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Illinois Country Living

Star Light, Star Bright, Sky Lights
Skylights can improve lighting, aesthetics and save energy

Q: Dear Jim: I want more natural lighting with fewer electric lights to save electricity, so I plan to install skylights in several rooms. What are the most efficient skylight designs to save the most energy? - Jon B.

A: Dear Jon: Most often, people install skylights for aesthetic reasons such as making a room appear larger than it is or providing a view of nighttime sky. And adding skylights to a room can reduce the need for lights.

Bedroom with Skylights

This bedroom uses a combination of one venting and two fixed skylights. Mini-Venetian blinds are installed in the gaps between the multipanes.

Lighting is a significant consumer of electricity in most homes, so if adding skylights can reduce your need for electric lights, they will also reduce your electric bills. But, and this is a big but, skylights must be efficient or they lose or gain (in summer) more heat energy than they save in electricity. A skylight is basically just a window cut out of a well-insulated ceiling creating an insulation void.

An advantage of natural lighting is human sight is still better under natural sunlight than under artificial light at the same intensity. If you have problems reading my article in the morning under a standard kitchen ceiling light fixture, you may find it easier to read under natural light from a skylight. Colors also look much more true and vibrant under natural light as compared to light bulbs. Some of the newer full-spectrum compact fluorescent bulbs do a better job of simulating true sunlight.

Skylight design, from efficiency, style and convenience standpoints, has come a long way in the past decade or so. Today, nearly all the super-efficient true-glass glazing and frame options that are available in high-quality new windows are also available in skylights. The primary difference is the top layer of a multi-pane skylight glass is made from tempered glass for safety. Some of the hurricane-resistant skylights, which meet Florida’s strict safety codes, use laminated glass similar to a car’s windshield.

When selecting one, first decide whether you want a venting or a fixed type of skylight. Fixed ones are somewhat less expensive, but they do not provide ventilation, which can reduce your cooling costs and improve indoor air quality. The new weatherstripping seals make the venting ones virtually as energy efficient and leak-free as fixed ones.

If you ever use natural ventilation, even if for only a few weeks during spring and fall, selecting a venting model is your most energy efficient choice. With the skylight located in the ceiling where the warm, less-dense air collects, opening it can create a natural breeze throughout your home. For the most convenience, a remote control electric operator can be installed, this uses a small amount of electricity and requires electrical wiring. Automatic rain sensors can be installed to close the skylight in case of a storm.

Unless there already is an electric light in the ceiling, running new wiring may make the installation project too complex for the average do-it-yourselfer to tackle. For most installations with typical-sized skylights, I recommend a removable long hand crank.

The heart of a skylight is the glazing (glass or plastic) and this has the most impact upon its energy efficiency. If you want efficiency with a good view of the sky, a multipane flat glass skylight is best. I even added a magnetic clear acrylic storm window under my low-e, argon-gas glass skylight for greater efficiency.

Since skylights tend to get dirty and covered with water spots, some manufacturers now offer special glass. It’s as energy efficient as other glass options, but it has a super smooth titanium dioxide coating on the exterior pane surface. When the sunlight shines on it, it dries with very few spots and less dirt.

The following companies offer efficient skylights: Bristolite, (800) 854-8618,; Fox Lite, (800) 233-3699,; Royalite, (800) 875-9548,; Velux, (800) 888-3589,; and Wasco, (800) 388-0293,

Send inquiries to James Dulley, Illinois Country Living, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit


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