Every Houston homeowner will need to have their roof inspected at some point. People ask me all the time, "Who does roof inspections better? A person or a drone?"
Here are 10 benefits of drone roof inspections for homeowners in the Houston area.
3D and Infrared Mapping
Using a drone does not require people to walk on your roof. Unless you know where and how to step on a roof, you can damage it. A certified roof inspector will know how to do this. Not all roofer employees are inspectors. Using drones requires only one person to conduct the inspection. This means no ladders, and no ladders mean no risk of falls. No risk of falls equals less, if any, liability for you, the owner.
Depending on the complexity of the roof and your needs, a drone inspection flight can be done in 30 minutes or less. Keep in mind that there is time needed for pre-flight planning and post-production of the images and the report. An objective, accurate report of up to 30 images can easily take a total of 4-6 hours of work for the inspector. Some flights will take longer depending on the complexity of the images you are looking for, for instance, if you require additional images, 3D imaging, orthomosaic mapping, roof surveys, or thermal imaging.
Drones can get to places humans can’t. Most homes in Houston are 2-3 stories high. Some homes are as high as 5 stories! No roofer is going to inspect that roof, but for a drone, inspecting the roof of a 5-story home is a piece of cake!
Roof designs are getting more and more complex and therefore more difficult for a person to navigate up close. A smaller drone can fly in tight spaces and can easily navigate the most complex roof design. I recently had to do an inspection when to get close to the roof vents I had to fly my drone through a tree!
4. Quality imaging in a portable size
A good quality drone will shoot 4K and RAW images. While a mobile phone could take 4K images, you can’t process the RAW types. This type of image is used in post-processing. A good photographer/inspector will manipulate these as needed to find additional damage(s) on the roof. Additionally, sometimes you will hear people say "the bigger the drone the better the quality pictures." That is not true at all. Just like mobile phones with advanced technology, you can have a 4K camera in a drone that weighs just over half a pound.
What is repeatability, and why is it a benefit of using a drone to inspect your roof? Repeatability is the ability to compare areas of your roof on an ongoing basis. Once we get baseline data, we can compare it to the baseline regularly.
Drones capture many images close together, either manually or through automated flights. These images can be stitched together in post-processing to create an ultra-high-resolution image and can provide additional resolution to be able to find more damage. If an ultra-high image is not on your wishlist, recurring inspections will provide a historical record of how the roof is aging and you can catch the little problems before they become BIG problems. I am sure, that as technology continues to evolve, artificial intelligence (AI) will come into play and drones will become smarter using machine learning (ML) technology and we will be able to do things even faster and create computer models to achieve a prediction on the little problems.
You don’t need to be home. You don't have to miss work. You don't have to wait for hours during that window of time when the inspector might show up. Okay, this is a huge benefit! We all hate to wait, I can’t tell you how happy people are when I tell them they don’t have to be home for Smooth Skies Services to come and inspect their roof. I just need to confirm with you that any gates surrounding the property are unlocked and that there are no Cujo dogs loose on the property.
7. 3D and infrared mapping
If you have the need and the wallet size, you can go all out and request this level of inspection. There are drones with these additional camera features that allow us to generate 3D images and/or thermal images to find problems. Any inspection like this will be north of $1000 for sure. For the average homeowner, specialty inspections like this are not necessary, but hey, if you want it, go for it!
The fewer people involved in your inspection, the lower the cost will be. You'll spend less on the inspector, and less on the insurance since you only need drone liability insurance, plus your inspection time will be shorter. Drone technology for roof inspections is fast, safe, and efficient. Remember, a roofer makes money selling roofs, drone roof inspectors don’t sell roofs, only inspections.
You get what you pay for. Anyone can learn to fly a drone, but you need to be a certified pilot to do it commercially. In addition, a commercial pilot should operate with liability insurance in case of a crash. Any crash that creates $500 or more damage must be reported to the FAA.
As of May 2022, there are only 280,000 certified pilots in the USA. How many of these are certified roof inspectors? Probably not many. There are also too many uncertified drone operators out there. I see posts on job boards all the time. The requirement to be certified is optional or “preferred” but is rarely required. If you get caught hiring an illegal operator, you could be fined and potentially get some jail time. I will write about this one in another post.
A serious certified drone pilot/roof inspector should be willing to share their flight records so you know you're hiring someone with experience. Some pilots go the extra mile to get additional safety training under OSHA or AUVSI. Some pilots post their flight time records via third-party sites like AirData. Drone liability insurance companies like skywatch.ai rank their policyholders for safe flying. The next time you hire a drone pilot, ask for their skywatch.ai level. If they are at any level lower than gold, I'd run in the opposite direction. If they report platinum or higher level, you can be confident they take safety seriously.
Some drone operators claim their inspections are more accurate because they use automated flights. Automated flights are not necessarily a good thing. Here's why.
If the drone pilot is not looking at their drone at all times as per FAA rules, keeping the aircraft under VLOS (visual line of sight), they are breaking the law and operating the drone at a higher risk. Most “inspectors” that fly drones with automation are looking at their tablet/phone screen instead of keeping the aircraft under VLOS. I have seen this happen too many times.
Finally, even being a certified pilot and insured is not enough to get a quality inspection. You also need to check for a roofing inspection certification and make sure the inspector understands photography. Knowing the effects of light and sun position is crucial.
The majority of the population thinks that the best time to take pictures of a roof is at noon. They are SO wrong! You need to understand sun positioning related to the property and the roof type. For example, the average time of day in the Houston area where the sun is at the highest point is not noon, it is closer to 1:30 pm! Owning a drone and taking pictures of a roof with it does not make someone an expert. The drone operator needs to be an expert at drone photography and roof inspections. A drone is simply a tool. The drone operator is the one who will provide you with the best quality service if they understand how to use it.
I highly recommend drone roof inspections for your home in the Houston area.
I'll be happy to answer any questions you have about drone roof inspections and help you create a custom inspection plan.