Building owners urged to use drones for facade inspections as new BCA guidelines rolled out

A drone will allow a closer visual inspection as well as better coverage of the entire structure.
A drone will allow a closer visual inspection as well as better coverage of the entire structure.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - With at least 30,000 buildings slated for inspection over the next seven years under new Building and Construction Authority (BCA) guidelines, facade inspectors have been urged to tap drone technology to help get the job done.

From the start of next year, facade checks will have to be carried out every seven years for structures that are over 13m in height and more than 20 years old. The new Periodic Facade Inspection (PFI) regime was announced by the BCA on Thursday (Oct 21).

Current guidelines stipulate that these inspections are carried out at the discretion of a building's owner or management. Residential and temporary structures are exempted.

According to Mr Kabi Subramaniam, an asset services leader at building consultancy Arup Singapore, these inspections are typically done manually from a construction gondola suspended on the side of the building.

"The way we would first identify any exterior defects or faults would be through visual inspection from the ground or from what the client has reported to us, then use a gondola to get a closer look... This process is obviously more time-consuming and does not allow us to be very thorough with the inspection of the building," he added.

This shortcoming has been tackled with the use of drones since 2015.

Mr Subramaniam said: "A drone will allow a closer visual inspection as well as better coverage of the entire structure."

There are time and manpower savings. Using a gondola means that checks can be done along only one vertical section of the building at a time. There is also a safety boost from the reduced need to work from a gondola.

Many more data points can be collected using drones, which have cameras that can record video in 4K resolution and photos of up to 20 megapixels, said Mr Justin Chan of Avetics Global, which provides drone services for industrial and commercial applications.

He added that the footage can be passed through artificial intelligence software to pick up signs of deterioration on the facade.

Addressing concerns about the privacy of building occupants, he said: "Our software is also able to automatically detect and blur out the faces and identity for anyone who might be accidentally recorded."

Under the PFI guidelines, facade inspections must be conducted by a competent person such as an engineer or architect who has been awarded a certificate in facade inspection, and can be assisted by an appointed facade inspector.

The qualification was developed by the BCA in collaboration with the Institution of Engineers, Singapore and the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore and will help supplement the pool of qualified personnel.

As at September, there are 149 competent persons and 140 registered facade inspectors registered with BCA.

The BCA announced a set of technical guidelines on the use of drones for building inspection in November last year.

Practices such as giving at least three days of notice with details of the inspection to building occupants and the proper handling of images or video recordings were detailed, as well as the implementation of systems and processes to prevent any unauthorised image recording.