4 Skylight Options: Fixed, Venting, Tubular, and Electric

Modern Attic room interior.
vicnt / Getty Images

It's an addition to your home that brings in more light and sometimes even fresh air without adding more windows. It's a skylight.

Skylights add light, without sacrificing valuable wall space and, by extension, floor space. Operable skylights vent off heat build-up and moisture from kitchens and bathrooms.

Not only that, skylights are positioned so that you catch the natural light when the sun is at its highest point.

Which type of skylight is best for your home: fixed or vented? Within the vented skylight category, is it best to install a manually operated or an electrically operated skylight?

  • 01 of 04

    Fixed Skylight

    A fixed skylight cannot be opened. Just like a fixed window, a fixed skylight is sealed in place and provides light only, not fresh air.

    Fixed skylights are considered the most leak-proof type of skylight you can install. Any skylight might leak since it replaces roofing materials, but fixed skylights increase the margin of safety.

    Fixed skylights are also less expensive than vented skylights. A 30-1/2-inch by 14-1/2-inch skylight, a standard size for skylights since it fits between rafters without having to cut them, costs $180 to $250. In fact, with skylights, you might pay as much or more for labor than for the materials, depending on the type of skylight that you buy.

    Except for tubular skylights, all skylights need to have a shaft built between the roof and the ceiling. That's because the skylight opens up into the house's attic. To bring light and air into the home, an opening must be cut in the ceiling.

    Skylight installation is not simple, so it's usually recommended that you have either a window company or a contractor do the installation for you.

    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    Tubular Skylight

    A tubular skylight is a self-contained unit consisting of an impact-resistant dome, metal tubing, and all trim work. The skylight starts at the roofline, extends down through the attic via the tunnel, and finishes in the ceiling.

    Conventional skylights need to have a shaft or tunnel built between the ceiling and roof. But tubular skylights have a built-in tunnel, so there is no need to build the shaft.

    Tubular skylights come in a range of tube diameters—from 10 inches to 21 inches.

    Another advantage of a tubular skylight is that the tube itself can be bent around obstructions (of which attics have plenty). While this does lessen the intensity of light in your house, many owners find that it is still better than no light at all.

    Homes with tubular skylights rarely receive direct sunlight into the home. The skylight and its tunnel are so narrow to allow more than a few minutes of perfectly positioned sunlight. But tubular skylights aren't intended for that. They are designed to provide a soft light, much like a recessed light. Tubular skylights are good for illuminating dark areas of the home unserved by windows like closets and bathrooms.

    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    Manual Venting Skylight

    A venting, or vented, skylight offers up the possibility of bringing in the fresh air on demand. During the Summer months, when skylights bring in too much sun, venting skylights can be opened electrically or manually to release that heat.

    Manually operated venting skylights open up with a long pole if they are inaccessible. If they are accessible, they open up by hand with a latch, much like a casement window.

    Also, vented skylights work great in bathrooms, where moisture build-up can cause mold and mildew. Venting skylights in bathrooms reduce the reliance on heat lamps and fans, and anything that reduces power use is always a good thing.

    Continue to 4 of 4 below.
  • 04 of 04

    Electric Venting Skylight

    With skylights, you can either go manual or electric.

    Manually operated venting skylights do offer advantages—cheaper and less prone to break-downs. But they do need to be opened by hand, which can deter many homeowners from opening the skylight.

    Electric venting skylights open at the touch of a button. With that kind of ease of operation, an owner is more prone to using them.

    But electric venting skylights can cost up to three times more than their manual counterparts. Also, because of the complicated machinery involved, electric vented skylights will break down more often than manual skylights.

    But one distinct advantage of the electric skylights is that some can automatically close at the first drop of rain.