You’ve seen them: tiny, whirring robots flying high above your head — which, if not for the teenager standing several yards away holding a remote control and looking like he’s having the time of his life, might make you wonder if you’d stumbled into a spy movie.
Drones (also known as UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles) are wildly popular, but they’re more than just an expensive toy just waiting to get lost in the trees behind rich kids’ houses. They have great potential and a myriad of uses in the professional world — especially in industries like home inspection, where versatility, agility, and different vantage points are highly valued.
As a home inspector, you can benefit from using drones as part of your inspection process.
In this post, we’ll cover the reasons drones are becoming more popular in home inspections, how drones can help your inspection business, what to look for in a UAV, and the laws and regulations concerning drone use in the United States.
Why drones are becoming popular for home inspections
Many industries are embracing the use of drones, from insurance companies investigating sites of insurance claims, to property appraisers doing an aerial survey to assess a piece of real estate’s value.
For home inspectors, using a drone to inspect a building’s roof quickly and safely adds a great deal of value to you and to your clients. People who hire home inspectors — be they building owners ordering a pre-listing inspection or potential buyers getting ready to close on a new home — can benefit from drone services.
A building’s roof is often too inaccessible (due to its height, slope, or condition) for an inspector to get a complete look. Before drones were an option, inspectors who ran into inaccessible roofs simply had to apologize and suggest the client hire a roofing company if they wanted more information on the roof’s condition.
Now, homeowners and home buyers alike have the option to choose an inspector who is also a drone pilot, which helps ensure that the customer is getting as full a picture of the condition of the property as possible.
How drones can improve your home inspection business
As a home inspector, there are many reasons to consider investing in a drone as part of your services. A drone roof inspection can be done much faster — and there’s no danger to the roof or the people performing the inspection.
Let’s look at a few ways offering drone services can help you succeed as a home inspector.
1. Safety benefits of using drones for home inspections
Using a drone to inspect high-risk areas like roofs can make your job safer. Instead of needing to climb up to inspect dangerous places, you can navigate the drone from a secure vantage point on the ground.
Of course, it can be difficult to get as much detail or perspective looking at drone footage rather than getting a “boots-on-the-roof” perspective. There isn’t a good replacement for using your other senses, like touch, after all. For that reason, many home inspectors choose to use their drones as a backup method only when they feel climbing on the roof would be unsafe or impossible.
But even if you plan to see the roof up-close with your own eyes, using the drone to get an advanced look can help you avoid any obviously weak or sagging spots. You can review the drone footage to give yourself an idea of where to walk and where to avoid placing your weight.
2. Operating at a higher efficiency can help you get more done in a day
What might have taken you hours to inspect in person could take minutes, since you’re saving the time of climbing onto the roof or dangerous site and moving around at your pace. UAVs are small, quick, and agile, meaning you can maneuver them into position and across a roof in 5 to 20 minutes.
3. You’ll be able to cover all your bases
Sometimes it’s hard to reach a roof that’s multiple stories up, especially if you don’t carry an extension ladder. Or perhaps the construction style in your area trends towards tall roofs with steep angles.
Many inspectors simply refer their clients to a third party (like a roofer or another inspector with a drone) to inspect the portion they weren’t able to access, but why lose out on that business when you can just do it yourself with a drone?
Rather than telling the client you can’t inspect that portion of the building and risk missing defects that they’ll later hold you liable for, you can rest assured that you have the equipment to inspect every surface possible.
4. Drone photographs add quality to your inspection reports
Clients love seeing full shots of the property on the front page of the report. You can easily use the images captured by your drone to spruce up your inspection report, and many inspectors also offer the raw footage to clients who would like a copy.
5. You can market those services
Offering drone services is a great way to set yourself apart and improve your company’s reputation. Prospective clients appreciate inspectors who put in the effort to learn and implement the latest technological resources at their disposal.
What kinds of drones are best for roof inspections?
There are many kinds of drones, but they’re not all suited for home inspection services.
According to Drone Enthusiast, the DJI Inspire 2, Autel X Star, and DJI Phantom 4 are the three top roof inspection drones of 2020. They each have a 4K camera and a range between two and seven kilometers, which is plenty of distance for the average property inspection.
The well-known drone manufacturer DJI tends to have some of the most popular and highest quality drones on the market. If you’re looking for a smaller, lighter drone, many inspectors use the DJI Mavic Mini.
No matter which brand or design you choose, make sure to take these factors into consideration for your roof inspection needs:
- Stability. You need both flight and image stability to get a good look at your subject.
- GPS. This function makes navigating the drone easier and may also come with autonomous flight capability, meaning you can let the drone fly around on its own while you direct more attention towards the live video feed.
- First person view (FPV). Look for a drone that comes with an FPV camera and viewing device (be it a monitor or a headset). This feature gives you more control and perspective during your inspection.
- Quality camera. Of course, what constitutes “quality” is a bit subjective, but it’s common to choose a drone with the ability to record in 4K on an HD live feed. And check to see if the camera comes mounted on a stabilizing table or gimbal to give you added stability.
- Flight range and duration. Depending on the size of the properties you inspect, you may need a drone that can fly for a long time without needing its batteries to be recharged. For average inspections, flight duration of at least 20 minutes and at least one kilometer is a good benchmark.
Laws and regulations surrounding the use of drones for home inspections
When you’re using a drone for commercial purposes, you should be aware of the government regulations in place that might affect your business.
The small unmanned aircraft rule put out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the controlling document for commercial drone usage. Here are a few of the main points to be aware of:
- UAVs must weigh less than 55 pounds
- The drone needs to be in visual line of sight (VLOS) at all times
- Drones cannot fly over people, inside covered buildings or vehicles, or over stadiums and sports events
- No commercial drone operations after dark
- Drones can’t fly faster than 100 miles per hour groundspeed or higher than 400 feet above ground level
- UAVs must give right of way to (and generally avoid sharing airspace with) other aircraft
Be sure to check your local laws before choosing to operate a drone as part of your commercial process. It’s a good idea to take a certification course and register as a pilot to ensure your knowledge of drone usage and the laws governing them is up to date. Depending on your location, a Remote Pilot in Command (RPC) certification may be legally required to operate your drone as part of your business. Also, be aware that the FAA requires a part 107 drone license if there is any kind of compensation received for the drone images.
Drones: The future of home inspections
Drones are far more than toys for teenagers or weekend hobbyists. These tiny, agile, flying robots can help make many industries safer and more efficient — and home inspections are no exception.
Homeowners and prospective home buyers can benefit from drone usage because it helps ensure thorough inspections of hard-to-reach areas. Home inspectors benefit from implementing UAVs in their process because they can make your job safer, faster, and more marketable.
Plus, you’ll be one step closer to living out your spy movie fantasy. It’s a win-win!