Dealing with leaks or other problems with your skylight or solar tube? Take these steps to find out when you can repair and when it's time to replace.
If you can’t get enough natural light, or there are rooms in your house that cannot support standard windows, a skylight or a solar tube (also called a sun tunnel)—which uses highly reflective metallic tubes to channel sunlight throughout the house from a translucent bulb on the roof—can be a godsend. Both types of features, however, can suffer damage over time or due to improper installation and begin to leak, allowing water, dirt, dust, or too much heat into your home. Take these steps to determine whether or not you can get the feature repaired and when it’s time to call in a local skylight installer for a replacement.
Review Your Warranty
When you pay for a new skylight, the cost often includes a warranty, some of which last up to 25 years. The cost to install a solar tube runs from $600 to $1,000, so you’ll want to check your warranty to confirm you’re not still covered. This is essential not only because fixing it through an initial warranty will save you money, but also because any unauthorized repair work could void your coverage.
Check Your Insurance Coverage
If natural causes, like a falling branch, damaged your skylight or sun tube, your insurance might pick up the tab for repairs. Check your coverage and make sure you understand your homeowners insurance.
Consider Its Age
Both skylights and solar tubes have an average lifespan of 10 to 20 years, though higher-end models are said to last as long as 55. Whatever the nature of your problem, it might be wise to opt for a replacement if your feature is getting toward the upper end of this range—or if you plan to replace your roof in the near future.
Common Skylight and Solar Tube Problems
The nature of your problems largely determines whether or not it makes more sense to repair or replace your skylight or sun tube.
Far and away, leakage is the most common issue with skylights and sun tubes. Over time, the features’ various weatherproofing systems will inevitably begin to fail, allowing moisture and dust into your home.
You should thoroughly inspect the skylight the second you begin to notice water droplets in the house. Catching the problem early on could be the difference between a relatively quick and inexpensive repair and a costly replacement. The leak could be due to an issue with one of a few different components.
If water seems to come in from the roof, the issue may lie with the flashing. This is the metal that connects the skylight frame to the roof and weatherproofs the gap. You can hire a roofing contractor to provide a short-term repair by reattaching the loose flashing with roof flashing cement. You will ultimately need new flashing, but you can replace the part on its own at a much lower cost than a new installation.
When water appears to come in through the interior frame, the most probable cause is the gasket seal between the glass pane and the frame. You can repair the skylight by getting a new seal applied.
The edges of skylight glass are dotted with a series of weep holes, which allow condensation on the glass to evaporate. Over time, these can become blocked with debris, leaving the condensation to drip into your home. When this happens, there is no choice but to replace the skylight.
When a leak persists for long enough, the frame can corrode. If you catch the issue early enough, you can patch and repair the frame. If, however, the leak has penetrated the drywall, you may have to replace the whole feature.
Another source of leakage could be a crack in the glass. Even if they aren’t creating leaks, cracks, and other damage to the glass in your skylight can be unsightly and interfere with the light you’re trying to let into your home. In many cases—especially if the skylight is relatively new or the glass is single-pane—you can repair the problem by replacing just the glass, rather than the whole unit, and save time and money. If, however, the glass is double- or triple-pane, or the feature is designed in such a way that disallows the installation of new glass, you may have to replace.
Discoloration or Fogging
Over time, the glass in your skylight might begin to appear cloudy or acquire a yellowish hue, diminishing the quality of light entering your home. If the skylight is near the kitchen, you should try cleaning it first, since it may be due to an accumulation of cooking grease. If this fails, you may be able to simply install new glass. But depending on the specifics of your feature, you may have to replace the whole thing.
Broken Shade or Blind System
Skylights typically include a set of shades or blinds, controlled by either a motor or a hand crank. If either mechanism has failed you, the part can be replaced at a fraction of the cost of a new skylight. Costs could be as high as $1,000 if there are more extensive electrical issues behind your motor troubles—but unless you plan to replace it for other reasons in the near future, there is no cost or lifetime utility advantage to paying for a replacement at this stage.
How do you repair a solar tube?
Repairing a solar tube is a complex project that is not suitable for DIY. It involves going into your attic or on top of your roof, and removing the skylight as well as its flashing, and disassembling it. If the tube is broken, it will need to be replaced, which if done improperly, could lead to water leaks from your roof. It’s always best to call a skylight contractor to handle any solar tube repairs.
Do solar tubes need maintenance?
Solar tubes need regular cleaning to allow light to travel through them, but besides that, they don’t need maintenance. Unlike solar tube repair, solar tube cleaning is DIY-friendly. You just need to be able to access the solar tube from inside your home, which will require a ladder. You can clean a solar tube using a simple solution of warm water and dish soap, and gently scrub it with a soft brush. Be sure to dry the area thoroughly once you’re done. You can also call a skylight contractor to do this work if your solar tube is particularly dirty.
Can solar tubes be closed?
Unlike traditional skylights, solar tubes can’t be closed. You can apply a fitted film to help diffuse light, but you can’t use shades as you could with a regular skylight.