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by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Why Skylights? On a scorching summer day when the sun feels hot enough to blister the Dallas streets and the air thick enough to keeps us indoors with a cold glass of strawberry ambrosia ice tea, why bring up a hot topic like skylights? The coolest thing, one might think, would be to keep the sun at bay on the other side of the roof. But with new home construction and remodeling now required to meet energy efficient code guidelines as of September 2002, many Texas homeowners may soon find their skylights less than cool and behind the times?60 years in fact.

In 1941, Villum Kann Rasmussen, a Danish engineer/architect was commissioned to create a roof window that would be as good or better than the best vertical window so that a school, desperately in need of space, could move some classrooms up into the sloping roof of the attic. That project was successful and started what has become Velux, a company that manufacturers only roof windows and skylights, according to Joe Patrick, product manager of Velux.

Today, Velux is almost a billion dollar industry with worldwide distribution; and supplying North America and several other countries since 1975 is the manufacturing facility located in Greenwood, South Carolina

This year, Velux was awarded the 2002 Energy Star award for energy efficient products.

?It is an outstanding product, one that you never have to worry about,? said Marvin Windows general manager, Randy Nagle, a local distributor of Velux skylights. ?Rarely is there a problem if it?s installed properly.? In California, Velux is one of the only skylight companies that meet the California energy criteria.

?We?re the only company whose standard products you don?t have to think about it?the one you buy comes with Energy Star approval,? said Patrick. In parts of the eastern USA, Velux is the only product available. But in Texas Velux skylights have been slow to take hold although that market is beginning to open up especially with the implementation of energy requirements.

Basically, there are two types of skylights?the plastic bubble (dome) and the flat glass, according to Nagle. Because of Texas weather, the bubble skylights are not ideal. But, traditionally, the plastic skylights were the popular choice, in part, because they were the less expensive to build and more readily available. The safety glass/low-e coated glass skylight that Velux offers is more costly to install.

?We?ve done some calculations and estimate that if somebody compares the plastic 4 by 4 skylight with a Velux 4 ft by 4 ft skylight, for a 2,000 sq ft home assuming a savings of 15 cents per kilowatt hour of air conditioning, a homeowner would save about $194 a year in cooling costs by using Velux instead of the bubble,? Patrick said. ?You pay for the cost difference in about a year using those assumptions instead of going with the plastic. It proves the point that going with more energy efficient products actually saves you money each month, especially in the summertime. The reverse happens in the wintertime?that?s when the plastic bubble will allow heat to escape where as energy efficient Velux is going to keep it in, and that is going to allow you to save money.?

Besides the basic fixed skylight (Model FS), Velux offers manual and electric vented skylights and accessories. The electric venting skylight (Model VSE) allows homeowners to open up their skylights with a battery-operated remote control, and rain sensors can automatically close the skylights at the first drop of precipitation. Then, there is a complete set of external and internal coverings, which seemingly can add up to solar protection comparable to that of an intact roof. On the roof exterior can be a Heatblock Awning, which serves as a blind over the skylight. The awning reduces heat gain by an additional 40% over the low-e glazing; yet the mesh netting still allows a view of the exterior. Also available are three types of interior skylight shade structures?a silver-grey pleated shade with aluminum on the reverse side to reduce UV fading and glare: a white Venetian blind with aluminum on the reverse side for glare control: and a white LightBlock shade for eliminating all light penetration. The LightBlock shade can achieve complete darkness and is useful for rooms such as the media room and the bedroom.

Velux also offers insect screens to fit all their ventilated skylights, including the attic balcony roof window (model GDL CABRIO), which opens from the top and bottom to form an open balcony.

Besides the convenience of remote control opening/closing to let in fresh air (best when outside temperatures are cooler like the 70?s), the added value in using venting skylights lies in helping to fight the condensation that can build up in air-tight homes and lead possibly to mold problems. In fact, Velux offers a pamphlet ?Controlling Condensation,? which outlines how to avoid condensation problems with skylights. Velux will mail consumers two concise and informative brochures upon request. ?Why Skylights?? and ?Choosing the Skylight That?s Right For You? are available by writing VELUX America Inc., P.O. Box 308, Bud Lake, NJ 07828, calling 1-800-283-2831, or via e-mail request at Velux, in fact, can provide a whopping amount of literature about their products along with a price list for those who are interested.

Besides the fixed and venting skylights, Velux offers the Impact FCM skylight that can withstand the forces of hurricane winds for homes exposed to hurricanes. Of interest to Texas homeowners might be the curb mounted FMC skylights to replace their plastic bubble skylights.

Yet, central to the success of all Velux skylights are the Flashing Systems that enable the skylights to be constructed virtually leak-proof. Velux offers a variety of Flashing Systems for mounting skylights into different roofing systems?from the asphalt or fiberglass shingles to the high profile concrete shingles to the metal roof and even to flat roof curbs. And Velux provides a warranty for 20 years on the insulating glass, 10 years for the roof windows, skylights, and flashing, and 5 years for the blinds and controls.

So, try out the Velux web site for ideas to enlighten the home?a vented skylight in the bathroom or kitchen or in your own attic space, perhaps.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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