How to Use Drones for Roof Inspections

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Drone technology has continued to evolve at a rapid pace in the last couple of years. Many industries have started to recognize these developments, resulting in drone manufacturers and software developers coming up with more and more ways that drones can be used in profitable commercial and industrial applications. One commercial field where drones have become increasingly useful is in roof inspection.

By leveraging on the strengths of drone technology, roof inspections jobs can be done in a safer and more efficient manner. If this is an industry you’re interested in, then read on as we take a detailed look at the benefits of using drones for roof inspection, and the best drones and software available for the job.

What is a roof inspection for?

Roof inspections are commonly requested by real estate agents and home buyers. The condition of a roof of a house plays a huge part in determining its commercial value. Based on sophisticated methods employed by roof inspectors, they can estimate how long a roof will last before it will need to be repaired. A detailed roof inspection also reveals any damage that needs to be addressed by the seller or the potential new home owner.

Roof repair companies can also offer roof inspection with their services, which allows them to show clients just how much work needs to be done on their roof. A detailed roof inspection report can help roof repair services come up with more accurate cost estimates that clients can agree with before they engage with the company.

Roof inspection services are also frequently requested by insurance adjusters when homeowners make insurance claims. A typical home insurance provides coverage for roofing damage, whether due to natural wear-and-tear or due to exceptional events such as typhoons or tornadoes. A detailed roof inspection can assist an insurance adjuster with assessing just how much the insurance company is liable to cover for repair of the roofing damage.

A fairly new application of roof inspection is to help with solar panel installation. Companies that provide solar panel installation services need to have a detailed roof inspection report as a preparation for the actual installation process. A roof inspection report also allows solar panel companies to walk clients through the options and to provide accurate cost estimates for the service.

Roofing inspection isn’t limited to service providers or companies – homeowners can also benefit from conducting regular roof inspection of their own property. Doing roof inspection annually or in the aftermath of a typhoon allows homeowners to identify damage and potential problems early and immediately step in with repairs. A quick roof inspection can even help homeowners detect moss growth and eliminate this growth before it becomes even more of a problem. Including roof inspection in the list of preventive maintenance activities gives homeowners the opportunity to do pre-emptive roof repair, ultimately resulting in cost savings by avoiding costly repairs of heavy roof damage.

Why use a drone for roof inspection?

The primary value of using drones for roof inspection is safety. By using drones, roof inspectors do not have to resort to the traditional “boots on the roof” method of having to physically climb up the roof and walk around it while making measurements. Recent surveys have shown that a huge majority of deaths and injuries suffered in the roof inspection and repair industry is due to falls. By using drones, this hazard can be virtually reduced to zero.

For professional roof inspectors and insurance adjusters who have to do multiple roof inspection jobs one after another, using drone technology also has the advantage of being much faster compared to traditional methods. Many companies offering drone-based roof inspection have claimed that it is up to 3 times faster than doing inspection manually, allowing them to finish more jobs in a day and to commit shorter turnover times to clients.

Most drone-based roof inspection software also offer an automated, cloud-based, and fully streamlined workflow that aids in both data collection and processing. After setting up the equipment for drone inspection, a full roof inspection job typically only takes 10 to 15 minutes for any average-sized property. The captured images can be automatically synced to cloud storage, and the roof inspector can access these images remotely for post-processing.

Most software offer line, area, and volume measurement capabilities, while also allowing the roof inspector to zoom and pan around the reproduced model. A 3D model provides a much higher level of detail than a series of photos can capture, giving roof inspectors the opportunity to walk clients through the damaged areas and to give them a better picture of what the repair job will entail. The full 3D model also ensures that you do not miss out on any detail, and that you will never have to do a repeat inspection job.

The fully automated nature of a drone-based roof inspection jobs also avoids many of the problems that can be encountered by traditional methods. Twisted tape measures, inaccessible areas, human errors – these are just some of the issues that are commonly encountered by roof inspectors in the past. With a drone-based process, roof inspectors can be confident that all measurements are made based on accurate models and that these measurements can be repeated if needed.

There is significantly less equipment needed to conduct a drone-based roofing inspection compared to the traditional methods, making it easier and faster for inspectors to mobilize when doing jobs. A single drone will serve to replace the ladders, cameras, and various tape measures that roof inspectors had to lug along in the past. Compared to needing a van to fit all the inspection equipment, roof inspectors can now have everything they need in a single backpack or carrying case.

Homeowners will probably also prefer to have their roof inspected using a drone, as it reduces the possibility of secondary damage due to having people walk around their roof. Whether a client has a simple roof with tiles or a fancy roof with ceramic shingles, they will appreciate the no-contact nature of a drone-based roof inspection approach.

What is the output of a drone-based roof inspection job?

Another huge benefit of doing drone-based roof inspection is the wealth of data that it can provide. More than just the measurements on length, area, and slopes that can be captured by traditional methods, drone-based roof inspection generates cloud point data that can be used to reproduce a high-resolution 3D model of the roof being surveyed. This model is fully navigable, allowing service providers and clients alike to inspect damaged areas and other minute details. This cloud point data can be exported in a variety of formats so that survey providers can easily integrate it into established industry software such as AutoCAD or Google Earth.

Most processing software has the added benefit of providing cloud-based hosting for all roof inspection data and models, allowing for easy sharing between clients and service providers. This promotes a high level of transparency and collaboration, which most clients will highly appreciate.

Aside from superior data quality and availability, the 3D models reproduced using drone-based roof inspection also make excellent marketing materials. Whether you’re a real estate agent selling a property, or a roof inspector marketing your services, the generated 3D models can be very visually striking additions to your portfolio.

Roof inspection can also be done to assess the quality of insulation of a house. This is a more advanced application that will need a drone equipped with an infrared camera. Drone-based thermal imaging can identify “hot spots” in the roofing of a house, which are probably areas with poor insulation. This is a very valuable service as heat loss due to poor insulation can be a huge waste of money spent on space heating.

Selecting a drone for roof inspection

A drone-based roof inspection is basically a drone survey conducted in a very small area. This means that any drone capable of executing a pre-programmed drone survey can be used for roof inspection. When selecting a drone for roof inspection, it is important to look for the following characteristics:

1. Long battery life

Most roof inspection jobs don’t take very long as there is a very small area to cover. Still, you would not want to use a drone that will require you to switch out batteries in the middle of the inspection. Getting a drone with a battery life of at least 20 minutes eliminates the time needed for battery replacement and saves on the cost of buying extra batteries.

2. Stability

Although your drone won’t be airborne for very long, you still need to prepare for adverse weather conditions such as strong winds or light rain. Having a drone that can withstand weather conditions and still fly with good stability allows you to conduct roof inspection even in unfavorable conditions and improves the quality of aerial images you can capture.

3. GPS guidance

A drone equipped with GPS positioning allows for semi-automated flight according to a pre-determined flight path. This capability greatly simplifies the roof inspection process, as you merely need to define the area to be surveyed and allow the drone to fly autonomously.  A fully automated flight plan also results in more consistent data and improved repeatability.

4. High-resolution camera

The visual quality of the reproduced model from a drone survey is only as good as the camera used to capture aerial images. For this reason, it is best to use a drone that can capture high-quality at a resolution of at least 20 MP. These drones also commonly offer the capability to stream real-time HD video, which could help you monitor the drone’s performance as it performs its automated fly-by.

What are the best drones for roof inspection?

There is no shortage of high-quality drones that can be used with dedicated roof inspection software, but we have compiled below the best options available today.

1. DJI Phantom 4 Pro

For years, the Phantom 4 Pro has remained the workhorse of the DJI drone line. It is one of the most versatile drones and has been used across a variety of different commercial drone applications. With a battery that can last up to 30 minutes of flight, the Phantom 4 Pro should be able to finish most roof inspection jobs with just a single battery cycle. A 3-axis gimbal keeps the 20MP camera of the Phantom 4 Pro stable even in the roughest conditions. The flight stability of the Phantom 4 Pro also ranks as one of the best among the DJI drones. Despite its professional tag, learning to fly the Phantom 4 Pro is remarkably easy even for beginners.

2. DJI Mavic 2 Pro

The Mavic 2 Pro is one of the newest additions to DJI’s Mavic line of ultra-portable drones. Its foldable design makes it very easy to carry the Mavic 2 Pro around, which is a feature you will be thankful for should you find yourself having to move around to complete multiple roof inspection jobs. The Mavic 2 Pro holds the distinct characteristics of having 1-inch CMOS sensor with enhanced color accuracy and a 20 MP resolution for still photos. In terms of camera quality, you probably cannot find an ultra-portable model that can rival the Mavic 2 Pro. This drone can fly for up to 31 minutes on a single battery cycle, so you should not have problems with having to replace batteries in the middle of a roof inspection job.

3. Parrot Anafi

Not one to be outdone, Parrot has also come out with their own portable, professional-drone in the Anafi. It features a similar foldable design as the DJI Mavic drones, giving it a level of portability that should be appreciated by most commercial drone pilots. Despite being cheaper than the Mavic drones, the Parrot Anafi has all the features that a roof inspector will need: GPS guidance, a 21MP camera with 1/2.4” sensor, and a battery that can handle up to 25 minutes of flight time. Best of all, it has a lossless digital zoom function which should provide a little flexibility in terms of flight altitude when conducting roof inspection jobs.

4. Parrot Bebop-Pro Thermal

The Parrot Bebop-Pro Thermal is a highly specialized drone that comes pre-equipped with an infrared camera for thermal imaging. In addition to the thermal camera, the Bebop-Pro also has an RGB 1080p visual camera, allowing for dual mapping functions. The thermal and visual imaging functions of the Bebop-Pro can be controlled using the FreeFlight Thermal mobile app, which comes free with the drone. The battery of the Bebop-Pro allows for up to 25 minutes of flight time on a single battery cycle. Despite the array of features onboard the Parrot Bebop-Pro, it retains the compact and lightweight characteristic that the Parrot Bebop line of drones has been known for.

5. DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

The Mavic 2 Zoom is the birth-twin of the Mavic 2 Pro that also features its ultra-portable and foldable design. As its name implies, it has the unique capability of providing 2x optical zoom and 2x digital zoom. This is a very useful feature for roof inspection, as it allows you capture high-quality images even when your drone flies at a higher altitude. It does not have a camera that is as decked out as the Mavic 2 Pro, but its 20MP camera is similar to the one used by the Phantom 4 Pro, and the image quality should not leave you disappointed. For its increased versatility, the slight drop in image quality is an acceptable compromise. Similar to the Mavic 2 Pro, the Mavic 2 Zoom can also fly up to 31 minutes on a single battery cycle.

Which software should I use?

Dedicated roof inspection software allow you to quickly and easily assign a flight path or survey area for the drone to follow as it performs the job. This level of automation ensures consistency and accuracy of results while ensuring that the whole procedure is repeatable. The software also handles processing of the overlapping images to reproduce a fully navigable 3D model, as well as measurement and annotation capabilities. We have compiled a list below of some of the most popular and widely used software for roof inspection:

1. Pix4D

Pix4D is probably one of the most versatile software suites for all-around drone mapping applications. For roof inspection, you can use the Pix4Dcapture app which offers automated flight mission capabilities. The captured data can then be uploaded using the Pix4Dmapper cloud, which also provides model reproduction, navigation, and measurement capabilities.

The Pix4D apps offer end-to-end solutions for drone-based roof inspection. Using multiple apps from a single developer has the advantage of making the process highly streamlined. Pix4D is one of the most widely-used and oldest software for drone mapping and has been upgraded and updated through the years for maximum usability and efficiency.

2. Roof Report by DroneDeploy

Roof Report is the special roof inspection software developed by the super-popular DroneDeploy software company. This is an enterprise-level end-to-end software solution for roof inspection companies that was designed for ease-of-use and offers continuous software updates backed by DroneDeploy’s extensive database of commercial drone applications. The autonomous 3D Flight mobile app can be used to define flight missions for roof inspection, while the main Roof Report platform generates high-quality 3D models.

A huge benefit of Roof Report is its ability to generate concise but detailed roof reports in PDF format. These reports can be generated automatically and can be easily shared with clients. For more detailed analysis and post-processing, Roof Report can also produce DXF files that are compatible with most CAD design platforms.

3. EZ3D

Similar to the other entries in this list, EZ3D provides a complete software solution for roof inspection. The EZFly Android app allows drone pilots to set the borders of the survey area and set the flight altitude, after which the drone simply performs an automated flight mission. IOS users can use other drone mapping software such the one from DroneDeploy, which is perfectly compatible with the EZFly platform.

EZ3D features an EZRoof module which can generate ESX claim files, which are primarily used for insurance claims estimates. The software developers promise a 99% output accuracy when using the EZ3D software suite. The easy to use platform speeds up the inspection and estimation process, making EZ3D a particularly useful software for insurance adjusters.

4. DJI GroundStation Pro

Naturally, DJI has developed its own drone mapping software which best interfaces with professional-grade DJI drones such as those from the Phantom, Matrice, and Inspire series. Aside from the ability to set mission parameters for autonomous drone flight, the GroundStation Pro also has project management capabilities with customized data sharing settings.

The GroundStation Pro also provides enhanced safety with its Virtual Fence feature which allows pilots to set the maximum speed and altitude that a drone can attain. With features that can be useful in other applications such as precision agriculture, search and rescue, and architecture, the DJI GroundStation Pro is probably one of the most versatile drone mapping software solutions available today.

Final thoughts

Roof inspection might not be one of the biggest areas of drone applications based on commercial value, but it is a field which has the potential to be completely revolutionized by drone technology. With benefits in safety, efficiency, and data quality, there is no reason for the roof inspection industry to not come to a point where practically all roof inspection jobs are carried out by drones. The elimination of hazards due to falls alone should be more than enough for drone technology to be fully embraced.

Considering the full context of other commercial drone applications, roof inspection is probably one of the simplest and least demanding. Drone-based roof inspection can be easily done even by users who are not highly tech-savvy. Roof inspection by drones is a technology that we can see taking off in a big way in the next couple of years.