Drone Piloting for Home Inspectors

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®, Alan Nguyen and Kate Tarasenko
Since 2015, unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or drone registrations have jumped from 400,000 to more than a million, with 10% of those aircrafts intended for commercial use. They've become increasingly popular in the commercial industry for their versatility and ease of operation. This is especially true for home inspectors, who can use drones to: inspect a difficult-to-access roof; get a clear view of the upper exterior of a home; and get an aerial view of the entire property. Home inspectors should consider becoming FAA-licensed so they include this valuable service in their arsenal.
General Safety
Safety while on the job is a priority that all inspectors should keep in mind. Without governmental or workplace watchdog advocacy groups, it is up to the inspector to ensure that they are properly protected. This begins with understanding what is safe and what isn't, and having the right tools and equipment to properly perform your job, as well as understanding and recognizing potential safety hazards.  
Inspectors should be aware of the limitations imposed on them due to weather conditions and/or their own physical limitations. If at any time you feel it is unsafe to perform an action, don't. It will save you time and money from injury, and it might save your life.
Personal safety is especially important when inspectors use a ladder to walk a roof as part of their inspection. In 2000, there were a reported 150,000 injuries due to improper handling and use of ladders, and 300 deaths per year, on average. Roofs can be dangerous to walk if their general condition is poor, or if the weather is inclement, but it's difficult to obtain a thorough inspection without getting an up-close look at it.
Rather than climb a roof that's deemed unsafe to walk, home inspectors can use other tools, such as binoculars and telescoping tripods with cameras, but these instruments carry their own limitations. It may be difficult to position yourself or the tripod in such a way as to inspect the entire roof, leaving you – and your client – with an incomplete inspection. 
A drone can mitigate these safety risks and allow you to make a complete visual inspection. A drone allows you to get full coverage of the roof from the ground. Because of their mobility, drones have the advantage of being able to access all areas of both the roof and the upper exterior sections of a house that binoculars and tripods cannot. There are other variables to consider, such as snow, trees, or other obstructions, and drones can generally overcome these.
Drone Certification and Use 
As outlined in InterNACHI’s Drone Law Primer for Home Inspectors, becoming a certified drone pilot is straightforward. First, you should study Part 107, which covers the rules and regulations for operating a UAS. Second, you'll need to take an exam through an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center. Finally, you'll need to register your drone with the FAA. You can study Part 107 by taking InterNACHI’s free online Certified Drone Pilot Training Course.
Once you are an FAA-registered drone pilot, you can start legally using a drone in your inspections. Drones are capable of carrying cameras that will allow you to get close-up pictures of roof tiles, chimneys, flashing, and other exterior components. You can also switch out your standard HD camera for an infrared camera that will allow you to conduct energy movement inspections. 
Operating a drone is easy and can be learned through many drone piloting schools around the U.S.  A drone can become an indispensable tool that sets you apart from your competitors by guaranteeing that you can always inspect the roof and the upper exterior of a home. A savvy home inspector is always looking for ways to generate more business, and offering drone inspections is a state-of-the-art distinction you can promote to prospective clients and real estate agents alike.