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Learn Skylight Basics Before You Install


Fixed Skylight

Fixed Skylight

Skylights are considered a luxury by many homeowners, the window equivalent of a hot tub or heated tile. But skylights are not necessarily difficult or expensive to install—or at least, not as difficult as many homeowners expect.

I believe that skylights are far more than just a “luxury”; skylights are a necessity for almost every home. In many ways I find it peculiar that more home builders do not install skylights as standard operating procedure. Because of this, homeowners are forced to retro-fit skylights into their home. So, let’s take a look at some skylight basics, and perhaps you’ll see why skylights should be more than just an afterthought.

Every Skylight is a “Roof Skylight”

Skylights are installed in the roof. While it might be possible to install a skylight elsewhere (a wall?), this would be a non-conventional installation and not true to the purpose of a skylight. All skylights are roof skylights.

A skylight is a glazed “window” that fits on your roof. It can be either flat or domed, fixed or vented. Some vented skylights operated by an electric motor, while others open and close manually.

Three Ways to Install a Skylight

Skylight installation is performed by either:
  1. Window Contractor – Search for replacement windows, and you’ll find a qualified professional who can install skylights. Pella, Marvin, and Andersen are among the big names in windows who can not only supply you with a skylight but the qualified professionals to install it. Window companies will be your most expensive option.
  2. General Contractor or Carpenter – Skylights do not need to be installed by window contractors. Any general contractor, general carpenter, or even some handymen should be able to install your skylight. This option will be vastly cheaper than going with the window contractor. As it turns out, the window contractor will probably outsource some of the work, such the skylight framing and drywalling, to general contractors or specialized trades.
  3. Yourself (Do It Yourself Skylight Installation) – If you feel comfortable with these tasks, you most likely can install your own skylight: a.) Carpentry; b.) Minor roofing; c.) Window installation; and d.) Drywalling. If you’re installing motor-driven skylights, you’ll need electrical experience, too. DIY skylight installation is not something I would recommend to everyone, though.

Fixed Skylight vs. Vented Skylight

A fixed skylight borrows window terminology again. “Fixed,” in window parlance, means that it cannot be opened. Never, ever. Think of your typical office building window, and that is a fixed window.

A vented skylight is openable. While it may seem like vented skylights are better than fixed skylights, that is not necessarily so. A few of the pros and cons of fixed vs. vented skylight:

  • A fixed skylight is theoretically considered leak-proof. Because it is sealed in the factory, a fixed skylight should not leak. Most leaks, then, would occur due to improper fixed skylight installation.
  • A vented skylight provides opportunities for leakage, though it should be noted that window manufacturers in recent years have been producing virtually leak-proof vented skylights.
  • Vented skylights can accidentally be left open, allowing rain to enter the house. However, automatically closing vented skylights are available which close at the first drop of rain.
  • Vented skylights allow excess moisture in kitchens and bathrooms to escape—a good thing. Also, you can vent out heat build-up. Fixed skylights do not have this option.
  • Don't be afraid of skylights due to potential moisture. Effective skylight moisture control is possible for either vented or fixed skylights.

Skylights: 4 Basic Types

Cost of Skylights

Skylights are cheap. Now, everything is relative, of course, and we all have our different interpretations of “cheap,” but look at this:
  • Velux Fixed Skylight for Rough Opening 22 1/2" X 22 1/2": Well under $300.
  • Velux Manually Venting Skylight for Rough Opening 25 1/2" X 37 1/2": Under $400.
That is not your only materials cost. You also have lumber, drywall, paint, and related materials for the skylight well or “tunnel.” Also roofing materials for the top side.

What really costs is the labor. Double or triple the materials costs to get an idea of the total cost of skylight installation.

Q: “Skylights can only be installed during fair seasons, right?”

A: No. While it is always preferable to install during dry/warm months, contractors and window companies can install your skylight almost year-round. In fact, why not install a skylight in November or December—these are the times when you need a skylight the most.

Q: “I’m afraid that a tree limb may break the skylight. How strong are skylights?”

A: Skylights are made either with tempered glass or laminated glass. Tempered glass is like your automotive glass: when struck, it shatters into thousands of smooth pebbles. Laminated glass is plastic attached to glass. So, when laminated glass breaks, it stays together.

Q: “Will I need to cut out roof trusses to accommodate the skylight?”

A: Not always. There are skylights that can fit between regularly-sized rafters—24 inches or 16 inches on-center. So, if you want a larger skylight, you’ll need to cut trusses/rafters.

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