Energy Source Builder

How to Make a Skylight Glow at Night

Properly designed and installed skylights fit well into the energy saving plan of a home by pulling daylight into dim interior spaces. But, at night skylights can become dark holes in the ceiling. Artificial light can maintain the skylight’s place in the lighting scheme. You may have seen track lights or recessed fixtures installed in skylight wells. That idea makes even more sense if you choose an energy efficient light source. By directing the light up into the skylight well, you create a soft, even light. These drawings illustrate some basic options for placing high-efficiency light sources into skylight wells.

Essential Details

Soft diffuse light flowing from the skylight well can create an interesting focal point, especially at night. Several design elements work together to create the effect. The skylight well should be flared to provide maximum surface area for reflecting light down into the room. Paint the drywall above the fixture with light color paint. A semi-gloss finish also improves the reflectivity. Position the fixture so the lamp can’t be seen from the floor, either directly or reflected in the skylight.

If a fixtures sticks out from the wall, place it near the bottom of the well, so it blocks as little daylight as possible. To create the skylight effect with artificial light, the lights in the well will have to be brighter than the room lights. You could put more lighting power into the skylight fixtures or put the room lights on a dimmer.


Fluorescent Strips

fluorescent strips to light a skylightA full-size fluorescent tube is the most efficient light source for this application. Select a lamp with a Color Rendering Index (CRI) over 80. If you want to imitate the warm glow of sunlight, choose a warm lamp with a color temperature of 3000 to 3500 K. To achieve a cool, moonlight effect choose a lamp with a color temperature of 5000 K. (See October 1992 for details on fluorescent color.) There are many ways to hide a fluorescent fixture in the skylight well. Placing a lens over the lamp will make dusting easier, but will also reduce light output.


Track Light

track light to light a skylightTrack lights can bounce light off of the skylight well or shine down into the room. Track heads and other types of directional fixtures can be purchased with compact fluorescent lamps. If you want to attach a dimmer, you can find compact fluorescents that are compatible, but the price is high. As an alternative, try low wattage tungsten halogen lamps. They are somewhat more efficient than standard incandescent lamps and work with regular dimming controls. Other surface mounted fixtures, such as wall sconces, may also work.


Recessed Light

recessed light to light a skylightIf you want beams of light falling directly into the room, you could install recessed lights into the sloped walls of the skylight well. You would have to specify a fixture that mounts in a sloped ceiling. A recessed fixture could also shine into the well from a vertical wall, creating the indirect glow. Most recessed light fixtures can be mounted horizontally to achieve this effect. Recessed fixtures are available with compact fluorescent or halogen lamps. Since most skylight wells are insulated, be sure to find a fixture that is IC-rated and certified for low air leakage.

This article appeared in Energy Source Builder #26, June 1993
©Copyright 1993 Iris Communications, Inc.