What is a skylight? The most common types to consider

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In simple terms, a skylight is a vertical window placed on a sloped roof. Prominent in 16th century European architecture, many American homes feature them. The skylight, also called dormer window, has its own roof, which can be arched, flat, pointed or ornate. Because dormers protrude from the sloped roof, they add depth and dimension to a home.

A skylight is also a convenient source of ventilation that allows air and natural light to pass through your home. In older homes, they are found in single-storey attics or low-clearance upper floors. Newer homes can be designed with a false dormer—a purely ornamental feature with no interior space—or strategically placed on a full-size upper story.

Anthony Masterson

What types of houses have dormers?

Skylights have been a part of Western architecture for centuries. The word is said to have its roots in France, where it was a feature of a bedroom or a bedroom in the attic. English Gothic and Catholic churches also have prominent dormer windows. These days, many single or semi-detached homes in the United States have them as well. Typically, historic homes built before the mid-1900s have them, but any newly built home can easily have one for style or as part of a loft conversion.

Types of skylights

Although they all serve the same general purpose, there are several types of skylights to choose from:

  • arched top

  • Blind/false

  • Eyebrow or eyelid

  • Flared gear

  • Gable

  • Hip

  • skylight

  • Nantucket

  • Pediment

  • Polygonal

  • Pyramid

  • Recessed

  • Shed

  • Pitched roof shed

  • Wall skylight

Emilie Followill

Can I put a skylight on a house that doesn’t have one?

If your home is already built but does not have a skylight, a roofing and window specialist may install one. First, you will need to budget around $12,000 to $15,000 for the project, which includes labor, roof repairs and reinforcement, new siding, and other structural modifications to the attic. Only an experienced roofing contractor should be entrusted with the installation of a skylight, but even before that, you may need to get permission from your township or county to have this work done. For these types of approvals, an architectural and/or engineering design report is often required, as this is a major structural change.

An experienced roofer will ensure that the valleys along the side of the dormer are sealed and well insulated. A faulty skylight design can ruin more than your curb appeal; it can also damage the frame of the house. So consult a professional for a feasibility analysis before embarking on a DIY journey or purchasing materials.

You can also consider a false dormer, which is attached to the exterior of the roof, but has no interior components.

Consider that these changes could void existing roof warranties. You will also need to inform your home insurance that major repairs are in progress.

How to Determine the Cost of Installing a Skylight

The cost of installing a skylight depends on the requirements of the project. According to a June 2022 report from HomeAdvisor, the average cost to install a skylight is $12,000. However, at $115/square foot, prices range from $2,500 to $30,000 depending on size, quantity, and design of skylights. You should get detailed quotes from various contractors to understand short-term and long-term costs.

Related: The average cost of a roof repair or replacement

Factors that affect Dormer installation costs

  • Cost of permits, insurance and inspections

  • Labor costs and availability

  • Paints, materials and finishing costs

  • Waste removal

  • The size of the skylight and how much you would like

  • Skylight style

  • The type of roof you already have

  • Where you want it installed

Edmond Barr

Advantages and disadvantages of skylights

Advantages of skylights

Disadvantages of skylights

  • Cannot be installed in all types of homes

  • Requires permission from authorities

  • High installation costs

  • Potential for water and air leakage

  • If placed in historic homes, windows and insulation will need maintenance

  • Increased exposure to weather

  • If not sealed well, can be an access point for birds, squirrels and other pests

What if my house already has a skylight?

If your home already has a skylight, you’re in luck. You already know the versatility of the design and appreciate the aesthetic appeal it adds to the home. Prioritize care and maintenance by insulating skylights, as well as loft, bungalow or attic floors. This will make the space more functional and ensure that it doesn’t unexpectedly increase heating or cooling costs. Remember that drainage and flashings are critical to the life of the roof. Make sure gutters and downspouts are properly placed. Finally, plan to repaint the exterior every few years, as weather can discolor the exterior paint and damage the scalloped or ornate designs.

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