Skylights Costs and Options, DIY Home Improvement Ideas, Installation tips, Plus Pros and Cons of Skylights for Homes
A skylight can be a much-welcomed addition to your home. It is a great source of natural light and a beautiful way to watch the stars at night. Similar to a 3-seasons room, a skylight can provide extra warmth during the day. It can also act as a natural alarm clock in a bedroom every morning. Some skylights even open to provide an excellent source of ventilation into a room.
via Velux USA
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Costs in a Nut Shell:
The base prices for most skylights range from $250 for a fixed unit up to $400+ for a venting model with additional costs added for any extra features. The expense of professional installation is what will cost you an extra $1,000-$2,500 per skylight or more depending on the complexity of your roof and the ease of access. When hiring a pro for the job, it’s important to get multiple bids from specialist installers. Your main concern when evaluating the bids should be the perception of quality and evidence of contractor’s expertise in installing skylights. Needless to say, the total cost of the job should be a secondary consideration weighed against the perceived quality of installation.
Selecting the right company for the job is critical given the high cost associated with a potential premature failure of a poorly installed skylight.
Why are Skylights So Expensive to Install?
Most of your skylight installation cost is going to come in the form of labor. Imagine installing a window where you need to cut into the home, frame an opening, install the unit, insulate it, and patch back up the inside and outside. Now imagine doing that high up on a roof that might have a steep pitch and where your inside labor could be working off a ladder. Many contractors charge more for skylights, because installing them has such a steep responsibility when it comes to preventing leaks. Overkill is often used including roof wrap, snow and ice guard, flashing, caulking, window tape, and more caulk to seal – which is a good method, but also very time consuming.
The cost of a skylight itself is going to be determined by the size and function. Do you want a skylight that opens or is stationary? If it opens, do you want to have to do it manually like a window or do you want an electric switch wired in at a more convenient spot to reach? How many panes (two or three) are in the skylight to determine its energy efficiency? Do you want any special glazing installed for skylights that may be facing into the sun?
Labor aside, your one constant is going to be the price of the skylight itself. This ranges depending on where you buy it (big box home improvement store, 3rd party supplier, dealer-direct), who the manufacturer is, and what the skylight panel is constructed of (glass or plastic). The size you need and the function will of course also affect costs.
Velux Glass Skylights and its Competitors
Via Velux USA
- Glass Skylight Brands – Velux to skylights is basically what Kool-Aid is to powdered sugar drinks. They are the biggest glass skylight manufacturer in the world and their products are available at any major home improvement store including Lowe’s and Home Depot. Their fixed, tempered glass models range in cost from around $250 to $300 per skylight, whereas a vented unit will likely cost around $500.
The other major manufacturer is Fakro, a Polish company with a significantly smaller market-share.
- Plastic Skylight Brands – technically the material is a high-quality acrylic/polycarbonate, which has many downsides compared to glass; being translucent instead of transparent, easily-scratched, and having a much shorter lifespan. Bristolite and Wasco are two brands that specialize in these type of ‘daylighting systems’. They aren’t as readily available (need to find authorized dealers), and thus may cost more while providing fewer options.
Finding the Right Type / Function of Skylight
There are four main functions to consider:
- Fixed – window pane is stationary
- Manual Vent – panel opens via a crank similar to a window
- Electric Vent – panel opens and closes via a wall switch
- Tube Skylights – for light only and not view, a globe on top of the roof captures sunlight and reflects it through the polished interior of a tube until it is delivered into the room.
The major choice here is whether you want your skylight to open or not. The biggest advantage of a fixed skylight is that it would be theoretically leak-proof, since it is a completely sealed part of the roof.
Vented skylights, although they represent a bigger risk of leaks, are a great way to allow excess moisture in kitchens and bathrooms to escape. When hot water is used, the moisture rises to the glass of the skylight which condensates and creates a higher mold risk. Vents also allow heated air to escape instead of being captured.
How Much Value Does a Skylight Add To Your Home?
A skylight isn’t your typical home renovation where the ROI is precise. For example, home buyers over the years have been known to pay significantly more for an outside deck or patio. Upgrading windows or installing an Energy Star HVAC system will lower your utility bills a specific percentage. Skylights offer a kind of a ‘whole house’ makeover much like a new paint job – the real value isn’t known, but it is surely positive! 😉
Where You Put Your Skylight Determines Energy Loss/Gain
It’s hard to determine a default location for skylights, mostly because each home varies so much in roof slope, ceiling height, climate, and natural shade in the area. There are a few ‘rules of thumb’ to follow however:
- North Facing – skylights facing to the North will receive a fairly constant illumination but one that is for the most part out of the sun’s direct rays at peak hours making it a cooler exposure.
- South Facing – great in the Winter for attracting passive solar heat but conversely that heat gain is going to be intense in the Summer. Blocking off South facing skylights in warmer months could be an option.
- East Facing – since the sun rises in the East skylights facing this direction will provide a bright morning that eventually intensifies in warmth.
- West Facing – gives you a burst of afternoon sunlight but is also warmer for longer.
If you have a large leaf-shedding tree in the path of one of these directions, it could provide ample warmth in the Winter while being largely shaded in the Summer. Likewise if you live in a Southern climate the intensity of the heat is going to be much more severe than in Northern states. Lower slope roofs will also allow a longer exposure to the UV rays compared to steeper roofs. Skylights facing in problematic directions may need to be glazed or equipped with a screen or shield in the Summer.
The Correct Size Recommendations for Skylights
The general rule is that the skylight should not be larger than 5-10% of the floor area in the room it is being placed. For rooms with odd layouts, it’s often best to install two small skylights instead of a central larger one. You generally don’t want to cut into roof trusses just to add natural light to your home, so the rough opening width of the skylight is usually either 22.5” (trusses on 24” centers) or 14.5” (trusses on 16” centers) with lengths up to approximately 46” depending on the room floor area.
Other Important Factors to consider before the Installation
Providing you have the budget available, a skylight is a great investment both for a sound financial return, but also to boost your peace of mind as well. They aren’t perfect home renovation projects, but for many homeowners a skylight is a feature they’d be lost without. Some finally questions you need to ask yourself include – is my climate realistic for a skylight (too hot, too cold)? Does my home have room for a skylight on its North-facing side? Are there shade trees where I could put the lights somewhere else? Do I want a skylight that opens or is stationary?
Energy Efficiency Concerns for Homes without empty Attic Spaces
Skylights appeal to home buyers, but what is their cost to homeowners? Any ROI you might expect to gain from installing a skylight is going to be a moot point if the features serve as an energy drain for 5-10 years in the process. When you want your home to be as energy efficient as possible, the old mantra is that ‘windows make lousy walls.’ This means the fewer windows you design into your home, the better your chances at maximum energy efficiency become. If windows (skylights) make lousy walls, they make absolutely inferior roofs.
What some homeowners may not fail to realize is that a roof is a very important component to your home’s energy efficiency. Roofs that can reflect the sun’s rays prevent the attic from absorbing the heat which helps lower the strain on the air-conditioner. The same concept holds true for roofs that can help retain heat from the inside – they help on furnace costs in the Winter for homes where there is no attic space between the roof and the living space. Now imagine punching a large rectangular hole right in that energy barrier.
The best triple-pane, insulated gas skylights still hold a fraction of the R-value that roofing components offer. Since heat rises, homes can lose 35-40% of their energy efficiency in a bitter cold Winter. Since that hole in the roof is also a spot for warmth to enter, skylights drive up cooling costs in the Summer as well. These losses can be minimized if you focus on the importance of skylight placement.
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The natural light from a skylight helps rooms appear larger, which in turn improves the value of your home. For many people there is nothing more calming than the sun’s rays, especially during Winter months when exposure to light is at a minimum. A skylight in the bedroom is the most private way to enjoy a glimpse into the outside world, especially under the stars at night. Skylights can also make for a great natural light addition to bathrooms and kitchens.
You need to take a strategic approach to implementing these skylights, however. — They can’t just be plopped and slopped anywhere over the roof. Skylights should be installed on the North-facing roof sections or where there is a long vaulted skylight shaft. This ensures that quality light is received and not blaring rays at hours of the day when the sun is most intense.
Skylights also offer the most benefits in a certain type of climate. In the Northwest for example where sunlight is minimal and Summers aren’t too insanely hot, a skylight is a must-have for home buyers. Skylights can be installed in any climate (which includes extreme hot and bitter cold), so long as the glass is double or triple-pane and any skylight shafts are properly insulated.
For many, the mental health benefits of a skylight – whether you’re listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops, watching the flowing of clouds, enjoying the bright nighttime stars or feeling the sun’s warm rays – outweigh any potential energy loss.
With all the benefits stemming from a skylight it would seem that you’d find them adorned all over a house. Unfortunately there are a few drawbacks to installing the features. First of all, you don’t have a lot of control over the light. Skylights in a vaulted ceiling for example are much harder to filter the light on a sunny day compared to pulling down a shade on a living room window. Not only do these items bring in light, they can produce heat as well, which could drive up your air-conditioning costs in the Summer.
A word of caution: Proper installation is absolutely imperative to the long-term success and ultimately enjoy-ability of your skylight. A poorly-installed skylight could become a serious liability and a source of leaks (along with chimneys). If rain can work its way behind windows on the side of your home, imagine how a hard storm can wreak havoc on what is essentially a window on the roof. Skylights need to have proper flashing, caulking, and fastening in order to prevent leaks.
What kind of Skylight will you install in your home?
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