Skylight Basics

When discussing skylights for homes, the expression skylights, or roof skylights, is often used as a “catch all” term to describe a number of residential skylight styles. Below are listed a few of these styles:

Fixed skylights: these are the original skylights which are designed to allow additional lighting into a room. The styles and dimensions can cover a wide range from very small to exceptionally large, one layer or two, tinted or non-tinted. These are traditional skylights found on homes needing extra lighting or perhaps in places where a skylight improves the view.

Venting skylights: these skylights can be opened to allow airflow from the house to the outside. The main use for venting skylights is in bathrooms to exhaust the humid air and in the kitchen to exhaust the heat. A ventilating skylight can be controlled by a temperature sensor, a hand-held remote control, an electric switch, or by an automatic or hand crank. These make great skylights for the home if you need additional, cost free, ventilation.

Dome skylights: these are typically fixed skylights, which are rectangular or circular in design, but can be fabricated in almost any other shape desired. Domed skylights normally are not vented but can be purchased with many of the extra features available for fixed skylights. Basic dome skylights can be installed without difficulty; however, if you would like a specially designed dome skylight you would normally need a professional for the installation.

Solar tube skylights: these are relatively new to the world of skylights. Normally they are smaller, often between ten to fourteen inches in diameter, which allows them to be installed in places where fixed or venting skylights would be impossible to use. Even though tubular skylights are much smaller in general than other skylights, they still can provide a significant amount of light to hallways, closets, bathrooms, or other areas.

Solar skylights: these are relatively new to the market and are currently found mainly on commercial buildings.

Extra skylight features available:

Single or double pane skylights: most people go with double pane skylights since the cost for the upgrade is minimal while the insulating effect is much greater with the double pane skylight. Triple pane skylights are also available where energy savings is important.

Insulated thermal glass skylights: this also helps retain heat in the winter and keep cooler air in the house during the summer.

Tinting skylights: can repel UV rays and heat in general.

Skylights blinds and skylights shades: are available to open and close so to allow or prevent light from entering the home.

Insect screens for skylights: if you have a venting skylight a pest screen, or insect screen, would be a good idea to keep out unwanted insects when the skylight is opened.

Acrylic skylights vs. glass skylights: there is a difference of opinion here but generally glass skylights give a better view, are more durable, and hold out the noise better while acrylic skylights are easier to maintain, function well in extreme weather conditions, and are normally cheaper than glass skylights.

Skylight installation overview:

If you plan to do the skylight installation yourself, there are a few things which you need to know:

In your attic, how far apart are the rafters, 16″ or 24″?  If possible, get a skylight which fits exactly between two rafters, or if you need a larger one, get a skylight which fits exactly on a multiple of 16″ or 24″ inches, e.g., 32″ or 48″, this will make installation much easier.

Is your roof covered with fiberglass shingles, cedar shakes, tile, or is it flat? This will determine the type of flashing necessary. If your roof is flat then be sure you look for flat roof skylights.
Self-flashing: this means that the metal necessary for flashing skylights is already attached.

Curb-mount: this has to be built on the roof to accommodate the skylight dimensions.

What type of ceiling do you have? Cathedral or regular. A cathedral ceiling will generally not require as much work to install a skylight as one which has a large span from the ceiling to the roofing deck.

Finally, you will need to decide whether to use a direct shaft or a flared shaft.

Overall, if you didn’t understand the above information, it may be time to call a professional for your skylight installation. However, if you are a handyman sort, you won’t find the skylight installation job too difficult.