- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Capitol Hill resident Danielle Wiblemo loves her hall skylight. “We live in a row house with no side windows, so that extra natural light that comes from above makes a big difference,” Mrs. Wiblemo says.

It took just a few hours for roofers to install her new skylight — a replacement. That doesn’t necessarily mean installing a standard-size skylight (usually 2 feet by 4 feet) is an easy task, local contractors say.

“I would not recommend a homeowner to do it on their own,” says Scott Siegal, owner of Maggio Roofing in Takoma Park. “If it’s not done correctly, they can really leak a lot.”

Doing it correctly includes such tasks as finding a good spot for the skylight away from support beams and moving possible obstructions, such as heating and cooling ducts as well as electrical wiring.

Other tasks include building an 8-inch curb on the roof on which the skylight sits, adding flashing around the skylight to eliminate leaking and possibly redoing drywall or painting on the inside, depending on the interior conditions, Mr. Siegal says.

In Mrs. Wiblemo’s case, the work was easy because it just entailed replacing an old, leaky skylight with a brand-new one.

Many manufacturers say skylights should last at least 10 years, Mr. Siegal says, but in his experience, they actually last longer, up to 20 years.

Mrs. Wiblemo’s type of replacement job, which involved some minor roof work, such as building a curb (often made out of wood) may cost about $700, while installing a skylight from scratch, including the cost of the skylight itself, may cost about $1,200, Mr. Siegal says.

Starting from scratch includes cutting the hole in the roof, usually with a circular saw; building the curb; installing the skylight; and then adding flashing — covering the seams between roofing material, curb and skylight with a material such as aluminum or lead — to ensure there is no leakage.

One of the most important steps when installing a skylight is adding the flashing, says Fred Ess, a contractor based in Edgewater, Md.

“The flashing makes it air- and watertight,” Mr. Ess says. “To make sure we get a perfect fit, we break the aluminum on site,” he adds.

As a general rule, domed skylights should be used on flat roofs to avoid water and snow accumulation, while flat skylights can be used on slanted roofs.

A standard-size skylight usually can be installed without doing any major structural work because it often can be placed between the roof’s support beams. However, because different challenges can be encountered on each skylight installation job, many contractors, including Matt Sullivan, owner of Skywright in Bethesda, give free estimates.

“You really don’t know what you’re up against until you take a close look,” Mr. Sullivan says.

While the roofing work and skylight installation need to take place on a rain-free day — naturally — the inside work, if needed, can be done anytime.

The inside work may include spackling, sanding, drywalling or painting. It’s not labor-intensive but could stretch over several days because of drying time.

A cost estimate on this type of work is difficult to give because it depends on the interior conditions, Mr. Siegal says. An estimate on the interior portion of the job can start around $300, he says.

Mr. Siegal does the exterior work and assigns another contractor to do the interior work, but some general contractors treat skylight installations as a specialty even if all they are assigned to do is the inside drywall and painting job.

“Skylights are a tricky thing,” says Joseph Forrest, a District contractor. “We don’t do very many of them. We tend to treat them as a specialized item. We basically deal with them the way we would electrical work.”

Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Ess specialize in installing skylights and say a standard skylight installation including inside work and the cost of the skylight may start at $1,500 or $1,600.

However, if the skylight is larger than standard — most commonly they are rectangular or square — and major structural work has to be done to install it, the price will be higher, they say.

Also, the fancier the skylight, the higher the cost. Some can be opened manually or electrically, and some are custom-made.

The popularity of standard skylights probably peaked in the 1990s, several contractors say. Many of their jobs now are replacing or upgrading skylights or installing a relatively new alternative called a sun tunnel.

These “skylights” differ from the standard ones in that they reflect the light from outside into a room but don’t give a view of the sun or sky, says Mr. Sullivan, who uses skylights and sun tunnels made by Velux.

Sun tunnels consist of a dome on top of the roof — very much like the standard skylight — but attached to the dome is a tunnel, which looks like a flexible air-conditioning duct.

The tunnel is made of a synthetic material with a mirrored metallic finish on the inside that helps transfer or reflect the light from the sun and sky into the room. The tunnel can be snaked several feet from the roof through a crawl space through the ceiling, Mr. Sullivan says.

“The sun tunnel is a very good alternative if you want to put a skylight where there is a roof valley,” Mr. Sullivan says. A roof valley is a low point in the roof where water and snow can accumulate, not a recommended location for a standard skylight.

“Water is the enemy when you install skylights,” he says.

With the sun tunnel, the domed roof portion can be located in an area away from the roof valley and the tunnel snaked at an angle to the desired area of the ceiling.

“Another advantage with the sun tunnel is you can get one for half the cost, $700 or $800,” Mr. Sullivan says.

You just don’t get the view of the sky and the soothing sound of pouring rain that comes with standard skylights, which some people don’t want to be without.

Mrs. Wiblemo, whose new skylight withstood the rain and snowstorms of last fall and winter without a problem, says she’s one of them.

“You enjoy the bright sun, and when it rains, you know exactly how hard it rains,” she says.

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