Lets Look at the Bright and Dark Side of Skylights

Skylights are a wonderful way to add natural light  into a dark space. Maybe you are remodeling. Maybe you sold all the cars and are converting the garage to a gym or an office. Maybe you are building over the garage. Whatever you do, natural light is pleasant, and a skylights can be a real addition to your home.

Skylight placement into an existing roof often create problems.
Skylight retrofits are complex and fraught with hazards. Hazards come in many forms. Lets cover them one by one.

Basic skylight installations are bollixed up everyday by someone trying to finesses a proper installation and not following spec. Putting in a new skylight is complex. It has to transition from your existing ceiling into a light shaft to the top of the roof which most often penetrates several feet of attic space.

The average contractor pays attention to what people want and, less so,  to what they need. Homeowners like you and me, are going to be intently watching the appearance of the finished skylight and if it looks good on the inside, well we assume the contractor did a great job everywhere else.

But there are two critical failure points are unrelated to appearance.

The first is the water shedding aspect of the skylight. Screw up the ability of the roof to shed water properly and you will be getting water into the superstructure and the interior.

The skylight is cut into the existing sloped roof which is built on the principle that every part of the roofing sheds water onto the roofing below until it cascades off the roofing into the gutter or the ground.

Skylights interrupt this monolithic water shedding pattern in two ways. First most skylights are 2 feet wide and rectangular. Rectangular means there is a barrier in the water shedding around which water running off the roof, must run around the edge of this protrusion to shed off the roof.

It is the same problem as presented by a chimney which we discuss in detail here. Whenever water is not running downhill, the roofing assembly must be waterproof not just shed water. It is the difference in getting into the tub with your raincoat on and standing in the rain.

The second issue with the roofing is that the roof has to be cut up and the deck opened, to install a skylight and that makes this whole section of roofing a transition area requiring meticulous attention to matching the existing roofing and blending new materials into the old so as to make the roof complete and whole in the end.

This takes time. It takes attention to detail. Most people don’t like to work in the sun, so the remodeler likely fines someone to do this work for him. This is not attractive work. There is a propensity to shortchange the effort of the roof.

So in fact when you need a careful appraisal of the situation, a blending of old and new roofing, plus the care and attention to a proper water shedding portion of the runoff pattern, you get fast and furious and a great dependence of sticky goo. If magical mystery goo- a product of astounding stretchy and sticky properties is used instead- of care and attention, you are screwed.

The inside can look great. The sun can come through and deliver you a warm and pleasant glow, but water is invading, and it could be months or years before you become aware of the issue.

What is the solution?

Well, picking the right contractor is critical. Do you know and trust a good roofer? Bring them into the discussion. It would make complete sense to have your roofer do all the roofing portions of the project. This can save you headaches in the future and big bills. It can keep your home healthy. Keep water out is a health and wealth issue.

Make sure the skylight keeps out air leaks and is well insulated.

The second key failure point occurs when the new skylight is not properly sealed for air leaks and not  properly insulated. This is the ceiling of the house. Hot air floats to the top fo the house which is the ceiling and is the predominant means of energy loss in the house. Poor construction here can create humidity problems and even mold and rot problems where the humid air inside the house can condense on a cold skylight assembly member that is impacted by the external temperature.

We cover issues with bonus rooms and addons here. The same issues with bonus rooms occur with skylights, just the scale and the configuration is different.  Your skylight interior can look great- finished off nicely with sheetrock and well crafted mud and paint and trim; but behind the sheetrock, the insulation is not swell supported, the insulation is too thin, and the walls of the shaft are not properly air sealed.

These actions all take extra time, and extra money and attention to detail. You want to make sure you have a heart to heart talk with your contractor, or listen heart to heart to the right contractor who brings up these issues.

Every incompetent contractor who will mess stuff up, is very good at diverting your attention from critical details, and is quite talented finding your happy zone to put a smile on your face. We have attempted here to inoculate you with some facts to help you fend off the happy BS that can numb you to the key questions, that can let you be lulled into a blissful zone while evil is done.

Make sure you see the notes on the checklist for hiring a contractor or a remodeler.

Maybe you need to consider a bigger remodel that encompasses energy efficiency that can help pay for the remodel over time. Or maybe, add to your income. Have you thought about that? We discuss that here.

The more you learn outside the school of hard knocks, the better.

Skylights are great. Find the right contractor, talk to your roofer, and you will be fine.

Any thoughts to add? What did I leave out here? What kind of an experience have you had that might help someone avoid a headache? Please add them below in the comments.



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