How to Utilize Skylights in Your New Home

By Brian Ford


Looking for a natural way to illuminate your home? Skylights may be the option for you!

Photo: GettyImages/Andersen Ross

Many new homeowners overlook the many benefits skylights can provide as they plan their new construction or custom built home. Adding skylights into the mix is a great way to brighten up any space, improve ventilation and increase the overall energy efficiency of your new home. Here are the primary factors to consider when reviewing skylights with your builder.

Most common rooms to add a skylight

Kitchen – commonly designed to be one of the brighter sections of any home, skylights are a natural choice to help achieve this goal and can also help reduce the need for traditional windows which will free up wall space for additional storage and shelving. Ventilated skylights are a great way to help release odors and control temps when cooking.

Bathrooms – skylights are a perfect way to add natural light without the privacy concerns included with traditional windows. Ventilated skylights are a great way to increase air flow and combat mold when moisture is present. Smaller interior bathrooms void of any windows may benefit from the addition of smaller solar tube style skylights, which require less ceiling and roof space thanks to their smaller surface area.

Bedroom – besides adding natural light during the day, skylights are a great way to view the stars at night. Models including blinds and curtains are available for those concerned with natural light disturbing their sleep.
Living and family rooms – typically among the largest rooms of any home and frequently the most challenging to properly light and maintain temperature due to their size. Skylights are a logical choice to help add more light into larger spaces without the need for additional electrical lighting. Properly coated and ventilated models can assist with more efficient heating and cooling of these larger spaces.

Converted attics and bonus rooms – converted attics can be a challenge to light making the addition of skylights and ideal choice especially since attics offer direct roof access for easy installation. Ventilated skylights can assist with heating and cooling since attics and above garage bonus rooms are frequently some of the most challenging spaces to heat and cool.

Guidelines for skylight sizing

The industry standard for properly sizing skylights is to estimate 1 square foot of skylight surface area for every 20 feet of floor space below. For rooms already receiving abundant sunlight through standard windows, it is recommended skylight sizes should not exceed 5% of total floor space. Darker rooms with fewer windows may increase skylight size to 10% to 15% of total floor space.

Selecting proper skylight locations

Utilize the natural pattern of the sun’s directional travel by season to help locate ideal installation locations. Those seeking more natural light and warmth during either the morning or evening hours can utilize the sun’s east and west rising and setting patterns. Those seeking a more consistent and diffused lighting source throughout the day should select locations facing north. Southward facing skylights can help add additional warmth and light in the winter months, but may be challenging in the summer when extra heat is not desired. Always check to see if any trees will be located above install locations, as they may block light and drop leaves and debris on the skylights below.

Primary skylight models

There are three primary models of skylights to review:
  • Fixed – standard skylight model designed to allow the passage of light without any ventilation options. Typically the most common model selected by homeowners thanks to its lower install cost and wide variety of sizes and models. 
  • Ventilated – similar to fixed models but includes the option to open the skylight allowing the passage of air for ventilation. Various ventilation options are available and range from manual opening to automated venting powered by solar energy. Be careful when choosing a manual venting model as skylight locations are frequently hard to access, making it a challenge to properly utilize venting options. Ventilated models will cost more to install, but can contribute to the lowering of utility costs when properly utilized. 
  • Solar tubes – smaller skylight systems designed for rooms with limited ceiling or roof access. Typically circular in shape, they can be installed with smaller tubes running up to the roof for cheaper and easier installation.
Skylight surface materials and shapes

Skylights are primarily manufactured with either glass or plastic/acrylic surfaces. Plastic is a good choice for those seeking the most cost effective option or when total installation weight may be a concern. Glass is better for both longevity and durability, as plastic tends to discolor over time and is more prone to scratches and damage. Glass is also the superior choice when seeking energy efficiency, thanks to the wide variety of multi-pane and UV coated/tinted models available. UV coatings also play a large role in the prevention of sunlight discoloring of furniture and flooring in the rooms below. Glass models run from basic double paned models all the way up to triple paned with inert gas between layers to help reduce heat transference and reduce energy costs.
Exterior skylight roof covers are available in various shapes such as domed, arched and pyramid. Choosing a non-flat surface is a good choice when concerned with the accumulation of leaves, debris or snow during winter months. Talk with your builder if you live in a region that may encounter heavy snow accumulations, or require enhanced wind resistance such as coastal areas impacted by hurricanes, as you may need to purchase skylights rated for these purposes.

Skylights to improve energy efficiency

When properly selected and installed, skylights are capable of providing homeowners with significant energy savings. Not only will cost savings occur when an electric light is turned off, the heat typically generated by electric light will be absent, making it easier to cool and maintain temps during warmer months. Here are other key factors to consider when researching skylights related to energy efficiency:
  • Seek out skylights that are Energy Star rated. A list of Energy Star rated skylights may be found on the following government website:
  • Like their window counterparts, skylights utilize coated, tinted, multi-pane glass technology to reduce heat transference to and from the outside.
  • Ventilated skylights may be utilized to help cool a room more efficiently by releasing hot air that has risen to the ceiling of a room and by allowing cooler breezes at night to flow into the space below.
  • Solar powered, Energy Star rated ventilated skylights are available that will help homeowners qualify for up to a 30% federal tax credit related purchase and install expenses. Consult with a tax professional for full details.
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Brian Ford spent more than a decade working in the specialty appliance retail industry and now devotes his time to freelance print and video content creation.


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