Let There Be Sunlight

 Skylights are a quick installation that provide bright, inviting ambiance and a pleasing wow factor. They also bring free natural light into a room and a healthful dose of vitamin D.
For a professional, a skylight installation takes about seven hours. Because of the quick turnaround, some consider this a do- it-yourself job. But John Tomko, owner of Verity Building in Melville, has heard enough stories of broken arms resulting from falls to advise against it. “Well, it’s not so much the fall, it’s the sudden stop,” said Tomko, who has been in the skylight business for nearly 40 years and is almost literally the local name in skylights. (He’s owned the license plate “SkyLite” for three decades.)

Most skylights are placed on south-facing ceilings to make best use of the sun. The slope of the roof doesn’t factor in; there are varying shapes and sizes to suit a home’s needs and to accommodate the changing angle of the sun throughout the day. But cathedral ceilings are the easiest to work with because there’s less cutting and a shaft doesn’t need to be created to connect the roof through an attic or past trusses to the ceiling.

To add natural light into a hallway, a row of small 14-inch metal tubular skylights is a smart application. For a bathroom, installing a bigger, triangular skylight can add ambiance and a warming glow. Bedroom skylights are generally not popular—most people don’t enjoy early morning awakenings via blazing sun—but they are becoming more viable with the option of remote-controlled shades. The shades are also much less prone to malfunctioning than they used to be. “I haven’t heard a complaint about them in about ten or fifteen years,” said Tomko.

Remote shades are also a must in areas that can become overheated with too much sunlight. Brands like Velux even have solar-powered units that really take advantage of all that free sun lying around.

The biggest misconception about skylights is that they all leak. “Ever notice older skylights with mounds of tar around them? We call that ‘flashing in a bucket,’” said Tomko, adding that there are better ways to prevent leaks. He recommended a combination of underlayment and siding materials that seal and weatherproof a skylight’s framing. “Roof shingles are laid out like scales on fish so water cascades off.” Modern flashing is layered in with the shingles and has gutter-like tops that keep water flowing. When homeowners clean their gutters, they should also clean around the skylight.

After installation it’s also a good idea to check that the framing was properly done and the roof wasn’t weakened. After all, the structure of the roof was altered and that roof still may have to support hundreds of pounds of snow weight. Tomko likes to stand his 200lb frame on each corner of the skylight to prove the soundness of his construction, the theory being that the roof may receive hundreds of extra pounds of snow dispersed across it, but it won’t have it all in one spot. Kids, don’t try that at home.