Everything You Need to Know about Skylights

Skylights can be a wonderful addition to the home: they bring natural light into areas that are normally dark and dreary without windows, and they add a beautiful, architectural design element to the space.

If you are interested in one or more skylights for your home, this is the guide for you. We’ve put together all you need to know about skylights—from design, to placement, to energy efficiency considerations—so you can make an informed choice.

Let’s get started!

Types of Skylights

There are three basic types of skylights: ventilating, fixed, and tubular. They come in a variety of shapes: flat, domed, arched, and pyramid.

Ventilating: This type is sometimes called “roof windows,” because that’s essentially what they are: windows for your roof. Ventilating skylights can open and close. (They are available with manual or electric operation.) This means they provide both extra light and ventilation—which makes them an excellent option for high-humidity rooms like kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms.

Fixed: Fixed skylights are very similar to the ventilating kind; however, they do not open or close. This means they don’t provide ventilation. This type of skylight is ideal for any room needing extra light, from bedrooms to attics.

Tubular: This type of skylight is composed of a dome attached to a reflective tube that runs from the roof to the ceiling of the room below, diffusing light into the room. Unlike ventilating and fixed skylights, tubular skylights do not provide either ventilation or views. However, this option is perfect for small spaces that don’t have the space for a window-style skylight, like powder rooms, pantries, and walk-in closets. It’s also great for rooms that don’t have direct access to the roof; the tube can be angled around obstructions.

Skylights can also range in size. The size of the skylight greatly affects the amount of light and even the temperature of the room. (That’s because of heat loss and heat gain that occurs through the window.) A good rule of thumb is that, in rooms with many windows, the skylight should be no more than 5% of the floor space. In rooms with few (or no) windows, the skylight’s size should be no more than 15% of the floor space.

Skylight Placement

You don’t want your skylight to make you feel like an ant under a magnifying glass. That’s why the placement of the skylight is just as important as the type—particularly if you have chosen a ventilating or fixed skylight.

Skylights that are installed in less-than-ideal locations can bring a harsh glare into the room or increase the room’s temperature through solar heat gain. Here are a few things to consider.

North-facing skylights will bring soft, diffused light into the room throughout the day.
(This is generally ideal, unless you’re looking for a sunny, spotlight effect.) This skylight placement is also one of the most energy efficient, since it doesn’t absorb or release too much heat. (This will also make the room more comfortable.)

East-facing skylights provide the most light and heat gain in the morning, when the sun is rising.

South-facing skylights typically provide brighter light but also are prone to overheating rooms.

West-facing skylights provide the most light and heat gain in the late afternoon, when the sun is setting.

In addition to the orientation, it’s important to make sure the skylight has the appropriate slope, or tilt. If the tilt is too low, it will allow more solar heat gain in the summer and less in the winter (which is exactly what you don’t want). The U.S. Department of Energy recommends a slope equal to your geographical latitude plus 5-15 degrees. For example, a skylight in Covington, KY (at 39 degrees latitude) should have a slope between 44 and 54 degrees.

Energy Efficiency

Like windows, skylights can range in energy performance. When looking for a skylight, you’ll want to choose one with ENERGY STAR or NFRC (National Fenestration Rating Council) labels.

Depending on your needs, you may want a skylight with heat-absorbing tints, insulated glazing, and/or low-emissivity (low-e) coatings. These options make the skylight more energy efficient and lower its heat gain/loss. In addition, a tint can be important for preventing the direct sunlight from bleaching your furnishings.

You’ll also want to consider the materials used. Skylights come with glazing made of plastic or glass. Plastic is cheaper; however, it is more likely to discolor, get brittle, and scratch over time. It also allows more UV rays to pass through. While glass is more expensive, it is more durable and doesn’t yellow. It’s an upgrade that’s often worth it in the long run, making it the more sustainable option.

Skylight Installation

Proper installation of a skylight is critical otherwise you’ll experience problems down the road—like decreased energy efficiency and even leaks! Good installation involves following all manufacturer instructions, mounting the skylight above the surface of the roof (so water doesn’t pool on it), sealing all joints well, and installing a curb and flashing.

That said—given how complex the project can be and how easily it can go wrong—this is usually a job for the professionals.

Call Us Today

If you are considering skylights, contact Jack’s Glass. Our experts can help you every step of the way—from design, to placement, to professional installation.

Our local, family-owned and -operated business has been helping Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky homeowners with their commercial glass, auto glass, glass shower and window needs for more than 70 years. Contact us today at our Elsmere, Covington, or Dry Ridge locations.