A house with abundant natural light is not an easy find, especially in the city. Plentiful natural light is the icing on the proverbial cake – it can transform dark corners and dingy rooms more efficiently than any other household addition.
The most effective way to bring natural light into your home is by installing skylights in the roof. As long as there is sunlight falling on your roof, the addition of a skylight could transform your home. Skylights can perform a very important function, but they are not purely functional components – if well thought out, they add a unique aesthetic element to your home.
In a country like South Africa, it seems cruelly ironic to live in a house that is lacking in natural light. Harvesting the light from the sun, instead of using artificial light sources, seems to make a lot of sense. Most people instinctively prefer natural light to artificial light, and our eyes use natural light much more efficiently. Natural light is inherently better for us than any artificial light, and it’s also better for anything else that lives in the home, like pets or plants. Skylights improve the air quality in a home, and natural light helps prevent mould and mildew growth.
Whether it’s for aesthetic reasons (light), or the desire for a passive cooling/heating system (temperature), another advantage to installing skylights in your home is the fact that they save energy in the house. A skylight can warm up a cold room in Winter, and provide cool air for a stuffy space in Summer. Whatever your reasons for installing a skylight, the different options available need to be carefully considered.
Important questions to ask
Where will it be installed?
First, it’s important to determine exactly where the skylight will go, and then decide on what type of skylight will suit that space and your priorities best. The design of your house must be kept in mind at all times, as must its location in terms of the sun, and the climate.
How big will it be?
The size of the skylight affects both the illumination of the space below and the temperature. A general rule is that the size of the aperture should never be more than 5% of the floor space below it if there are several windows in the room, and not more than 15% if there are very few or no windows. Keep in mind that glass is a terrible insulator, and a skylight that is too large could be detrimental to the ambient temperature of the room.
Many people immediately consider installing a large skylight, focusing only on the light that it will bring, and not on the temperature modification that it can provide. Keep in mind that a skylight changes the dynamic of a room, not only in terms of light. The temperature will become greatly affected by the skylight. Keep in mind how much direct sunlight the roof receives, and how dramatic the temperature changes are from season to season.
Where is the Sun?
If you want to maximise daylight, considering the exact placement of the skylight, in relation to the Sun, is vital.
Glass versus acrylic?
Skylights are usually made with either glass or acrylic, and the final decision comes down to personal taste. Both materials can be customised with different glazing (a UV shield glaze is popular), and each have pros and cons.
Glass is not a good insulator, but it is possible to install a skylight with multiple panes, where the area between the panes serves as an insulator. Glass allows more direct sunlight, while acrylics allow light to be scattered better, which makes for more diffuse light below. Glass is generally more durable, and doesn’t stain over time, like acrylic does. Acrylics, however, do not shatter, which is a big safety hazard of glass. Even if it is shatterproof, there is still the possibility of glass injuring people below the skylight if it does break. If there are extreme temperature variations in your area, acrylics are probably a safer option. The typical response to the glass versus acrylic debate is that glass tends to look better, but acrylics are more practical.