What is the best drone to use for roof inspections?
For most people, you really don’t need to do anything fancy! I was thinking about the use case for drones in roof inspections when I was at my mom’s house in Missouri over the weekend. (I live in a condo building in San Francisco, so no need for me to do my own roof inspections here!).
The best roof inspection drone for most people
For most roof inspectors, all you want is a relatively small drone that is stable, easy to fly, can get close to the roof, is safe, and offers both a live video feed and generates high qualities images or video that can be saved.
Often, all you need to see is a clip something like this, which I took when my mom asked me to drone-photograph her house for her:
I shot the following clip on the Autel X-Star, which costs less than $1,000.
If you need an enterprise-grade drone for roof inspections
Roof inspections can get fancy. You could add a thermal camera (particularly if you have solar panels on your roof). If you had a huge roof and needed to fly the exact same route every time, you might want to use software such as Skycatch, which could even generate a map for you. DroneDeploy has gone further developing its own software called Roof Report that can collect drone imagery and generate accurate roof measurements and reports in a matter of hours. If that’s you, you’re looking at spending potentially many thousands of dollars.
So what drone should you use for roof inspections?
If you just need to be able to see the roof, then you can easily find a drone that costs less than $800 including camera, and offers at least 20 minutes of flight time. The drones listed below are capable of tasks such as checking checking for leaks and the condition of your shingles and chimney.
(If you need to do more advanced roof inspections that involve things like solar panels or complicated datasets, scroll down for more recommendations.)
If you just need a live video video to see your roof in real-time
DJI Mavic Air (approximately $800): This drone is the best quality for your money. It’s fairly small, so it’s best suited for residential housing. But that said, it’s also highly portable and won’t take a ton of space in your tool back; the arms actually fold up to make the drone the size of a water bottle. Video quality is incredible high, as it shoots 4K 30 fps, recording at 100 Mbps.
- Yuneec Q500 (approximately $400): This drone is light and easy to transport (including a carrying case). It has a 4K camera for high quality video, and is smooth and easy to fly. This drone is awesome because it has a live video feed directly in the RC transmitter, allowing you to see your roof in real-time using nothing more than the drone and controller.
This drone also comes with a sun shield/hood to make it easier to see the screen.
- DJI Phantom 3 Standard (approximately $450): This drone is incredibly wallet friendly. The camera quality here is 2.7K quality, so while it’s not quite as good as 4K (and wouldn’t necessarily be Hollywood-film ready), it’s more than high quality enough to see details in your roof. The video streams through your smartphone or tablet, which you can use to get real-time video.
You might also want to buy DJI’s transmitter hood to better see your screen.
- Autel X-Star (approximately $550): The X-Star looks a lot like an orange DJI Phantom. But, there are actually quite a few differences. For about $700, you’ll get higher quality video (4K) than DJI’s Phantom 3 Standard. It also has a removable gimbal meaning you’ll potentially be able to update the camera or drone in future models from Autel.
All of these drones can hover and maintain their position, so in theory you could get a good look at the roof while also controlling the drone (with a spotter of course). But there may be instances where it is significantly safer and easier to have a dual-controller for your drone. A dual controller allows one person to pilot the drone, while the other person can closely look at the live video feed and control the camera, to actually conduct the inspection.
If you need a drone with a dual controller:
Here are some (slightly more expensive) options if you need a dual controller:
- DJI’s Inspire 1 ($2,299) has a dual controller option — allowing one person to control the drone and another to control just the camera.
- Yuneec’s Typhoon H ($1,299) offers a neat option called Team Mode. With Team Mode, you can bind one Ground Station to Typhoon H and another Ground Station to the CGO3+ camera simultaneously. Capturing truly creative content is vastly more practical with cooperation between pilot and camera operator.
If you need a thermal camera or need to gather high-level data
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom ($1,499): If you need to see a roof and can’t fly close to it, or if you can fly close, but just need extremely granular detail, you’ll want the Mavic 2 Zoom, which is exactly what it sounds like: it has a zoom lens. The Mavic 2 Zoom is powered by a 1/2.3 inch 12-megapixel sensor with up to four-times zoom, including a two-times optical zoom (24mm–48mm).
DJI Matrice with Zenmuse XT2 ($3,000+): If you need a thermal camera, this is likely your best bet. The Zenmuse XT2 is a thermal camera (based on FLIR’s Tau 2 thermal sensor), combined with a 4K visual camera. FLIR thermal sensors reveal details invisible to the naked eye by making subtle differences in temperature visible. That’s particularly useful if you’re inspecting a roof with, say, solar panels, or need to assess a building in the immediate aftermath of a fire.
You can mount the dual camera onto drones from either DJI’s M200 Series, M200 Series V2 or M600 Pro drones. Each drone in that series has slightly different capabilities, but all those drones are highly powerful, letting you fly in rougher conditions including a strong breeze or light rain, allowing you to customize them, and often carrying heavier payloads.