Planning Your Skylight Location With Your Head Up in the Air

Skylights provide more than just a great view. They add architectural elements, open up dark and dreary rooms, and can put the sunlight to work growing plants or warming up the house. Windows add character to a home, but skylights add drama. In order to plan the location of your new skylight, you are going to have to consider much more than just the view outside.

First walk around to find potential indoor problems. If there is a radiator, steam and heat might be directed right to the window. Heating registers would indicate obstructive duct work, and electrical outlets would indicate nearby wiring if they run upwards.

Then, take a rest from your deep thinking and plop yourself on the couch. Look up to the ceiling and picture yourself gazing at constellations instead of bland white ceiling tiles. Bring yourself back down to earth through the roof and picture what is just above that ceiling.

If there is an attic or crawl space over the ceiling of your proposed skylight location, a light shaft has to be installed. A light shaft is basically a rectangular box (shaft) that extends from the roof, through the attic, and to the edge of the ceiling to direct the light into the house. A skylight without a light shaft will bring in more light than a skylight with a light shaft. You can compensate for the loss of light by installing a larger skylight, or installing a “splayed” light shaft. A splayed light shaft is constructed to manipulate the illumination to get the maximum amount per square foot of skylight. If you have a tall attic, consider a larger skylight and/or a splayed light shaft.

To further examine your proposed skylight location, you’re going to have to get off the couch and venture up into the attic. Walk around the attic where you envision the skylight to be. Look to see if there is duct work, electrical wires, plumbing, vents, pipes, joists, walls or other obstructions to the location. Some obstructions are easy to move, but others aren’t. You probably don’t want the expense of reconstructing your house to move a load bearing wall that’s in the way, but you might be willing to move a few wires. There will be some obstructions, and some cutting and moving is generally expected. But if you see a major obstruction, consider a new location for your skylight. You also need to consider the amount of room needed to perform the installation work. A tool might fit in a tight spot, but a person needs to be holding that tool and must have room to move.

Now you can get out of your sweltering attic and take a walk outside to cool down. Walk around your house and keep your head up in the air. Notice the trees and utility lines that are over your roof and surround your house. If wires are sagging overhead detracting from the view, or if someone will get hurt during installation or cleaning, pick a new spot for your skylight. The utility companies won’t take kindly to your moving their poles.

Trees directly overhead or close enough to capture the after-effects of autumn might look nice in the summer or spring, but they will completely block your view. You will see layers of leaves, twigs, pinecones, bird doo-doo, and dirt and debris from branches instead of baby bird nests and the lush green of summer trees. A skylight is not as easy to clean as a gutter, so plan on moving your proposed skylight location or manicuring your trees to avoid looking at a pile of leaves and dirt instead of blue skies and changing seasons.

Skylights for solar heating have precise requirements for their location and must be oriented and tilted at specific angles determined by your location. You will have to consider those requirements if you’re hoping to take advantage of solar heating.

Finally, walk back inside and walk around the room and imagine if the skylight will be appropriately placed even if the furniture arrangement and decorating scheme changes. At this point, you may even decide to put the skylight in a different room based on your inspection. Then you can start the whole planning process over. Or, you can just plop back down on the couch and picture the midnight constellations or afternoon sun looking down at you from your new skylight location.

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