Brighten Up Dark Rooms With Skylights

skylight installed on roof.

The short, dreary days of winter are a good time to think about adding skylights to brighten up dark rooms. Even small units make a big difference in the way rooms look and feel.

There are many brands and several styles of skylights to choose from, but I advise my clients to stay away from inexpensive units with plastic glazing. Although they are cheaper initially, the bottom line is they don’t last and many of them leak.

The better choice is a high-quality curbed skylight with energy-efficient glazing, and the factory flashing kit made for it. The kit won’t add much to the cost, but it will mean a leak-free installation.

Skylights come as venting units, which open, or as fixed units, which don’t. A venting unit might seem like a good idea, but it can be inconvenient to open and close when it’s out of reach unless you buy a skylight that comes with a remote control.

Tubular skylight.
Tubular skylight.

In fact, many customers who order them tell me later that they rarely bother to track down the special rod needed to operate their windows. So unless the skylight will be easily accessible, buy the fixed unit and save yourself some money. This even applies to putting a skylight in a bathroom.

But it’s essential to make sure a bathroom has adequate ventilation so condensation doesn’t become a problem. A vent fan for a small bathroom should provide one cubic foot per minute (CFM) of air circulation per square foot of floor area, or about eight air changes per hour. For more on sizing a vent fan, go to the Website of the Home Ventilating Institute.

Old fashioned skylights were simply a single thickness of glass in a frame. But today skylights come with laminated or tempered glass, and low-e and tinted coatings to control heat transmission and UV radiation.

Just like windows, skylights are rated for their thermal efficiency by the National Fenestration Rating Council. You can compare the U-values as well as heat and light transmission rates of various skylights.

Even though tinted glass is available, I generally recommend that you stick with clear glass because it lets in more light. If intense sunlight does cause too much heat buildup or begins to fade carpeting and furniture inside, add a shade or screen.

Skylights are available in sizes that fit standard 16″ or 24″ framing. Adding a large skylight may mean that the installer will have to cut one or more rafters.

This is not difficult when the roof is conventionally framed, but cutting a truss roof is different. Trusses are carefully engineered to carry roof loads, and modifying them in the field is a bad idea.

If your home has trusses, make sure the installer sticks with units made to fit between roof members, or gangs several smaller skylights together to create a larger window.


  1. Thanks, your article was helpful as I have been contemplating having a skylight installed in my windowless kitchen since purchasing this house in 2002. My husband and I have gone back and forth with the idea and he is not a big fan of skylights. He thinks that it will compromise the integrity of the roof and cause leaking. I may have sold him on the idea of a nice tax write off, due to the green energy aspect of having one installed, along with a tubular skylight in our dark and dank “water-room”. Particularly, since you expounded on the difference between the skylights most likely to cause leaking and those that are more reliable.

  2. trying to find a episode i think on the weather channel where you showed how to replace a skylight and how to flash around it could you supply a link so we could see it again

  3. I live in a mid century ranch with windows and sliding glass doors facing north and south. The home is too dark in most places and needs brightening. When I had my roof rebuilt, I decided to have the roofers cut in and install a few skylights. I chose the amber colored, double layer fixed types. I put one at the end of the hallway, and the style of the home includes small windows above the doors to the bedrooms. The result is light shining in to the bedrooms. Kitchen skylights have made an incredible difference and the one above a dark stone fireplace really made the area pop. Amazing changes to the interior environment.
    James Wright
    Home Improvement Advisor

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