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Product Spotlight: Skylights

Skylights increase light and ventilation, make rooms more comfortable and bigger feeling, and offer an unusual view. Manufacturers have improved flashing kits and controls, making today's skylights more reliable and easier to install than those made even ten years ago. When they're well placed, few building products offer greater value to homeowners.

Tubular skylights are the industry's most recent innovation. Advantages like flexible placement, an ability to snake around obstacles, and the elimination of framing or finishing steps make them ideal for remodeling applications. Unlike conventional skylights, however, their benefits are lost once the sun goes down. Manufacturers have responded with light kits for after-dark illumination and exhaust fans to increase versatility. Self-flashing domes and adjustable tubes make installation easier and less expensive than for a traditional skylight. But price may be an issue for some consumers -- even the least expensive models approach $250, which is comparable to that of a conventional skylight.

Andersen claims that its fixed skylight can be installed 20% faster than fixed units from other makers. Keeping the frame and sash separate until the final installation step allows the frame to be centered in the opening from the exterior, making it unnecessary to go inside and check the reveal -- a nice feature if you work by yourself. The snap-in sash also eliminates cladding removal and reinstallation process and the risk of lost fasteners or cladding parts. Available in 12 sizes, with widths from 16 to 44 inches and lengths from 27 to 72 inches, all have Andersen's low-e, high-performance tempered glass with the option of windshield-like laminated glass. List prices start at $166 with a shingle flashing kit.



Self-flashing units, like these from ODL, have aluminum or vinyl frames, and they're the most popular design in areas of the South and Midwest. The integral nailing fin on a watertight curb makes installation easier, according to some. Other installers prefer traditional and time-tested step-flashing systems. Self-flashing units are usually less expensive, and there are no small parts to lose or drop; but residential installations are usually limited to asphalt roofing. Shingles are installed to the bottom edge of the opening; then the unit is placed on top and fastened. Shingling continues on top of the nail fin without additional flashing pieces or trim. The SA series starts at $100; OG starts at $200.



Electric operators make opening and closing out-of-reach skylights easy, even from the couch, and features like glass-mounted rain sensors and automatic timers are definite pluses for homeowners. But connecting and fishing the necessary wires can be more aggravation than some installers want to deal with. Manufacturers are finally making the process easier for installers who aren't electricians. Velux's new VSE unit comes with the wiring and motor installed, and a hand-held remote, capable of controlling multiple skylights and shades, eliminates a hard-wired control panel. Running a skylight's 20-foot power supply to a junction box completes the wiring process. Prices for the VSE series start at $625, including motor, remote control, and a flashing kit for asphalt shingles.



To simplify the installation of Pella's electronic operator, its Deluxe Motor System includes a controller that plugs into a standard wall outlet, and two 50-foot ready-made, plug-in cables running between the controller and skylight make the installation more like hooking up stereo speakers and less like complex wiring. The cables can run inside finished walls or be surface mounted with included clips. Although most homeowners would be uncomfortable with wires running along their ceiling and down the wall, the slender, 18-gauge low-voltage cables can be hidden behind moldings and trim or fished behind walls, emerging only when absolutely necessary. The Deluxe Motor System can operate up to four skylights or two skylights with shades. With an expanded control unit, it can handle up to eight skylights or four with shades. It comes with two 50-foot low-voltage cables, the controller, and a wall-mounted keypad for about $700 list. A single skylight drive motor lists for $168.



While virtually all makers have skylights to fit 24-inch rafter cavities, finding one to fit 16-inch spacing is another story. Roto's Sweet Sixteen needs only 14 inches of space and offers big sky and a breath of fresh air in return. Roto claims that its ventilating units open wider, allowing more ventilation than competitive units. Although the units are narrow, they can be ganged together for greater light and visual appeal. Sunshades and electronic controls are available. As an option, Roto will install electric controls at the factory, simplifying work on the job site. The fixed model lists for $200, and the venting model for $250.



Add-on ventilation kits can vent a bathroom or be an effective part of a larger whole-house ventilation strategy. Solatube's vent kit ($190), made for its 10-inch Brighten Up tubular skylight, uses an insulated duct separate from the skylight's light tube and a remote inline fan for quiet operation. The fan intake is part of the skylight lens, and by adding a light kit ($40) for nighttime use, the skylight can do triple duty and reduce clutter on small ceilings. A 10-inch skylight will illuminate 150 square feet and starts at $300 without extras.



Multiple tubular skylights typically mean multiple rooftop domes, but instead of several acrylic domes poking through the roof, Suntek's Spyder MTS uses a more conventional-looking skylight panel to supply either two or four different tubes with daylight. With only one roof penetration, installation should be faster and less expensive than for individual tubes. The Spyder can accommodate both 10- and 14-inch light tubes; add-on light kits are also available. A double unit with two 10-inch tubes starts at $250.



Instead of the rigid metal duct used on most tubular skylights, a 6-foot polyester flex duct makes the Sun Tunnel the easiest to install and offers the greatest problem-solving potential for tight or difficult installations. Available in 14- and 22-inch sizes, the Sun Tunnel can be fitted with a nighttime light kit, and even the larger size can be placed in 24-inch truss or rafter spacing without altering existing framing. Sun Tunnel claims that its product can be installed in less than two hours. Prices for a 14-inch model #350 start at $260; the 22-inch model #550 starts at $299.

Sun Tunnel