A Quick Home Inspector Look at Skylights

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Skylights are a desirable addition, but look out for leaks during a home inspection.

When you’re a home inspector, checking the condition of the roof is an important part of the job. Roofs can have a lot of issues, and you can often find problems with skylights.

Skylights can be a great addition to a dark room; they allow in lots of extra light that may not come through the windows because of trees or the positioning of the house. They’re considered a big plus in real estate transactions, even though they don’t cost that much to install.

As great as they are, however, they require homeowners to cut a big hole in their roof, which seems counterintuitive to protecting their home from the elements. While skylights look like windows, they have one crucial difference — they’re not vertical. This means, despite careful installation, they may let more than light into a home. They often let water in as well.

Thus, it is important that an ordinary window not be used in the place of a skylight. Windows are not tempered the same as skylights and will fail sooner. Even if you find no evidence of leaks or failure during your home inspection, make note of the window in your report, because it will become a problem sooner rather than later.

Finding Skylight Leaks in a Home Inspection

Skylight leaks are not always apparent. Sometimes the water seeps in insidiously, slowly rotting the wood surrounding the window and possibly spurring mold growth.

An ASHI Reporter article recommends inspecting skylights from above and below to check for signs of rot. Missing or damaged flashing and compromised seals could also allow rainwater to penetrate.

Use a moisture meter from the attic side to look for signs of soggy roof decking. A dry result doesn’t mean everything is fine, however; it might just mean it hasn’t rained in a while.

An article in the Washington Post quotes a local home inspector who warns that once a skylight leaks, it must be replaced. No repairs will fix a leaky skylight.

So if you see caulking or roofing cement around the skylight, this is likely evidence of an attempted repair. Both of these are inadequate solutions to a leaking skylight problem and should be duly noted.

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Proper installation is crucial with a skylight.

With Skylights, Leaks Are a Matter of Time

Although skylights can last as long as 20 years, experienced roofers know that it is not a matter of if a skylight will leak, but when. The timeline depends heavily on the installation. A skillfully installed, curb-mounted skylight with proper flashing will likely stay leak-free for many years. If the installation or flashing isn’t done correctly, or if the installer uses a flush mount, problems are more likely to turn up earlier.

Different roofing materials also require different installation methods. Although the vast majority of roofs are covered with asphalt shingles, some aren’t, and these other materials need proper consideration when planning an installation.

Also, check during your home inspection to see if the skylight functions properly. If it equipped with a remote to open or close the window or a shade, see if it works. Debris falling onto the skylight, or simply age or mechanical failure, can cause the skylight remote functions to stop working.

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