3 home improvements that add a lot of light

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | May 18, 2016

Venting skylight with handleA room with incredible light can simply make you feel good inside. But a room that has a dark, cave-like quality, even when the summer sun is shining? Not so much.

That's the unfortunate fate of many interior rooms, such as that tiny bathroom or that almost-forgotten bedroom, where the light through the window is measly at best -- assuming there is any window at all. The good news is that a dim room can get a beautiful makeover with the addition of a few of the sun's rays. Here are options to turn that room into a place you actually want to spend time in.

The power of a skylight

Skylights do just what their name implies: They let the light in through a window pointed toward the sky. But that's not all they do. A venting skylight opens up, helping fresh air flow through the house in a way that typical window placement just can't achieve. High-quality models need little maintenance and can last for decades with proper installation.

Speaking of installation, that's vitally important. A professional job is necessary to prevent the moisture problems and leaks that once made skylights notorious. Today's skylights are sturdy and well-built, but still require a professional touch to obtain impressive longevity. And besides that, proper placement can be tricky: you must have the skylight on the proper slope for best lighting. Even the area of the country you're in makes a difference, as efficiency and climate zone must be taken into account.

How much for that glorious light streaming from above? A standard skylight might cost between $500 and $1,300, while a venting skylight can run between $1,200 and $5,000.

How about a light tunnel?

What if you don't have the space or inclination to install a skylight, or don't want to go that far with your home upgrade budget? A light tunnel might be the ticket. Also known as a tubular skylight or light well, these much smaller cousins of the skylight allow for a surprising amount of light to flow into an interior room. Reflective materials in the tunnel can enhance the light even more.

Just as with the skylight, a professional job is required -- you don't want to deal with leaks or moisture problems. Because these smaller lights can easily fit between rafters, construction is easier, and that means a nicer price. Tubular lights can cost between $425 and $700 for the basic model, and up to $1,100 for a version with more bells and whistles.

Open up a room with patio doors

What if the problem is a ground-floor room that just needs a little something more? Patio doors are great way to bring in more light, have fresh ventilation options, upgrade the beauty of your home, and provide another way to slip into the great outdoors. Patio doors are available in sliding, hinged, single, double, French, and many other models -- which means there is a door out there that suits your style.

Patio doors do require some serious construction, so again, a professional contractor is your friend. However, typical costs might be less than what you think: installed sliding glass doors might cost up to $2,000, hinged doors can cost up to $4,000, and very nice French doors can run $4,500. Adding screen doors can run another $1,000 or so, depending upon the style. And any surprises during construction might run that price up a bit, so savvy homeowners should budget accordingly.

Do your homework

When choosing between skylights, tunnels, or a patio door, it pays to do your homework. This is a serious home upgrade that can boost the value of your property. Take your time in finding the right materials to suit your needs and overall look of your home, then carefully choose your contractor. Ask friends and family for recommendations, get references from your 'short list' of options, and remember that due diligence -- checking out licenses and insurance, for instance -- can save you a great deal of angst if something goes awry.

When the job is done, the most important part begins: Basking in the warm glow of sunlight as it streams through your new windows or doors. Go ahead, kick back and enjoy it -- you've earned it.

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.