The Role of Drones in Home Inspections: What Inspectors Should Know

October 20, 2020 | 
drones for home inspections

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 waiting to get lost in the trees behind rich kids’ houses. They have great potential and many 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 why 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 your clients. People who hire home inspectors, 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 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 complete 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 how 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 challenging to get as much detail or perspective looking at drone footage rather than getting a “boots-on-the-roof” view. There isn’t a suitable 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 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 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 refer their clients to a third party (like a roofer or another inspector with a drone) to inspect the portion they couldn’t 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.

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 consider these factors for your roof inspection needs:

  • Stability. It would be best to have flight and image stability to get a good look at your subject.
  • GPS. This function makes navigating the drone more manageable and may also come with autonomous flight capability, meaning you can let the drone fly independently. At the same time, you direct more attention towards the live video feed.
  • First-person view (FPV). Look for a drone with an FPV camera and viewing device (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. 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, a 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 using a drone for commercial purposes, you should be aware of the government regulations 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

Check your local laws before operating 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, the FAA requires a part 107 drone license if any compensation is 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 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!

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