Restoration Guide: Windows and Doors - Skylights

Barbara Marquand

Editor's Note: This is article 6 of 12 in Chapter 4: The Windows and Doors Guide of Old House Web Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Rehab Guide.


Skylights were used long before electricity to bring extra light into buildings, but in the old days they were prone to leaks and lacked shading. New skylights have flashing that can accommodate any type of roof, and they come with the energy-efficient glazing alternatives available for windows. You can buy a variety of shades and screens for skylights, which can be operated electronically with a remote control. This chapter of the Windows & Doors volume of the Old House Web Restoration Guide discusses the different types of skylights available today, how they differ from earlier generations, and factors to consider for repairing or installing skylights in a remodeling project.

Section 1--The Basics

Older skylights, usually made from wire glass and a steel frame are vulnerable to condensation and require regular maintenance to work well. Yet an older mass-produced skylight can last a long time if you have it inspected, cleaned and painted regularly, and many can accommodate storm windows for added thermal protection.

The newest skylights require no modification of the roof framing--a bonus if you want to increase daylight and ventilation without too much fuss as part of your remodeling. The new narrow conventional units and tubular skylights can fit between framing spacing and around obstacles. Tubular skylights capture light from a dome on the roof, direct it through a highly reflective tube, and diffuse it from the ceiling.

Check the National Fenestration Ratings Council (NFRC) to compare skylights.

Section 2--What You Need to Know for Repair, Replacement, or Installation

2.1: Repairing Metal Skylights

If your old house has a skylight in need of repair, get quotes from roofing contractors and architectural metal fabricators. Compare those costs with replacement, which might be a better option in the long run to address energy losses and condensation problems.

2.2: Replacing Skylights

New, narrower skylights don't require modifying the roof framing, and they feature special flashing materials to create tight seals for protection against energy loss and leaks. These new skylights let you introduce light and ventilation in otherwise closed areas of your old house, although skylights are still often subject to unwanted heat gain or loss.

2.3: Tubular Skylight Installation

These units are best for small interior spaces, such as bathrooms, closets, and dark hallways, and they can be installed around obstructions, such as plumbing, without modifying the roof framing. Poorly insulated tubes, though, might be subject to condensation, and acrylic diffusers and domes can discolor with time.


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