When I built my tiny house, I was nervous about installing skylight windows, thinking they could leak gallons of the Pacific Northwest winter rain into my house. But I also knew that a skylight would completely change the way my house felt. All in all, installing skylights was the best decision I made while designing my house.
The skylights alone had the power to open up the space above the loft, so instead of feeling like I was sleeping in the back of my car, I would feel like I was sleeping under the ever- expanding universe of stars. And instead of feeling that I was caged up in the living room as I worked on my laptop, I’d feel like I was sitting outside under clear blue sky.
The skylight windows have helped me see the world in a new way, whether I’m looking at frost or spying on raccoons raiding my neighbor’s garden from the safety of the loft. They make my house, and my understanding of the world, somehow bigger. Here’s how I described it in my book The Big Tiny:
“The fact is, even after all these years of sleeping with my head inches from the roof, of rolling over day after day to see what’s outside the skylight or on the skylight, after all this time and even though my dog has heard it all before, nature still surprises me. And then I’m surprised by my surprise, thinking that at this stage of the game, I should be a bit bored by things like frost [formed on the skylight].
In past winters, I’ve had frost that looked like fiddleheads, daggers, paisleys, martini picks, traditional snowflakes, dull wax paper, droopy wheat stalks, and sea kelp. The patterns on the east-side skylight, over the living room, were always different than those on the west side over my bed, and it seemed to me that there was some competition involved, like the windows were challenging each other to see who could create the most spectacular, supernatural effect in ice. I’ve taken photos of all of them to prove they once existed and to remind myself, later perhaps, when I’m preoccupied or stuck, or if I ever find myself doing dull little tasks inside a watery little office, I’ll remember that nature is stunning and that I was once happy living in a small house in winter.”
Velux made my skylight windows. I’m sure they’re available at a store near you because they distribute through Home Depot, Lowes and other big building supply stores, and they have all sorts of products that can open up the ceiling on your tiny house and change your life like they changed mine. Oh, and in 13 years of Pacific Northwest downpours, they never leaked once.
Tiny House Skylight Design Tips
Here are a few things to think about if you want to build with skylights:
- Design wisely. Think about which way the sun might come up and set, and put skylights in areas that accommodate your lifestyle. For example, I decided to put the bedroom loft skylight on the west side, so there’d be less direct early morning light in my bedroom. I put the living room skylight on the east side, so when I did wake up, I could have a cup of coffee on the couch while basking in the early morning light. Of course, you might not be able to predict where your tiny house will land and which way it’ll park. But never fear – Velux has skylights that have built-in blinds, so you can still block out morning light and sleep in when necessary. Also, consider how the window will sit proportionally inside and outside the roof line. I intentionally lined up the living room skylight over the windows below it, so they work together in the room. This skylight and the windows sit about three feet away from the back wall, so I placed the skylight in the loft also three feet from the front wall. This way I’ve got this symmetry and balance created inside and outside the house.
- Educate yourself. House Energy offers great information about the different kinds of skylights. “Curb mounted” and “deck mounted” units are most common, and there are pro’s and con’s to each. I also recommend that you take a close look at “roof windows.” Standard “operable skylights” crack open five or six inches, but roof windows open all the way, which is particularly important in your loft if you want to escape during a fire. And because they have an amazing feel. I once visited a friend who had installed a huge roof window in her loft, and when she opened it up I felt like I was practically outdoors, like sitting on the platform of a tree house.
- Consider skylights that serve a dual purpose: sunlight and ventilation. My skylights are both fixed, meaning they don’t open at all. They’re beautiful, but if I could do it again I’d probably get operable windows that provide at least a bit of airflow to cool things down in the summer. Velux has operable skylights that you open the old-fashioned way, and skylights you can open or close with a remote control. They even have units fitted with sensors so they’ll close automatically if it starts to rain while you’re out of the house. In their new “Fresh Air” skylights, both features are even powered with a solar panel that’s part of the window. In the loft it’s easy to reach up to open or close a skylight, but when you’re installing one over your living area with 10 foot ceilings, a remote control is definitely worth considering.The Solar Powered “Fresh Air” Skylight from veluxusa on Vimeo.
- Go solar if you go automatic. There is a double-bonus for installing solar skylights with remote control features. First, you might qualify for an energy credit on your taxes – money in the bank, my friend, plus cost savings over time by generating your own electricity. Second, the units are self-contained, so installation is a snap; there’s no need for fancy wiring systems because it’s all built in.
- Play by the rules. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for installation. Install the right flashing for the type of roof you’re going to use. Velux offers flashing packages for all sorts of roofing – metal standing seam or snap-lock, composite, you name it. They also offer can help find a professional to help you install the windows.
Bring The Outside In
My skylights are the one element in my house that made the biggest difference in my day-to-day life. They stretch the view, so I can see the horizon in all four directions and straight up as well. They bring in much-needed natural light during the long grey days of winter in Washington, and they help me see myself as part of a dynamic, mysterious natural world.
I don’t have skylight windows in my new tinier house, Jolene – the curved roof made them a bit tricky. I recently wrote about this lack as something I’m curious about and perhaps a bit afraid of – so much so that I contacted a friend to brainstorm possible ways to install one if I miss it too much. I’ll keep you posted on how that shakes out. In any case, I’m certain the skylights in the Kozy Kabin little house – the place I’ve called home for the past thirteen years – have already worked their magic in my life, and for that I’m extremely grateful.
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