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Skylight installation & repair guide: this article series discusses the selection and installation of skylights, including choosing a skylight, how to install the skylight, constructing the skylight well or chute, skylight controls, and skylight shades or screens. We also discuss skylight condensation and special skylight products such as light tubes.
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As detailed in Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction Chapter 3, BEST PRACTICES GUIDE: WINDOWS & DOORS:. Our photo (page top) shows how even a small skylight can bring light into a tight space, in this case, in a roof in Molde, Norway -DF.
Like windows, skylights come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, frame materials, and glazing options. In addition, they have an ever increasing variety of screens, shades, and motorized, automated, and computerized controls, providing convenience and good energy performance in almost any situation.
Many lower-cost skylights use acrylic or polycarbonate glazing in single or double layers instead of glass. In general, plastic glazings resist breakage, but they can become scratched or brittle over time and are prone to yellowing. Unless specially coated to block UV transmission, plastic glazings allow high levels of UV radiation, which causes fading with many interior furnishings and finishes.
Most higher-end units use sealed insulated glass. Codes require the glass to be either tempered or laminated safety glass. When laminated glass is broken, the plastic interlayer holds the pane together. Tempered glass is harder to break, but it breaks into small, rounded fragments rather than dangerous shards.
Double-glazed skylights with safety glass typically have the safety glass on the interior and tempered glass on the outside, combining high impact resistance on the exterior with protection from falling glass below.
Most manufacturers offer a wide variety of sizes, including narrow models designed to fit 24-inch rafter spaces. At least two manufacturers, Roto and Pella, make a 14-inch-wide model designed to fit between 16-inch on center framing. Many standard widths are designed to fit in a double 16- or 24-inch bay.
For narrow spaces, such as a short section of attic roof above a knee wall, Andersen offers several units wider than they are tall, measuring either 16 or 24 inches high by 38 to 72 inches wide. Some manufacturers are tooled up to offer custom sizes for a moderate up-charge.
Operable skylights use either metal arms that swing out or a concealed chain that unrolls and stiffens as the sash is cranked open. How many turns it takes to open the sash and how wide it opens vary considerably among units. For out-of-reach skylights, all manufacturers offer either extension poles or motorized controls. Some extension poles can be challenging to engage in the crank mechanism, making it a chore to open and close the skylight.
Motorized controls simplify the task, and manufacturers have been refining their offerings in this area. Some need hard wiring from the controller to skylight, while others need only a power connection and are controlled by a convenient hand-held remote. Other options include a battery backup, which could be useful during a power outage, and a rain sensor that automatically closes the skylights at the first drops of rain.
The tendency of south- and west-facing skylights to cause summer overheating can be greatly moderated with the new spectrally selective glazing (SHGC below .40) (Spectrally Selective Low-E Windows). Still, shades and screens can be used to further reduce heat gains and UV radiation and to provide more diffused light with less glare. Numbers vary from one manufacturer to another, but typical shading effectiveness is as follows:
In a bedroom, a client might also want shades for room darkening. Manufacturers offer a wide variety of shades, mini blinds, and solar screens, most of which can be controlled by the same motors that control the skylights. Pella’s between-the-glass shades and blinds offer better energy performance than interior shades and never need cleaning, a big advantage with out-of-reach units.
Also see SOLAR SHADES & SUNSCREENS.
Skylight Light Tubes range from 10 to 22 inches in diameter, and one manufacturer, Sun-Tek, offers a multi tube model that supplies up to four tubes from a more conventional looking skylight panel.
Used primarily in remodeling where it is
too difficult or expensive to install a skylight, light tubes
offer an economical way to bring daylight into bathrooms,
walk-in closets, and other small interior spaces.
Andersen Windows and Doors www.andersenwindows.com Skylights and roof windows with exterior sash clad with glass-fiber-reinforced material
Milgard Windows and Doors www.milgard.com Skylights with aluminum frames (thermal break optional) with vinyl subframes on operable models; optional motorized controls with rain sensor
Pella Windows and Doors www.pella.com Wood interior, aluminum exterior, optional motorized controls, and manual or motorized fabric-pleated shades
Roto Frank of America www.roofwindows.com Wood interior, aluminum exterior, optional motorized controls, and manual or motorized fabric-pleated shades; Sweet16 model fits 16 in. o.c. framing
Velux America Inc. www.velux.com Skylights and roof windows with wood interior and aluminum-clad exterior. Options include insect screens, blinds, motorized controls and shades with rain sensor, electrochromatic glass, and flashing kits for metal and tile roofs and mulled units
Skylight Light Tube Manufacturers & Sources
SolaTube www.solatube.com Light tubes from 10 to 21 in. in diameter; options include electrical lighting, daylight dimmer, and integral bath fan
Sun-Tek Skylights www.sun-tek.com Light tubes from 10 to 21 in. in diameter; options include electrical lighting and multitube Spyder skylight
Velux America Inc. www.velux.com Sun Tunnel light tubes from 14 to 22 in. in diameter with flexible or rigid tubes
American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) www.aamanet.org
Efficient Windows Collaborative www.efficientwindows.org
National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) www.nfrc.org Sustainable by Design www.susdesign.com
Shareware calculators for sun angles, solar heat gain, and shading
Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) www.wdma.com
-- Adapted and paraphrased, edited, and supplemented, with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.
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