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Article: Bird's-Eye View: Why home inspectors are trading apologies for drones

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Hi TIJ readers!

When we started this article, we wanted a better understanding of the role drones play in the home inspection industry. Why are inspectors turning to drones? Are there good and bad times to use drones? And, from our claims data, what's working to protect inspectors from drone-related claims?

After lots of research and talking to 10 home inspectors, we had A LOT of material. So, we decided to break the topic up into two articles. Here's Part 1 of two in our drone series.

Best,
Stephanie
 



Bird's-Eye View: Why home inspectors are trading apologies for drones

This is Part 1 of a two-part series on drone inspections. Be sure to tune in February 15th to learn five ways to avoid drone-related claims.

Before drones gained popularity in the industry, Jon Bolton of The Inspectagator in Florida had an inspection of a two-story property. He couldn't get up on the roof without an extension ladder, and he didn't carry one.

So, he called the real estate agent to tell them he would not be able to inspect the roof. The agent replied: "That's not my problem. It's yours. [The client]--he's an attorney and wants the roof looked at. And you've been paid for it."

After hanging up the phone, Bolton found a friend with an extension ladder and performed the roof inspection. While he was up on the roof, he discovered some significant defects.

"I was like, 'Thank you, Lord, that this whole thing happened.' Otherwise, [the client] would have moved forward, discovered the roof leaks, and been really [upset]," Bolton said. "And, [since] he's an attorney, he had the ability to make my life miserable."

Since having that experience several years ago, Bolton has searched for ways to inspect otherwise inaccessible roofs. Rather than apologize for being unable to get to the roof--and running the risk of incurring the second most common type of claim in the industry--Bolton and other inspectors have begun using drones to better serve clients and manage their businesses' risk.

Learn more about why home inspectors are turning to drones and the pros and cons of drone inspections by clicking "Read More" below.

[READ MORE]

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If an inspector uses a drone as just another tool, and not a billable add on, is he still required to go Part 107?

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14 hours ago, RK52 said:

If an inspector uses a drone as just another tool, and not a billable add on, is he still required to go Part 107?

Part 107?

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Yeah. FAA Regs. Part 107 is the section regulating the use of drones (they call them sUAVs) for commercial purposes. An operator needs FAA 107 certification if he flies commercially. If you are paid to fly, you need the cert.

I’m wondering if “paid to fly” means primary purpose, or added service. If it’n ancillary, such as when using a screwdriver or camera, perhaps not. Clients pay for the report, but the report includes photos...

i think it may be be free of restrictions above the regular registration, since it’s not a service advertised for sale. But I could be wrong.

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@RK52, this is a great question. Since we're not drone experts, I can't say for certain. However,  I would argue that yes, you're still subject to FAA restrictions because commercial use isn't contingent on payment.

Taking it into a different context: If you performed a pool and spa inspection but didn't charge for it, would you still be subject to any state regulations regarding pool and spa inspections?

I would argue that, regardless of your payment structure, you're performing the inspection in a business setting, not a recreational setting. Therefore, it's subject to commercial law.

That's my two cents. If you're really curious, I'd recommend asking the home inspectors themselves in the Facebook post releasing the article here: https://www.facebook.com/inspectorproinsurance/videos/1170655219760461/.

All the inspectors that participated in the article are tagged, so I'm sure they'd respond.

Edited by InspectorPro Insurance

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A 32' commercial grade extension ladder will probably get you to the roof of more than 90% of American homes. It is  also considerably more durable and cheaper than a drone. They weigh about 65 pounds, making them about as heavy as a fourth-grader and much easier to handle. Also, on a residential home inspection, the use of ladders is not subject to federal oversight, another attribute weighing in their favor.

So why mess around with drones?

 

 

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1 hour ago, Jim Morrison said:

A 32' commercial grade extension ladder will probably get you to the roof of more than 90% of American homes. It is  also considerably more durable and cheaper than a drone. They weigh about 65 pounds, making about as heavy as a fourth-grader and much easier to handle. Also, on a residential home inspection, the use of ladders is not subject to federal oversight, another attribute weighing in their favor.

So why mess around with drones?

 

 

While the introductory story mentions lack of an extension ladder, I think most home inspectors are only using drones during residential home inspections in which they cannot safely traverse the roof. Think wet roofs, heavily pitched roofs, or roofs with materials like clay tile that the inspector might damage.

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9 hours ago, InspectorPro Insurance said:

@RK52, this is a great question. Since we're not drone experts, I can't say for certain. However,  I would argue that yes, you're still subject to FAA restrictions because commercial use isn't contingent on payment.

Taking it into a different context: If you performed a pool and spa inspection but didn't charge for it, would you still be subject to any state regulations regarding pool and spa inspections?

Yeah, that seems about right. Ok.

On the subject of cost. A Parrot Anafi would do the job very well for about $650 on sale. Autel EVO for around $850. Both are stable in winds, and the EVO will fly in light rains. These are certainly options. Taking a closeup shot series at 12MP or higher will reveal plenty when you can’t, or won’t, go on a roof. Safety comes before any inspection report. You get no awards for risking your life.

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I have taken plenty of pics with a pole camera. Quick and easy compared to flying a drone in a crowded subdivision with power poles and trees everywhere.

I admit drones have come a long way and we see drone film footage every day now in documentaries and TV shows. But as Jim says, why mess about with flying, retrieving, and editing when you can get close enough with a real ladder and a paint pole?

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Ladder climbing does involve risk.

So does showering, walking indoors, walking outdoors -especially in winter, removing electrical panel covers, standing near a water heater whose TPRV lacks a decent discharge pipe, operating furnaces, eating romaine lettuce, driving to and from inspections, and opening emails. In every case, a bit of knowledge and training greatly mitigates that risk.

Come on.

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12 hours ago, Jim Katen said:

Damn. Now I have to review my company's safety protocols for romaine lettuce. 

I'm sure you can find romaine insurance if you look around.

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Also, we just published Part 2 of the series, which focuses on mitigating risk against drone related claims. Here's a preview:

Top 5 ways to protect your business from drone-related claims

Last year, in an article for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) estimated that eight percent of its 21,000 members in the United States were using drones for inspections. Now, in 2019, industry influencers suggest that that number is growing.

In our last article, we talked to nine home inspectors across the nation, all of whom argue that drones provide a much-needed alternative to dismissing inaccessible roofs outright. Nevertheless, inspectors and claims professionals agree that drones aren't perfect.

"If we can't get on a roof and we decide to [use] the drone, we still will set up our ladders; because then we can still check the flashing and nail spacing at the edge," said Mike McFadden of Hero Inspection Services in Florida, showcasing one of many limitations to drone inspections discussed in the previous article.

To combat drones' limitations, home inspectors and claims professionals recommend taking specific precautions to mitigate your risk of drone-related claims. These safety measures include having the proper licensing and training, choosing the right equipment, having a thorough pre-flight process, setting client expectations, and carrying E&O and general liability insurance with a drone endorsement. We explore each in more detail below.

Licensing and Training

Licensing

Since 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has required commercial drone users to obtain a remote pilot certificate (RPC), re-certify biannually, register their drone, and follow other rules. (See a summary of the comprehensive provisions instituted by Part 107 here.)

To obtain an RPC, inspectors must pass a 60-question test on drone regulations and operations. Most inspectors take a class in-person or online to prepare for the exam. Jon Bolton of The Inspectagator in Florida recommends RemotePilot101.com, which covers not just the technical aspects of drone operation but airspace law.

The FAA regulates airspace, restricting flights temporarily or permanently in certain areas. For example, drone-use is strictly prohibited near federally sensitive areas, such as the White House and Camp David. Additionally, drone pilots are unable to fly within five miles of most airports without giving airport operators notice. (For a general guide to airspace, see the Know Before You Fly campaign map here.)

According to Paul Duffau of Safe@Home Inspections in Washington, airspace law is one of the most important liability factors affecting drone pilots. Furthermore, Duffau suggests that many home inspectors who are willfully or unintentionally aware of airspace regulations are putting their businesses at risk.

"In one of my primary markets, it is illegal to lift a drone off the ground without FAA authorization or a waiver," Duffau wrote to us via email. "[Many] inspectors flying drones are doing so illegally--at least part of the time."

READ MORE

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Since that recent airport shutdown due to (criminally stupid) goofs flying drones around the airport, you bet, there will be crackdowns.

She who knows best brought home a bag of Romaine lettuce yesterday, we had salad, and I am happy to report, still alive.

California has water issues, lettuce is 95% water, much of the Romaine is grown across the road from an enormous feedlot.

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