The goal of every one of my aging-in-place renovations is to create a home that older adults can live in safely and independently for years to come. Traditionally, aging-in-place design has focused almost exclusively on physical safety. Lately, though, many of my clients have mentioned the improvements some aging-in-place projects have made to their parent’s mental and emotional health.
Projects like tearing down walls to create an open floor plan or adding windows during a kitchen renovation kept coming up. I began to realize that each of these projects had one thing in common: the addition of natural light.
And, it makes sense. Think about how you feel when the days get shorter in the fall or when we have a few days with nothing but rain. A lack of sunlight certainly affects me and I have no doubt it affects old adults, too.
Bringing Natural Light into the Home Can Boost the Emotional Health of Seniors Aging in Place.
Most people are aware of the link between a lack of sunlight, depression and illness. A home that doesn’t allow for much natural light can worsen existing health conditions – a serious problem among older adults already prone to health issues because of their age.
What we can’t forget, too, is that living independently in retirement may also mean that seniors are now home during the day and potentially spending more time indoors than ever before. So, the importance of natural light in the aging-in-place home may be even greater than in yours or mine.
In this article, we’re going to discuss how to bring more natural light into the aging-in-place home, starting with a skylight.
First, Let’s Look at a Few Skylights Worth Considering
There are lots of options to consider when choosing a skylight. Below are a few that I suggest taking a look at.
Velux is a big name in the skylight world. They make a reliable, well-built skylight in a variety of options. This particular skylight includes a glass coating to keep the glass cleaner and reduce outside noise. It does include a solar-powered light-filtering blind which is great for controlling brightness, especially for older adults with sensitive eyes. However, this will require writing during the installation.
Sunoptics is another good manufacturer of skylights. This fixed skylight includes a prismatic lens which lets in a ton of light while also eliminating hot spots and glare. The glare-reduction alone makes this a great choice for an aging-in-place home. You’ll get the benefits of natural light without creating glare as a result.
This mounted SIG skylight’s flange and curb are aluminum welded to be more heavy-duty than some other options. It also includes a built-in curb, ribbed flange and is doubled paned for insulation. If you need a skylight that can hold up in harsher weather, take a look at this from SIG.
What to Know about Skylights Before You Begin the Installation
Skylights are a project for an advanced DIYer. This installation project requires you to bring a number of skills to the table – from carpentry and structural framing to drywall installation and waterproofing.
If you have extensive experience with home renovation projects and feel comfortable getting up onto the roof and doing this one yourself (and recruiting a few willing friends), then you’re ready to tackle this project.
If you don’t have DIY home renovation experience or have only gotten your feet wet with smaller projects, call in a professional contractor.
If you decide to do the work, the next thing to think about is placement. Since the goal is bringing light into the home, your skylight needs to be either on the south or west-facing side of the house. Otherwise, the skylight may not see enough sun to do its job.
But, there’s also a catch. Skylights can trap heat from direct sunlight. If your skylight is placed in a location where it receives a ton of intense sunlight throughout the day, your room will heat up fast. This isn’t a safe scenario for an older adult who may be highly sensitive to extreme heat.
For all of these reasons, give the placement of your skylight serious consideration before you get to work.
Installing the Skylight in Your Aging-in-Place Home
If you decide to install a skylight in a location where an attic lies between the room and the roof, this complicates things. I’ll cover some of the basics of this type of installation, but I highly recommend contacting a professional contractor if you find yourself in this situation.
For most DIY skylight installations, I suggest choosing a location where you can access the roof directly through the ceiling.
Also, don’t forget to check local building codes and permit requirements in your state and local area, and take care of any permits you need before you begin your project.
Ready to Install Your Skylight? Let’s Go!
The skylight you’re installing should come with installation instructions from the manufacturer. Every skylight is slightly different so refer to the instruction manual throughout the installation.
These skylight installation steps I’ll take you through should go into much more detail than the manufacturer’s manual and are meant to make this DIY install as seamless and painless as possible.
Let’s get to work! Here are the tools and materials you’ll need.
Tools and Materials:
2-inch Wide Boards, Cut to Length
Step 1: Remove the Drywall and Roof Shingles Above and Below the Skylight
Once you decide on the location of your skylight, start from the inside. Remove the drywall currently covering the area for the skylight until you see the exposed rafters. On the rafters, mark the center of the skylight. Then drill a hole up through the top of the rafter into the roof.
Next, make your way up onto the roof. Start removing the shingles around the area of the skylight. The hole you drilled in the rafters is the center point of the skylight on the roof so work your way around that point.
Removing shingles takes time. If you try to rush this step, you’ll end up with a pile of broken shingles that will need to be replaced. The best way to remove shingles is one at a time with a pry bar. Your pry bar will allow you to maneuver around the shingle nails without tearing the shingle.
Step 2: Give the Rafters Some Support
Before you cut into the roof, make sure you’re properly supporting the rafters underneath.
If you’re installing a skylight in a room that sits under an attic, you’ll need to navigate the support beams. When you go to cut the opening of your skylight, you may end up needing to cut out a portion of one or two of the beams. If that’s the case, you’ll need to add two additional beams to both sides of your skylight so your roof is fully supported. These boards will also form the sides of your skylight frame in the next step.
Start by cutting two 2-inch boards to length to create your new support beams. The boards will run from one end of the wall to the other. Once both boards are in place, hammer the bottom of each board get a tight fit. Then, use your nail gun to nail the boards to one another.
Now that the rafters are supported, cut the section of rafters that needs to come out to make room for the skylight.
Step 3: Create Your Frame
With the new support beams and the sides of your skylight in place, now you’re ready to cut and secure both ends to complete the frame.
One side of the new frame, the side closest to the slope of the roof, will touch the ends of the rafter you just cut. So, to keep everything secure, install hangers on the frame boards that sit against the old rafters. When you’re done, it’ll look as if the hangers are holding the old rafters in place, but you’re actually creating a stronger bond between the old rafters and your new frame.
Step 4: Cut the Opening in the Roof
Go back to the center point of the skylight. As you did in step 1, make sure the shingles around the center point are removed. Then, measure out the skylight’s full dimensions around the center point and mark the perimeter with a blue chalk line.
Now, it’s time to cut. Use your reciprocating saw to start your initial cut and then switch to your circular saw to cut around the perimeter of the skylight and open up the roof.
Step 5: Set the Skylight in Place
With the roof now open, peel back the exposed roofing paper roughly 3-inches from the edge of the hole you just cut. Then, place your skylight in the opening. This is where you’ll need to consult the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure your particular skylight is situated properly.
Step 6: Add Roofing Paper Under Each Shingle
This step is critical. A skylight can cause major water issues if it’s not properly installed and if the shingles around it aren’t able to repel water effectively.
First, add roofing paper under each shingle as you replace the shingles back around the skylight. This step can get tricky because, once again, you’re working around shingle nails which make each shingle tough to maneuver. Take your time here and go one shingle at a time.
Step 7: Add the Base, Step and Solid Flashing
A base flashing is a piece of material that wraps around the base of the skylight on the roof creating a seal between the shingles and the skylight. It also makes sure that water stays away from the skylight’s opening. Install the base flashing around the skylight using the manufacturer’s instructions.
Next, you’ll see step flashing around the base. Carefully pry up sections of shingle and carefully have each section overlap the step flashing. Again, go slow when you’re manipulating shingles that can easily bend and break.
Finally, secure the solid flashing around the perimeter of the skylight. Solid flashing is another barrier between the skylight and potential water damage.
Step 8: Patch the Drywall and Paint Around Your New Skylight
Now, it’s time to head inside and finish the job. You’ll need to replace the drywall around the new skylight and creating a seamless transition to the rest of your ceiling. Drywall is a pretty straightforward DIY project. Just make sure you have a friend or two ready to help. Installing drywall on a wall is one thing, but getting each piece onto the ceiling requires a few extra hands.
The general process for installing drywall includes cutting sections to size, adhering each piece to the ceiling joists with drywall adhesive, and then screwing the drywall into the joists once the adhesive dries.
After the drywall is in place, a fresh coat of paint is all you need to finish this aging-in-place skylight project.
You’re Ready to Brighten Up Your Aging-in-Place Home
Natural light is so important for older adults as they age. Adding a skylight, or two or three, throughout your parent’s aging-in-place home is a simple way to bring outdoor light in and help protect their mental and emotional health as they age at home.
As you can probably see by now, installing a skylight isn’t a project for the DIY novice. If you decide to take on this installation, use this article as a guide and send me any questions along the way. I’m here and ready to help.
Good luck with your next aging-in-place home upgrade!