Photos Courtesy of Georgia Drone Services
Photos Courtesy of Georgia Drone Services

Flight. The thought of soaring across the heavens as the birds do has been a subject of fascination for mankind since the dawn of time. In 3500 BC, a golden coin from ancient Sumer features their king riding on the back of an eagle. An Incan founder, Auca, was purportedly “winged” and was thought to have the ability to fly. The ancient Chinese developed massive kites to airlift their warriors into battle as long ago as 1000 BC. Leonardo da Vinci dreamed and planned various methods for manned flight, but it wasn’t until the dawn of the 20th century that the Wright brothers turned those dreams and plans into reality.


In just a few short decades from the Wright brother’s famed 12-second flight, man has flown around the world and beyond its atmosphere to the moon. Currently, plans are being formulated for mankind to journey beyond the moon to Mars. Incredible but true! Even more incredible are the machines that go places men can’t, or don’t want, to go. Enter the era of the drone.


More Than a Military Device


In general, the term drone brings to mind secret spy missions or a long-distance bombing raid. In reality, these tiny flying machines are true workhorses with a multitude of applications.


Drones, officially named Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) can be useful in many industries, including the home building industry. They can be outfitted to perform a variety of tasks including surveying, communication, and security to name a few. The technology drones offer increase productivity, reduce man-hours spent on collecting and processing data, and monitor sub-contractors’ performance at the job-site.


Surveying the Land


New construction requires precise surveys of the proposed home or development site. Data must be collected from numerous points on the land and then input into BIM (building information) software such as AutoCAD or CyperCAD. This process of data collection and analysis can take weeks. UAVs can do the same job in a fraction of the time (in many cases, just minutes) saving time and money. Professional land surveyors have begun using UAVs in their work to provide more detailed modelling of the jobsite topography. Developers use this detailed information to identify and address any issues early on in the planning phases.


Use of drones allows the land survey companies to provide a lower cost option to their clients while increasing both the accuracy and completeness of the data they collect. A quicker turnaround time and lower cost for the survey are great perks you, the builder, can benefit from.


Jobsite Usage


UAVs could well become an integral part of the home builder’s “tool-kit” with their wide range of applications. At the 2018 NAHB International Builder’s Show (IBS), Craig Hassell, of Magleby Construction Inc., of Linden, Utah, spoke about the advantages using a UAV gives him in managing his business. He started thinking about using a drone for the inspection of roofs in a ski-in, ski-out community he was developing in Park City, Utah. The houses are very close with multiple levels and pitch of the roofs, and it was dangerous and time consuming to move from home to home, moving the ladder, attaching the harness, and climbing up to conduct an inspection. Using his drone, Hassell can inspect the roofs from numerous angles, obtaining photo or video documentation of the work. Problems found can be addressed in detail with the roofer using the photos to ensure all parties involved have a clear understanding of the changes or corrections that needed to be made. Hassell also uses the drones to verify that the corrections are completed per their agreement.


Hassell stated he also uses the drones now to verify the accuracy of all his sub-contractor crews’ work. “It may irritate them, but they were hired to do a job, and I want to make sure it’s correct,” Hassell stated in his IBS presentation. He went on to say that he felt that some sub-contractors might feel as if they were working in a vacuum, and no one was checking their work. As general contractor, however, Hassell must consider the whole project. The ease of inspecting via drone has given him a greater sense of control over the construction site. Hassell also uses the drones to capture images of the work in progress to document the installation of such items as sewer lines, driveways, and drain fields.


Safety


UAV footage allows you to ensure the safety of your workers and the jobsite. Craig Hassell states the UAV shots show whether the workers are using their safety harnesses and tie-off points as required. He noted that on one occasion the drone photo showed a safety line that was simply looped around a satellite dish instead of being secured to the tie off point.


A drone is very useful after a storm or other incident that might have produced hazards at the jobsite. Sending your drone in to inspect for damage such as fallen trees, power lines, or flooding will keep your workers out of harm’s way.


Client Communication


New construction requires a builder to communicate plans and progress updates to the client, and as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. UAVs can document the building progress quickly making communicating problems and successes more clearly to the client without the delays caused by trying to coordinate your schedule with that of your client. Digital photography can be emailed directly to the client, streamed live, or uploaded to a shared site such as Dropbox or Google Drive. Clients will have the images at their fingertips and can have a clear understanding of the problem. The jobsite shots allow builders to facilitate a more informed decision-making process with their clients.


Getting Started


Should you purchase and operate your own UAV or find a local company to provide you with the shots you need? The answer depends on your needs and the time you have to put into learning how to pilot the UAV.


Craig Levine, of Georgia Drone Services, an Atlanta based company, provides UAV services to residential and commercial builders and a variety of other industries as well. Levine, who is also a licensed realtor, began operating a UAV as a recreational activity but began taking shots of the properties he was selling to enhance the listings and was soon being asked to do the same for fellow realtors.


Levine pursued his Part 107 Remote Airman Certification (see sidebar) which allows him to operate a UAV under 55 pounds for commercial purposes. Levine states that it wasn’t difficult to learn to control his UAV as “they practically fly themselves,” but it does take practice to become proficient and produce good quality shots. It’s easy to “start up the drone, elevate it, turn it, move it forward and backwards” states Levine. “You can take your hand off of the controls and it will stay in one place if it has a GPS lock on the satellites. The key is knowing how to properly compose the shot, utilizing proper framing, correct exposure and balancing and knowing the right frame rate to use for video.” In other words, if you are wanting to use drone photography for marketing your custom homes, like the cover shot by Levine, you will need a high-quality camera and a lot of practice using the equipment, or you can outsource those assignments to a professional service.


If you opt to purchase your own UAV, Levine suggests taking a course designed for the Part 107 Remote Airman Certification. These courses might be offered at a local college or online. Levine chose to take an online course to learn the numerous facets that are involved in proper drone piloting including aerodynamics, aeronautical decision making, risk management, the national airspace system, sectional charts, airport operations, weather theory, weather charts, emergency procedures, and (of course) the Federal Aviation Regulations covered in Part 107. Levine recommends an online course as it was self-paced, and he learned so much valuable information from it.