When you put a skylight in your ceiling, you are accomplishing much, much more than just increasing the amount of natural light in the room. A skylight can add architectural dimension and drama to a ceiling, while lending a sense of airy spaciousness to the room at large.
Most importantly, however, a skylight provides a private, customized view of an authentic masterpiece: the sky itself.
A well-positioned, high-quality skylight will frame the blue of the heavens, capture the silvery light of the stars and moon, and catch the colorful beauty of the clouds – especially during sunrises and sunsets in the Florida Keys – bringing the natural beauty of the sky into the room as design elements in their own right. Whether added to a kitchen, bath, hallway, living room or kitchen, a skylight can offer a glimpse of the miraculous world above your tropical home.
Most traditional flat skylights are curb-mounted, meaning that they are placed inside wooden boxes that have been installed on the roof. Flashing installed around the skylight helps to shed water and keep the skylight leak-proof; when properly done, this negates the necessity for sealants, which can deteriorate and become ineffective over time.
For safety reasons, flat skylights should always be made of tempered or laminated glass. Skylights made by Velux feature argon-gas injected dual glass panes, as well as Low-E – or low emissivity – glass, which is becoming increasingly popular for its ability to help fight heat buildup in summer and heat loss in winter. Some skylight models offer comfort glazing, which also helps to insulate against extremes of temperature. Many companies offer a range of colors for glazing, including white, gray and bronze.
You can choose from “fixed” – or closed — skylights, skylights that can be manually opened with the use of a rod, and those that can be opened electrically. Remote-controlled and “smart” skylights – which close automatically when it rains – are also available.
Proper placement of skylights is essential, as their functionality is dependent upon their position in relation to the sun. Unlike wall windows at the sides of houses, which automatically capture low-angled sunlight in winter while minimizing the high-angled, blazing light of a summer sun, skylights can let in too much – or too little – light as the sun makes its way across the sky.
A skylight in a part of the house that faces south can excel at channeling bright sunshine down into the room. At the same time, however, it may cause the area to become overheated; eventually, it could bleach and fade prized furniture, carpets and fabrics. Fortunately, you can get skylights in tinted glass that blocks the sun’s ultraviolet rays while still letting in light. Blackout blinds, light filtering blinds and even venetian blinds, available in many different designer styles and patterns, can also mitigate the problem.
Bleaching and overheating tends not to be a problem with skylights in north-facing rooms, but they sometimes don’t let in sufficient light. Although they will capture a diffused, lovely, subdued light, they usually won’t provide the penetrating splashes of sunlight that can so brighten a room.
Experts say that one of the most common mistakes people make with skylight placement is neglecting to realize that the sun doesn’t remain stationary. When considering where to place your skylight, try to take note of the sun’s passage throughout the day and consider; what will it look like at dawn? High noon? And twilight?
If at all possible, try to avoid installing your skylights on roofs that face the streets. When viewed externally, skylights can look inelegant on some traditionally-designed homes. Where interior positioning is concerned, try to align the skylight with a window, door, dining room table or other design element.
Installation—A Job For the Pros
Unless you are an extremely proficient DIYer with experience working on roofs, you should leave skylight installation to the professionals. Rafters often have to be cut to accommodate large skylights, and interior sheathing must be removed to make sure you don’t cut an electrical line. Cutting the wrong structural beam can seriously weaken the load-bearing capacity of your house. Finally, there is the ever-present danger of serious or even fatal falls.
Make sure your contractors use factory flashing that is specifically made for the skylight. Factory flashing should not add much to the cost, and will be worth it in terms of peace of mind — a properly-installed skylight, equipped with the factory flashing, should not leak.
You should also ensure that the skylight glass meets local standards for wind resistance, impact resistance and pressure tolerance. Depending on where you live, you may need special snow-load or hurricane-resistant glass.
If you are installing a skylight in the bathroom, the room must be sufficiently ventilated to avoid problems with misting and condensation. The formula for adequate bathroom ventilation with a vent fan is 1 cubic foot per minute of air circulation per square foot of floor area.
If you have your heart set on adding natural light to a small, dim roombut find it impractical to add a window or skylight, a tubular skylight can be a good option. Unlike conventional skylights, which require a shaft to bring down light from the roof through the ceiling, tubular spotlights utilize an acrylic bubble and a reflective pipethat funnels light through the attic, augmented by a ceiling fixture that spreads the light through the room.Efficient and easy to install, tubular skylights are rapidly gaining in popularity.
Although skylights are beautiful in and of themselves, variations and embellishments can make them look simply spectacular. One popular trend is to leave theoriginal roof trusses in place, staining or refinishing them to complement furniture or flooring. The resultant crisscrossing in the area below the skylight can add intriguing texture and dimension. Skylights can also be enhanced by adding brickwork to the facings of the shaft that extends below.
Circular skylights – reminiscent of overhead portholes – and groupings of skylights can also be effective.Decorative trim kits, to enhance and highlight the skylight’s design, can further accent these show-stopping design elements.
Positioning the skylight over an existing feature can spark additional design ideas, as well. Placing it over a kitchen island, for example, could inspire you to suspend a row of pendant lights, drawing attention both to the skylight above and the island below.
Whether you choose to embellish your skylight or let its simple beauty speak for itself, you now have round-the-clock access to your own view of heaven, from the comfort of your own home.
Robert Landry is co-owner/partner of The Cutting Edge Roofing in Pickering, Ontario, Canada. Robert has more than 25 years’ experience in the commercial and residential roofing industry and has led the company to its current status as an award-winning roofing provider with a Best of 2012 Homestars Award in the Roofing Division. He is an avid ice hockey fan and enjoys spending his free time with his family.