Your ultimate guide to facade inspections

July 8, 2024

The tools we use are constantly being phased out for better ones. What was once Blackberries and blueprints is now smartphones and BIM modeling. Post-its have given way to Procore. 

Yet when it comes to exterior building inspections, we've been hoisting people on the same swing stages and boom lifts for years. 

There’s a better way. 

In this guide, we’ll explain the pain points surrounding manual exterior inspections, then show you all the ways you can deploy reality capture technology on your next facade project. 

Let’s start by breaking down what exactly facade inspections are.

What are facade inspections?

A facade inspection assesses a building's exterior in order to identify any signs of damage or deterioration as well as to ensure regulatory compliance. This includes evaluating the condition of a facade’s walls, windows, doors, and these architectural elements: 

  • Exterior envelopes
  • Exterior enclosures
  • Curtain walls
  • Exterior cladding systems
  • Building envelope commissioning
  • Rain screens
  • Water ingress
  • Waterproofing 
  • Caulking 

Because a facade inspection demands close access to precarious, hard-to-reach areas of a building (often at great heights), performing these inspections manually (either with a boom lift or swing stage) presents several unique challenges.

The problem with manual inspections

They’re unsafe

Dangling your people high above the ground to inspect a building puts them in danger, as both swing stages and boom lifts are vulnerable to inclement weather. This means your inspectors are often forced to keep one eye on whatever’s keeping them suspended in the air while the other is trying to actually do their job and spot damage.

Facade Facts: 34% of all construction fatalities can be attributed to falls from above including scaffolding, swing stages or lifts.

They’re costly

When you combine the man-hours involved with the necessary rental equipment, manual inspections can cost upwards of $4,000 per week. Compare this with the $480 per day cost of a drone (that takes only a few hours to get a complete inspection) you can see how savings adds up over the course of a project. 

In this Site Visit episode, see how Layton Construction is using drones to save money and man-hours as they restore a residential hall in Nashville’s Residential College C.

They’re unreliable

Manual inspections put your team at risk of working off of inconsistent and inaccurate data. That’s because the data obtained by manual methods (e.g. printed drawings and photo captures) often lack a consistent reference point. This results in inconsistent reporting across the organization, increasing the likelihood of blind spots that leads to costly rework.

Facade Facts: Manual documentation processes contribute to $31.3 billion in rework annually.

They’re untimely

Setting up manual inspections takes too long to be viable. An example: say you finish an inspection, but after painstakingly break down the scaffolding or haul the boom lift back to the rental company, the owner forgot to flag an overhang issue on a change order. Which means heading back to re-rent the lift or taking another day to set back up the scaffolding for a small section. And round and round we go. 

Facade Facts: Automated reporting features can cut report preparation time by 70%

They’re restricted 

Due to the limitations of the human body, manual inspections are unable to give your team the perspective they need to get a complete picture of a facade. This means defects like cracks and gaps can go unnoticed. And for obvious reasons, it doesn’t make sense to have your inspector contort themselves into a yoga pose on a boom lift ten stories above the ground.  

Facade Facts: In helping contractors spot defects early, drones can reduce repair costs by up to 30%.

Reality capture gives us a better way

Thankfully, reality capture technology has made facade inspections safer, cheaper and far more efficient than ever before. Teams that combine drone hardware with reality capture software are able to obtain a comprehensive view of an exterior, complete with those hard-to-reach areas previously inaccessible to manual inspections.

‍Now, instead of taking several days to rent a boom lift or mount a swing stage, a drone pilot can complete the job in as little as a few hours. This level of efficiency and precision ensures consistent data can be captured throughout the life cycle of a project. What’s more, these captures can then be uploaded into a reality capture program for cross-team collaboration and digital project documentation.

Facade inspections in DroneDeploy

There is a significant safety advantage as well, as deploying drones keeps your crew safely on the ground. If your crew’s drawing straws on who’s going up on a boom lift for an inspection, then you might be putting an undue risk on them.

Drone inspections don’t require a lot of technical know-how. Here’s a quick how-to on how they work:

Automated facade inspections in action

When a series of hurricanes hit Lake Charles, Louisiana and damaged the L’Auberge Casino Resort, Turner Construction Company initially expected to spend weeks conducting inspections and making repairs. But with facade inspections powered by drones and automation, it took six hours. What’s more, these expedited inspections ended up reducing job costs by an estimated $25,000.

Read the full story here.

The L'Auberge Casino 3D model for facade inspection

Transform your project’s workflow with reality capture

By translating real-time site conditions into actionable data, reality capture technology is changing the nature of inspections. This technology allows for efficient checks on installation and work quality at key exterior milestones, enabling teams to perform site inspections on a daily or even hourly basis.

Want to learn more about reality capture in construction? Check out our Reality Capture Playbook, which will give you a full breakdown of how to use tools like drones, robots and reality capture software across your entire project lifecycle. 

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