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Drones and Roof Inspections

We’re assuming that visitors to this page are roofing contractors, property managers, or roof consultants with a professional interest in finding a high-quality, appropriate drone specifically for roof inspection; we’ve tailored this page to that audience.

Please note that if you are using a drone for a commercial purpose in the United States, you must go through the FAA process for becoming a drone pilot, which includes registering your drone, getting an airworthiness certificate for your drone, and getting a remote pilot certificate. (It’s not that difficult and people do it all the time!) If you are simply using a drone to look at your own personal roof, you won’t need to do this.

Why use a drone?

There are two main reasons to use a drone when performing roof inspections: drones reduce or eliminate risk of injury, and they can save you an incredible amount of time. When you’re on the clock, time is money.

What can a drone do?

First and foremost, a drone takes pictures, and the pictures taken by a drone can be used for several roof-related purposes. Specialized drone software applications make it easy to generate a variety of roof reports. Drones can now be used to produce detailed 3-D models of roofs. Roofing estimators can use drones to identify in-place roofing, note major issues, identify and count rooftop units, measure roof areas, determine roof slopes, and produce full photographic roof plans. Drones can be used for rapid response storm damage inspections - finding broken skylights, damaged or missing shingles, missing parapet wall coping, and other critical issues. Drones can identify bird problems, ponding water, clogged drains or scuppers, dangerous snow loads, wind damage, and other visually-identifiable issues.

Thermal cameras mounted on drones are changing the way infrared roof scans are performed. A drone can be sent up after dark to fly and take pictures in a pre-programmed grid. A thermal map of the roof can be automatically generated from these images, revealing wet roof insulation and gaps in the thermal envelope.

A drone by itself probably won’t be the best thing for roof maintenance inspections or thorough roof condition assessments. There are too many items that require you to actually be on the roof to investigate. A drone can’t check sealant adhesion, probe seams, or spot most roof blisters. But a drone will certainly be an incredibly useful part of your inspection toolkit.

What to look for in a drone:

  • Battery Life/Flight Time: You’ll want a drone that can fly for at least 25 minutes when fully charged. This should be long enough to map a 50,000 square foot roof with the desired level of image detail. Always keep a spare battery or two on hand so you can fly longer if you need to.

  • Camera Quality: You don’t want a cheap camera that takes low-grade pictures. You’ll want to be able to produce very high-quality images so you can zoom in or blow up the images to see and highlight important details.

  • Flight Stability: If you want your drone to take useful pictures even if it’s not a completely calm day, you’ll need a high quality flight control system. For high quality images the drone needs to be able to keep the camera steady while hovering regardless of the wind. A good flight control system will also include a feature called “obstacle avoidance”, which automatically keeps the drone from crashing into things.

  • Gimbal: Integrated gimbal is a feature that keeps the camera steady while the drone is in motion, whether because of the wind or because you’re moving it around. This allows good quality pictures without the drone needing to hover perfectly still.

  • GPS System: For automatic, programmable flights, you’ll need a drone with integrated GPS. GPS also allows the drone to automatically return to you after it’s done. It also improves the drone’s ability to hover in one place.

  • Range: We’ll assume that you’ll be flying your drone over a nearby roof and not using it to take video of a bicycle race, so maximum flight range will not be a big consideration. All of these drones will have more than enough range.

  • Ruggedness: Your drone is a tool, you’ll be using it regularly out in the field, and you don’t want something that will fall apart if not handled with the utmost sensitivity.

  • Software Options: There are plenty of third-party software applications available out there which can automate your roof inspections from take-off to touch-down, but you’ll need a drone that’s compatible with third-party software.

  • Speed: This isn’t an important criterion for roof inspection. These aren’t racing drones.

  • Thermal Imaging: If you’re planning on performing thermal scans with your drone, you’ll want a drone with a thermal camera option. Note that many drones that don’t come equipped for thermal imaging from the manufacturer can be modified afterwards.

  • Video Quality: Although most of these drones are video-equipped, video quality is not a key consideration for roof inspections. The most expensive consumer drones, what are typically called “professional” drones, are geared toward filmmakers, and the increased price reflects everything that a drone needs to produce that professional-grade video. There’s no reason for you to pay for that.


List of Recommended Roofing Drones


  • DJI Mavic 2 Pro

 

The DJI Mavic 2 is the flagship enterprise drone from DJI, the world’s largest producer of consumer drones. It has pretty much everything you’ll need in a roof inspection drone, and it folds up for maximum portability. Top recommendation. (A Mavic 2 Pro was the top prize at a raffle during the 2020 International Roofing Expo in Dallas, Texas.)

  • Camera: 20 megapixel images. Comes with a Hasselblad L1D-20c camera with a 1-inch CMOS sensor, 10-bit Dlog-M color profile, F/2.8-F/11 adjustable aperture, and 3-axis gimbal. Also available with a zoom option.

  • Flight Control: Comes with integrated GPS, omnidirectional (6 directions) obstacle sensing, and automatic return-to-home function.

  • Flight Time: Up to 31 minutes.

  • Roof Inspection Software: Because of DJI’s massive market share, more third-party drone software is produced for DJI drones than any other. There are a variety of specialized roof inspection applications available. DJI also produces their own inspection software for the Mavic 2.

  • Thermal Camera: A thermal camera option is available for this drone.



  • DJI Mavic Air 2

 

Significantly cheaper than the Mavic 2 Pro, the Mavic Air 2 can do almost everything the Mavic 2 can do, just not quite as well. Another excellent drone from DJI. Foldable.

  • Camera: 12 megapixel images. The camera integrates a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor and an f/2.8 lens with a 35-mm equivalent focal length of 24 mm. Capable of combining images to create panoramic views. 3-axis gimbal.

  • Flight Control: Comes with integrated GPS, forward and backward obstacle sensing, and automatic return-to-home function.

  • Flight Time: Up to 34 minutes.

  • Roof Inspection Software: Again, because of DJI produces around two-thirds of the consumer drones sold today, there are plenty of third-party inspection software options for the Mavic Air 2.

  • Thermal Camera: A thermal camera option is not available for this drone.


  • Parrot Anafi Work

 

A mid-priced drone that competes with the DJI Mavic Air, the Anafi Work from Parrot Drones seems like it was designed with roof inspections in mind. It comes able to fly in automatic, programmable flight patterns and ready to produce 3D models of buildings.

  • Camera: 21 megapixel images. 4K HDR with lossless zoom of 1.4x in 4K and 2.8x in full HD (1080p). 3-axis gimbal.

  • Flight Control: Comes with integrated GPS and automatic return-to-home function. Designed to resist winds up to 50 km/h. This drone has no obstacle avoidance sensors, so automated flights must be programmed carefully, and manual operation requires extra care. The excellent camera zoom means this isn’t as much of a drawback as it sounds, as you don’t need to get as close to the surface of the roof.

  • Flight Time: Up to 25 minutes, but comes with 4 batteries.

  • Roof Inspection Software: This drone comes equipped with excellent roof inspection software applications. Third-party software applications are available, but limited.

  • Thermal Camera: A thermal camera option is not available for this drone, but see the next drone on the list.


  • Parrot Anafi Thermal

 

The Parrot Anafi Thermal is one of the most affordable professional thermal imaging drones. It comes ready to perform thermal surveys and generate thermal inspection reports. A high-quality drone for the (relatively) low price.

  • Camera: This drone comes with 2 cameras, a FLIR Lepton® 3.5 radiometric thermal-imaging camera and a 4K HDR camera with lossless zoom x2.8 (x3 in standard mode) and a 21 megapixel Sony sensor specifically designed for visual inspection.

  • Flight Control: Comes with integrated GPS and automatic return-to-home function. Designed to resist winds up to 31 mph. This drone has no obstacle avoidance sensors, so automated flights must be programmed carefully, and manual operation requires extra care.

  • Flight Time: Up to 26 minutes, but comes with 3 batteries.

  • Roof Inspection Software: This drone comes equipped with inspection software perfectly suited for thermal roof scans. Third-party software applications are available, but limited.

  • Thermal Camera: Yes, of course.



  • Hubsan Zino Pro

 

A very good, very affordable drone, the Hubsan Zino Pro is great for visual roof inspections and photographic documentation. It has a higher wind resistance than most drones this size, and has a remarkably sturdy build.

  • Camera: 12 megapixel images. 4K UHD Camera with 3-axis gimbal.

  • Flight Control: Comes with integrated GPS and automatic return-to-home function. Pre-programmed, automatic flight paths are available.

  • Flight Time: Up to 23 minutes.

  • Roof Inspection Software: No specific roof inspection software is available. Reports can be produced using the images like you would with a regular digital camera.

  • Thermal Camera: A thermal camera option is not available for this drone.


  • DJI Mavic Mini

 

The DJI Mavic Mini is a low-cost drone that’s perfect for checking for storm damage or performing thorough visual inspections on smaller residential roofs. It’s a great tool for property managers to keep around so they can check on their roofs whenever they need to. Small, lightweight, and super-portable. The DJI Mavic Mini is the drone that the roofing software company iRoofing provides to their customers who need a drone to use with the software.

  • Camera: 12 megapixel images. 1/2.3'' CMOS, 35 mm format equivalent: 24 mm. 3-axis gimbal.

  • Flight Control: Comes with integrated GPS, downward obstacle sensing, and automatic return-to-home function. You’ll probably be flying this manually rather than using the limited flight path program.

  • Flight Time: Up to 30 minutes.

  • Roof Inspection Software: Limited. Report software is available, but more like what you would use to generate reports from the pictures from a regular digital camera.

  • Thermal Camera: A thermal camera option is not available for this drone.