“Light” and “Air” are probably two of the terms most overused by New York City real estate types, but even so, every resident wants more of both in their apartment—and one way to get them is via a skylight. Skylights are often found in the stairwells of multi-story buildings, where their dual-function of providing light and air was essential more than a century ago, before the use of air conditioning. Other types of skylights are intended to bring light and breezes into stuffy top-floor apartments. Still others function purely as aesthetic add-ons to increase the beauty (and in turn, the resale value) of a unit.
The idea of a lofty, spacious living area bathed in sunlight from overhead, its owners protected from (yet still able to enjoy) the pattering rain is a compelling argument in favor of installing a skylight, or purchasing a skylit unit. There can be drawbacks to these sought-after and much-enjoyed building features however, including leaks, security issues, and mechanical and structural problems. Such issues make residents and boards occasionally wonder if skylights are really worth the potential drama.
Talk to a broker or a real estate agent before you roof over that old skylight though, since such a structural change could actually subtract value from your home, rather than adding to it.
Construction & Maintenance
In many city buildings that are a century or more old, skylights are original architectural features that once were essential to comfortable daily living. Situated in the ceilings above stairwells, skylights were usually meant to open in order to ventilate the building's interior spaces during the hot summer months. They also often still bring light into interior rooms—an important job, especially in closely-spaced brownstones where there are no side windows to let in light.
There are a variety of types of skylights, and not all are meant to open. Old-style skylights are constructed of glass with a wire mesh backing and are supported by a steel frame. Other types include those made of tempered glass, which is glass like the type found in a basketball backboard. Another is laminated glass, which is like the glass fond in a car’s windshield. Some high-tech versions include electric, timed shades that are activated according to the homeowner’s wishes.