Drones Top Roofing Tool
Flying eyes can improve safety and give birds-eye view for repairs
By Frank O’Brien
Multi-rotor drones are not for amateurs: commercial use requires a Special Flight Operators Certificate under Canadian air regulations of Transport Canada. - Karma Quadcopter
Video-equipped drones are being recruited for re-roofing contracts and the technical director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Roofing Contractors Association (CRCA) said they are as useful on residential projects as on large-scale commercial jobs.
“Drones offer a safety and cost advantage,” said Peter Kalinger of the CRCA.
The drones, Kalinger said, can not only provide a birds-eye view of a roof’s condition without having to put someone up on a sloped roof, but can also provide dimensions and other data for precise estimating.
He added that U.S. drone research is equipping video drones with thermal sensors that can spot hidden water egress or insulation gaps beneath the roofing material.
The versatility of the drones was underlined when Victoria Aerial Survey was recruited to provide a visuals of the most important roof in British Columbia: the B.C. Legislature.
“It was an important job for us, and our first roofing contract,” said licensed pilot David Carlos, who founded Victoria Aerial Survey five years ago. He explained that the government’s property manager wanted to check on the gold-leafed statue of Captain George Vancouver, the iconic copper dome and the general roof condition atop the main legislative building. Like many property managers, they also likely wanted to avoid the onerous safety regulations, access permission and potential roof damage that could result in sending a team onto the sloped roof of the 116-year old structure.
Instead, Carlos carefully guided a powerful multi-rotor drone equipped with video and a high-definition camera to take detailed photos of every part of the roof.
Inspecting the roof, dome and Captain George Vancouver statue on the roof of the British Columbia Legislature was the first roofing job for drone operator Victoria Aerial Survey. - Victoria Aerial Survey
The cameras showed, for example, that what was thought to be bird droppings on the seven-foot-high Captain Vancouver statue was actually base metal showing through the aging gold leaf. The property managers now also have clear and close-up photos of the entire roof and the dome, which has some structural issues.
Carlos, one of the few commercial multi-rotor drone operators in the province, said most of his business comes from the real estate industry, but he believes the unmanned flying cameras are uniquely suited for roof inspections.
“They can fly high or low, they can hover and they provide high-resolution photos or videos,” he explained.
Using drones for visual roof inspections offers a number of advantages compared to using Google earth or airplanes, Carlos believes. First of all, the drones are inexpensive. Carlos estimates a commercial roof inspection by drone would cost around $300. Drones also allow for better visuals than satellite or airplane images and avoid the safety and access concerns of putting people onto the roof. “[Drones] are cheaper, safer and can get way closer,” Carlos said.
But nothing replaces a professional inspector getting up on the roof, said Sean Lang, president and senior consultant of Inter-Provincial Roof Consultants Ltd. of Surrey.
“You cannot see the quality of the membrane seal at a drain, or find nails poking out of shingles unless you actually go on the roof and look for the issues,” Lang said.
Tempting as it is, contractors are not encouraged to just buy a video drone (they are available for less than $250) and pop it into the air above a client’s house.
Anyone who pilots a multi-rotor for commercial use requires a Special Flight Operators Certificate under Canadian air regulations of Transport Canada and the applicant must prove he or she has the experience and the expertise to handle the powerful tool. Carlos notes they are also privacy issues with flying the drones in urban areas.
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