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Is Your Home Better Suited To A Roof Lantern or a Skylight?

Is Your Home Better Suited To A Roof Lantern or a Skylight?

By Matt Hall, Shire Doors


Are you contemplating a home renovation project? Perhaps you’re considering the ways that natural light can elevate your new space?


Maybe you’re contemplating bi-fold doors to blur the line between the outside and the inside? Or you might be thinking about adding a skylight or a roof lantern?


Daylight brings zestful energy into living spaces, and a roof lantern or skylight can be a stylish way of transforming a square box into a room that you’ll want to show off to your friends.


And by night, your lovely, cosy interior expands into something spectacular. You could enjoy evening entertaining under the stars without ever having to worry about the unpredictability of the British weather.


But should you opt for a roof lantern or a skylight?


It really comes down to the structure of your existing or new building.

What’s the difference between a roof lantern and a skylight?

The terms “roof lantern” and “skylight” are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually two very distinctly different things.


Their similarities are:


  • They’re both situated in (or on) the roof or ceiling
  • They’re both made of glass with uPVC or aluminium frames
  • They both flood a space with light.


However, a skylight is a flat window, sunk flush into the construction of the roof on – most typically – a sloping ceiling; whereas a roof lantern is a more elaborate structure – often tent-like in shape, straddling the top of a flat roof.


Skylights are usually fully openable, while roof lanterns are typically fixed, although some models do allow for ventilation.

The versatility of the skylight

One of the most advantageous features of the skylight is in its ability to be installed in an existing structure. You’re most likely to see a skylight in a room with a gable ceiling – often a loft conversion, where the structural integrity of the gable roof remains.


A skylight installation is often mounted at an easily-accessible height so that the entire window opens, either with a pivot action, or an end hinge.



If the gable roof is particularly low, it’s best to go for a top-hung window, hinging at the end of the pane, offering more usable space.


Centre-pivot hinges open half of the window outwards, but also pivots inwards, which can take up valuable space in a low installation. If head height is a consideration, then plump for top-hung.


Skylights are available in a broad variety of sizes but are usually square or oblong.


The main advantages of the skylight are:


  • Relatively simple skylight installation
  • Installs into existing, pitched roof
  • Usually fully openable
  • Generally fairly inexpensive

The grandeur of the roof lantern

The roof lantern is a stronger architectural feature than a skylight. Often found in cathedrals of the middle ages, roof lanterns afford natural light into traditionally dingy spaces.


Roof lanterns are often found in the spacious stairwells of stately homes – popular due to the natural light attracted into traditionally dark, windowless spaces.


Whereas a skylight sits within the structure of the roof, a roof lantern usually sits on top of a flat roof, adding a striking design feature which makes for a perfect focal point in a living space or dining room.


Roof lanterns are designed for flat roofs, so they’re particularly popular with single-storey extensions, offering a thermally efficient wow factor to new builds.


A roof lantern can:


  • Expose an entire ceiling or just a section, adding versatility to design possibilities.
  • Make a room feel more spacious
  • Make greater use of natural light, rather than using energy for interior lighting during the day
  • Offer great views of the sky at night
  • Give a room a spacious, contemporary feel

Further considerations

When choosing between a skylight installation and a roof lantern, consider the following:


  • Where would you like the skylight to go? What type of roof structure?
  • Is the roof pitched or flat? Roof lanterns aren’t usually installable on pitched roofs.
  • Do you want just to introduce daylight or add a structural design feature?
  • If more natural light is your principal objective, larger is better.


So which do you choose?

If an exterior visual impact is important, then you can’t go wrong with a roof lantern. They add genuine interest to the character of a building; as long as they’re designed in sympathy with the rest of the home.


If you have a pitched roof, then the skylight is definitely the option for you. Skylights remain more in keeping with the existing design of the exterior of the building.

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