Do You Need Skylights?
Skylights can serve as a wondrous portal to the outside world, but beyond that, they can also provide many practical benefits as well. Depending on the location and type that you purchase, a skylight can save on your electrical lighting costs and may even help you meet qualifications for a multi-story rental property.
What Makes a Good Skylight?
This question is a bit more dependent on your needs and the type of building. However, a couple factors to consider when buying a skylight are the windows, the type of skylight, and the various heat and energy saving features. Of course, no skylight will serve everyone’s needs equally.
How Do You Choose the Best Skylights?
In order to take the confusion out of choosing a skylight, we have put together a list of the 5 best skylights, highlighting what each one is best suited for. Then we provide a helpful buyer’s guide, so you can find the best skylights for you.
Best Skylights in January, 2019
|2 x 2ft|
2 x 3ft
2 x 4ft
|-||No Vent |
|24 x 38'’|
24 x 46''
|Velux Fixed||Fixed||25.5" x 49.5"||-||No Vent|
|Velux Tubular||Tubular||Ø 14''||8ft||-|
#1 Sunoptics SUN Skylight – Best Skylight for Flat Roof
Sunoptics differs from some of the other companies on our list in that it is no longer its own distinct company. Instead, Sunoptics is now a subsidiary of Acuity Brands, a company that specializes in powered lighting options. That said, Sunoptics still has one of the longest pedigrees out of any brand on our list. With almost four decades of experience and a history of innovation that has even influenced competitors, Sunoptics continues to provide some of the best options for the skylight market.
Easily the best quality about the Sunoptics skylight is its window. While it is made from acrylic plastic, the plastic is made and extruded by Sunoptics itself rather than manufactured off site by a third-party. This is partly responsible for Sunoptics’ ability to provide some of the least expensive skylights on the market – including the least expensive entry on our list. Still, the cost of the skylight is not what makes the Sunoptics window so good.
The true advantage of the Sunoptics window is its glazing process.
This effect of maximizing the amount of light let in is further enhanced by the possible shapes of the window as well. The Sunoptics is the only skylight we reviewed which offers three different types of window shapes. The shape of the window is important because it will ultimately determine how the light is diffused throughout the room. The flat window will diffuse the light a bit, but it will still create a bit of a halo. The pyramid and the double hip shapes, on the other hand, will diffuse the light more evenly, allowing the window to light a wider area while retaining its brightness.
Sunoptics Skylight Lineup
The Sunoptics skylight can be further customized according to the desired size of the skylight. This product is also the only one we reviewed which offers three different sizes – though only not every window shape will be available in every skylight size. Even better, this is also the only skylight on our list that can be purchased as either a fixed or a vented skylight. Unfortunately, the vented models do not come with the telescopic operator pole which must be purchased separately.
Another disappointing absence is the flashing which also must be purchased separately, though this is not too terribly uncommon among skylight kits. This necessary purchase will ultimately drive the cost of the Sunoptics skylight up to a cost more in line with the average. Another consideration is that while the window is exceptionally bright, the shape, plastic, glazings, and diffusion lenses all add up to a window which is translucent but not transparent. This means that you will not be able to see through your skylight.
The Advantages of Prismatic Skylights
#2 Natural Light Energy Systems 13″ Solar Sky Light Kit – Best Home Skylights
Natural Light is a company with almost two decades of experience in the skylight market. Even better, this brand focuses exclusively on tubular skylights with the primary intention of supplementing or completely supplanting the need for electrical lighting during the daylight hours. This focus allows Natural Light to provide some of the best skylights for solar light output and their green solutions approach is woven into the very fabric of the company’s philosophy. As such, it should come as no surprise that the Natural Light skylight is the best tubular skylight on our list.
While Natural Light makes commercial grade tubular skylights, this is a residential model. Though the primary difference between the brand’s residential and commercial models differs primarily on the size of the window. While the kit from the company itself comes with multiple diffuser and flashings for both flat and pitched roofs, the one sold on Amazon only comes with the prismatic diffuser and the pitched flashing. That said, this should suit most people’s needs just fine.
Unfortunately, the tendency to nickel and dime you with various add-ons is not merely limited to the different types of diffusers or flashings. This tubular skylight only provides 4’ of tubing. While this may be sufficient for many homes, those with sharply angled roofs or tall trusses will be forced to purchase extra tubing. This issue becomes even more annoying if your trusses or rafters requires the tubing to turn as the elbow joints also add an additional charge.
Depending on what you need, all of these additional extras can ultimately make what is otherwise one of the less expensive skylights we reviewed – and by far the least expensive tubular skylight on our list – and bring closer to the average cost. Still, if you do opt to go with the Natural Light skylight, you will not be disappointed in the build quality. The included flashing is made from aircraft-grade aluminum which is both durable and naturally rust-resistant.
The dome window to the skylight is rated for use in hurricane settings and is also Energy Star qualified. The only downside to the window is that it is made out of acrylic plastic, though since you will not be looking through the skylight, this should not be too big of an issue. The acrylic window is still excellent at preventing heat from getting into your home while allowing light to pass through.
How to Install a Tubular Skylight
#3 FAKRO FWU Egress Roof Window – Best Roof Window
While not strictly one of the older companies on our list, Fakro still has over two and half decades of experience specializing in skylights, roof windows, and their associated accessories. In fact, Fakro is one of the few brands on our list that also specializes in the installation of their products through certified subcontractors around the globe. Though originating in Poland, Fakro has quickly grown to be a world leader in the skylight market commanding 15 percent of all sales. This is likely due to the numerous patents and awards for both innovation and design the company has earned.
Of course, when you are one of the premier makers and sellers of high-end skylights, you can afford to charge more than other brands, and Fakro takes full advantage of this. This is by far the most expensive skylight on our list at nearly twice the cost of the next closest competitor. That said, this is also the only skylight on our list that can also be used as a roof window and is even certified for buildings or locations that require at least two points of egress in case of a fire or other emergency.
This is because the Fakro is not simply a vented skylight, it is a window that can open all the way. In fact, it is the only skylight on our list whose window will open a full 90 degrees – one of the requirements to be qualified as a point of escape. Even better, the Fakro’s window will not accidentally slam shut, even in strong, sustained wind gusts. This is because the hinges have a gas piston that keeps the window open. To close the window, you must apply a consistent pressure, and even then, the gas piston will prevent the window from slamming shut as it slowly and safely closes.Another quality that sets the Fakro apart from some of its competitors is the use of actual glass for its window. Unlike many of the skylights on our list, the use of glass presents a few advantages over the use of acrylic plastic. Most notably, glass, unless otherwise treated, is naturally transparent. Whereas the acrylic plastic windows are merely translucent with a foggy appearance, the Fakro glass windows are crystal clear.
Of course, the simple fact that the window is made from glass is not the only benefit of the Fakro windows. For one, the windows are double glazed. This means that the skylight uses two panes of glass. In between those two panes is an argon gas. This gas is inert and will absorb some of the heat from the light to help prevent your house from heating up due to the skylight. This heat prevention is further enhanced by a low emission glaze coating the interior face of both window panes. This low-e glaze reflects infrared wavelength light waves and longer as well as ultraviolet wavelengths and shorter. Combined, this allows only visible light waves to enter through the window.
The frame of the skylight is made from acrylic lacquered pine which will provide a solid contact that will not degrade the surrounding roof but will also not absorb condensation itself either. Beyond that, the skylight can be configured in a couple of different ways. For one, this skylight comes in two different sizes – both of which still qualify as a certified point of egress. The skylight can also open to either the right or the left to suit different architectural needs.
Arguably the biggest issue with the Fakro skylight is that the flashing is not included as part of the kit. This means that a skylight which is already the most expensive on our list will see its total cost increase by another $100 minimum – depending on the pitch and materials of your roof. Another potential issue with the Fakro is that a majority of the customers report that their skylight suffered some damage during shipping. While Fakro is fairly good about replacing any damaged pieces, it would be nice if the product was shipped using a higher class delivery service in the first place.
How to Install FAKRO FWU Egress Roof Window
#4 Velux FCM Skylight – Best Skylight for Bathroom
Velux is arguably the most well-known and respected brand in the skylight industry. With over 75 years of experience, this brand has weathered the harsh climates of Cold War Germany to see their market share increase to be the largest skylight company in the world. In fact, while Fakro can boast up to 15 percent of the skylight market share, Velux boasts nearly four times as much in a large part due to a consistent standard of quality and excellence at a much more reasonable cost than many of its competitors.
In terms of this specific Velux skylight, it is a fairly standard model without some of the additional frills of other products we have reviewed but with the expected standard of excellence that comes with the Velux brand. For one, the windows of this skylight are made from tempered glass. Aside from the fact that this means you can look through the skylight as it is transparent, this also means that the glass itself is fairly durable.Even better, the glass is coated with a low-e glaze which will help prevent infrared light waves from entering the house and heating it up. Unfortunately, this particular skylight is not double glazed, so some of the higher frequency light waves can still pass through – though these generally do not distribute nearly as much heat as the lower frequency waves due to their tendency to pass straight through matter.
That said, the reasonable cost and potential federal tax credits will be offset somewhat by the flashing which will be at least another $100.
Another potential annoyance about this particular Velux is that there are few customizations you can make. This skylight comes in only a single size and cannot be vented. Though Velux does manufacture and sell other skylights which do offer these types of custom options, they are far more expensive than the base model we reviewed and even more expensive than their next biggest competitor Fakro.
How to Install Curb Mounted Skylights
#5 Velux 14 in. Sun Tunnel – Best Tubular Skylight
While the Velux fixed skylight is solid but unimpressive, the same cannot be said for the Velux tubular skylight. Compared to most of the other tubular skylights we saw, the Velux is not only a superior tubular skylight but it comes with a number of custom design options that are additional purchases with other brands. Regardless, the sheer custom options and overall versatility of the Velux definitely places it as the best flexible tubular skylight we reviewed.
Easily the best quality about the Velux tubular skylight is the fact that its tubing is highly flexible. Rather than using stiff aluminum tubes like some of the other tubular skylight brands we saw, the Velux tubular skylight uses a series of interlocking aluminum pieces that give it plenty of flexibility to be maneuvered around any odd rafters or trusses you may have blocking the tunnel’s path. This prevents the need to purchase additional elbow joints like with other tubular skylights.
On top of that, the Velux tubular skylight can be purchased with a wide variety of options to best suit your needs. While this model comes with a low-pitch flashing included, there are also high-pitch flashings available. Beyond the flashing, the Velux tubular skylight also offers a few options when it comes to light diffusion.
The only real issue with this skylight is that the light is noted for being a bit cool in color. This does not actually affect its brightness, but it will shade the color more towards the blue spectrum rather than yellow.
How to Install Velux Sun Tunnel
Best Skylight – Buyer’s Guide
There are a few different types of skylights, each with their own particular advantages and drawbacks. The three primary types of skylights are fixed, vented, and tubular.
- Fixed is the standard type of skylight. It cannot be opened, though it still allows plenty of light into the room.
- The vented skylight is similar to the fixed in numerous ways except that it can be opened. Some vented skylights might only be able to open a little bit to circulate while others can be opened wide enough to allow a person to pass through.
- Tubular skylight is different than the previous two in a couple ways. Most importantly, tubular skylights are rarely intended to be looked through. Instead, they use either a domed or flat window to allow light to travel down a tube where it is then used to supplement electrical lighting.
The glazing of a skylight refers to both what material the window is made from and the different coatings applied to it. The material itself will often determine whether or not you can see through the skylight, while the different types of coatings will often affect the heat retention of the window. This also related to the number of panes and any spacers applied to the window.
Plastic – This material is generally some type of acrylic, though polycarbonate is also used. Acrylic windows are translucent, but not transparent. This means you cannot see through them. Polycarbonate windows can be either translucent or transparent, though the transparent ones often distort the image.
Single – A single paned window is the most basic window type. While it may be glazed to prevent certain types of light wavelength to enter, it is still the least energy efficient as well as the least durable.
Double – A double-paned window is generally seen as the better configuration. It is more durable, provides more surface area to apply multiple coatings, and can even support insulation between the spacer.
There are a variety of different ways of insulating windows, but the most common is to fill a double-paned window with an inert gas. The most common gas used in this process is argon. The noble gas will absorb heat from the light without interacting with the chemicals around it. An argon fill will also help protect the glass due to an internal pressure and prevent condensation from building up. You can read more about different types of glass insulation and its benefits at energy.gov.
In the end, the best skylights will be those that suit your needs while also adhering to your budget. While the best brands often come with a number of design features that allow them to stand out, they also often come with a hefty price tag to match.
For instance, if you want a skylight that will save you the most money on both your heating and electricity costs, then either the Natural Lights tubular or Sunoptics fixed skylights are probably best. With the best light diffusion, both of these skylights will brighten whatever room they installed in.
However, if you are looking for a skylight that meets both form and function standards, the Fakro is likely your best bet. While it is a bit more expensive, the Fakro is the only skylight we reviewed that can serve as a point of egress as well as featuring transparent, double-paned glass with both low-e glazings and argon spacers.