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5 Methods for Documenting Existing Conditions

201015-Layer-Blog-5 Methods for Documenting Existing Conditions

You’re going on site to document existing conditions, which method should you use?

In this article, we’ll break down the pros and cons of several ways you can document existing building conditions. As architects in a medium-sized practice, we’ve had the opportunity to capture building data all of these methods. Some were super-efficient and some created a lot of work after the visit. Here’s what we found:

1. The Clipboard Method

Long before laser measuring tools and point cloud scanning, we had to document existing conditions the “old school” way. This usually entailed walking the site with a tape measure and clipboard of drawings. While we’ve come a long way since then, there are still architects that prefer to use this method.

PROS
There aren’t many advantages other than it’s probably the easiest method to use if you don’t have time to prepare before going on site. And if the project is small. Because the time savings you gain upfront during the walkthrough are lost when you have to download and transpose everything back at the office.

CONS
We see a lot of disadvantages to this method:
– Time-consuming: You lose a lot of time after the visit organizing photos and translating notes into a digital format.
– Inaccurate: This method relies on everyone taking notes that are legible.
– Disconnected: Since data is captured manually, none it will be connected to as-built drawings or a Revit model.

WHEN TO USE THIS METHOD
We recommend using this method only if you need to, such as a last-minute walkthrough where you can’t prepare ahead of time.

2. The Laptop on Wheels Method

Thankfully, technology and hardware have come a long way in the past decade. Architects can now take their laptops on site to input field conditions directly into a Revit model. While this is a huge time saver over the Clipboard Method, it still has a few drawbacks.

PROS
– Accurate, if you already have a model:
Having the Revit model right there on the walkthrough makes it easy to capture and fix inconsistencies on site. But, it also means you have to have a Revit model from which to start.

CONS
– Disconnected: Rich building data like notes, photos, and conditions ratings will be disconnected from the Revit model. This means you’re still going to waste time hunting for this information in different channels in the future.
– Time-consuming (and awkward): As we mentioned above, you’re still going to waste time in the future searching for photos and other data that you can’t input into Revit. You will also need to purchase a laptop stand ahead of time to wheel around while on site.

WHEN TO USE THIS METHOD
This method is only useful if you already have an existing Revit model and don’t mind wheeling around a laptop cart.

3. The 3D Scanning Method

Working on a larger, more complex project? Then getting a 3D laser or light scan of the project may be a good starting point for capturing existing conditions. This solution uses a laser or white light to produce a 3D model by measuring an object’s geometry.

PROS
– Connected:
The end product of a 3D scan is a point cloud that can be imported directly into Revit.
– Efficient: This is an efficient option since it doesn’t require as much time on site. But the turnaround time can be lengthy depending on the size and complexity of your project.
– Accurate, kind of: If the lighting conditions are right, 3D light scans are highly accurate. However, too much ambient light can distort results since the scanner may have trouble detecting points on reflective surfaces. In addition, it’s been said that 3D scans are almost too accurate in that they capture uneven walls and objects out of plane.

CONS
– Still disconnected and depending on what info you need, time-consuming: As we mentioned above, rich building data like notes, photos, and condition ratings will still be disconnected to the Revit model. This equals a lot of time wasted hunting for this information in different channels in the future.
– Expensive: This is option costs significantly more than the others since it requires using expensive hardware that is large and hard to transport.

WHEN TO USE THIS METHOD
This method is generally used on complex existing buildings with large spaces where clash detection is the desired goal.

4. The Photogammetry Method

Similar to the 3D Scanning Method, Photogammetry generates a 3D model by using a comprehensive photo scan to gather data. Unlike 3D scanning, this method doesn’t require using expensive hardware to scan a project.

PROS
– Connected: Similar to the 3D Scanning Method, a Photogammetry scan provides a point cloud that can be imported directly into Revit.
– Accurate, kind of: Depending on the space you’re documenting, Photogammetry can be very accurate. The texture of surfaces makes a difference in the type of data that is captured. Smooth, flat surfaces make it difficult for Photogammetry scans to work, rendering you with inaccurate data.

CONS
– Still disconnected and time-consuming:
Photogammetry does a better job of capturing material types than a 3D Scan, but you will still need to translate that data into the Revit model. Also, note that the initial scan can be time-consuming.
– Expensive: While this option costs less than 3D scans, the software required to capture and stitch the photos together has monthly fees and extra fees for the point cloud output. You will also need to do multiple scans to connect the rooms together. All of this means the price can add up quickly.

WHEN TO USE THIS METHOD
It’s best to use this method when documenting existing conditions with smaller room sizes that don’t have smooth, flat surfaces.

5. The Mobile App Method

There is a wide range of mobile apps on the market that make it easy to create robust forms to input data. While some products provide the ability to upload drawings, most are geared towards construction workflows.

This is the primary reason we created Layer App. We built a tool specifically for architects and designers who need to capture existing building conditions. The added bonus of using Layer is that it is the only mobile app on the market that connects captured data to Revit.

PROS
– Accurate:
Layer’s diverse range of form fields lets users input any kind of data accurately and consistently.
– Connected: Layer connects directly to Revit at any time in a project, regardless of whether there is a model at the time of your site visit.
– Efficient: Capture data only once and find it later in one intuitive dashboard that makes it easy to view your data right in Revit.
– Affordable: Layer’s new Drawing View gives you unlimited everything, including the number of sheets, for one low monthly fee that you can include in client contracts.
– Easy to Use: Layer was recognized by Architect Magazine for our intuitive mobile-friendly interface that makes it easy to capture data on the go, even when you’re not connected to WiFi.

WHEN TO USE THIS METHOD
Layer can be used for any type or size of project. Built to be flexible, the app comes with a suite of robust team communication tools that make it easy to coordinate teams on site. And while Layer was built to connect project data to Revit, it can also be used at any time without Revit, making it an easy-to-use solution for team members who don’t know Revit.

What’s the right solution for you?

The right solution will depend on the size of project you’re documenting, the type of information you’re capturing, and the budget you’re working with. If you’re looking for a flexible documentation tool that connects to Revit, we recommend that you try Layer.

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