About two years ago, NAHB reported that 22 percent of single-family builders had used aerial drones (or unmanned aircraft systems, as the Department of Defense calls them) at least once in their construction businesses. But the times they are a-changing. When we revisited the issue in March of this year, we saw that the percentage of builders using drones had soared to 46 percent.
In both years, the use of drones was more common among larger single-family builders. In 2016, for instance, 43 percent of builders who started 100 homes a year or more reported using drones, compared to only 12 percent of builders with fewer than 6 starts. There is a certain logic to this, as some of the possible uses of drones, such as preliminary surveying and mapping of a proposed subdivision, do seem more applicable to larger scale operations. Once construction gets under way, however, there is no reason aerial drones can’t be used to monitor a project of any size.
And in fact, use of drones increased between 2016 and 2018 among single-family builders in all four size categories tracked by NAHB. Indeed, the smallest builders reported the greatest increases. Among builders with 6 to 24 starts, use of drones doubled (from 23 to 46 percent). Among builders with fewer than six starts, drone use more than tripled.
The differences were broadly similar but less dramatic in responses to a question on builders’ likelihood of using drones over the next three years. When asked to rate the likelihood on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1=not at all likely; 5=very likely) the average rating among all single-family builders climbed from 2.9 in 2016 to 3.2 in 2018. Again, the pro-drone tendencies were stronger among larger builders. And again, a rising trend was evident across builders of all size categories—except among builders with 25 to 99 starts, where the average likelihood of using drones over the next three years was roughly the same in 2016 and 2018.
These results come from special questions appended to the monthly survey for the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index in April 2016 and March 2018. Every month the survey is sent to a panel of single-family builders stratified by size of the builder and region of the country. The numbers described in this post are based on responses received from 323 builders in 2016, and 337 in 2018.
According to NAHB’s 2017 Member Census, one-third of single-family builders build 6 to 25 homes a year, and one-half build fewer than six. So when (as shown above) the percentage doubles among the former group and more than triples among the later, it represents an increase of thousands of additional single-family builders making use of aerial drones in their businesses.
Note: Please see the comment below from Jeremy Bopst stating that FAA regulates the use of drones for commercial use, and builders, real estate agents, surveyors, etc., may face heavy fines if they are not licensed to operate them.