Construction Considerations When Installing Skylights

A handy guide to help you find the best location for your new skylight.

April 18, 2022

If you’re considering including skylights in your new home or next remodel project, you have probably put a lot of thought into which location inside the home is best to take full advantage of the natural light and strong connections with nature that skylights provide. And while indoor form and function is important, you also need to consider outdoor aesthetics, structural limitations, and the importance of preserving the integrity of the building envelope. The information in this article is designed to help you get the most out of your new skylights by identifying which locations can improve views, avoid leaks, increase air flow, and maximize energy efficiency.

Create Fenestration Harmony
The term “fenestration” refers to the window and door openings on a building. When planning the location of skylights, it’s common to put a lot of thought into indoor aesthetics. However, you also need to think about the fenestration layout as a whole and how skylights can complement your other windows and doors to create a pleasing façade. The specific proportion, placement, and colors you choose should coordinate with the specific design elements on your home as a whole, but it might be a good idea, during the planning stage of your project, to play around with different skylight sizes and locations that could still function indoors yet improve curb appeal.

Higher Might Be Better
There are a couple of reasons why you may not want to install skylights down towards the bottom of a roof. If you are constructing a home with a traditionally insulated attic, a skylight installed near the eaves may interfere with the amount of insulation you can install in that area.

Another reason to think about installing a skylight higher up on the roof line is to take advantage of the stack effect. The stack effect is the movement of air that takes place when hot air rises and is replaced by cooler air from below. When outside temperatures drop below indoor temperatures after a hot day, it makes sense to open a window so you can enjoy that fresh air and cool down your home naturally, without the aid of mechanical systems. If you open a venting skylight and a window below, the hot air will rise up and out, pulling in the outdoor air as it exits your home. The higher the skylight is located, the more effective the stack effect will be at cooling your house.

Avoid Unsightly Views
Skylights excel at capturing gorgeous views of the changing colors of the sky, the glowing moon, wispy clouds floating by, and those dramatic lightning flashes during a heatwave-ending, summertime thunderstorm. That said, they can also capture a view that may not be so pleasing, like a sagging power line, a crooked streetlamp, a neighboring apartment building, or even an unsightly part of your own house. Relocating windows on a wall won’t necessarily change the view, but just moving a skylight from one side of a vaulted ceiling to another may be a simple way to upgrade your scenery.

Rafter Spacing is Important
Skylights are typically installed between the rafter boards. If you’re including a skylight in your remodel plans, keep in mind that most of them are designed to fit between rafters spaced either 16 or 24 inches apart. Existing houses can accommodate larger skylights, but it typically requires special engineering and construction, which could add significantly to the cost of installation.

Adding larger skylights to a new home is much easier because the roof system can be customized up front, which is relatively inexpensive. And that’s good because the sizing options on modern skylights are impressive. For example, the Marvin Awaken Skylight offers the largest sizes in the industry with widths over 4 feet and heights near 8 feet.

Stay Clear of Valleys, Ridgelines, and Eaves
Most roof leaks occur at transition areas, like ridgelines, valleys, and eaves. And while more advanced product engineering and improved building practices have almost eliminated the odds that your new skylight will leak, locating it too close to a roof transition could interfere with the specific flashing methods required in these more vulnerable areas. Also, in colder regions, placing a skylight near a valley may result in it being covered by snow for much of the winter season.

Trees Grow
That 30-foot maple tree in the back yard could become a 45-foot tree in 10 years and mature into a 70-foot tree 15 years after that. Even if you are okay with a tree blocking direct sunlight from entering your skylight, you also need to consider the debris trees generate. Leaves, broken branches, and seeds that accumulate on a skylight are not only an eyesore; they can also cause mold, algae, and moss to form. If there are large trees in the vicinity of your future skylight, consider choosing a model especially suited for that application.

The Marvin Awaken Skylight has a sleek, low-profile frame specifically designed to shed debris from its surface. Awaken also has a unique projection venting system that has been engineered with a perimeter screen that keeps debris from entering your house when the unit is open yet does not obscure the glass like the screens on hinged models do.

Choose a Clear Path
Installing a skylight in a room with a cathedral or vaulted ceiling is pretty straightforward. Installing one on a standard gabled roof can also be easy, it just requires a little more planning. It’s important to remember that a shaft connecting the roof to the ceiling needs to be built in the attic. This is a relatively simple task if there’s a clear path. Attics often house mechanical equipment, plumbing pipes, and wiring. You may be able to save money by choosing a location where these systems won’t have to be relocated. Also, there needs to be enough space to access and properly insulate all four sides of the shaft.

Select a Reputable Partner
In addition to brightening up your favorite spaces, there are also legitimate health-related benefits associated with the natural light and fresh air that they deliver. And when deciding which skylight to buy, it’s important to consider the experience and reputation of the manufacturer. Marvin is a family-owned company that has been creating expertly crafted products for over 100 years. Awaken, Marvin’s new, award-winning skylight combines that tradition of excellence with advanced engineering and new-to-market innovations like projection venting and smart sensors. Connect with your local Marvin expert about the Marvin Awaken Skylight.

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