying site clearing (Section 31 10 00 - SITE CLEARING).  

Since site clearing, as a work result, is just the absence of site improvements that formerly occupied the building site, even a pretty decent set of site drawings of the new site improvement construction may not show all of what has to be cleared from the site.

Talk to the project design team, you say.  Well, sometimes team members are available to help scope out what’s required to be cleared from the site.  But not always.  They take vacations or spend hours in high-level do-not-interrupt meetings.  Or they may not know much about the existing site, especially if the client isn’t conscientious about keeping multiple design consultants fully informed about project requirements.

So what to do?

Google Earth may be of some assistance. Type in the project address and Google Earth will fly you to your site.

On a recent project, I got some assistance in editing Section 31 10 00 by viewing images of the site on Google Earth.  Here’s part of what I found:

  • The existing site has trees that are in the footprint of the new building and must be removed.  There are no existing trees outside of the new building footprint.  So I don’t have to specify tree protection during building construction.
  • There are existing sidewalks and asphalt paving which must be removed because they’re in the footprint of the new building.
  • Ditto for an existing monument sign and parking lot lighting.

Google Earth isn’t perfect.  Buildings, trees, and vehicles are weirdly flattened in the aerial view, and sometimes the aerial view doesn’t agree with the associated street view.  But it’s one more tool spec writers can use to determine what to specify.


  1. Good point. Have used such online tools often.

    Bing Maps' Bird's Eye view is also helpful since it can provide an overhead "isometric" view from 4 different angles.

    Using Google Maps' Street Views feature, I have been able to alert A/E's to some potential problems with existing buildings they had not noticed.

    All of these online tools can give the spec writer and A/E a better overall feel of the site than a set of drawings alone.

    One significant problem with such online tools, however, is the fact the images can be several years old. Sometimes things have changed. I try to verify conditions with the A/E when possible.

    Still these online tools provide a better starting point than we usually get. All too often its the only site information we get.

    1. Thanks for the tip about Bing Maps Birds Eye View. I just used it to look at my house, and it's pretty nice.

      I confess I'm not up to speed on the latest Microsoft apps. I abandoned MS Internet Exploder in a huff a couple of years ago because of constant crashes and terribly slow performance. Maybe Microsoft has finally gotten its act together. I'll give them another chance.

      You're right about the age of the images. One of the cars in Bing's picture of my driveway was sold a couple of years ago, and one of the trees Bing shows got demolished in a windstorm last year.