New High-Tech Skylights Let the Energy Savings Shine In

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  • Author Mark Munns
  • Published June 17, 2011
  • Word count 632

Most people who have constructed, visited or lived in a home built during the 1980's have seen a skylight. During the building boom of that decade, they were considered "the" feature to have in your house. The glass was not really glass, it was a white acrylic dome designed to provide even light distribution throughout the day, unlike standard flat glass windows. Unfortunately, poor installation methods, shoddy construction or the use of single-paned domes caused the skylights to leak and weep with condensation. One could also surmise that the use of similar technology caused homes of this era to experience weeping and condensation issues with regular wall mounted single-paned windows. As a result, energy costs were higher than they needed to be, mold and water damage was rampant and there was improper insulation of wall and attic cavities.

Skylights today are a much different beast than those of 30 years ago. To begin with, new technology in glass means the acrylic dome is gone and durable flat glass is back. Glazing has evolved from single layers pieced together via glazing bars, to one large sheet of glass. Double paned skylights (and windows) are constructed with a gas-filled space between the panes. Argon or krypton gas reduces conductive heat transfer, lowering heating and cooling costs of the home. Additionally, the frames are no longer aluminum. Most windows and skylights of the 1980's were framed with aluminum, substantially bringing down the initial purchase cost. The problem came when the homeowner would experience very low thermal resistance, severe condensation in cold weather and significant heat loss. Now the norm is PVC, vinyl or fiberglass frames, which may cost more at the outset but will garner considerable energy savings during the life of the house. Some styles of skylights even offer a venting feature with a built in sensor to close automatically if rain begins to fall.

Still on the subject of energy savings, there is one other component of skylight replacement that cannot be overlooked: insulation. Having the most technologically up to date skylight in your home will do no good if the ceiling cavity is nothing but two-by-fours and dust bunnies. The room will still feel cold in winter, oven-like in summer and you will find yourself with an unchanged heating/cooling bill. The best way to insulate an attic space properly is using spray foam insulation, not the pink batt variety. Spray foam insulation is designed to fill every nook and cranny so that there is zero air penetration. Therefore, cold air stays out and warm air stays in (vice versa in the hot months of course).

Everyone is looking for ways to save a few dollars these days. Energy savings are important in the long term, but many renovators are looking for ways to save in the short term as well. Doing a small job, like replacing a skylight, can be done by the average homeowner with the right tools and the willingness to follow instructions. The same is true for spray foam insulation. There are several online stores offering kits that are very easy to use and will save the avid DIY-er a few dollars. Now that spring is on its way and this past winter is still fresh in your mind, think about ways to make your home warmer for the winter of 2011. Even if you do not have a skylight, look at the insulation in your attic and wall cavities. Determine if the type or lack of proper material is the culprit for your high heating costs. If you like the idea of daylighting, consider installing a skylight. Not only will it bring natural light into your space, but also if you plan to sell within the near future, it will add a desirable feature that potential buyers will love.

Mark Munns is a representative of Foam it Green. Spray foam insulation can save you money and energy. Guardian Energy Technologies Inc. offers the added benefits of reducing our carbon footprint by offering foam it green solutions and balancing their impact through carbon reproduction projects. Visit us online today for more information.

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