The Good and the Bad of RV Skylights

The Good and the Bad of RV Skylights

One of the great things about owning an RV is the ability to customize your space as you please. There is a whole industry of after-market RV parts that enable you to do just that. Any competent DIYer can do many of their own installations and renovations. There are so many options available whether you are looking to make small changes, such as switching to more energy-efficient light fixtures, or big changes, such as cutting a hole in the structure of your rig to install a skylight.

Before you go cutting a hole in your roof for a skylight though, it is important to consider the anticipated benefits with the potential issues. This is true of any DIY RV restoration project, as every reward has some risk. In this article, we’ll discuss the good and the bad of RV skylights.

What is an RV Skylight?

An RV skylight is a see-through panel on your RV’s roof that increases the amount of natural light - and sometimes ventilation - that enters your rig. RV skylights can range from a single outer dome fixed panel to a more complex hinged design featuring double panels and the ability to open the skylight. The most common place to find a skylight in RVs is the shower/bathroom area; though skylights may be installed anywhere there is free roof space.

Reasons Not to Get an RV Skylight

Let’s start with the bads of RV skylights. There are a few critical considerations that you should make before you go cutting a hole in the roof of your motorhome, travel trailer, or fifth wheel.

InstallationWorking On An RV Roof

The installation process and requirements are the first major reason not to get an RV skylight. Since a skylight lets sunlight in through the ceiling, you will need to cut a hole in your roof. This is a significant structural change that really isn’t very complicated to do, but the structural integrity of your rig is at stake. Also, you need to be sure that you will not be cutting through any wiring, framework, or ducting.

If you have never cut into the structure of an RV before, it is imperative to research the process and gauge your abilities and skills accordingly. The best way to be sure you are installing the skylight in a safe spot is to obtain a copy of the framing and duct prints for your specific RV model and year. You will also need to consider the presence of any after-market rooftop appliances, such as an air conditioner or solar panels.

Potential for Leaks

Water is the enemy when it comes to the structural health of your RV. Mold and mildew can develop in the presence of moisture, especially in susceptible areas such as ceilings, walls, subflooring, and framing. Mold in these places can compromise the integrity of the RV’s structure and lead to costly repairs. When you cut a hole in your roof, the main thing protecting you from the elements, you obviously run the risk of compromising the integrity of that weather protection. You must be sure to seal your skylight during installation properly and then regularly ensure that the seal is still intact and doing its job to prevent water from finding its way inside.

Solar Heat Production

While increasing natural light is most people’s main reason for installing an RV skylight, this can actually become an issue in the summer months. The direct sun entering your RV through a skylight can create excess heat. In colder months, this could be considered a benefit. But this may mean running your air conditioner harder and longer in the summer to maintain a comfortable temperature. If you are right at the cooling capacity for the model in your rig without a skylight, adding one could push your A/C past its point. Insulated skylight covers can be used as a temporary fixture when excess heat is either entering or leaving your RV, depending on the season.

Increased Maintenance Responsibilities

Woman Cleaning RV Roof Vent

An RV skylight will require regular maintenance and care to prevent failure. It is imperative to keep the caulking and rubber sealing clean and free from mold and mildew and reseal as needed when you notice cracking or peeling.

RV skylights will typically be made from either polycarbonate or acrylic. These plastics provide greater strength than glass while costing and weighing less. However, these plastics are more prone to scratching and cloudiness over time. The best way to avoid cracks or discoloration is to regularly clean your RV skylight with an appropriate cleaning solution. Avoid ammonia or alcohol-based glass cleaners and use caution if cleaning your roof with an acetone-based solution as these chemicals are known to degrade plastics. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on proper cleaning.

Reasons to Get an RV Skylight

There’s got to be some positives to RV skylights, right?? Of course! Many people have found that the following benefits outweigh the abovementioned cons, but that’s for you to decide.

Increase Natural Light

RV Bathroom

Even though we mentioned this as one of the reasons not to get a skylight due to the possibility of solar heat production, most people actually point to this as their main reason for wanting a skylight in the first place. Natural light can brighten up your space during the day, which may allow you to save on some electricity and conserve your precious power supply.

Also, natural light is aesthetically pleasing and even provides some health benefits. Our bodies have an internal clock that runs in the background to regulate essential functions, such as sleep, hormone release, and digestion. This clock is known as our circadian rhythm and is heavily influenced by light and lack thereof. A lack of sunlight during regular awake hours can disrupt your circadian rhythm and negatively impact your energy levels and mood throughout the day.

That Little Bit of Extra Overhead Space in the Shower

To all my tall friends out there, you’re not alone. Increasing headspace in the shower is another primary reason many people give for installing a skylight in their RV. Even a few extra inches overhead can be the difference between being able to wash your hair comfortably and sustaining elbow injuries from repeated impact.

If this is your main reason for installing a skylight, you should know that the amount of additional overhead space can vary pretty significantly between various styles. Most outer fixed panels have a bit of a bubble shape to prevent water from pooling on the surface, but some fixed panels will extend the height of this bubble to provide as much additional space overhead as possible. Hinged or ventilated skylights can also vary between models, with some designed to open only a couple of inches. In contrast, others can open all the way perpendicular to the roof.


Cleaning The Inside Of An RV Roof Vent

Stale air isn’t only uncomfortable, but it can actually be unhealthy at high levels. Air becomes stale when there is a lack of circulation because irritants and moisture begin to accumulate in the atmosphere in noticeable concentrations. Ventilation to increase circulation is one of the best ways to prevent stale air and problematic humidity levels. Installing a hinged skylight is one way to increase ventilation within your rig. For more ideas on preventing stale air, check out our previous article, Breathe Easy in Your RV, as this topic is discussed more in-depth.

Additional View to the Outside

Want to feel like you are sleeping under the stars but not give up the comforts of air-conditioning, your bed, or protection from the bugs? If you answered yes, you should consider installing a skylight above your bed so you can stargaze yourself to sleep every night. If you’re not much of a morning person though, beware of the early morning rays at the crack of dawn - it’s not for everyone. 

Aug 9th 2022 Molly Muhs

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