Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


You may be attached to your skylights but are they attached to you?

Both the supporters of skylight installations and those that think they are a bad idea have their arguments.  Sometimes they might be the only practical way to get natural light into a space.

I am more in the negatory camp.  Windows are terrible at heat loss/gain and air infiltration/exfiltration, now take that window and put it in your roof.  It simply must compound the issues.

typical skylightNone of this discussion addresses the reality that there are lots of them out there in the real world and people are installing them every day—even in “green” houses with an endless list of certifications and designations.

But the focus of this post is more about current skylight installations and a very common problem with them that most people never think of. 

Everyone knows they leak and if they aren’t now it is only a matter of time—right?  I personally don’t agree with that analysis.  As often as not, the “leaking” we encounter can often be attributed to condensation due to inadequate or non-existent ventilation—especially for skylights located in bathrooms.  Of course the type of skylight, and poor installation details, can result in actual leaks as well.

Broken seals are another common issue, but for the most part that is cosmetic—does anyone ever actually look out of skylights anyway?

Problems with modifications of the structure to accommodate a skylight, as in a remodel, are also common.

Perhaps the single most common skylight defect that I encounter is that they are just sitting there—not attached to the roof structure at all.  Small ones, and especially the plastic ones, are very light weight and can easily be lifted.  Under the right wind conditions they can literally be sucked off the roof under negative pressure.

If you have skylights on your home, it is a good idea to check and make sure they are properly attached.


Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle


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Comment balloon 11 commentsCharles Buell • October 17 2013 01:38PM


A leeward wind can literally pull stuff off the roof - shingles, skylights, beach umbrellas, you name it.

I have never seen a skylight pulled off though.  How is it that they are there, but not attached?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Not a fan of skylights, to me they are just another protrusion through your roof. True, they let in natural light... but they will be trouble at some point.

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 6 years ago

Wow! That's a frightening thought! I haven't seen too many skylights that don't have condensation on them (now I know why!), or show signs of leaking. What do you think of Solatubes?

Posted by Nina Rogoff, Sells Real Estate! (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 6 years ago

Jay, I remember in Upstate NY, where they get some pretty fierce winds, the leeward side of large barns would be missing the siding where it had been sucked off.

Fred, yes, any penetration can be a week point

Nina, I like the solatubes---the light without the heat loss/gain.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

Wow! That is ridiculous. I think the big problem is the skylight installers.

Posted by Juan Jimenez, The Richmond Home Inspector (A House on a Rock Home Inspections LLC) over 6 years ago

Juan, or possibly the guys doing the re-roof---forgetting to reattach the light

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

CHarles -- that is very interesting. I would not have thought about the top of the skylight not being attached to the framing.  Something else to be on the alert for.

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) over 6 years ago

GOOD MORNING CHARLES ... the leaking, the improper installation - all the pros and cons about skylights.  You know, one other thing that I don't like about them - they are a easy breaking in point for thieves - especially if they are not installed right.  I like the additional light - but not sure if I would like one on my roof!

Posted by Gabrielle Kamahele Rhind, Broker/Owner (KGC Properties LLC, Tucson Property Management & Real Estate) over 6 years ago

I believe the purpose of skylights in "green" building is for light. Natural light andthe solar heating can save energy. To me it would seem a poor trade off. 

You seem to find a lot of loose skylights. I check them to, have rarely found any loose and never one like in the pic.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

Charlie, Just another hole for where the water to go ; ) So often the flashing details are poorly done also. 

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Steven, I would guess that about 1 in every 20 is not attached

Gabrielle, how does the thief get to the roof?

Jim, I think there are more effective ways to do it

Don, if you buy the cheapo lites that do not have proprietary flashings, all bets are off

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago