Drones in Home Inspections
Drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) have become wildly popular lately among hobbyists and various industries. Able to hover, move vertically, and make near zero-point turns, drones are incredibly fun to use — but they aren’t just for enjoyment. Many can be outfitted with attachments like cameras and grasping claws to lift and carry light objects, which makes them as useful as they are enjoyable to use.
It makes sense that we would want to use drones for home inspections. They move quickly, dramatically speeding up certain parts of the inspection process. With the ability to attach cameras, they can see in places that would be difficult — and sometimes near impossible — to access ourselves.
Some home inspectors have also begun to employ home inspection crawl space drones — or “crawl bots” — but this article focuses entirely on UAVs. Let’s look at what you should know about aerial drones and how they might benefit your home inspection operation.
How are inspectors using drones for home inspections?
Many home inspection services have drones these days. The ability to get to hard-to-reach locations, like steep roofs and chimney tops, gives you a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening. Good drones have precision control, so you can get the camera in as tight and narrow as you need. If the onboard camera is digital with magnification capability, you can get a good look at potential cracks, wear, and other damage that might not be readily visible to the naked eye.
Drones give inspectors a view they might not otherwise get, and customers also love aerial photographs of their property. Adding a bird’s-eye view of the property to the front page of an inspection report gives the report an added professional quality while also thoroughly impressing the property owner.
With younger generations beginning to purchase homes, inspections by drone are a highly marketable element of your business. These homebuyers grew up on tech, and using drones — and other high-tech tools — shows them that your business is with the times, which gives them greater confidence in your service. Having drones also suggests to other potential clients that you’re willing to invest in progress and keep current with the best practices in the home inspection field.
Inspections services that don’t use drones often refer clients to roofers or other third-party operations that might employ these machines for an ancillary inspection. Using drones for your home inspections gives you that business, rather than having to refer the client to someone else or farm the service out. It also speeds up the whole home buying process for the client. If they don’t have to call someone else for another inspection that you could have provided if you’d had drones, this builds customer satisfaction. They’ll be more likely to recommend your services to others.
Drones have proved to be most efficient during roofing inspections. Some buildings might have roofs that are hard to access because they are too high, too steep, or too slippery due to weather conditions. Some roofing materials, like tiles, can have a significant amount of wear and tear, which could make them less safe to inspect.
Drones also provide great help in inspecting the exterior of the home like gutters, chimneys, and other areas that require extra time and effort to get to without exposing themselves to harm.
Yard and garden inspections
Some home inspectors also use drones to inspect gardens, especially properties with extensive foliage and trees. While a regular garden inspection is always a good idea, flying a drone over a garden can reveal issues that are not always obvious during a regular inspection. For example, you can find out the exact condition of the trees on the property and also see any areas of the lawn that could require maintenance.
Inspection report photography
Incorporating drone photos in your home inspection report can set you apart from your competitors and help you better market your business. Drone photos in a home inspection report can also add value for your customers, especially if their home has pools, gardens, and other features that could use aerial imagery.
Including drone photos of a property on the front page of your home inspection report can make it look more professional and help your customers to showcase their property to potential buyers.
Safety benefits of using drones in home inspections
Even with safety harnesses and other preventative measures, getting up on a roof is risky. Throw in recent rain, worn shingles, or slick roofing materials — like clay tiles — and the potential hazard only increases. Though most inspectors have no issue getting up on roofs to give them a thorough examination, an exceptionally steep roof or one unusually high off the ground can cause concern. If the home has a very tall chimney, the inspector will only be able to safely examine the lowest portion of the stack accurately.
Using a drone to view these precarious locations eliminates any possibility of a fall. With a drone, you don’t have to worry about having a secure footing. There’s no safety line to get in the way of making your way around the chimney to inspect it. If the drone falls — for whatever reason — sure, there are repair costs, or you may have to replace it entirely, but a drone is much more replaceable than a person.
Falls from the rooftop aren’t the only concern that drones eliminate. If the roof is very old, there may be weakened or rotting wood beneath the shingles. A drone places no weight on the roof, so there’s no concern for it collapsing. The hazard is even more significant when it comes to old chimneys. There’s a chance that leaning against the brick or stone structure might cause the chimney to topple or collapse. A drone can get in close to see the worn and cracked mortar joints while practically eliminating any concern of causing the chimney to fall over.
Many inspection services only employ drones when it’s necessary. Making drone usage a part of your regular inspection process completely removes potential problems from a long drop off a roof.
Drone regulations and requirements
There are numerous FAA regulations concerning the use of drones in any capacity. If you’re not familiar with UAV usage regulations and are considering implementing drones in your home inspection business, here are some important rules to keep in mind:
Any unmanned aircraft 0.55 pounds or over requires the user to register it. The federal government considers anything lighter than that to be a toy. The types of drones that home inspectors typically employ will weigh more than 0.55 pounds and will require registration to operate legally. If your drone is over 55 pounds, there are stricter registration requirements you can find at the official FAA site.
Line of sight operation
When you’re operating a drone, you must be able to see it at all times. The FAA wants you to ensure you’ve assessed the safety of the airspace and have a clear path to the target destination. Using cameras to aid navigation is fine, but only as long as you can always see the UAV.
Secondary drone observer
If your controls are in a fixed location — mounted on the back of a truck, for example — the FAA allows you to use a second person to act as a visual navigator and observer. If you use a second person to visually keep track of the drone while you operate it, the observer has to be in constant, reliable communication with you.
Avoid manned aircraft
This is typically of greatest concern around airports but can be an issue just about anywhere. Manned aircraft have the right of way in the sky, and drones should go nowhere near them when they’re in flight. This isn’t a problem for larger commercial jets that fly tens of thousands of feet in the air, but many smaller crafts fly in at an altitude that drones can easily reach.
Flying near airports
You must get special permission from the FAA to operate a drone within five miles of an airport. This can be problematic if your primary market is close to an airport. If your business will put you in proximity to any sort of airfield, be sure to check in with the FAA and obtain a waiver.
The FAA has a comprehensive guide to UAV usage for businesses and hobbyists for more detailed regulations and requirements related to drones.
Pros and cons of using drones in home inspections
While using a drone for home inspections has many advantages, like enhanced imagery and time savings, it also has some downsides. For example, flying a drone requires experience, and it could take you at least a few months before you get comfortable inspecting properties with it. Although drones help you to avoid spending time trying to reach remote areas of a property, it’s still possible to miss a problem when using them for inspections.
Pros of using drones for home inspections
There are many benefits to using drones for home inspections and improved accuracy is one of them. Home inspectors who use drones also avoid potential injuries since they don’t have to climb roofs, and can inspect many other hard-to-reach areas without extra physical work. Drone images provide marketing benefits for homeowners and real estate agents as they showcase the property from different angles.
Home inspectors who use drones for inspecting roofs and other areas that are not easily accessible avoid potential injuries, because they don’t have to climb ladders and walk on top of the roofs. Drones can see more problems than a home inspector on the ground, even if they use specialized equipment like binoculars.
To inspect a roof, a home inspector can select an automated flight path in the settings and examine it by doing several flyovers. Doing so eliminates human error and helps to get more accurate home inspection reports.
Using a drone for a home inspection allows you to complete the process faster and with less physical work. The inspector stays on the ground while flying a drone to reach the area that needs to be inspected. Additionally, they don’t have to take measurements or spend time climbing different parts of the roof.
On top of that, more home inspections can be scheduled in a single day, as you can save a lot of time by examining the most difficult parts of the property with the drone.
A drone allows home inspectors to access hard-to-see areas of a property with minimal risk. Whether you need to inspect a roof, check what a chimney looks like, or examine the condition of roof shingles, using a drone is a smart choice, as it will help you save a lot of time and deliver more accurate results.
The photos you take during a home inspection can also be used in home inspection reports to showcase the property. Homeowners appreciate that businesses use the latest technology and providing aerial photos of a property will make you look more professional and help you to earn more business.
Cons of using drones for home inspections
While drones provide a safe way to inspect hard-to-reach areas and take aerial images and videos of properties, there are also some caveats to using this technology. You can operate a drone in certain areas as long as you stay away from restricted airspace like airports or big public venues like stadiums. As a drone pilot, always check local and federal regulations, before flying your remote aircraft.
When flying drones in public spaces, make sure to follow legal limits associated with flying a drone over private space. According to Duquesne University School of Law, in some areas, in addition to federal and local regulations, common law principles may still apply, which means flying a drone over someone’s home may be considered trespass.
While a drone is a great investment for your home inspection business, it can be costly. Drones are expensive smart gadgets because of all of the technology that allows them to fly for an extended period of time, avoid obstacles and take high-resolution photos and videos.
In addition, major drone companies continuously update their software and hardware to keep up with the consumers’ demands. This means that the drone you buy today could be obsolete in the next couple of years when the new technology becomes available. While a basic drone from a company like DJI typically costs between $1,000-2,000, other, more advanced drones could set you back even further.
Drones can’t be used in extreme weather like rain or snow when adverse weather conditions could inhibit their ability to navigate the area and take footage.
According to Drone Blog, many types of weather conditions can have a negative impact on your drone. Extreme cold or extreme heat, as well as rain, snow, or wind, can impact your drone’s capabilities and potentially damage it. As a home inspector, you should avoid flying your drone in bad weather or extreme temperatures.
For example, if moisture gets inside a drone, it can severely impact its electrical components, and cause a crash. While cold temperatures drastically reduce the lifespan of a battery, which can limit the flying times and the range of your drone.
The term “No Drone Zone” is used by the FAA to help drone pilots to identify areas where they cannot operate a drone or unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The operating restrictions for a No Drone Zone are specific to a particular location.
According to the FAA, no drone zones include restricted airspaces and local restrictions where drone use is restricted by state, territorial and tribal governments.
Additionally, Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) define a certain area of airspace where air travel is limited for a period. The FAA may use the term “No Drone Zone” to identify an area where there is a TFR. Examples include major sporting events, presidential movements, or security-sensitive areas designated by federal agencies, according to the FAA.
What to keep in mind when purchasing drones for home inspection
There are several things to consider before purchasing a UAV to do home inspections. If you aren’t currently using drones in your operation, don’t just run out and buy one without doing some research. Here are some must-dos when introducing drone use as a part of your business:
Take remote pilot training
You don’t just buy a drone and start flying it. You can, but it’s not a good idea. Before you decide to employ drones in your home inspection operation, enroll in a remote pilot training course. Classes in drone operation help you become comfortable with controlling a UAV and also give you a better sense of whether or not adding drone inspections to your list of services is right for you and your business.
Also, keep in mind that if you’re operating a craft for commercial purposes, the FAA requires you to get a remote pilot certificate (RPC) and to recertify every two years.
Familiarize yourself with your equipment
Before jumping straight into drone roofing inspections when you buy your UAV, take the time to get used to operating the device. Drones aren’t cheap, and a drone inspection is a precision task that requires a steady hand and a lot of focus. Bring your craft to an open field and get comfortable controlling it. Try taking aerial photos and challenge yourself to find tighter areas and opportunities for more precise photo shots each time you take your drone out. Once you’re comfortable using the drone — and if you meet all the regulatory requirements — start scheduling your drone inspections.
The bottom line is aerial drones are a game changer for the home inspection industry. They give inspectors access to hard-to-reach spots and photographic capabilities that home inspectors of the past could only dream of. Take the time to look into UAVs for your inspection business. Do the research and determine if having a drone is the missing element your operation has been missing. Chances are it is.
Drones aren’t the only technology that can help your home inspection business. ISN’s home inspection software is the perfect tool to help you support and scale your business in today’s modern industry.