Inside Housing – Insight – Flying Fixes: Can Drones Help Solve the Social Housing Repair Crisis?
Yorkshire Housing recently took part in a pilot project to conduct repair inspections using drones. John Wimperis talks to the landlord about what he learned from the project and what the technology could mean for the sector
One property featured in Yorkshire Housing’s drone pilot was a converted church in Harrogate, now occupied by tenant farmers
For the past 18 months, the repair crisis has made national headlines.
Pressure is mounting on social housing providers to ensure aging stock is livable for tenants, with housing quality coming under scrutiny in a way not seen in years.
An expanded social housing regulator, which will now survey the performance of social landlords in relation to consumer standards, and a more active housing ombudsman will ensure organizations that let tenants down are identified and shamed.
As a result, many providers are looking for new ways to ensure that problems in homes are identified and resolved quickly and the problems don’t get worse.
Some even seek help from above.
Yorkshire Housing is one such provider.
The 18,000-unit landlord recently participated in the Department of Transportation’s Drone Pathfinder program. The pilot, which Yorkshire Housing partnered with drone operator Vantage UAV, used the technology to inspect properties.
The drone surveyed three Yorkshire Housing properties and the housing association identified a number of benefits. A key benefit was how much time the drones save the association compared to traditional surveys.
Josh Ambler, innovation analyst at Yorkshire Housing says: “One of the things that we hope to reduce through the use of drones is the use of scaffolding and aerial work platforms.”
“The drone flew around all morning and we got all the information without endangering anyone and without disturbing customers.”
He adds: “If we had scaffolding, it would probably stand for days. With a drone, on the other hand, you can do it within a few hours.”
And the drone system is more time-efficient than other solutions, especially for buildings that are difficult to access.
One property featured in the drone pilot was a converted church in Harrogate, now occupied by tenant farmers. This unusual building required an innovative approach to inspections from Yorkshire Housing.
“In the past, we’ve literally had jungle gyms climb up the outside of the building to do an inspection,” says Andy Gamble, Executive Director of Growth and Assets. “The drone flew around all morning and we got all the information without endangering anyone and without disturbing customers.”
From its recordings, Vantage UAV was able to create a 3D model of the building. Yorkshire Housing was then able to use the images to identify specific problems with the roof.
Prior to the drone survey, the housing association had planned to refurbish the converted church at an estimated cost of £300,000. After inspection, however, it chose instead to fix the specific issues at almost an eighth the cost.
In addition to 3D modelling, drones can be used to create highly detailed photographic maps of an area – called orthomosaics – by combining a series of aerial photographs.
These can provide a live video feed from the drone’s camera, which in some cases may be enough for an inspection.
“You can get much better results than sending someone on the roof. You can see the entire roof and not just what the person can see at that point in time.”
Mr Ambler says surveyors came out one day to look at the footage while inspecting a flat roofed property where a leak had been reported.
“The drone footage alone enabled him to determine where the water was coming from on the spot,” he says.
Mr. Ambler describes the images as “crystal clear”. He says: “You can get much better results than sending someone on the roof. You can see the entire roof and not just what the person can see at that point in time.”
While drones can produce great results, they’re not always the most cost-effective solution, Bromford noted. The federation bought a drone in 2014 to test the idea of using it for inspections, but found the cost of inspecting its mainly low population was not worth it.
Bromford’s innovation coach Paul Taylor said at the time: “Actually, it’s cheaper to send someone up a ladder unless you have a stock profile that’s worth training someone on.”
From its recordings, Vantage UAV was able to create a 3D model of the building. Yorkshire Housing was then able to use the images to identify specific problems with the roof
Drone pilots require licenses as well as considerable expertise and as such, despite its benefits, many housing associations and municipalities will find it inefficient to bring this technology indoors.
According to Gamble, Yorkshire Housing originally hoped to do so, but since the trial it has decided that hiring a drone operating company to carry out the checks offered better value for money.
“They can handle all the permits, they have the right pilots, they have the right drones, so we probably wouldn’t invest directly; we’ll probably outsource that to a specialist,” he says.
Mr Gamble says he was told a typical quote for a day survey by drone could be £1,200. Vantage UAV said its prices varied significantly depending on the type and size of the job, but claimed its services would result in savings of between 70% and 95% over other inspection methods.
And it’s these potential savings that could lead others to follow in Yorkshire Housing’s footsteps, leading to the widespread use of drones in social housing.
Yorkshire Housing was able to fix specific problems at its converted church rather than reroof the entire property, and was able to use its savings of more than $250,000 to renovate another building it needed.
And if housing inspections can be carried out more efficiently, social landlords will free up more resources to focus on other areas of the business, including repairing houses in disrepair, just like Yorkshire Housing.