German researchers are currently pioneering the development of flying drones for inspecting buildings and infrastructure for damage (see "Flying Robots Inspect Building From the Air," Sourceable Industry News).

But drone inspections aren't just for high-budget industrial projects any more. A number of residential contractors are leaning on quadrocoptors and other UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) for inspecting hard-to-access areas and capturing aerial work views. Here are a few examples:

  • The Chimney Clinic, a chimney company servicing NW Pennsylvania, uses an AR Parrot drone for scoping out jobs. Watch the video. This footage from an inspection on a house with a steep-pitched roof gives a good sense of the kind of detail you can capture.
  • Canadian-based Mold Busters use UAVs for scoping out roof, chimney and gutter damage, and for conducting building envelope inspections. Watch the video.
  • NATCHI home inspector, Glenn Fricke, of Tampa Bay reviews the AR Parrot drone (from Brookstone) for use inspecting roofs. Read his forum post. He writes: "Down here, especially along the coastal areas the houses are close together and you cannot get a good shot idea of a 3rd story roof from the ground, in some cases you'll be lucky to see anything other than 1 side.
  • Tools of the Trade editor, David Frane, recently reported on some Washington state deck builders using a drone for a jobsite flyover. Frane includes an important caution: "Before you get all excited and run out to buy one of these rigs, be aware that the FAA claims legal authority over everything above ground-level—even on private property. The agency is in the process of formulating rules for the use of the small (under 55-pound) UAVs ... Thus far there has been little enforcement against private operators but there are instances of people who fly drones commercially (to sell photos and video) being fined as much as $10,000."
  • Drones could be a useful way to keep on eye on subcontractors, as suggested by this video made with a DJI Phantom quadrocoptor.
  • Keep in mind that the client just might use a drone to inspect your job.