Volume 38, Issue 7, July 2003
Windows to the Sky
A Closer Look at the Ins and Outs of Skylights
by Dez Farnady
In all the years I have been writing this column I have never written about skylights. While I have been reluctant to use this platform for crass commercialism, maybe no one will suspect my ulterior motives if I disguise it as expert advice.
In an age where documentation is the backbone of discovery, I have applied my own style to research and development. The foundation of my research is based on two key methods: perceived personal experience and pure gut reaction. These two highly specialized techniques provide the basis for the undisputable evidence.
The Good, The Bad
Various publications, including this magazine, have reported that additional daylighting improves the living and working environment. Skylights are nothing more than windows to the sky, maximizing the amount of daylight available. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, they also maximize the windowís exposure to the elements. This is a bad thing. Skylight design has therefore evolved in a manner similar to large glazing areas.
Residential windows function under the assumption that they keep water out of a building. But storefront, curtainwall and skylight systems, particularly the dry-glazed varieties, recognize the problem and have devised a solution. The underlying principle is based on the idea that you can allow water into a glazing system if thereís a way to let it out at a rate faster than by which it comes in. Like good glazing systems, all good skylights have built-in drainage and weep systems that prevent moisture from penetrating into the building if kept open.
My research has established that the skylight industry, which in the recent past was attached at the hip to the plastics business, has now latched on to the glazing industry. The radical shift that has moved skylights from acrylic domes and formed acrylic ridges to flat glass seems to be a strong and recent trend, possibly a result of greater energy concerns in the glass industry. Itís not that you canít get some pretty decent energy performance out of plastic products, but it just seems that glass has been sold better.
The large shift from plastic skylights to glass skylights has had a two-fold effect: on one hand, it has scared some roofers and contractors away because of glass-handling issues; on the other hand, it has invited more glazing contractors into the business.
For a skylight manufacturer, drawing more glazing and glass handling expertise into the skylight business creates new opportunities. Before, if you built a large glass skylight you had to find an installer or the fabricator was forced to do his own installation. To this day, no roofer in his right mind would consider field-glazing a large glass ridge or glass pyramid skylight. Since skylights are not in the glazing section of the architectural specifications, most glaziers did not even find out about a skylight until recently and they sure as hell didnít look at any roof plans.
So the business shift to glass skylights now offers a new product for the glazing contractor. The glazing sub who negotiates his work with his well-established general contractor is now being told by the general, ďHey, itís glass. You figure it into your bid. Iím not messing with it.Ē A skylight installation with properly framed curbs, glazed or unglazed frames, is just another glazing process with familiar procedures and familiar products for the glass guy.
The net result is that the glazing contractorís job package increases in size. The scope of his work changes, but the basic process, product and procedures remain pretty much the same. I now spend more time working with qualified glass people, and, because they have men who know how to handle glass and glazing, I sleep better at night.
Dez Farnady serves as general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, Calif. His column appears monthly.
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