Using Real World Elevation Data to Create a Terrain

Reference Number: KB-01078
Last Modified: December 17, 2015

The information in this article applies to:

Chief Architect Premier


I have the elevation data for my latest building project, as measured from sea level. How can I use this data in my Chief Architect plan?


By default, Chief Architect will automatically create a flattened building pad below a structure, and will choose a height for the building pad based on the terrain elevation at the structure's center point. In some situations, however, this automatic behavior can't be used - for example, in the case of a walkout basement.

Before entering your terrain data, change the terrain settings to avoid having the house float too low or too high in the terrain.

To set the terrain at a specific elevation

  1. If you have not done so already, select Terrain> Create Terrain Perimeter from the menu to create a terrain perimeter in the plan.

    Note: In most cases, the Terrain Perimeter should be located on Floor 1. 

  2. Select Terrain> Terrain Specification from the menu to open the Terrain Specification dialog. 

  3. On the General panel under Building Pad:

    • Uncheck Automatic.

    • In Chief Architect X7 and newer versions, set the Subfloor Height Above Terrain.
      For the purposes of this example, we will set this value to 100'.

      Note: In Imperial plans, be sure to include the ' sign, or the program will use inches. 

      In Chief Architect X6 and earlier versions, specify 100 feet as the level of the Building Pad

  4. Next, create two elevation lines in the plan at 100':

    • Select Terrain> Elevation Data> Elevation Line from the menu, then click and drag to draw an elevation line.

    • Click on the line to select it, then click the Open Object edit button. On the Elevation panel of the Elevation Line Specification dialog, set the Elevation at 100' and click OK.

    • With the elevation line still selected, click the Copy/Paste edit button, then click and drag the line's Move edit handle away from the line's location. Release the mouse button to create an identical copy of the elevation line.

    • Creating two elevation lines at the same elevation will create flat terrain at that height.

  5. At this point, you can delete the two elevation lines and then either draw, or import the actual elevation data that you intend to use to generate your terrain. 

There are several options for importing data:

  • Elevation points saved as comma- or tab-delimited text can be imported by selecting File> Import> Terrain Data from the menu.

  • GPS data in *.gpx file format can be imported by selecting File> Import> GPS Data .

  • Elevation data can also be imported in .dxf /.dwg format by selecting File> Import> Drawing .