How to use drones for roof inspections

The following guest post was written by Andrew J Kobza, CEO of Professional Drone Solutions, which uses drones for roof inspections. Kobza’s business has grown to have inspected more than 500 roofs over the past three years.

Drones have become a huge asset in the roofing industry. In fact, it is hard to find a roofing company today that hasn’t at least experimented with drones. Using drones for performing roof inspections can save as much as an hour per roof for a single family residence, and roofing companies are increasingly using drones to determine if roofs are in need of replacement.

With so many drones being flown by roofing companies, a drone pilot may ask, “Why should I even try to sell roofing inspections? After all, aren’t the roofers just going to come and take your lunch?” There are still available markets out there, and even if you don’t run or work at a professional roofing company, you can still get in on the roof inspection game as a drone  pilot yourself through different avenues, including:

  • Working directly with the homeowner: Homeowners want their own set of photos to check the work of the roofer and to have on hand if there is a dispute.
  • Working for a general contractor or developer: Contractors that hire roofers desire aerial views to show clients progress and use for warranty disputes and information.
  • Working for an insurance adjuster: Insurance Adjusters need drone data to help them document roofing conditions. 
drones for roof inspections Florida Professional Drone Solutions

With many opportunities clearly ahead, how does a drone pilot go about delivering an excellent product so they can continue to pull in roofing revenue?

There are four key aspects for producing competitive, high-quality data when using drones for roof inspections.

  1. Learn to identify roofing issues.
  2. Stay out of legal trouble: Document the issue, but be careful about stating that it is definitely an issue unless the pilot is qualified to make that assessment.
  3. Don’t miss a spot.
  4. Have the right gear.
drones for roof inspections Florida Professional Drone Solutions

How to use drones to identify roof issues

The pilot should know what they’re actually looking for in their inspections. Think of all the things that could go wrong with the roofing envelope. Here are some of the things you should look for:

  • Rotten, missing, or damaged fascia
  • Curling shingles
  • Cracked or missing shingles
  • Cracked tiles
  • Dents and bowing in the roof
  • Broken or missing gutters
  • Missing or damaged ridge caps
  • Broken or missing vent
  • Damaged flashings
  • Missing shingles
  • Damaged chimney
  • Excessive debris, dirt, or garbage left
  • Grout joints not to spec
  • Improper Lapping of tiles or shingles
  • Improperly detailed hips
  • Wavy valleys
  • Unstraight Ridge Caps 

Not sure what a hip on a roof is? Where is the dog that laps tiles up? Sometimes it can be as easy as researching for yourself on Google. For more detailed information, go to an industry website like FRSA  and do some research. Learn the lingo. Study. Fall in love with the idea of staring at tiles for hours on end.

How to stay out of legal trouble when using drones for roof inspections

While encouraged to learn the lingo, there is one thing a pilot should definitely NOT do: Do not give advice or opinions. Any advice or opinions given to a client that results in litigation can mean getting pulled into court or even getting sued for a number of reasons.

So how should you present the facts without getting into trouble? First, do not speak about anything you aren’t sure of. If a client asks, “how does it look?” and you think it looks fine, then a solid response could be something like, “It doesn’t appear any different from the last few roofs that I have seen, but I am not qualified to give an opinion on the roof. I don’t recall seeing any obvious cracks or suspect areas.”

Note the words there: apparent, recall, obvious, suspect. Words such as those clearly represent you are giving an inconclusive opinion based on little prior knowledge of roofing.

Even experts use words such as apparent, because if the cases end up in court, the defense cannot point to his notes and claim that you came into the case with an agenda. If the mold turns out to be mildew or algae or dirt, your credibility is not called into question. Even if you have seen over 100 million dollars of roofing issues in houses, you still do not definitively give an opinion without facts. 

Saying, “there was a cracked tile on the chimney” versus “there appeared to be a crack on the tile of the chimney” leaves a pilot’s credibility intact when that crack turns out to be a pine needle. A smart pilot will build a relationship with an expert and know when to defer their opinion to that expert.

How to ensure you don’t miss a spot

Use proceduralized checklists just like actual pilots use during manned flights. Some of these checklists are written and some are memorized, similar to the famous GUMPS pre-landing checklist in aviation (gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop, seatbelts).

At Professional Drone Solutions, we shoot a standard “Front, Side, Back, Side, Top down” set every inspection, every time, regardless of what a client tells us and regardless of the scope of the inspection. It ensures that there’s 80-90% of a roof documented immediately, with at least a fair level of resolution. Then follow that list with customized shots depending on the scope of work desired. 

It’s also a good idea to find a workflow that shows the photos in a logical manner. If a client has to spend more time figuring out where a photograph is than it would take to go take photos themselves, they likely won’t be getting many repeat purchases. Try starting further away from a suspect issue and shooting a far, medium, close photo set of it. This will give clients a way to understand what they are looking at. 

The best gear for roof inspections

With the drone manufacturing industry constantly evolving, know your budget before deciding what gear to buy.Most drones these days have an adequate sensor for inspections.

Drones like the Mavic Enterprise 2 Dual offer a relatively affordable way to break into thermal inspections, but beware, there are many complications and factors to consider in order to produce a usable thermal deliverable. 

Here’s a list of specs to look for,  broken down by non-negotiable, nice-to-have, and unnecessary without a large investment in time/money:

Non-Negotiable Specs:

  • 20MP sensor
  • Adjustable EV
  • Low ISO (100 or lower should be available)
  • High Shutter Speed (1/200 or quicker should be available)
  • Flight Time 25+ mins

Nice-to-Have Specs:

  • Built in storage (forgetting an SD card no longer sinks a pilots flight)
  • Large Sensor (1/2in +)
  • Global Shutter
  • Inconspicuous Size, Shape, and Color
  • Hand Launchable (great for construction sites)

Unnecessary Specs:

  • Thermal sensors: Study Thermography and the compolications before purchasing an expensive thermal sensor. 
  • Huge Drones: All big drones do is scare the neighbors and inhibit a pilot’s ability to freely navigate around obstacles.
  • Zoom: A small and stable platform with a 20mp+ sensor will allow a skilled pilot to get all the detail one could need. 

Drones that fit the bill for roof inspections

Mavic 2 Pro:

Pros: 20MP, 1in shutter, built in storage, Small Frame, Stable, and Inconspicuous

Cons: No Global Shutter, Hard to hand launch

Phantom 4 Pro: 

Pros: 20MP, 1in Global shutter, Medium Frame, Hand Launchable, Stable, and Inconspicuous

Con: No built in storage, Larger, and issues with DJIs compass can be frustrating with the P4P

Mavic 2 Air:

Pros: Cheap, Storage built in, Small Frame, Stable, and Inconspicuous

Cons: No 20MP Camera, no 1in shutter, Some may find it looks too much like a toy.

Keep in mind that when you get a call from a client to conduct a drone roof inspection, there are multiple factors to consider to make sure your photos hit the mark. Keep your communication with your client professional and clear and don’t overstate your knowledge on roofing unless qualified to do so.

-By Andrew Kobza.

Andrew Kobza is a FAA-licensed drone pilot and private pilot. He has been flying Cessna 172s for over 10 years and has operated his drone company for over 5 years. Prior to hurricane Irma, Andrew developed a drone program at a construction company in 2014, branching off into Professional Drone Solutions in 2016. Since then his company has logged over 500 hours flying drones with over 500 drone roofing inspection missions being flown.

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