Insights Into Remote Site Conditions Without Leaving Your Desk

Engineering · Construction · Law · Development · Everybody

Gain Insights Into Remote Site Conditions Without Leaving Your Desk: Industry trends, tips, and practical uses for aerial imagery and geographic data from First Base Solutions, the experts who brought you MapWarehouse.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Learn your way

Watch the video or or follow the script below. The video is split into 4 parts: View, Query, Measure, Report.

View: learn the basics
Query: tools for researching property information
Measure: tools for planning and projects
Report: importing, exporting, sharing, and printing 

Related: Saving, Surfing, or Streaming? How to choose the data delivery method that's right for your project


First Base Solutions. Changing views to get a better perspective. VuMAP.  Work made easy.

In this video, you’ll learn how to view geographic data, query the map for more information, measure ground features, and report on your research.

VuMAP is a feature packed online mapping application that lets you measure, draw, compare imagery year over year and research land information from anywhere through a web browser.

Many types of commercial applications are possible with VuMAP. Property managers, legal and real estate professionals can research detailed property information in geographic context. Developers, construction trades and other land information specialists use VuMAP to measure, plan, estimate costs, and quote customers.

Whatever your line of work, VuMAP saves you time and money by limiting the number of trips out of the office to gather information about remote sites, and helps you communicate spatial information with stakeholders and customers.

VuMAP allows you to view layers of map data in any combination you choose. High resolution aerial imagery provided by First Base Solutions is available across southern Ontario along with elevations, parcel mapping, natural features, and a variety of searchable layers that help people do their jobs faster and easier.  

VuMAP is easy to use, with nothing to install, download or maintain.  Simply purchase a subscription and get to work. You’ll see the benefits right away.  Let me show you how:

Chapter 1: View



Signing Up

First, navigate to the VuMAP website at If you already have an active subscription, log in now. You’ll need to create a user account with First Base Solutions, if you haven’t used any of our services before, such as MapWarehouse.

After you complete registration, if you haven’t used VuMAP before, you can sign up for a free trial subscription to evaluate the service, or purchase an annual subscription. To sign up for an unlimited annual subscription, name your subscription, and check the data layer groups you’d like to subscribe to. The Google base layer is always included. Your subscription will last for one year. Enter your payment details to begin your subscription immediately.

Review the details of your order.  Remember that one subscription is for one user. If you have several team members that need access to VuMAP, call customer service about our discounts for multi-user subscriptions. You will not be able to log in from different locations at the same time.

The new subscription will be activated right away.  If you’ve had previous subscriptions, you can switch between them, or review the time remaining from this subscription details page.  You can return to this page any time under My Account menu.

The Interface

Click on Launch VuMAP to start using the application.  Let’s take a quick tour of the interface.

Many of tools included you’ll already be familiar with, including zoom, pan, and street view, the dynamic scale bar, and the latitude and longitude position of your cursor. VuMAP also shows you the zoom level, which increases from 1 to 20 as you zoom in.

The coverage map highlights the geographic extents of each layer along with information about the data. To view a layer’s data, you must be within the area highlighted in pink when navigating the map, otherwise there will be no data to load and therefore nothing for you to view.

You can purchase and download a section of the data from MapWarehouse, the sister site of VuMAP, for use with  desktop CAD or GIS applications.

Administrative and reference tools are located at the top. News will take you to our blog where you can brush up on tips for using data provided by First Base Solutions.

Tools to work with the map are located on the left. When you click a tool, it will remain active until you click it again. More options and features are located in pull out tabs on the right. We’ll look at all the options in detail later. Let’s start with something simple.

Saving a View

The save view tool lets you bookmark several locations you’d like to find again quickly. I’ve zoomed in to our office location near Buttonville Airport.  This is a location I’d like to come back to often, so I’ll make a saved view to avoid having to search for the location over and over. By setting this saved view as the default view, the map will zoom in to this location automatically next time I use VuMAP.

Saved views are stored in the My Marks tab.  The checked box tells you this is the default view on start-up. I’ll navigate to our Milton office and add a saved view for this location as well. The saved view for the Milton office is now added to the My Marks tab. 

Now I can jump back and forth between the two locations quickly by clicking a magnifying glass to zoom to the saved view.

Data Layers

Now, let’s look at the layers tab. Here you will see a list of what data sets are available to view. The layers tab gives you control over several options and gives information about the layers.
The name of the layer. The range of zoom levels where the layer can be viewed. The layer’s current visibility setting. The layer’s transparency settings if you need to see two layers at the same time. The pin tells you this layer has more information that be queried.

The drawing order indicates which layers load first, starting from the bottom of the layers list and working up. The arrows adjust the drawing order of the layers. Generally, you should keep raster layers such as filled areas or imagery at the bottom, and let vector layers containing points, text, and line work, such as parcels or contours, draw over top. Raster layers that are set as 100% opaque will block the visibility of layers below.

Near the top of the layer list, I’ve checked the visibility for Teranet parcel. The line work draws over the image, which is the Google base layer, located at the very bottom of the layer list. I’ve scrolled half way down the layer list and also turned on the 2014 aerial imagery layer to get a more up to date image with sharper resolution so I can see more detail of the ground when I zoom in.

I’ve also now turned on the soils descriptions layer, which contains information about soil texture, drainage, and so on, but isn’t meaningful without some context.  Since the soils layer is 100% opaque, the imagery below can’t be seen at all. The parcel line work can still be seen, since it’s higher up in the drawing order.

I’ve lowered the opacity of the soils layer, which makes it a little transparent.  Lowering the opacity lets me see imagery and soil descriptions at the same time. Zoomed in, you can see the imagery, Teranet parcels, and the soil description mapping all at the same time.  You can use transparency and layering to find where information from different layers intersects.

Knowing the variability of soil characteristics within a parcel of land, and knowing from the imagery where structures are located in relation to the soil types, can help you assess and mitigate drainage issues on the property. By layering the elevations as well, you can now see which direction surface water from storms will flow. The more information you have, the better your flood mitigation strategy will be.

Time Series

Because the imagery is accurately positioned and uniform scaled just like a map, adjusting opacity of 2 imagery layers will let you see changes in land use over time and compare historical and current conditions at your site.  Watch this time series of Brampton in 2002, in 2007, in 2008, in 2009, in 2010, in 2011, in 2012, in 2014. Note that because the 2014 layer is set at 100% opaque, all the imagery layers below cannot be viewed, even though the visibility is on.

With just the 2002 and 2014 imagery visible, I’ve now applied a transparency to the 2014 layer, allowing you to see the red roof from the building that existed in 2002, and the subdivision that has been built in its place. By layering the parcels on top as well, you can see the dramatic change in land use more clearly.  

The historical conditions are well documented in the imagery. You can use these objective, date stamped records to determine if and when upgrades have been made to a property, such a new structure, fence, or pool that may have required permits.  

Zoom Level 21

Remember that there are 20 zoom levels as you zoom in? If you need to zoom in further to see even more detail, you can access zoom level 21 in areas with very high resolution imagery by clicking the activate level 21 button. The performance may be temporarily slowed down, so hold off on activating this feature until you’re ready to take a close look at something.

Let’s take a closer look at this pool. Here is zoom level 21, the closest you can zoom in to the ground.  From here you’re able to see the most detail of the ground and make precise measurements of ground features.  I’ll show you how to do this later in the tutorial.

Chapter 2: Query


Three Ways to Learn More

Remember the coverage map? All layers have information associated with them, called metadata, which simply means data about data.  You can learn about a layer by clicking the info icon next to the layer’s name. The information you see here applies to the entire layer.  For example, the imagery layers will have information about the date the imagery was taken, and the photo resolution.

Some layers also have information about the individual features.  For layers with limited information, like elevation contours, the features are labeled directly on map for you to read.

For layers with more information, you can use the query tool to see the full record about individual features on the map to learn more about them. If the layer has more information that can be queried, you’ll see the pin symbol next to the layer’s name. These layers include geodetic control, township fabric, Teranet parcels, assessment parcels, New Brunswick properties, soil descriptions, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and places to grow, which highlights lands that have been identified as suitable for development.

To query a feature, first you need to locate it on the map.  Start by opening the search tab.


Basic lets you search for place names and addresses. Lot/Con lets you search lots and concessions by township. PIN/ARN lets you search for Ontario properties by property identification number or assessment roll number. Let’s quickly try each type of search.

I’ve used the basic search to find the address of our Cambridge office. Click the magnifying glass to zoom to the location. The location is marked with a red flag.  Now you can save the view using the save view tool we looked at in chapter 1, or, clear the flag by clicking the clear button. 

To use the lot concession search, start typing the name of a township in Ontario.  Choose a township name from the list that will populate below and click search. Select a lot number from the drop down list. Select a concession by clicking the magnifying glass. The map will zoom to the lot you selected.  Hovering your cursor over the list will highlight the area in red. You can see the lot concession grid by turning on the township fabric layer.

PIN and ARN search is for locating properties in Ontario using 9-digit PIN numbers, or 15 digit roll numbers. Enter the number only, with no spaces or dashes.  If you’re a law clerk or real estate agent, this is the search type you’ll probably use most often. Click the magnifying glass to zoom to the location.

The Query Tool

What if you don’t have enough information to efficiently locate a property?  It could be a new acquisition, it could be a large property with multiple PINs, or the details such as ownership and legal description could be out of date. You can use the search tools to locate the general area, then use the query tool to explore the details of the properties nearby.  

Here I’ve located Fulton Way in Richmond Hill, and used street view to confirm the location of number 35.  When I turn on the Teranet parcel layer, I can see that this one street address is split into 3 parcels, each with a unique PIN. The map provides the geographic context to see how the parcels relate to one another, if one parcel is dominant with servient easements, for example.
You can see that each parcel has the same street address but a different PIN number. I’ve turned on the assessment parcel layer, shown in blue, and repeated the query. All visible layers that have query information will be displayed in the results.  You can review both the assessment roll number and property information number details at the same time.  In this case, the boundary of the assessment parcel encompasses all three PINs. 

This is the type of contextual information that’s not possible when searching through lists of addresses.  The benefit of using a high quality map in your research is easy to see. You can highlight which feature is which by hovering your cursor over the items in the query results box.

Saving Your Query

You can save your results into the My Marks tab by clicking on Add To My Marks. Name the query and click save. Now you can find this property again later in the My Marks tab, under the query menu. 

The info icon shows you the information for the parcel again. You can make the saved query visible or not visible on the map, zoom to the location, share the query so it will appear in the My Marks of another VuMAP subscriber, (we’ll review this function a little later in the report section of the tutorial), or, delete the query.

Last but not least, you can download the details of all your saved queries into a csv file that can be viewed as a spreadsheet with all the information from the results box. If you have saved multiple queries for multiple layers, you will see them all when you create a csv file.  This way, you can build a database of locations you’re actively working with, and add more fields to store your own notes about the locations you searched.

Chapter 3: Measure

Measure Tools

The measuring tool can be used to measure distances and areas, typically, by tracing objects you see in the photo base layer, which has been geometrically corrected to have a uniform scale, just like a map.

Outdoor projects such as roofing, paving, landscaping and more make use of the measure tools to estimate material costs, and to quote customers without having to send a representative to the site.

Agricultural and logging companies can use VuMAP to measure acreage accurately, important for estimating harvest yields.

Builders can measure and find the shortest path for running utilities using the photo base layer to identify obstacles, or look at different options before implementing a plan. 

Renewable energy companies use VuMAP to locate sites suitable for rooftop solar panels, and to ensure wind turbine site selection complies with the required setback from property lines. Let me show you how easy it is.

Start by selecting the measure tool.  It will remain active until you click it again, but you can still pan and zoom with your mouse’s scroll wheel. Click a spot on the map where you’d like to begin.
Move your mouse and click again to change the direction of your path. Repeat this process as many times as you need to. Click again on the first point to close the measurement shape and find the area.

If you’re working with a path, click twice on the last point in the path to finalize the measurement and see the total distance. You can now save your measurement into My Marks. Here you can change the units of measure.

Now that you’ve learned the measure tool, you can use the drawing and annotating tools the same way. Drawings let you plan out and visualize different options before work begins. Annotations let you make notes about places on the map. The options to turn visibility off and on, zoom, share, and delete measurements, drawings, and annotations are the same as for queries and views.

Chapter 4: Report

Reporting Your Results

VuMAP makes it easy to share your work and communicate spatial information with others.

You can import and export your own data, share items from My Marks with other VuMAP subscribers and print layouts.

Importing Data

Let’s import a shape file a co-worker sent me.  Click the import data tool. Select a zipped shape file from your computer, name your import, and specify what projection it’s in.

You can also import a csv file, if it contains a list of coordinates that can be drawn as points on the map.  The first two columns must contain the longitude and latitude information as shown.  Here the coordinate system is geographic. After you get the success message, open the My Marks tab to see what you imported under the imported data menu.

I’ve clicked the magnifying glass to zoom to the new data, which is the set of blue points. Clicking the info icon will open a table with the details of each point that came from the shape file’s attribute table.

Exporting Data

You can also export your saved marks as a shape file for use with desktop GIS software. In the export format options, the csv option is only suitable for point features, like annotations, and some drawings.  It will produce a list of longitude and latitudes for each point.  Shape file is meant for lines and areas, so that’s what I’ve selected for exporting my roof measurement.

This location is in Mississauga, so I’ll select UTM, zone 17N as the projection.  If you’re not sure what to choose, try the geographic projection at the top of the list, which is based on latitudes and longitudes.

Your shape file can now be downloaded in a zip folder and added into your GIS project. You can now work with your saved measurement together with your own geographic data.

Sharing Your Work

I’m going to share my roof measurement with coworkers at a remote office who also have a VuMAP subscription. Type in the complete email address and click search.  This process will check that the person has a VuMAP subscription; otherwise you will not be able to share using this method.

If a VuMAP subscriber is found with the email address you entered, click ‘add’ to add them to the recipient list. Now you can share, or add another recipient. Click share when you’re ready, and the recipients will get an email letting them know there is a new measurement in their My Marks waiting for them.

Print Layout

Lastly, you can create a print layout for an area you see in VuMAP. Start by clicking the print tool. Choose a portrait or landscape orientation, which are outlined by the blue and red frames.

Add a title and description. Type your message at the top and click on add title or add description. Adjust the position and zoom level of the image using your mouse wheel. Select file, then print, choose the options for your local printing device, and click OK.

You’ve now completed the VuMAP tutorial.  If you have any questions about the tools, the data, multi-user discounts, or would like to partner with First Base Solutions as a data provider, please contact