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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tiny Houses/Tumbleweeds: To Skylight, or NOT to Skylight?

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 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....