Ask an Expert: How to Hire a Skylight Installer

Photo by David Toerge.

Skylights are a wonderful thing, especially during these long summer days, which is why we spent a good deal of the latest CA-Modern issue exploring how to buy, install, and maintain them. But as glorious as they are, they can also be a Pandora’s box of problems if installed poorly, giving way to leaks, drafts, and myriad code issues.

That means that possibly the most important component of installing or replacing a skylight is the contractor you hire to do it. To pick up some tips on finding just the right person, I spoke to a roofer, Dura-foam Solar Center founder Randy Feriante, as well as a skylight specialist, Mastercraft Builders’ Keith Fackrell.

As CA-Modern’s Tanja Kern pointed out, the roofer takes on the liability for skylights installed or replaced during a roofing job (the best time to make such changes). That means that roofers tend to work with skylight professionals who won’t incur damages and cost them money. “There are hundreds of people who will tackle a skylight job even if they don’t know what they’re doing,” Feriante said. “Mistakes are expensive.”

One easy way to check a contractor’s experience level is to look at their contractor’s license number, which is issued sequentially. “Randy and I both have contractor’s numbers that start in the 40s. That means we’ve been in business for 30 years,” Fackrell said.

If you’re looking to get work done on a skylight, but you don’t necessarily need a new roof or a big roofing job, Feriante recommended checking with your regular roofer to find out who they use as a skylight subcontractor. Whoever it is will be someone the contractor trusts not to cost them money. It could turn out the roofer wants to do the skylight work, which could be a viable and cost-effective way to go, and will keep all the roofing work under one installer's name.

Skylight installation is generally pretty simple, but it’s also easy to screw up, especially on an attic-free Eichler. “Check the references. Make sure they’ve done it before with an Eichler,” Feriante said. Inexperienced installers can make basic, costly mistakes, “such as skylights that are meant for a sloped roof going onto a flat roof.”

The right skylight expert should be able to replace or install a skylight for less than a general contractor would charge you, Fackrell said. “Contractors don’t like to put them in because they leak, and roofers don’t like to put them in because it’s carpentry work. So I found a little niche where I can do both. I can seal it, and install it, and that’s why I like doing skylights.” But unless you get the right person, it will end up costing you more in the long run.

Fackrell, recommended asking a skylight installer to walk you through the installation process, even if you’re not familiar with all the technical details. “If you have a leaky skylight and you ask how to fix it, and they say you should caulk it, then that’s a problem. Skylights have weep holes,” which allow water to seep out instead of becoming trapped in the framework.

“So if you call someone to do repairs on your skylight and they say 'oh, we need to caulk it,' then they’re going to cause more problems than you had before.”

Once you’ve got the right installer, don’t keep it a secret! Many Eichler communities (including this one) have their own message boards, listservs, and community bulletin boards where you can recommend and get recommendations for good service providers. Your neighbors will thank you.