Knowing the elevation of your home is a fun fact and gives you a bit of geological credibility. If you live near the sea or in a floodplain, however, this tidbit of knowledge can save you thousands of dollars--or even your life. Your flood insurance documentation might tell you your height above sea level, but this information is often imprecise. If you're wondering about property you're looking to purchase, rather than your current home, this solution won't work either. Fortunately, there are other options.
Download Google Earth, the popular virtual globe program, and use its elevation feature. In the 3D viewer, the elevation of the point directly under the cursor is displayed in the lower-left corner of the screen in terrain view mode. To change between feet or meters in the elevation display, go to "Options" under the Tools menu and select "3D View" before clicking on the "Show Elevation" radio buttons.
Use Daft Logic's Find Altitude script for Google Maps. This is an online application that will tell you the elevation of any point on the earth, accurate within a meter's height, at a single mouse-click. It's a free service, so, while Find Altitude doesn't come anywhere near a surveyor's level of accuracy, it's a good alternative.
Try the National Map online Seamless Server. This is another online application, run by the U.S. government. It's much more accurate than Daft Logic's tool, though somewhat more complicated to use. The user interface is reminiscent of the internet of the late 90s, but it's both functional and extremely precise.
- Photo Credit surveying image by DXfoto.com from Fotolia.com