Relaxshax's Blog

Tiny Houses/Tumbleweeds: To Skylight, or NOT to Skylight?
September 26, 2012, 7:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This question has been posed at EVERY Tumbleweed Workshop I’ve hosted (Boston, Miami, Chicago, DC, Seattle, NYC, Middle Earth, Atlantis, etc), and I’m sure we’ll talk about it, both your opinions and mine, in the upcoming NYC Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop in Brooklyn, NY- October 20th and 21st. This particular workshop will feature Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller, the duo behind the much anticipated “Tiny: The Movie”- who have recently completed their own tiny house on wheels. More guest to be announced soon too…..CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO.

This could apply to houses of ANY size, but more particularly to tiny houses, as their loft space is so comparatively limited….

First of all, in the “pro-skylight” column, just look at this photo of a simple lofted sleeping area in a tiny house- I mean how cool, cozy, and inviting does this look? I love it. On the other hand, you’re losing heat like crazy, r-value-wise, if you don’t have high end, insulated, double-paned, skylights. However, this heat loss, as your loft will ALWAYS be the warmest place in your tiny home, might also come as a blessing.

Now on the other hand, take the above example- this converted attic could have possibly benefited from the additional light and venting abilities of a skylight or two, BUT with the inclusion of a decent sized window on the gable end of the home, the lighting in this little loft seems to be just fine.

The CONS of skylights…..well, even with the most thorough flashing and trim work, ANY TIME you add an roof penetrations or complications (toilet stacks, electrical poles/goose necks, dormers, and yes, skylights) THAT will be the place, most prone, down the road, to leakage. SO, by not having any skylights, you’re more or less eliminating this increased risk, but at the cost of less light, and in some cases, ventilation. If you live in a particularly rainy and windy region of the country, or oceanside, where the weather can be rather brutal, for this reason, skylights should be carefully considered.

But its not that cut and dry… you’ll see in photo #3, Jay Shafer’s original Tumbleweed Tiny House….

This cool little loft, above, is pretty darn cozy, and with only one lancet/gothic window, its also on the dark side- which sleep-wise, I really love (I prefer sleeping in pitch black rooms). That can either be a pro or con, but in terms of a off chance fire or emergency, those who choose to only install small windows in their lofts are faced with the challenge of squeezing through them for egress if need be. With a skylight, on the other hand, whether its meant to open or not, come fire, or any other dire situation, one swift kick to the glass and you can make your way out- It won’t be pretty, granted, but you will be alive.

PRO- Larger windows, or skylights, just may help you in terms of your being able to load long, or bulkier items into your loft- ones that otherwise would not fit up through the small entrance hole (if not an open loft set-up).

PRO and CON- Solar gain is another thing to consider, and this will all depend on where you live, where your house is situated and in which direction its located. Skylights on a south facing roof will collect alot of heat during the day in your loft. If your home is parked under the shade of a tree in the summer, this skylight gain will be greatly reduced. In colder climates, this solar gain, on the other hand, might be exactly what you want.

CON- Skylight shades always seem to be problematic and a good many people just don’t bother with outfitting them with their custom shades- AND when those shades break, they’re slow to replace them. The result: When the sun is up, you’re up- unless you own a sleep mask.Skylights with built-in interior, between glass, shades- forget it, they always end up breaking over time- at least in cases I’ve seen.

Above: Skylights put to good use- Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings, in her Tumbleweed. Note how the skylights are staggered and both are not situated on one end of the home- this arrangement is less apt to structurally weaken your tiny home (especially important if its one on wheels that will be moved often).

PRO- Who doesn’t want to sleep with a clear view of the stars overhead? It’d be like sleeping in a stargazers field, but without the bugs, cold, and manure under your feet. Same with the rain overhead- to be so close to the elements, yet so protected, comfortable, and dry, is something to be experienced. Its one of the reasons that I love installing clear poly roofing on many of my small shelter structures.

And I’m sure there are other reasons, for and against, that can be added to this conversation, and perhaps, that’s where you come in. Feel free to enter any comments, and your thoughts, below.

Derek “Deek” Diedricksen, runs the blogs and, is the author of “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks”, hosts workshops on his own and for The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, and hosts/directs/produces the tiny architecture/diy show “Tiny Yellow House” on youtube. He is also a freelance carpenter and designer. Click HERE to check out his book….


15 Comments so far
Leave a comment

that first photo is so pretty! It's amazing what natural lighting can do to a room

Comment by Nathan

Just a tip… All non-insulated windows create a condensation problem, which can be greatly minimized by wiping them down every so often with a solution that is sold at dive shops, it is called “No Fog”, and it works great to prevent the condensation build up on non-insulated windows, and it also works great on bathroom mirrors.

Comment by Lobsterman

Yes, great tip! I remember reading that a ways back. Thanks!

Comment by Relaxshacks

I occasionally hear of baseball sized hail. At those times, I remember our skylights!

Didn't know you had word verification or I wouldn't even have tried to reply the first time. But the second time was my own fault, I guess.

Comment by Gorges Smythe

Hello “Deek”,

I'm a big fan and my wife has watched some of your videos with me on occasion. An idea just popped into my head regarding the skylight curtain dilemma. What if, instead of blinds, you put in a sliding plywood door on a very simple homemade wooden track, or to make it a bit more fancy, you could install a real pocket door. You could have the best of both worlds. . . If you want darkness for sleep or shade from the sun, it's “Katie bar the door”. On those clear star-gazing nights just slide her back and count the falling stars or (depending on how much refreshment you enjoyed before bed) UFOs.


Comment by The Editor

The blog was absolutely fantastic! first photo is so pretty. Lots of great information and inspiration.
home improvement washington dc

Comment by Dynamicdetails

the concern about escaping through a small window in the event of a fire can be eliminated with a hatchet in the loft. Fiskars makes a fantastic one, but cheaper options can be found in camp stores and the like.

Comment by Laura

Yes, or just a rock/brick (cheaper)- but still, good idea Laura- thanks!

Comment by Relaxshacks

Just to add to the conversation about skylights, they work well for light and updraft, cooling ventilation but when left open in a large rainstorm they allow rain, water egress.
Awning windows installed on a gable allow ventilation without the fear of water entering.


Comment by Glenn

Another idea for light and ventilation, though not so much for a view, is what is called a mollycroft. A type of clerestory window, it's essentially a raised section of roof with vertical windows in the sides you can open for ventilation. Should fare better in hail-prone areas. If you're making a loft it could still be possible but not as easy to build as a regular skylight. You could do a caboose type version for a sleeping loft but it doesn't really work well with a regular triangular loft since you have to fiddle with the roof engineering.

Comment by Maynelander

honestly, i'd rather the hatchet. all the skylights i've ever seen are plexi and a rock won't easily break them. with a hatchet, at least, you have a chance of getting out.

there's a reason New Orleans residents are urged to keep at least one hatchet in the attic. 😉

Comment by Laura

I'm surprised no one mentioned the noise. Rain (and hail) on a skylight can make enough noise to keep people awake. If you want more daylight I suggest that you add a shed dormer with an awning window.

Comment by Blake

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Comment by kanchan tyagi

dormers are their own problem though….leak prone, and not a good idea if you're going to travel with the home much- wind driven rain will find its way under the flashing and you're bulldozing more wind on the highway….however, if not traveling, they're great for additional space and light.

Comment by Derek Diedricksen

Its because the mayor's cousin owns a hatchet company (not really). From that I've read that info/recc. was issued more so for being caught in a wooden-roofed attic. A brick would certainly work, but a hatchet, yes, its great- just keep it hidding if you have kids, etc…then again, hide the brick too!

Comment by Derek Diedricksen

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