In October 2020, the ASHI Reporter featured the article “Drones: Another Tool in Your Kit” by Rick Bunzel, about the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones. The topic generated a buzz, as many home inspectors have viewpoints about drones and why they do or do not incorporate them into their home inspection toolkit. So, in the interest of collecting and sharing stories from the field, we asked ASHI members to share their perspectives on the use of drones in home inspection and here’s what they said—pros, cons, and relatively neutral.
Inspect-It 1st Property Inspection, East Meadow, NY
Drones simply do not make sense in our business. They have risk for damage and loss. They do not work well in the rain, windy areas or cold (battery issues). I fully understand the benefit of seeing the roof better, especially high roofs that can’t be easily and safely seen from a ladder. I use a camera stick (the Wonderpole) and a Wi-Fi camera. It takes much better pictures than any drone can, it works in all weather conditions, no extra insurance (or license) is needed and the total cost for it was less than $600. It’s a no brainer. Unfortunately, too many inspectors feel that they need to impress their buyers with gadgets to prove their ticket. “Do a thorough job” has been my way to grow…not with toys.
MKC Associates, LLC | Greater Boston area, Eastern and Central MA
MKC Associates, LLC | Greater Boston area, Eastern and Central MA
A well-trained drone operator onsite is a great idea to tap into. We’ve done it with excellent results and it can add very much to the entire process. As drones get both smarter and smaller, we’ll see a huge increase in this type of service.
Unlimited Home Inspection Inc. | Staten Island, NY
Drones are an essential tool in my home inspection business. I wanted to say they are essential in the inspection business, but that is a matter of opinion. First and foremost, they must be used legally and responsibly. That means Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification because it is being operated commercially and FAA permission when flying in controlled airspace. Absent either of those conditions, drones should not be used; they are not toys and there is the potential for significant liability.
When operating the drone for inspections, I typically take approximately 24 photos of the roof. The drone gets pictures that could not possibly be captured otherwise on unwalkable roofs, high chimneys, etc. Photos are high-resolution, and by zooming in, you can see cracks in shingles, granule loss and other defects. All this in 10 minutes or less. It takes me that long just to set up a ladder. Undoubtedly safer and faster, but what am I missing out on? Not much. The only thing missed is the how the roof feels under my feet. But as I have said before, it’s a visual inspection, not a “walk on it and see how it feels” inspection. If a roof deck is so spongey that it feels soft underfoot, there is an excellent chance that I will get clues to that fact while I’m in the attic. Then I’ll confirm with a moisture meter.
The anti-drone rhetoric I typically hear (“If you don’t walk every roof, you’re a [fill in the blank]”) seems to be more from a sense of bravado than from any logical point of view. The main limitation of the drone is weather. Rain, snow or winds of 20 mph keep me grounded. Typically, in those cases, I will fly the drone the day before or the day after the inspection. I get permission from the seller first and when I write my report, I include a note stating that the roof coverings were inspected separately. I have heard stories of neighbors complaining and even calling the police, but that has not been my experience. On the contrary, people are interested in the drone and enjoy watching it fly. I have done several inspections in controlled air space and on each occasion, I requested and received FAA authorization for the operation. After requesting authorization for individual inspections several times, the FAA explained how to request blanket area and area-wide authorization. This gives the operator authorization to operate in controlled airspace for up to two years. Surprisingly, the FAA has been very responsive through their Drone Zone at www.faadronzone.faa.gov.
The last thing I will add about drones is that people love them—Real estate agents, kids, clients, sellers and buyers. It adds to the credibility of the home inspector as a licensed professional who is taking things seriously and it will likely bring you more business.
Nora James Inspection, St. Louis, MO | firstname.lastname@example.org
I am carpenter by trade, and I prefer walking a roof if possible (weather permitting), as I feel I can see imperfections and feel them by walking it better than using a drone. The drone does have a place in this business, but currently I prefer to walk the roofs.
Rick and Lisa DeBolt
I have looked into drones as a business addition; however, I just do not see any revenue boost or enhanced inspection advantages of having to purchase a drone. It’s another tool to drag along in your inspection vehicle that will take training and practice. Wind is your enemy and always unpredictable. Government involvement and new liability issues will need to be addressed or covered by additional insurance. Someone will have to convince me it is a revenue-producing tool. Nice toy!
Now, the one positive is that you can take great aerial views of the home and property and that enhances a nice-looking report, but who pays for that time and how much? I might be wrong, but my tool bag is already full of “verification tools” that are not used daily. I have a ferret camera and a 30-foot pole that I can use for hard-to-reach roofs or roofs that are too steep to walk on. Plus, the fact is, the entire kit was less than 200 bucks. Training was less than a couple of hours. That’s my two cents.
Imani R. Fowler
Inspections Group Midwest, Inc. | Cincinnati, OH | email@example.com
A drone can be a helpful tool; however, this specialized equipment requires skilled operation to be a true asset to the inspection. You get what you pay for, just like other assessments (sewer, infrared, etc.). You must have good equipment and experience—that is not to be taken lightly.
The Properly Inspected Team, Tampa Bay area, FL
I don’t like not getting on a roof to inspect it. However, just yesterday, the seller demanded that I do not walk on his metal roof. He was at the home during the inspection, keeping a close eye on me. So, I was thankful that I had my drone in my truck. The buyers were pulling up as I was flying the drone and were very intrigued. I let them know that the seller said not to walk the roof. The drone came through in a pinch.
Reveal360 Inspection Services LLC, Northern CO
I am a certified drone pilot and view the use of a drone as a highly technical tool. I find using a drone increases the perceived quality of my inspection service. I personally would hate to tell a client that I do not have roof condition information because I couldn’t walk on a roof. My drone camera sees everything I need just as if I were walking on the roof. What I can verify with a drone: roof condition, presence or absence of flashing details, condition of roof penetrations, presence or absence of adequate attic or roof ventilation, and an overall scenic view of the new neighborhood. When I use the drone, the report cover photos are spectacular! Thank you for this opportunity to share
Capital Property Inspection Service, LLC | Fairfield Bay, Arkansas
Here’s why Capital Property Inspection Service, LLC uses DJI Mavic Air Drones for all roof inspections:
- Roof slopes greater than 5V:12H are not a limiting factor to roof inspections.
- Moisture on a metal roof is not a limiting factor to roof inspections.
- Preserve the integrity of a roof covering that is fragile due to being well into its normal service life.
- Some roofing materials such as clay tile cannot be walked on without damage to the tile.
- Some roofing materials are simply secured to nailer strips and not a solid plywood deck.
- The 12-ft. maximum roof height in the ASHI Standard of Practice is not a limiting factor regarding drone use.
- Drone photos provide a permanent record of the roof inspection that cannot be provided by inspection with binoculars.
- Retained drone photos provide clients with documentation regarding roof condition at the time the house was purchased in the case of insurance claims disputes regarding previous damage.
Note: Use of a drone to conduct roof inspections as part of the home inspection constitutes a commercial use of the drone and requires an FAA Part 107 UAS Commercial Pilots License.
Roger S. Herdt
Herdt Home Inspections, Florence, South Carolina
Based on shared experiences, I feel that drones are an invasive and dangerous addition to our profession.
An inspector in our area was using a drone (he is no longer in business), lost control and the drone impacted an S series Mercedes, causing damage to paint. His insurance provider refused coverage because he was in a flight path for a regional airport and they claimed it was an illegal operation. He had to pay for a full repainting of the car (Mercedes will not do “touch-ups”) and more than $20,000 in legal fees.
A local “videographer” using a drone to do a real estate online presentation happened to catch a woman in an undressed state in a nearby house and is still trying to resolve those legal issues, including criminal charges.
I will not be using a drone and would caution anyone who does to be fully certified, carefully follow all restrictive regulations and pray a lot. New technologies are not always an unqualified improvement.
Building Inspections LLC | Kentucky and Ohio
I have included a drone in our practice for several years now. We have seven drones in our fleet and employ a full-time FAA part 107 drone pilot. We have done approximately 900 roof flights for inspections. We have developed a standard protocol for flights and our pilot has become experienced to know what kinds of pictures we need. I decided to transition to drones for roof inspections after several of our inspectors in the area were injured by roof falls.
The ASHI Standard of Practice only requires that we inspect the roof and disclose to the client how this was done. We are not required to do a full roof assessment, only an inspection of the visual issues of the roof. This does not include releasing shingles to determine how they are fastened, etc. We are not required to mount the roof. The dangers of mounting a roof basically occur when mounting and dismounting a roof. Also, roof pitch can be deceiving and, once on the roof, due to surface conditions, the roof can be slick and dangerous. Without fall protection, this is a dangerous proposition.
I have heard many arguments that you cannot do a thorough inspection of a roof without walking on the roof. I would argue, with experience, that I can actually do a better and more thorough inspection using a drone than walking on the roof. Yes, I do not lift shingle tabs and I do not feel the roof sheathing. However, I do inspect the sheathing from below in the attic and sometimes from the gutter edge. For example, if shingles are fastened down, this can manifest in other ways, for example, creasing. I am still able to see crazing, cracking, pitting, loss of granules, etc.
When walking on a roof, I would argue, unless this is a lower-pitch roof (that is, 6/12 in. and less), you will not be able to safely walk every surface of that roof. When I walked on the roof in the past, I only did a visual from a distance on many areas of the roof, not walking up and down the complete roof surface. With a drone, I see all the surfaces. I am also able to thoroughly inspect roofs that you cannot walk (e.g., slate, mission tile, wood shakes). I do not have to disclaim this as “limited visual inspection using binoculars” or words to that effect and I have seen major defect issues that would have been missed.
Also, the issue with doing a visual inspection using your eyes is the issue of reflectivity. Shingles, by design, are reflective surfaces. That means that, at an angle of about 30 degrees, which is the approximate angle at which you observe much of the roof, this is the maximum reflectivity for a surface. Also, looking directly down on a roof, in any kind of sunlight, creates an element of reflectivity, obscuring your view. At 90 degrees, that is the least amount of reflectivity effect you will have and a drone can see all of the surfaces of a roof at a 90-degree angle. The digital camera also sees in near infrared, giving you an additional light spectrum that your eyes will not see. When the digital camera converts to a digital picture, we will see defects your eye did not notice. As a Level II thermographer, I learned the science of light and this has been invaluable in understanding this concept.
We have gone to great lengths to determine the best optics and drone equipment to maximize the effectiveness of the drone. We use the DJI Mavic Air 2 as our main workhorse, which gives us a 48 megapixel camera. It’s stunning the detail I get using this camera. I can zoom in on the surface with great clarity and see much of what I need to see in order to do a good inspection. What I gain in being able to see the whole roof far outweighs anything lost by not walking on the roof. Also, there is no danger to people. Once I see a defect, in essence, I am done and recommend a qualified roofer. I also can inspect roofs after snow and during ice conditions.
Finally, having been a HAAG-certified residential and commercial roof inspector, I know what you need to see in order to properly inspect a roof surface and the drone never disappoints. The last pictures we take are a high-up view, about 100 feet, and the front beauty shot. The high-up pictures have enabled me to see overall defects in the roof that walking on the roof would not allow me to see (e.g., racking, venting patterns). I have made many defect calls just from that one shot.
My son and I started a company last year, The Drone Hangar, and dedicated that to helping home inspectors, by consulting on what is the best equipment and optics, as well as the best financing and insurance options. In addition, we offer the FAA part 107 training course to get you legal, and we will consult before you buy. We presented at InspectionWorld® in New Orleans in January 2020, and helped many inspectors transition into this safe and effective way to inspect roofs. Our biggest advocates at the conference were inspectors’ spouses because of their concerns for the safety of inspectors we are not paid enough to risk life and limb just to inspect a roof; however, we are required to inspect the roof. It can be done safely and very effectively.
A final note: I have also used a drone to inspect the exterior of large homes to get up close and personal to the exterior elements of the home. I can see things you cannot, just by being close. I also used the drone once on the interior of a large 12,000 sq ft home with three-story ceilings. It worked.
Home Inspections By Kopp, Plainfield, IL
The following are my reasons for not using a drone on a home inspection:
- Liability—personal injury or property damage
- Expense—purchase, the maintenance of the equipment and the training
- Invasion of privacy
- Legal aspects—obtaining a license, FAA Certification
Ed Lampl Home Inspection, Pittsburgh, PA
Using a drone is a lot better than using binoculars—there is nothing like walking on a roof. I have used a drone for many years—before drones were popular. It takes many years walking on a roof, touching the shingles before you will develop the visual ability to recognize most common issues when using a drone.
A few examples:
- shingles no longer bonding
- small nail pops
- ventilation issues
- deteriorated plumbing stack boots
- ice or water guard improperly installed or not installed
- flashing issues—no flashing or flashing pulling away from the building
- chimney crown issues
I have found drones most useful to view roofing systems with materials you cannot walk on (slate, terra cotta, etc.) and extremely dangerous steep roofs.
It’s important to follow local and federal laws. The FAA requires you to be a remote pilot. I have been stopped by the police, I have had neighbors call the police and I have had to produce my license multiple times. My recommendation is if the inspector decides to use a drone, be law-compliant. If you do not have a remote pilot license and make a mistake, such as missing something on preflight inspection as an example (battery not fully clipped in, damage propeller etc.), your insurance may not cover you.
Another Level Inspection LLC, Gloucester, MA
I think to understand my perspective on this issue, you need to know more about my experience with drones. I invested in a drone as a home inspector years ago and have a lot of experience with them. I have passed the part 107 exam and have a license with the FAA. I have also had it long enough to go through the recertification process. I am connected in the drone community, have flown numerous drones of different levels and have done work as a drone pilot outside of home inspections. I was even asked to do a test prep course for people looking to be drone pilots at a local college.
With all my experience with drones, I know that a ton of factors come into play: wind, weather, technical problems, safety concerns, charging batteries, getting airport clearances and a million other things. I have made it past all of these problems and really feel well-equipped to do them all. At this point, I use and will continue to use drones because I am fully invested.
I can honestly say that I would not recommend to my peers getting into adding drones to their businesses. There are a couple of primary reasons for this, but ultimately the bad outweighs the good in my mind. First thing is, things will go wrong. It may be your first flight or your 100th, but you are going to experience problems, some of them serious concerns. Second, you will be very distracted by them. Between worrying about what could go wrong or the focus it takes to utilize it and think of all of the safety concerns, it’s very consuming. Once you have a problem, you think of that issue every time you take off and it adds up. Last, there will be times you will disappoint. Sure, everyone is amazed when you use the drone, but there are times it’s not safe to use and once everyone has an expectation, it can have a reverse effect.
Let me be clear: You will gain information from the drone and find problems you couldn’t otherwise, but it will seldom be the case, especially if you walk roofs. People also think they will be hard to learn, but most high-end drones are simple to use out of the box and learning will take very little time. Learning how to properly follow the rules and get flight authority will take much more time to figure out. People are really dazzled by it and drones are so affordable even for high quality.
My advice ultimately is to not get into it. It’s a ton of time, lots of learning and, in the end, you will be apprehensive to use it. There are so many things we could do to find more as home inspectors, I don’t think this is a good thing to focus on learning. If you have a particularly impressive property to inspect, consider subcontracting a licensed drone operator—many do inspection work all the time on their own—and you could have them on site to direct their focus.
Martindale Home Inspections LLC, Harrison, AR
I do use a drone from time to time. I use one on multi-story homes that would be impossible otherwise. I also use a Wi-Fi camera on a telepole for other hard to-reach areas. Make sure your drone is registered with the FAA.
RPM Home Inspect, LLC, Fairfax VA
I have a drone and use it when I need to. The problem in northern Virginia is that you are so restricted where you can fly, it is not worth buying one. If the FAA would restrict the flying height to 100 feet, then we could fly it everywhere
Wise Choice Inspections, Byron, IL
Wise Choice Inspections, Byron, IL
I have a drone, but I’m not a good enough pilot to use it regularly. I will only use it on commercial inspections or three-story or higher buildings. I do have a 24-foot telescopic painter’s pole that I modified to use with a monopole that attaches to my Wi-Fi camera. I can adjust it to several angles to look down flues.
Trace Inspections, LLC, Nashville, Tennessee
We started using a drone about four months ago. Prior to the drone, I had already decided to limit roof access to low-slope or flat roofs. I used an EyeStick pole and camera that worked well, but it was not always the easiest thing to maneuver around a home. I also used binoculars and my ladder at the eaves. Most of the roofs in our area are over a 6/12 pitch, so they are fairly steep, which also can make it easier to see everything from the ground. I had the chance to buy a drone at a good price to see if I would even like it. I also took the FAA part 107 exam and passed, so now I could fly a drone for the business. It is not a difficult exam; some online studying worked for me.
The first few times with the drone were nerve-wracking, but then, on about the third or fourth flight, I started to figure it out. Now, it is easy, as long as the weather cooperates. I have a small Mavic Mini that weighs in at a hefty 249 grams. That is a little under 9 ounces or about the size of a medium- to large-sized apple. While small, it does an amazing job and takes 12 mgp photos and 1080 p video, but it struggles a little in strong winds. But for less than $500, you can get a great little drone that works just right for what we do as home inspectors. The larger drones do better in stronger winds, but also tend to have shorter battery life. Our Mavic Mini has about a 30-minute flight time with each battery. We have three batteries, so that is more than enough time. One battery change can usually get us through two or three homes. It takes about three to five minutes to set up the drone and then about five minutes to look at the roof on a typical home. Much quicker than setting up a ladder and walking a roof.
I feel that drones will continue to serve a growing need and purpose in our profession—not only do they make our job a little easier, they make it safer by reducing the risk we take when we get on a roof. For as long as I can recall, every year it seems that we have a couple home inspectors who have accidents with ladders and roofs; some are severely injured and some do not make it back home. Hopefully, the use of drones will help change this in our profession.
Informed Inspection, Inc. | Trenton (near Gainesville), Florida
Recently, I did a ride-along in Jacksonville, FL, with the director of training from a firm with eight inspectors. Watching him do an effective roof inspection on a two-story home convinced me I can improve my service to my customers by incorporating a drone into my process. All eight inspectors are licenced drone pilots. The drone was a Mavic Pro and the pictures were outstanding. No more high roofs for me, too old to risk working high up. I’m now training to use my new Mavic Pro.
Jason A. Sobol
Pheasant Hill Home Inspections, Inc. | Framingham, Massachusetts
Favor them or not, drones are the best new tool to hit our business in a long time. Drones are here and here to stay. But I would guess that fewer than 25% of home inspectors nationwide have and use a drone as one more tool in their tool bag. Those of us currently using drones know that drones not only add value to our business, but help distinguish us from our competition. Real estate agents and clients feel the “coolness” when the drone comes out and see it as a nice surprise addition to the inspection. That sizzle will not last as drones start literally popping up everywhere and become more widespread in our industry. The “safety and liability” argument against the use of drones fails poorly when compared to the safety and liability of walking a roof. Can an inspector inspect 95% of roofs from the ground, on a ladder and from upper floors? Sure. Then keep the drone in the trunk. But how about inspecting the chimney crown? Not so easy. Then take it out of the trunk. You can go from making the call during an inspection to having it in the air in four to six minutes.
Those who might argue that the use of a drone exceeds the ASHI Standard of Practice also probably have no use for an infrared camera. It’s totally your call and your business.
Get out in front of the curve. The investment (both in getting up to speed as a pilot in command and FAA part 107 certified) is really quite reasonable. The investment in a decent aircraft can start at much less than $1,000. Drone liability will add a little to your annual premium.
Did I mention they’re also fun? As with anything, if you don’t know how to use it comfortably and safely, don’t mess with it. And don’t try it with an $89 model. On the other hand, please disregard everything you just read. I don’t recommend anyone else becoming a drone pilot—it keeps the rest of us as the trendsetters. Just my two cents.
WIN Home Inspection, Elizabethtown, Lancaster, PA
I have been using a drone in my inspections since around 2015. When FAA regulations related to licensing came about, I registered my drone and took the exam to get my FAA part 107 license. I follow FAA regulations, including getting clearance (approval) using LAANC, before flying in controlled airspace. Approaching 50 years old and inspecting homes for nearly 20 years, it’s not as easy for me to climb a ladder two stories now. Having a drone for roof inspections helps keep me safe and my feet on the ground, yet it allows me to see and inspect the roof. The drone also gets me closer to areas of the home that are well above grade that I couldn’t easily see from the ground, a lower roof or even windows such as upper siding and trim. I agree that walking a roof is sometimes the best way to inspect it, but in many cases (e.g., three-story roofs, flat roofs, steep roofs of any height, wet or dew-covered roofs), trying to walk a roof is not always safe. I feel a drone gets me to where I need to take photos or videos to document a roof’s condition.
Maui360 Inspections LLC, Kihei, HI
I think drone usage is very helpful for safety. I wish we could all use them without a commercial license. Those who are using without a license have an unfair advantage on those who have not been able to acquire one. Many inspectors are misinformed about the license needed for all drones, regardless of size, for a professional inspection where you get paid for your services.
Integra Inspection Services, LLC | Madison, AL
I do favor having a drone in my toolkit. One of Integra’s taglines is “Every Roof, Every Time,” crafted to set myself apart from local inspectors who view roofs from the ground only.
My first preference is to walk the roof. But sometimes it’s just plain unsafe or would require dealing with my heavy extension ladders. I usually can tell from pictures of the home whether I’ll be able to safely access the roof or not. If not, I bring the drone. Surprisingly, the drone winds up getting used just three or four times a year.
The drone usage is costly. It takes time to prepare it, unpack and pack it up, and review the footage. Just flying it brings additional stress from fear of getting it caught in a tree, damaging property or ticking off a nosy neighbor. Because of this additional overhead, I often wind up pushing myself to walk roofs that I have no business climbing safely. I am convinced I really should be using the drone more.
Even with an optical zoom and 4K resolution, the drone is just not the same as being on the roof. Often, I can’t see small defects such as exposed nail heads or small flashing problems until I review the footage at home with a big monitor. Even then, it’s easy to miss things. However, the drone has permitted me to find gross defects such as missing shingles in places that would be impossible to see from the ground.
So, yes, I’m glad to have this ability, even if as a last resort.
Truss Home Inspection Services LLC | Fredericksburg, VA
I have been using a drone since June and it has saved me more times than I would like to admit. Now, I don’t just fly a drone for every home, I fly a drone on roofs I could otherwise not walk. I always will walk portions of the roof that I can and fly the portions that I cannot. With the drone, you must go in all attics and walk all portions of the roof that you can.
Home Raters Inc. | Highland Park, IL
I read the article about drones in the October 2020 issue of the ASHI Reporter. I want to agree that drones are super sexy. On the other hand, I have been playing (and "playing" is indeed the correct word) with drones for about 10 years.
The first thing I discovered is that, at the time, they were expensive. I wasted (and again, "wasted" is the correct word) about $4,000. This included all the equipment, cases, batteries, chargers, parts, etc. I discovered that the equipment was unreliable. I spent more money on repairs and time chasing down fallen equipment and finding service.
Then I discovered that you could not use the equipment in high winds, rainstorms, etc. Over 95% of the houses that I viewed did not even require the use of drones.
There were places such as a two-story flat roof, without a roof scuttle, which would seem to invite the use of a drone. The problem is that there is no substitute for “boots on the ground” (or "on a roof," in this case). A drone cannot tell you that there are soft spots on the roof deck or vapor blisters in the membrane. It cannot get you the information you need on the A/C if there is a compressor on the roof
By the way, in the two-story without a roof hatch, I simply call it a design defect, suggest adding a Bilco hatch or an exterior built-in ladder and let the purchaser know that I gave it the good old college try.
Again, I think that the concept of a drone is great. Unfortunately, the practical aspect of a drone is almost nil.