Applying Drone Technology in the HVAC Industry

With restrictions loosening, several commercial HVAC contractors are investing in drone technologies.

Zach Stiver, technician, Integrated Mechanical Systems, Irwindale, California, was drawn to drones’ filming capabilities.

“My friends and I run a filming business on the side,” he said. “So, when I was able to incorporate that into the HVAC business, I think it brought a whole new perspective for our clients and viewers to see what we do.”

Joe Nichter, president, Comfort Systems USA Southwest, Houston, has only used drones to take pictures of his company’s building, though he is excited about their future capabilities.

“I expect, in the not too distant future, we will be conducting rooftop maintenance and discover a problem that can’t be fixed without the OEM replacement part for the repair,” he said. “Since all our technicians have iPads, we’ll take pictures of the part, the unit model, and serial number and forward them to our local supplier. Once the pictures are received, the distributor will be able to dispatch a drone with the replacement parts. This process will enable our technicians to continue with this maintenance and move on to the other units.”

The Future of Drones in the HVAC Industry

While drones are not yet being used for everything they may be capable of, contractors see plenty of room for growth and expansion of the technology in HVAC.

“I believe energy-related surveys for buildings will incorporate drones in the future,” said Nichter. “Infrared will identify heat loss in buildings and make hard-to-reach areas accessible for monitoring. The feedback given can be tied into virtual reality that can be used to educate customers and define solutions.”

Stiver sees drone usage increasing overall, and it is definitely growing quickly in the trades.

“I can pretty much say for a fact that we will see more and more of the use of drones within the HVAC and construction businesses over the coming years because it’s a game changer when it comes to being able to see things you can’t from the ground and the marketing sides of things, as well,” he said.

Nichter also sees the intersection of HVAC and construction being the most beneficial area for drones in the future.

“Since a large part of our work each year is in construction, we’ve seen land planners, general contractors, and architects use drones for progress pictures on projects and potential site problems that might affect schedules,” he said. “In addition, we believe these units will someday monitor safety on job sites. For instance, several safety infractions happen on job sites without anyone knowing. In the future, rooftops, trenches, or areas that have potentially high risks for accidents could be monitored and near misses could be identified for review. An early warning system could be established to notify the company of safety infractions. This could prevent several accidents in the future.”

The Drone Business is Exploding

The future looks bright for drones. According to recent reports by consulting firm PWC, the drone industry could be worth as much as $127 billion by 2020. It will be interesting to see if interest in the technology from the HVAC industry takes flight.