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IRE: Is It Time to Replace Your Skylight?

02/13/2019 | By Sarah Kloepple

Skylights allow more natural light to beam down on your building and its occupants—but older ones can be detrimental to your safety. At this year’s International Roofing Expo in Nashville, we learn of new skylight technology and the best practices for retrofitting them.

“There’s a lot of different options out there to meet the needs of existing buildings to replace in kind with products that match,” says Brian Grohe, commercial sales manager for VELUX, a manufacturing company that specializes in roof windows and skylights.

Common Problems with Older Skylights

So how can you tell if it’s time to replace your skylight? Grohe says there are three common problems with older skylights:

1. Leaks

Have you noticed leaking from various points in the unit? “Usually, skylights aren’t leaking—they’re just condensating,” says Grohe. “That condensation has nowhere to go, so it falls inside the building.”

2. Discoloration

Skylights can degrade to the point where their color changes, usually to a shade of yellow or light brown. This is commonly caused by corrosion of the sealant.

Skylight
(Photo Credit: Janelle Penny, Senior Staff Writer for BUILDINGS)

3. Cracks

Older skylights with cracks are not only unsafe for your occupants, but for your staff or contractors as well. Cracks create a fall hazard for anybody who’s working on a rooftop.

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New Technology

Grohe says new skylight technology can overcome these problems.

“Newer skylights, like [our polycarbonate one], have built-in condensation channels and ways of reducing the amount of moisture that forms,” he explains. “What does form, they have channels to move that water from the frame… You don’t get it inside the building.”

[Related: Top 5 Envelope Failures and Water Leaking Solutions]

Impact modified acrylic has become the industry standard, Grohe says, with a special compound of pellets embedded in the sheet to make it a stronger material. “That was the baseline for many, many years,” he explains. “Now, it’s moving toward more polycarbonate — mostly for the longevity and the stronger impact resistance.”

Skylight
(Photo Credit: Janelle Penny, Senior Staff Writer for BUILDINGS)

Polycarbonate skylights are much stronger and more UV-resistant than traditional materials. Grohe says they won’t yellow like older skylights and will last for much longer. Their high impact resistance will also make your rooftop safer. “For building owners who have old skylights, it’s a great retrofit application to replace old, broken or leaking skylights with new skylights with better technology,” he adds.

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New skylight technology also allows for more variation, in size, color and shape. In the video below, Grohe is standing next to VELUX’s proprietary dynamic dome shape. “We can also do round or pyramid domes,” he adds. “You can use different glazing configurations — single glaze, double glaze, triple glaze. You can get bronze domes.”

Retrofitting

When considering a skylight retrofit, Grohe says you can often replace it with similar products that are already installed. “However, with building use changes and different ownership, a lot of times people are trying to upgrade the products that they have on their roof to the best technology available.”

Skylight
(Photo Credit: Janelle Penny, Senior Staff Writer for BUILDINGS)

A common retrofitting application, Grohe explains, is through old smoke vents.

“A lot of old buildings have smoke vents in them that were installed prior to sprinkler systems,” he says. “Now that those sprinkler systems are installed in many buildings, a lot of times old smoke vents can be retrofitted with skylights at a much smaller cost. We can help with those types of things. We can help determine what is installed already and what may be the best product to go back with.”

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