When you’ve built as many houses as I have over the years, it becomes clear that there is always a budget. And budgets lead to a series of trade-offs. If you choose granite countertops, out go the thermal pane windows. Want a three-car garage? Downgrade the pad for the carpeting.
Best Skylights for Homes (Updated July, 2020)
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1. Natural Light Energy Systems – Best Tubular Skylights
This tubular system has an industry-best twenty-five-year warranty. Featuring easy installation, the unit is water-tight and maintenance-free. It features two different energy-related awards and has a condensation release system to prevent moisture build-up from contrasting temperatures.
Installation and technical details
Qualified roofing professionals should have an easy time with installation, and a decent do-it-yourselfer should be able to get it done in an afternoon. It illuminates up to 150 square feet of area with a comparable intensity of up to a 300-watt bulb. UV light filtration protects furniture and carpets from fading.
The exterior plate is aluminum, offering a rust-free future for the unit. It can handle a 48” deep installation as supplied, and additional flexible tubing is available for purchase if a longer run is needed. The interior light is attractive and can be adapted to support plant lighting by removing the opaque cover at the bottom.
While we will feature a couple of other tubular systems in this review, this one is a keeper. One of the benefits of skylights is an improvement in your ambient lighting, which you will certainly get from this unit, but the energy-efficient ratings are the icing on the cake for me. We give this our “best tubular system” award.
2. VELUX FCM 2246 0005 – Best Skylights for Flat Roofs
While we will go into some detail later in this review about the differences between tubular and flat roof systems, we can tell you that this system offers excellent lighting capability. When installed with the (sold separately) flashing, it is eligible for a ten-year no-leak warranty. It can be adopted for both shingle and tile roofs.
Installation and technical details
In short, this type of skylight requires the on-site construction of a curb, which is a wooden frame resting on the roof, with a hole cut out inside the curb. The skylight assembly fits over the curb and is fastened with flashing to prevent water leakage. The tempered, low E3 glass (see the Buyer’s Guide for more information on this) gives good energy efficiency.
Large enough to completely brighten a room, this skylight offers the latest in glass technology to prevent extensive heat transfer, or hot spots, caused by cheaper assemblies. The unit can be installed over slight imperfections in the roof, and still seal tight. A version that opens to allow fresh air in is also available for purchase.
If you have a flat or low-profile (very slight slant) roof, this skylight will give you beautiful light transfer to your living area. Installation is fairly straight forward, and the (recommended) supplemental flashing package will give you years of leak-proof performance.
3. Sun Tunnel VELUX-TGF – Best Solar Tube Skylight
This larger, 14” diameter skylight offers excellent light diffusion, dramatically adding the natural beauty of the sun to your décor. The added light is delivered without additional heat gain or loss, allowing you to maintain your internal environmental controls without additional costs.
Installation and technical details
Installation for this model is similar to that of others reviewed here, and can normally be completed in a couple of hours. Flashing is included with this light, and an 8’ long flexible tube should be sufficient for most installations. There are rigid tubing models available for longer installations.
The diffusion features are what set the solar units apart from skylights. Diffusion eliminates hot spots and can filter out certain aspects of the light spectrum, such as ultraviolet light. The low-profile aluminum exterior dome prevents rust and offers strong wind and hail protection.
While you will pay a little bit more for this solar unit, you get the benefits of solar lighting and a complete kit. Installation is straight forward, and the light reflection quality from the tube is excellent, based on customer feedback. We consider this our best solar skylight system.
4. ODL Tubular Skylight Kit – Best Natural Light Skylight
This is another 10” diameter solar skylight system, but it has one nice differentiator – 91% of the light collected at the roofline is delivered through the tubing into your room. This gives you the look of natural sunlight, without the added heat, or hot spots, that a regular skylight can bring. The skylights will cut your need for electrical lighting, and save you some money on your utility bills.
Installation and technical details
Installation is virtually identical to other lights, and the kit comes with a 10’ long tube lens diffuser, trim ring and leak-proof flashing. The roof lens is acrylic, and resistant to hail and other severe weather. The aluminum flashing is rust-proof and seals easily for a leak-proof installation.
With the efficient delivery of sunlight through the reflective tube, you may feel as if you are sitting outdoors. Saving money on utility bills is a plus, but the overall looks and quality of this unit are striking.
There are not a lot of differentiators from one tubular solar skylight to another, but the quality of delivered light to your interior is clearly an advantage of this model. It’s bright and natural and doesn’t increase room temperature or create hot spots. If you are looking for an increase in your interior lighting, and want it to seem like being outdoors, this is your unit.
5. Sunoptics R2030 – Best Skylights for Bathrooms
Interior bathrooms are notorious for being poorly lit, and this skylight can help eliminate reliance on large light fixtures and high wattage bulbs by delivering naturally diffused sunlight. It’s available in both a non-vented and manually vented model, allowing you to deliver fresh air along with the fresh light if you choose the vented model, which comes with a bug screen.
Installation and technical details
This unit requires the construction of an on-site curb. It will work with most roof types and slopes. When the curb is built, the unit drops over it, and, when installed with the (separately purchased) flashing kit, offers leak-proof performance. The prismatic lens delivers 100% diffusion without the hot spots and glare common to other flat spotlights.
The prismatic lens will capture even low levels of sunlight, giving you ambient lighting through more of the day. The aluminum frame is welded for strength and durability and eliminates expansion and leakage. Three different sizes are available to fit your specific installation requirements.
Unless you are an avid star-gazer, you will love this skylight. This model will light up that dark, interior bathroom, or any other room in your house. The prismatic lens brings in 50% more light than standard models and does it without glare or hot spots. An excellent model with good reviews, it makes perfect sense for this type of application.
Here, we will give you some information on some of the key information you can use to make an informed buying decision on your skylight. Some features will be relevant to all models, and some only to specific models. Some may be of interest to everyone, some of interest to only specific people or applications.
Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC): Frankly, this specification did not get a lot of attention in the product descriptions, but it is informative and should be considered. Defined, SHGC is the fraction of solar energy transmitted and indicates how well that model blocks sunlight. In cooler climates, a higher SHGC is beneficial; in hotter locations, a lower SHGC is preferred. You may need to contact the manufacturer to get this information.
Many of these models will compare the amount of sunlight diffused to the measurement of the wattage of a standard light bulb. This gives an easy to understand, familiar comparison. However, watch the wording carefully, as most will say “up to a 200-watt bulb”. The actual results will vary based on the length of the tub, lens coating, and glass types – so, caveat emptor.
Sunlight can come indirectly through a clear glass window, and, at that point, is basically undiffused light. Diffused light will be filtered, for want of a better word, and deflected at many angles, through coatings, prism lenses, or reflection. Diffusion provides a softer light, with less glare, and lower shadows.
Low E3 glass
One of the early complaints about skylights was that they actually increased the temperature of a room. While this may be an advantage in colder months and climates, it’s undesirable in hot climates, especially when you are paying for air conditioning. E3 glass is third-generation technology and consists of three coats of a metal layer. This metallic coat reduces solar heat transfer, allowing more light into the room with resulting in higher temperatures.
Tubular vs. flat skylights
Both types of lights perform their designed task well – bringing in diffused sunlight to an otherwise dark environment. They do have slightly different functions and results, however. The tubular lights typically have a smaller area, ranging from 10 – 18” diameters. They funnel and reflect light through a metallic tube, entering the room through a glass lens mounted in the ceiling at the end of the tube.
Flat skylights are just that – a flat light installed over a hole in the roof, visible to the sky and the room. There is no tubing; the only components are the light and the flashing. Tubular lights typically (although not always) mount to sloped roofs, while flat skylights perform better on flat or lightly-sloped roofs.
Vented vs. non-vented flat skylights
All of the models presented here are non-vented skylights, meaning that once they are installed, they stay in a fixed position. Many of these models are also available in a vented construction. Here, the window will open slightly, typically a few inches, to let in not only light but also fresh air. Given the ceiling height, a long pole attachment is generally recommended to crank the window open while standing on the floor. The poles are sold separately.
As we noted above, tubular lights are generally installed on flat roofs, with flat skylights more commonly installed on a flat roof. Examples of each type of installation are pictured below, with the tubular installation on the left. There are no real advantages or disadvantages to either type of installation; the choice is driven primarily by roof type and the interior effect desired.
Flashing is the material surrounding the skylight as part of the installation process. It is typically made of aluminum, which is thin, lightweight, and flexible. Using the flashing in conjunction with a good quality sealant will ensure a leak-free skylight installation. In many of these models, the flashing is sold separately from the skylight kit, so make sure that you have it available before starting the installation.
Energy Star® certification
Energy Star® certification is awarded to products that have a track record of proven energy savings over comparable products. Energy use requirements are calculated by an independent agency, the US Department of Energy, using standardized methods. The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) is a similar agency but created by the door, window, and the skylight industry to provide energy certifications.
Ultraviolet (UV) light
The UV light can cause fading of furniture and carpets, and it can also be harmful to humans. UV-B light is primarily responsible for sunburns, while UV-A light can affect skin aging, and both can potentially contribute to skin cancer. Special coatings are available in many skylight lenses to filter out UV rays. The manufacturer or seller should be able to supply specific information on the filtering capability of the skylight assembly.
Below, please find several of the most frequently asked questions about skylights, and our responses to those questions.
Many home fashion designers will spend thousands of dollars picking out stylish and fashionable furniture, carpet, tile, and accessories. They’ll scour both on-line and retail stores to find exactly the right look, in exactly the right colors, in exactly the right styles, from classical to contemporary, modern to mod. And that’s fine; it is this level of detail that transforms a house into your home.
So, now you have this piece of your décor in place. Now reflect for a minute on a museum, maybe the Louvre, maybe the Museum of Modern Art. Think about the exhibits and artwork on display there. Are they shoved in a dark corner, with low-level lighting? Of course not. The simplest and cheapest way to draw attention to a finely tuned décor is with appropriate lighting. And a well-placed spotlight or tube let can help you achieve that perfect mix of form and function.
Now, building on the aesthetic reasons for skylights, let’s look at the practical reasons. Better ambient lighting means less need for electrical lighting. Less electrical lighting means lower energy bills. Anyone here not in favor of that? Skylight spots, such as tubular lighting, can focus concentration on a particular piece, or part of the room where attention should be focused.
I’ve had my feet on ladder rungs for an awful lot of years, so take it from me. If you want an inexpensive, simple way to improve the natural light in your home, go with skylights. You’ll gain not only the benefits of the stunning transformation effects lighting can provide for your home, but the personal well-being and benefits of effective lighting.
We hope this review has been helpful and informative to you and will assist you in picking out the best possible skylights for your home environment.