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Skylight window on a building's roof
By Amy Pearson March 12, 2024

Skylights? Oh, they’re like a straight-up VIP pass to the blue skies. They let that sunshine pour right in, giving your place that ‘wow’ factor with a splash of sunlight. But hey, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. These glassy wonders need some serious thought.

We’re talking leaks, extra heat, and the occasional bird show. So, let’s break it down – the good, the bad, and the ‘maybe let’s not’ of cutting a hole in your roof for that slice of daylight.

What is skylight?

A skylight is a window installed in a roof or ceiling to allow natural light to enter a building from above. It is typically made of glass or acrylic and can come in various shapes and sizes, such as rectangular, circular, or tubular.

Skylights are used in both residential and commercial buildings/office building layouts to brighten interior spaces, reduce the need for artificial lighting during the day, and provide ventilation in some cases. They can also offer views of the sky and surrounding environment, enhancing the aesthetics of a space.

A low angle shot of a small wooden window in the ceiling of a black and white interior house

What are the functions of a skylight?

Skylights serve several functions, including:

  1. Natural Light: Skylights allow natural sunlight to enter a building from above, illuminating interior spaces and reducing the need for artificial lighting during the day. This can help create a more comfortable and inviting atmosphere indoors.
  2. Ventilation: Some skylights are designed to open, allowing fresh air to circulate into the building, it’s roof ventilation in other words. This can help improve indoor air quality and regulate temperature, especially in areas where traditional windows may not be practical or sufficient.
  3. Energy Efficiency: By harnessing natural light, skylights can help reduce the reliance on artificial lighting, leading to potential energy savings. Additionally, proper installation and use of skylights can contribute to passive solar heating and cooling strategies, further enhancing energy efficiency.
  4. Aesthetics: Skylights can enhance the visual appeal of interior spaces by providing views of the sky, clouds, or surrounding environment. They can also create a sense of openness and connection with the outdoors, particularly in areas where traditional windows may not be feasible.
  5. Health and Well-being: Exposure to natural light has been linked to various health benefits, including improved mood, productivity, and sleep patterns. Skylights can help bring natural light into spaces where occupants spend a significant amount of time, promoting overall well-being.
  6. Privacy: Skylights can offer natural light without compromising privacy, especially in rooms where traditional windows might overlook neighbouring properties or busy streets.

Overall, skylights can play a significant role in enhancing the comfort, functionality, and aesthetics of a building while also supporting energy efficiency and occupant well-being.

Wooden ceiling in a contemporary mansard room with attic window of decorative planks surface.

Are there any disadvantages of skylight?

While skylights offer numerous benefits, there are also some potential disadvantages to consider:

  1. Heat Gain and Loss: Skylights can contribute to heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter, potentially impacting the building’s overall energy efficiency. Without proper insulation and shading, skylights may allow excessive heat to enter the building, leading to increased cooling costs in warm climates and decreased heating efficiency in cold climates.
  2. Glare and UV Exposure: Direct sunlight entering through skylights can create glare, which may cause discomfort and interfere with tasks such as reading or using electronic devices. Additionally, prolonged exposure to UV radiation from sunlight can cause fading and damage to interior furnishings, artwork, and flooring.
  3. Leakage and Condensation: Improper installation or maintenance of skylights can lead to water leakage during rainstorms or snowmelt, potentially causing damage to the building’s interior and structure. Condensation may also form on the interior surface of skylights, particularly in humid environments, which can promote mould and mildew growth if not addressed.
  4. Cost: Skylights can be expensive to purchase and install, especially if they require structural modifications or custom designs. Additionally, ongoing maintenance and repair costs may be necessary to ensure proper performance and prevent issues such as leaks or drafts.
  5. Limited Placement Options: Skylights may not be suitable for all roof configurations or building designs. Certain roof slopes, orientations, or obstructions such as trees or neighbouring buildings may limit the placement and effectiveness of skylights in providing natural light.
  6. Security Concerns: Skylights, particularly those that are operable, may pose security risks if not properly secured or if accessible from the exterior. Additionally, skylights located in vulnerable areas of the roof may be susceptible to break-ins or unauthorized entry.
  7. Maintenance Challenges: Cleaning and maintaining skylights can be challenging, especially for units installed in high or inaccessible locations. Accumulated dirt, debris, or snow on the exterior surface of skylights can reduce their effectiveness in transmitting natural light and may increase the risk of leaks or damage over time.

Despite these potential disadvantages, proper design, installation, and maintenance can help mitigate many of these issues, allowing skylights to continue providing natural light and other benefits to buildings effectively.

What is the better alternative to skylights?

The best alternative to skylights depends on specific needs, preferences, and the constraints of the building or space. Some alternatives to consider include:

  1. Solar Tubes or Tubular Skylights: Solar tubes, also known as tubular skylights or sun tunnels, are cylindrical devices that capture sunlight from the roof and channel it through a highly reflective tube to a diffuser installed in the ceiling. They are suitable for spaces where traditional skylights may not be feasible due to structural limitations or where a smaller amount of natural light is desired. Solar tubes are typically more affordable and easier to install than conventional skylights.
  2. Clerestory Windows: Clerestory windows are narrow, horizontal windows installed high on the walls of a building, typically just below the roofline. They allow natural light to enter the space while providing privacy and reducing the risk of glare compared to skylights. Clerestory windows can be effective in bringing daylight deeper into interior spaces, particularly in buildings with high ceilings.
  3. Light Shelves: Light shelves are horizontal surfaces installed below windows or on the exterior of buildings to reflect and redirect natural light deeper into interior spaces. They can help mitigate glare and distribute daylight more evenly throughout a room, reducing the need for artificial lighting.
  4. Skylight Blinds or Shades: If glare or excessive heat gain is a concern with skylights, installing blinds or shades can provide control over the amount of sunlight entering the space. Motorized options are available for convenience, allowing occupants to adjust the shading as needed throughout the day.
  5. Roof Windows: Similar to traditional skylights but designed to be opened like a regular window, roof windows provide natural light and ventilation while offering easier access for cleaning and maintenance. Roof windows are typically installed on pitched roofs and can be a good alternative in areas where skylights may not be suitable or desired.
  6. Interior Light Wells: Light wells are vertical shafts or openings in the interior of a building that bring natural light from higher levels to lower levels or below-ground spaces. They can be incorporated into building design to maximize daylighting in areas where windows or skylights may not be feasible.

Ultimately, picking the top choice boils down to stuff like how much sunshine you wanna let in, the building limits you’re working with, how much you care about saving energy, and how much cash you’re willing to part with. Chatting up a seasoned architect or designer can really help figure out what’s best for your own place and situation.

In conclusion

Skylights have always been a charming feature in homes and buildings, letting in that sweet sunshine and giving us a glimpse of the sky. But let’s face it, they can be a bit of a headache with the extra heat and the occasional drip-drip of leaks, not to mention the upkeep. But hey, there’s good news! There are plenty of other cool ways to let in the light, like solar tubes that funnel sunshine right where you want it, or clerestory windows that add a modern twist.

So whether you’re sticking with the timeless skylight vibe or going for something new, the aim’s all about making spaces that are bright, warm, and just plain feel good to be in.

Amy Pearson