DIY Skylight Covers

Our house has no fewer than seven skylights. They were all installed by a previous owner, and give the living areas the very nice ‘veranda’ feel. The obvious downside is that on sunny days, the whole floor turns into a greenhouse and temperatures climb uncomfortably quickly.

We wanted to preserve the mood of the lighting while reducing the amount of direct sunlight and UV hitting our floors. Tinted skylights would have significantly changed the light color, and would have to be permanent. Pull-out coverings would have been a nuisance to manage and would act as shutters, not as filters. Since there didn't seem to be a standard offering that would suit our needs, we decided to attempt to build our own.

Materials

There are quite a few options for screening materials available online. Drawing inspiration from the folks at http://www.skylitecovers.com, we obtained samples from Phifer. We ended up picking the Gray Suntex 80, which looked sturdy and easy to work with, and which has the advantage of being readily available online at Lowe’s. The color of the screen matches the metal frame of the skylights and seemed to be the least intrusive. Only drawback: you can only obtain it in 50 feet rolls which only made sense financially because we had enough surface area to cover.

Fastening

To fasten the fabric, we punched ⅜ inch grommets at 5 inch intervals around the perimeter. We tried two types of grommets:
  • Tekton from Michigan Industrial Tools (left on image above). Available for less than $2 for 25 pieces online, we found them to be flimsy and to disintegrate under the hammer. Not recommended.
  • Stanley Bostitch grommets (right on the image above) were solid and defect-free. They are unfortunately much more expensive, mostly because each 24-piece pack available in stores comes with its own set of tools. Don’t plan your count too tightly though: it’s common for washers to be missing from the packs.
Because we are not yet certain of how permanent the setup would be, we wanted covers we could remove without too much trouble. We opted to use ‘marine grade’ bungee cord available on Amazon which should hopefully be able to sustain exposure to the elements.

Cutting and Mounting

We sketched a pattern based on the skylight’s dimensions and adjusted the cover by trial and error. The skylight’s shape is not a simple trapezoid, and we wanted to make sure the bungee cord would fit tightly under the lip of the skylight mounts so that it would remain secure. In retrospect, this is the part of the process we could have most improved, time permitting, by taking tighter measurements (1/2 inch makes a difference) and cutting a more precise pattern.

Results

The project took 3 leisurely days to complete, including the compulsory false starts. The difference in lighting is exactly what we hoped for: no change in color, but a softer, less aggressive light. It’s suprisingly difficult to capture on camera, but the change in light is significant without being too dimming. The total cost of the project came out to about $340. We have yet to see if they will be durable and whether they will hold up in the height of the Summer.


A Year and a Half Later

The whole setup is holding up very well, without any maintenance. The fabric looks as new. Two things to note:
  • Make sure the covers are laying perfectly flat on the skylight. See the small ripples on the cover on the picture above? On some days they cause moisture that naturally rises from the inside of the house to condensate right there and drip on the floor. It took me a while to understand why I had small puddles on my floor only in that location.
  • Don't use cheap grommets. The Bostitch ones I recommend above are still intact, but the few Tekton ones we also used are now completely rusted.


Screen with two different brands of grommets



Finished cover



Looking straight up
(No cover on the left, cover on the right)

At a viewing angle
(Cover on the closest skylight, no cover on the furthest)
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