Transform Your Ceiling into a Sunroof

Lead Image
  • 8-48 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 750-10,000
What You'll Need
Ceiling
Many implements of destruction and construction
A skylight
Permits
Extension ladder
Hammer
Saw
Level
A plumb bob
Framing square
Fasteners
Flashing
Lumber for framing
Drywall
Drywall mud
Seam tape for drywall seams
Corner bead
Caulking gun and caulking
Mastic
Helper
Eye protection
Fall protection

A sunroof or skylight can transform any room it sheds its light upon. In the course of this article, we're going to transform your old ugly ceiling into a beautiful window seat on the Heavens. You'll learn how you can do it yourself like a pro, without getting into a larger project that involves permits, major structural changes, and elevated costs for time, labor, and materials, such as a personal observatory.

While it is indeed a major project, it's a lot easier than it appears as long as you do your homework, and adhere to the instructions and warnings of experts, and especially to the instructions of material manufacturers. Never cut corners to save a little time or money. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but when you're not only watching a major thunderstorm through your livingroom's new skylight but standing in the pouring rain as well, you'll wish you'd spent that extra two dollars for a tube of caulking, or roll of mastic.

Location, Location, Location

First, decide where you're going to put your new window on the Heavens. If you own a two-story home you'll definitely want to start upstairs. Should you put one in the kitchen? In the dining room, or how about in the living room? Can you put one in the den? What about the master bedroom, or one of your bathrooms? The answer is yes to all of these questions. You can put one in all of those rooms but where is this particular skylight going to make the biggest impact upon the room and your home in general without the need for costly changes?

If you have an attic there might be HVAC equipment, plumbing, and or electrical conduits standing directly in the way of your dreams. How far are you willing to go to facilitate the installation of this new skylight? And, can you get a permit to put one there if a permit is required by the laws of your state or municipality? It is all but certain that one will be required. Some components cannot be moved as simply as that, if at all, so don't just assume when it always pays to do your homework.

skylight over a bed in a white bedroom
Your roof system is a weather-resistant envelope that you are going to penetrate so you must be sure you choose the correct skylight for your particular roof system. A roof that has a 3:12 pitch or less will require a curved mounted skylight, while you will need a deck-mounted model on a roof with a pitch of 3:12 or better. Now you will need to locate the rafters with a stud finder and mark them then lay out the rough opening for the skylight between them.
Once you have determined where to install the skylight you'll need to check with your local building codes to ensure that it can indeed be placed there without any structural changes and obtain any permits needed. Before you do make any structural changes to the roof framing you will need to consult with an engineer to ascertain what the requirements are for any changes you wish to make.

Make A Hole

Locate the rafters the skylight will set between with a stud finder and mark them, then lay out the rough opening for the skylight between them.
Cut out the drywall along the lines being careful not to saw into the rafters. Remove the insulation and expose the bottom of the roof deck. If there is a rafter in the middle of the opening you'll need to mark it, cut it out, and remove it at this time.
installing skylight
Cut out the drywall along the lines being careful not to saw into the rafters. Remove the insulation and expose the underside of the roof decking. If there is a rafter in the middle of the opening you need to mark it out, cut it, and remove it at this time.

Framing The Roof Opening

Taking the dimensions from the skylight you've chosen to install, frame in the rough opening for it. Once this is done you will need to drive a long screw into each inside corner of the frame so is that it penetrates the roof shingles. Remove all of the shingles inside the area between the screws 6 to 12 inches outside of the framing outline for the skylight. Using the screws as a guide you will have to use a chalk line to snap out a chalk-lines between the screws to form the outline on the roof deck. Remove the screws.
Use a circular saw and cut out the decking to expose the opening. Be very careful not to lean on the portion of the roof you are cutting or allow any pieces of plywood to fall into the attic space below.
Cut back the roof underlayment layer 6 inches all the way around the opening so that you will have room to install the ice dam and water shield underlayment. Give it sufficient room to stick to the roof sheathing material.

Installing the skylight

installing skylight in terracotta roof

Using the notches on the center of the skylight flange, place it in the opening and center it in the hole. Next, you will need to remove the cladding from around the skylight by pulling the bottom and sides of it away from the skylight. Once you have the skylight centered over the opening nail it down through the nailing flanges on the outside edge of the skylight trim with the included nails or the appropriate nails per your local building code.

Installing the Ice Dam And Water Shield

Starting at the bottom of the skylight cut the ice dam and water shield at least 6 inches wider than the width of the skylight, and install the side pieces running up the skylight from the bottom to the top. Be sure to cut a relief slit in both of the corners. Wrap them around the sides of the skylight and lay the ends down flat across the roof. Follow these same steps to install the sides, and again to install the top piece.

Flashing

Install the bottom row of shingles and then you will need to place the sill flashing at the bottom of the skylight making sure that it overlaps the bottom row of your shingles before you nail it down securely with roofing nails. Once that's secure you can begin interweaving the shingles and step flashing running up the sides and secure them to the roof deck.
You may need to cut the last piece of step flashing to fit if it is too long.
If the skylight you have chosen has a solar-powered venting feature you will want to connect the solar panel to the skylight at this time.
Once the step flashing and shingles have been installed all the way up the top of the skylight you can put back the pieces of cladding that you removed earlier that goes around the body of the skylight. It should snap neatly back into place.
You are now ready to install the saddle flashing around the top of the skylight. Make sure to fit it snugly over the cladding. Never try to force any pieces to fit together.
Now you will need to weave together another length of the ice dam and water shield and cut the underlayment again at least 6 in beyond the corners of the top of the skylight. Place it over the top of the saddle flashing and then you can finish replacing the rest of the shingles.
hands installing skylight in flashing with screws

Syncing

For the sake of convenience, if your skylight has a solar-powered venting system it is going to need to be synced up to the remote control unit while you are still on the roof as it might not be possible from down below.

Repair The Hole In The Ceiling

You now need to repair the drywall inside where you cut a great big gaping hole in the ceiling. Replace any pieces of insulation that were removed during the installation. Place it around the rough opening of the skylight frame being very careful not to smash it down as this will affect the insulation's R-value by as much as half. Add any extra batting that is needed to seal off air bridges between the rafters. Once that has been accomplished you can repair the drywall and refinish it.

If the skylight has a solar-powered venting system this is the time to install the screen for it. You may now finish the seams and paint the repaired drywall and bask in the glory of a major accomplishment knowing that you did it yourself.

skylight in wooden ceiling

Roof Safety

The greatest percentage of construction and home improvement accidents involving death are from falls. None of them were planned, but all of them could've been easily prevented. Wear shoes or boots that get good traction on the surface of your roof system or get down and find some. Whenever you work at heights be sure to extend your ladder three rungs above the eaves and tie it off at the eave.

The base is secure and set back one foot to every four feet of extension and the feet are level or set to anchor in the dirt. If possible you should use a fall protection harness and lanyards and use a roof anchoring system to tie off to the peak of the roof. Always work with a helper, never work on a roof alone. The harnesses can be expensive but then again how much would you pay to have a life back?