HomeLink Magazine Summer 2017: Drones

Drones are taking over the World

Camera drones for building inspection and real estate photography

By Greg Pohlman, HERO Drone LLC

           From building and infrastructure inspection to aerial real estate photography, professional videography, agricultural research, radio tower inspections, and search and rescue, drones are changing our everyday lives and creating opportunities previously unheard of. Many industries use drones. Some of the more popular industry applications include real estate photography, professional photography, marketing of businesses, insurance claims, utility inspections, construction monitoring, roof and bridge inspections, monitoring agriculture, environmental monitoring, search and rescue operations, surveillance, forestry, counting animal populations, product and food delivery—the list goes on.

Drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), are essentially flying robots. They are best known for military applications, but in recent years they are increasingly being used for commercial purposes. Drones are beneficial for use in aerial roof and building inspections and real estate photography, but it is important to be aware of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements for flying drones, and the FAA air space restrictions on them.

Camera Drones.
The three categories of drones most people are interested in are camera drones, racing drones and toy drones. Camera drones are my area of interest and expertise. My most recent drone purchase is the DJI Phantom 4 Pro Plus. The Phantom 4 Pro is one of the most popular and innovative models. It can fly up to 45 mph, has a high-quality camera with 4k video and 20 megapixel photos using a one-inch lens sensor. It also features five-direction object avoidance, making it easy to fly and difficult to crash.

The Subject Active Tracking feature allows the remote pilot to lock onto a subject which the drone and camera will actively follow and film at a specified height and distance. The Tap-Fly feature allows the pilot to tap on the control screen and the drone will automatically fly to the positions indicated while the pilot can pan the camera to get the desired angle for photos or videos. Another important feature is the Return Home mode. The P4 Pro can follow the same path home while avoiding obstacles when the Return Home mode is activated or if the control signal is lost. The battery life on the P4 Pro is approximately 22 to 30 minutes.

Aerial Roof and Building Inspections.
Aerial building and utility inspections are an important aspect of the drone industry that provide a safe, low-cost, and innovative technology to monitor these critical infrastructures. For some time infrared cameras have been a valuable home inspection tool to check for heat loss from areas that may be poorly insulated and as a way to detect moisture intrusion. Drone cameras are another tool in the inspector’s belt, enabling the inspection of residential and commercial roofing structures including roof mounted systems such as roofing, flashings, sky lights, chimneys, HVAC systems and more.

In the past, inspection of properties where the roofs are too steep, or too high, or too slippery to safely access, inspectors were confined to viewing the roofing from a ladder or from the ground with binoculars. Traditional methods require an inspector to inspect the building in person which usually involves climbing up onto the roof and other parts of the structure. Needless to say, the work is time-consuming, limited in scope, and potentially very dangerous. Now, drones can be deployed very quickly to capture the necessary footage in hard-to-reach or high places much faster than a human could. A typical drone flight can be completed in 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the building.

Drone technology allows a view of the entire roof to better evaluate the condition of the roofing and identify any defects or damage to the roofing, flashings, chimneys, or roof mounted systems. The images that result are easy to share and interpret, and they provide an overview of the building that increases awareness of any problems that may exist.

Aerial Real Estate Photography.
Another popular use for drones is real estate photography. In this competitive industry, more and more realtors are adding aerial photos and videos to their real estate listings. High quality aerial photos and videos may generate more interest from prospective home buyers who are able to view homes at their leisure on the internet. Realtors may finding they can sell homes faster and sometimes for higher prices with aerial photography.

While drones greatly increase the ability to assess the condition of steep or high roof structures and roof mounted systems, there are occasions that limit their use. Weather conditions can pose limitations for flying drones. Wind, rain, sleet and snow, power lines and high-radio frequency areas can all make flying a drone unpredictable and potentially unsafe. Other limiting factors include proximity to densely populated areas or airports.

Another important factor to consider here in Steamboat Springs is the flight path of the local medical flight services that follow a flight path from the Steamboat Springs Airport directly over the downtown area en route to the Yampa Valley Medical Center. Drone operators should be aware of these restrictions to limit any chance of unsafe or unlawful activities.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules restrict the use of drones directly over crowds or within a five mile radius of airports. Since the entire downtown Steamboat Springs area lies within the five mile radius of the Steamboat Springs airport, this can limit their use. However, a remote drone pilot may request permission to fly within this restricted area by filing a Notice-to-Airmen (NOTAM) report with the FAA. By doing so, the FAA will broadcast a notice to all aircraft flying within this airspace to be aware of UAV operations in a specified location, time frame, radius of activity, and elevation of flight.

It is critical to only use the services of a trained and certified Drone Operator to ensure safety and compliance with all laws and regulations.


Public Awareness.
Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules and regulations that all remote pilots must follow when operating a UAV or sUAS. The regulations are outlined in the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107), which can be found on the FAA’s website at
https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/Part_107_Summary.pdf. Abbreviated lists of these operational limitations are as follows:

  • All small aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. and be registered with the FAA
  • Commercial operations require the remote pilot in command to have passed the FAA Part 107 knowledge test and be a Remote Pilot certificate holder
  • Must be at least 16 years old
  • Conduct preflight inspection of aircraft
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the remote pilot in command at all times
  • The small unmanned aircraft may not operate over people or crowds that are not directly participating in the operation
  • Daylight operations only
  • Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL)
  • Operations within Class G airspace. Operations in class B, C, D and E airspace require FAA approval
  • Cannot fly within a five-mile radius of airports without first notifying the FAA and filing a Notice-to-Airmen (NOTAM) report and also notifying the airport directly
  • Cannot launch, land or fly within or over national parks
  • Cannot fly in or around wildfire fighting operations
  • No operations from a moving aircraft
  • No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.