Repairs, Maintenance and Renovations
How Drones Are Changing Condominium Property Inspections
From the CCI Review 2022/2023-3 March 2023 issue of the CCI London Chapter
The UAV or unmanned aerial vehicle technology, commonly referred to as a drone, has changed so quickly in recent years; using drones to conduct inspections and assessments on condominium properties has become much more commonplace. Using drones at condominium properties has opened the door to inspect many different types of buildings that would not normally have been inspected easily. Steep-sloped, shingled, or metal roofs, for example, are traditionally inspected by a technician from the ground, from an adjacent building, or from a scissor lift, if possible. With the use of a drone, an investigating technician can get a much closer, direct, line-of-sight look at the roof surface and can capture high-resolution photographs to create a permanent record of any issues discovered (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Using a drone to conduct an inspection of a metal roof on an 8-storey condominium building.
Another important assessment where a drone can be very useful is an exterior leak investigation. Normally, if the suspected leak is on a tall building, a technician would attempt to visually inspect from the ground, from an adjacent building, from a scissor lift, or from a swing stage. With a drone, the technician is able to get right up to the area of the suspected leak and capture direct photographs. These photographs can then be viewed on a computer monitor afterward, with the ability to zoom in on the suspected leak (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Taken during an exterior leak investigation using a drone to get up close to the exterior wall. These photographs can be viewed on computer monitor afterward, with the ability to zoom in on the suspected leak.
A major concern when conducting any fieldwork is worker safety, whether it be working at heights, in confined spaces, or in hazardous conditions. Without a drone, the investigation would have involved a high degree of risk or might not have been physically possible. Traditionally, the inspection of façades and balconies of tall condominium buildings require that a worker repel down the exterior of the building or work from a swing stage. These systems require various degrees of fall protection equipment, worker training, and supervision. The use of a drone by an experienced pilot eliminates the need to work from heights for the investigative portion of the project (Figure 3). Once the initial inspection is completed with the aid of a drone, a technician will have a better idea of where further investigation may be needed, thus allowing for the creation of a safe plan of action for future work.
Figure 3: Drone inspection conducted on balconies on a 10-storey condominium building.
Time is another concern when performing field inspections. When a technician conducts an investigation using traditional methods, they might be onsite for an extended period of time due to the time required to set up equipment necessary to access difficult areas of the building. As mentioned previously, this equipment may include, but not be limited to, scaffolding, scissor lifts, or swing stages. With the use of a drone, a technician can be set up onsite in a matter of minutes and not have to wait for other equipment to access the building. This is beneficial when conducting investigations on taller condominiums where it could take multiple days to set up scaffolding or other equipment. The set-up of this equipment could have unforeseen delays, ultimately holding up the investigation and potential remediation work. Even more mobile equipment, such as lifts and swing stages, require repositioning to capture the entire exterior of the building. The drone allows the technician to cover large areas of the building in a short amount of time without the need to reposition or reconfigure large equipment.
Cost is another concern when conducting these types of investigations. An investigation that is conducted with a drone can have cost efficiency over other traditional inspection methods. Typically, some equipment needed to access areas on a condominium property can have high costs associated with setup and use. As mentioned previously, an investigation conducted on a high-rise façade may require a swing stage or rope system to access the exterior of the building. These pieces of equipment typically have to be rented and erected, and additional safety checks need to be conducted prior to a technician using them. With a drone, a technician can get up in the air and identify building anomalies while a swing stage is still being set up (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Façade inspection of exterior brickwork.
In additional to digital photography and video recording, drones can also be used for thermographic imaging of buildings. This thermographic imaging, whether it be of the roof or façade, can be completed more quickly with a drone. Traditional, handheld thermography requires the technician to reposition themselves. And as discussed above, it may require additional access equipment. With a drone, the time required to complete the thermographic imaging is shorter than when using a handheld scanner because the drone can travel along a pre-programmed path, capturing data along the way. Additionally, a technician does not typically require access to the interior of the building (Figure 5). This allows for multiple buildings or properties to be scanned in a single visit, depending on how close the buildings are to each other.
Figure 5: Thermographic façade scan conducted with a drone equipped with a thermographic camera.
Using a drone in investigations of the built environment may not replace a technician’s potential need to physically touch specific areas of concern, as they may need to lift or remove material to dig deeper. However, drones can help to specifically identify the areas that the technician will need to investigate further, thus ensuring that the technician is using their time and talents efficiently to target these specific areas during the investigative process. The use of a drone is another tool in a technician’s toolbox to help make their investigations more focused, more cost effective, quicker, and safer.
Willie Carroll, CET is a certified UAV/drone pilot, UAN flight reviewer, professional GIS analyst, engineering technologist and photographer. In addition to leadership responsibilities as a UAV Practice Leader for Rimkus, a worldwide leader in engineering and technical consulting.
Willie uses drone technology to conduct inspections of building elements. He transforms data collected through drone inspection into actionable information through application of GIS and digital mapping technology. He has extensive work experience providing services to various industry sectors related to infrastructure, government organizations, aggregates and mining, environmental, utilities, transportation, and many others. Mr. Carroll holds a B.A. in physical geography with a minor in geomatics from Carleton University.
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