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Skylights Offer New Features, Shapes, Vents


QUESTION: My brother just installed a skylight in his living room, and it makes the room seem larger and more open. I have seen many skylight designs at home centers. What are the newest features and what is best?

ANSWER: Adding a skylight reduces the need for electric lights while providing summer ventilation and free solar heat in the winter. New low-profile frames provide more glass area, yet still fit neatly between the rafters.

There are many new skylight designs, shapes and features that make them more attractive, efficient and durable. Pyramid, round and multifaceted shapes are among them. With a simple light-well from the roof to the ceiling, a skylight can easily be installed in a room with an attic above it.

Although a venting skylight costs about 25% more than a fixed design, it is your best option overall. If your budget is very tight, select a fixed design with just a venting edge (only $30 more). A narrow vent is located under the top frame edge. It can be opened even in the rain without leaks.

With hand-held remote controls, new skylights are as easy to operate as TVs. The control operates a small motor to open or close the skylight, shades or mini-Venetian blinds below it. Install a rain sensor to automatically close it if it rains while you are away from home.

One new skylight design doubles as a balcony. On steeply pitched roofs, like those on a remodeled attic, upper and lower skylight sections pivot out. The lower half is positioned near the floor, and it becomes the balcony with a railing. The upper half pivots out from the top and covers it.

Another unique venting skylight opens by sliding back over the roof in tracks. When it is opened, there is a totally unobstructed screened view of the sky. Other designs pivot in the center for easy cleaning from indoors.

It is important to select the proper size for your room. An undersized skylight does not provide enough light and an oversized one may look odd and cause excessive glare. As a rough estimate, divide the room's square footage by 23 to get the skylight size in square feet.

Do not just choose the cheapest one on sale. Check the frame design and materials and the quality of the flashing. Copper flashing is attractive and durable.

There are many glazing options that affect the efficiency and the view and block furniture fading. Double-pane low-e glass with argon gas is a good overall choice. This is what I have in my family room skylight. For very cold climates, choose triple-pane or Heat Mirror. Choose tinted glass in hot climates.

Write for Update Bulletin No. 918--a buyer's guide to 16 skylights listing frame materials, shapes, flashing and glazing options, features, prices, sizing chart and lightwell construction details. Please include $2 and a business-size self-addressed, stamped envelope and mail to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

Letters and questions to Dulley, a Cincinnati-based engineering consultant, may be sent to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244. To read 150 previous columns or rush bulletin delivery, e-mail Dulley at

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