What are the Common Types of Skylights?
A useful first step in skylights maintenance is to become more familiar with the common terms used to describe skylights and their various parts. There are two main types of skylights – those that open, referred to as “operable skylights,” and those that do not open, referred to as “fixed skylights.” The opening part of the operable skylight is often referred to as “vent.” The skylights frames can be made of vinyl, or a combination of vinyl and aluminum. Operable skylights and windows share similar methods of providing an air and weather seal, or what is commonly referred to as weather-stripping. Weather stripping reduces air infiltration, and is located between the frame and the operable skylight.
How Often do Skylights need to be Inspected and Maintained?
All skylights require regular semi-annual inspections (i.e. each spring and fall). At minimum, there should be an annual maintenance on the skylight. However, more frequent maintenance may be required, especially as your skylights ages. A record of inspections and complaints should be kept for your building by your building/ maintenance manager.
A small skylight under a deep overhang in a one-storey building will not require as much attention as a very large skylight in a high-rise residential building, or in an apartment building facing a large open area, ocean, river or lake that has more exposure to the elements.
How can I detect Skylight Condensation?
Evidence of any condensation problems should be identified during the inspection and maintenance process. Condensation is the result of when warm, moist air comes into contact with a cold surface. The moisture in the air then reverts to its liquid form. Condensation can lead to substantial deposits of water on the skylight and interior wall surfaces, and must be controlled to avoid problems.
Vinyl frames are less likely to develop condensation problems as the materials are good insulators from colder outside temperatures. Some metal frames are not good insulators because the lets the colder outside temperature move through the entire frame. They can also be a source of condensation problems on the interior side of windows and doors. Report persistent condensation problems to your maintenance manager.
Why Do Skylights Need to be Maintained?
Skylights deteriorate over time due to age, usage, wear and tear, and exposure to the weather. Proper maintenance will ensure that they remain in good working order for as long as possible. Maintenance will also ensure they and continue to function well in regards to providing clear vision to the outdoors, as well as providing security, access, light, ventilation, weather protection, and aesthetics.
A relatively small investment in maintenance will extend the life of your skylights, reduce heat loss, and energy consumption. Most importantly, proper maintenance will help prevent significant damage to the interior of the building or wall assembly due to condensation or water leakage from the skylight.
What Maintenance Must be Performed?
Generally speaking, proper inspection and maintenance should cover all components that make-up a skylight, including:
- Glass or dome glazing
- Frame material and finishes
- Operating hardware such as handles, cranks, hinges, latches, locks
- Sealant joints and gaskets
- Surrounding interior finishes for any signs of water leakage or damage.
Inspection and maintenance of skylights should be coordinated by your maintenance manager or an experienced inspector or contractor. This is because of the technical nature of what needs to be inspected and maintained, and also to ensure that important safety concerns are addressed. Residents can carry out a few basic inspections and maintenance tasks on the interior side only, such as cleaning the sills, frames, dome or glass. Beyond this, however, residents should report symptoms of potential problems or maintenance concerns to the building manager. Specific inspection and maintenance items will depend on the type of skylights that you have.
What are the Common Skylight Maintenance Items and Suggested Actions?
Presence of dirt and debris can affect skylights from properly opening and can block drainage holes that carry moisture to the outside. Vacuum and clean the sills on a regular basis and clean any drain openings that may exist on the interior side if they appear blocked.
Notify your maintenance manager if there is a problem with the weather stripping as it is important to ensure a continuous and tight-fitting seal around operable skylights. Glazing seals provide a weather-tight connection between the glass or dome, and the frame or sash components, and can become damaged or worn over time. Repair or replacement generally requires the services of a qualified contractor, and would be coordinated by your building manager.
When the seals between the skylights panes fail, moisture can get in and condense on the inner surfaces of the glass, a condition called “fogging.” Contact your building manager, as the glazing likely needs to be replaced. As a preventative measure, the perimeter seal on the interior side should be kept dry without allowing moisture to stay on the skylight frames, or in contact with the seal, for an extended period.
Your skylights should operate smoothly and lock securely. The moving parts of your skylight should be kept clean and properly lubricated. The skylight can be more susceptible to problems in coastal (salt-air) environments. Specific maintenance items to be coordinated by your maintenance manager.
Here are a number of maintenance items to consider:
- Interior side of frames should be cleaned regularly with mild soap and water and rinsed thoroughly. Don’t wash the frames when the surfaces are hot.
- Wood frames require paint or stain every five to 10 years.
- Wood sills are more susceptible to damage, so keep sill finishes and sealants in good condition.
- Insect screens can be washed with a soft brush and mild soap and water, then rinsed and dried thoroughly before reinstallation. Depending on your building, this task may be carried out by the building or maintenance manager.
- Maintenance such as cleaning on the exterior side of frames should be looked after by the building manager. A hose or pressure washer should not be used for cleaning skylights as this may drive water into the skylights assembly.