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What are skylights, rooflights and roof windows?

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Customers often find it difficult to differentiate between the terms roof windows, rooflights and skylights. However, a few unique characteristics distinguish roof windows from the others. Our window guide to roof windows explains what they are, how they function and how to get a quote for your home.

What are roof windows?

Roof windows are typically installed on a pitched roof and can be opened to allow light and ventilation into the room. While rooflights and skylights are often used interchangeably by window companies – with some minor differences – a roof window is something else. The most distinguishing difference is that roof windows open and rooflights or skylights generally don’t. When people think about roof windows, Velux windows probably come to mind, but there are many companies and installers available – in a similar way to Hoovers or Thermos cups. 

Here, centre pivot roof windows can be easily accessed to open. (Adobe)

There are different types of opening mechanism for roof windows: 

Centre pivot roof windows are the most popular. This type of window opens with a hinge set in the middle of the frame, meaning the pane can come down from the top (this is best suited to rooms where a pitched roof is lower to the floor so you can more easily reach to open and clean).

Top hung roof windows are another popular optionthat opens from the bottom and pushes outward as it opens. 

What is a rooflight?

Rooflights are generally unopenable in hard-to-reach places. (Adobe)

Rooflights generally don’t open and are usually installed on a flat roof with a kerb or upstand, meaning the window can appear to protrude, for extra support and weatherproofing. As a result, the panel will jut out, providing a nice aesthetic and giving the illusion of more space. Some more modern rooflights can be opened mechanically or can be self-cleaning, but these come with a higher price tag. 

What is a skylight?

A skylight generally refers to a window unit that doesn’t open and sits on flat roofa and pitched roofs. Skylights usually function to provide more light to a room, rather than ventilation. They tend to be composed of several roof windows or rooflights and will be larger than the other two.

Skylights are a good choice if your main objective is to introduce more light into a space, and they can also enlarge the look of a room. They’re also a great option if you have an area with high ceilings.

Large banks of skylights help to illuminate this kitchen with natural light. (Adobe)

Roof windows compared with skylights and rooflights

Window typeRoof typeOpen typeAverage cost
Roof windowPitchedCentre pivot or top hung£577-£1,563
SkylightPitched or flatUnopenable£600-£2,000
RooflightFlat Unopenable or mechanical opening£500-£1,000

Customers who want to let more light into a room, as well as ventilation, may prefer a roof window, as their wide opening mechanism enables you to air out a space while letting in sunlight. In most cases, you’ll also find that a roof window on a pitched roof (as opposed to a flat roof) will offer a better view of trees or nearby spots of interest due to their angle. 

Roof windows can also be cheaper than skylights, though this always depends on how big the windows need to be. A skylight – especially if it’s fitted out-of-plane to the roof – can also be a feature in the room, offering vast swaths of glass, while a roof window is more commonly seen.

How can I get a quote for roof windows or skylights?

Before deciding on which company or installer to choose for your roof windows or skylights, make sure you shop around for quotes. The best window companies should include the following in a quote:

  • Specifications: the type of window and materials that will be used
  • Glazing: the type of glazing; for example, double or triple glazing
  • Installation costs: the cost of labour or any other fees
  • Total cost: the prices of material
  • Timeframe: the expected time installation will take and when the work will be carried out
  • Payment terms: any deposits required or payment schedule
  • Warranty information: the length of warranties

Remember that window prices will always depend on several factors, including your location, the company you choose, the type of window you require, the materials used and, most importantly, the size of the window. Opting for more efficient triple glazed windows will also add to the overall cost. 

Frequently asked questions about roof windows and skylights

Good quality windows can last between 20 and 30 years if installed correctly and maintained properly. Some timber and aluminium windows can last even longer, while uPVC will last the shortest amount of time before needing to be replaced.

Both roof windows and skylights have suffered from leakage issues in the past. However, this is no longer a problem, provided the window has been installed correctly and doesn’t need to be replaced. However, a roof window may be more likely to leak, due to frequent opening and shutting, and because it has more moving parts than a skylight or rooflight.

There are pros and cons to consider when choosing a national or regional window installer. While your local installer may offer a shorter wait time, the best double glazing companies will potentially be more reputable and usually have more reviews.

Hannah Holway circle

Hannah Holway

Home Tech Writer

Hannah Holway is a writer with eight years of experience in writing and editing across several different categories. As a home tech expert at Independent Advisor, Hannah researches, tests and writes about broadband services and home security gadgets.

She started her career as a freelance film and culture journalist, and has written for editorial platforms such as Wonderland and Hero magazine, as well as interviewing directors, actors and musical artists. While at Wonderland, she was also Social Media Editor for the brand and Contributing Editor for the publication’s sister print titles.

In 2020 she joined New York Magazine’s The Strategist UK, reporting on evolving shopping trends and writing about everything from period pants and pens to books and the next ‘status’ candle. She then used her consumer trends knowledge and expertise in her role as Shopping Writer for Woman and Home Digital, where she oversaw a range of shopping content, writing product reviews and other features in the realm of health and fitness, beauty, fashion and homes.

Hannah has also had her academic work published in journals and presented at conferences, and she has a BA and MA in Film Studies.