Can a Metal Detector Find Property Pins?

Can a Metal Detector Find Property Pins?
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A metal detector can find property pins. But choosing the right metal detector can make the difference between successfully finding them, and not.

Whether you’re putting up a fence, building or planting near the edges of your land, or settling a dispute with a neighbor, you need to know where your property ends and their property begins.

In this post, we’ll explain exactly what property pins are, and how you can find them yourself with the right kind of metal detector.

What are property pins?

Property pins (also called property markers or survey stakes) are iron rods that are hammered in the ground by the original surveyors of your land. They mark each corner of your property.

A corner is not just a right-angle. It’s any change in direction of your property lines. Some pieces of land are simple rectangular shapes, with four corners. But large or oddly-shaped parcels can have 12 or more corners.

Where do you look for them?

While there are no universal standards in the United States, many communities require that property markers be placed about 14.5’ (4.42 m) from the curb.

At the time they were placed in the ground, the top of the marker was at or just below the surface. Final grading and landscaping, however, buries the survey pins deeper into the soil.

By the time you’ll need to look for them, property markers are typically 6-10” underground.

Search Your County’s GIS

Your county’s online geographic information system (GIS) can help you to get a general idea of the location of your property markers. These systems contain many different kinds of maps. Let’s take a look at one.

In this example, we’re looking at a property in Cascade, CO, in the El Paso County GIS. Expect your county’s GIS to differ from this one. 

    1. Click on the Property Search tab, and enter the address number and street name of your property.
      El Paso County GIS Property Record Search
    2. Here, click on the Property Record button to access more information about the property.
    3. Scroll down to near the end of the page, until you see the Map Sheet section. Click on the link to View Map Sheet 1.
    4. A PDF map opens in a new tab.
      Plat map in El Paso County, Colorado

      This is a plat map, which shows the location of your property within your section of your township of your county.

    5. Let’s take a closer look at the parcel we’ve highlighted in red.

Closer view of plat map
  1. As you can see, not all the distances have measurements listed. So you’ll need to reference the map’s scale, and ballpark the distance between pins.

Following the plat map will get you within two to three feet (0.6 to 0.9 m) of the markers.

Next, you’ll need to choose the right metal detector.

Choosing the Right Metal Detector

Some say that any metal detector is good enough to find your property markers. And to an extent, that’s true. Any decent metal detector has the potential to locate your markers.

The caveat is that they can’t be too deep, you already know what to look and listen for, and you have the settings configured properly.

Standard metal detectors can detect objects 6-8” (15 to 20 cm) deep at most. As we mentioned earlier, property markers (particularly in older neighborhoods) tend to be 6” (15 cm) deep at a minimum.

Most metal detectors available for local rental are outdated or low-end machines that aren’t easy to use. And they tend to be rented by companies that don’t place enough of an emphasis on the customer experience to provide you a comprehensive guide on the fundamentals of detecting.

You want a metal detector that’s specifically designed for this task. You want something that’s dead simple to use, can reach as deep as you need it to, and doesn’t have any settings you need to fiddle with.

The right metal detector for finding your property markers is a magnetic locator.

What is a magnetic locator?

Unlike standard metal detectors, a magnetic locator measures magnetic fields. By design, they ignore all metals except for ferrous (magnetic) ones. Because iron is a ferrous metal, a locator is the right metal detector for locating your survey pins.

Plus, it’s much easier to use than a standard metal detector.

There aren’t any discrimination settings to configure. It’s as simple as turning it on and sweeping across your search area. You’ll watch the display (and listen) for the peaks in signal strength that indicate you’re nearing a buried iron object.

How to Find Your Property Markers with a Metal Detector

Things You’ll Need:

  1. Before you start, call 811. If you’re in Canada, find your province’s utility locating phone number here. They’ll mark known gas, water, electric, or fiber lines on your property.

    You’ll need to plan two to three days in advance to get this done.
  2. Reference the approximate measurements on your survey plat map.
  3. Use a tape measure to determine the distance from the street to the point at which the map indicates your nearest corner marker is located.
  4. Turn your magnetic locator on, and extend the pull loop. The default sensitivity is perfect for our needs.
  5. While walking in the general vicinity of your marker, sweep the locator side to side (kind of like a broom). Watch (and listen) for an increase in signal strength that indicates you’re getting close.
  6. When the signal strength peaks, you should be right on top of it. Use a marking flag or other object (like a stone) to mark the position of the pin.
  7. With your shovel, dig a small hole until you reach the pin. Alternatively, you can use a soil probe to feel for the pin below the surface.
  8. Next, measure the distance from the marker you’ve just found to the next one on the map.
  9. Repeat steps 3 to 8 until you’ve found all your property markers.

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