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Looking Back: Skylights and Your Commercial Rooftop

Posted by Art Valentz on August 17, 2016

In May of this year, Roofing Magazine published, and hosted on their site, an “On My Mind” piece from our director of Sales, Marion McKnight. The article was intended to help bring to light potential risks associated with skylights so that building owners, asset management professionals, and anyone else involved in the purchasing decision for such a product could make a more informed decision. Unfortunately, there were some who did not appreciate our commentary and felt it was an attack on the use of skylights in general. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Besides my involvement with PHP Systems/Design, I am also the owner of a skylight manufacturing company, VTech Skylights, so, naturally, I would not encourage something to be written that would discourage the use of skylights.

As we also hosted the same material on our site as a blog post, I wanted to take the time and share my response with our readers.

My name is Arthur J Valentz. Some 26 years ago I founded PHP Systems/Design. While on a roof in West Texas with my father-in-law, I saw a 4” gas line supported by a wooden sleeper that had penetrated a new roof because of the pipe’s weight and thermal expansion. I was asked if I could solve this problem and I said yes. My theory is if you hang the pipe, you isolate the movement to the pendulum, none of that movement transfers to the base, a large enough foot print and you have solved the problem. With that theory, PHP was born. 

Twelve years later I was asked to solve another serious problem. I was asked if I had a solution for skylights that leak and for fall protection. Again I said yes. For 26 years I have had the opportunity to observe and make notes on the rate of decay of Acrylic and Polycarbonate materials used in the manufacturing of skylights. It is for this reason I embarked on the creation of a better skylight. That journey lead to the creation of the patented VTech Skylight – a one piece, solid-state skylight that is designed not to just meet state and local standards, but to exceed them. All across the country, whether its hail, pounding rain, or falling debris, VTech has performed flawlessly. Most warranties for skylights today only cover frame and glazing components, but I strongly believe a skylight warranty should encompass the entire system, which is why all VTech products carry a system warranty guaranteed for 20 years.

To reiterate Mr. McKnight’s response, we are fully aware that the risks presented in this article are not absolutes that come with every skylight. But, they are valid concerns a discerning buyer should be sure to address. I would like to take a minute and specifically address the first three points.

Leaks

For over 26 years I have had the opportunity to hear from consultants the reasons skylights leak and there are many. In almost every case the first thing to fail is the sealant, with neoprene gaskets being the second most common. It is for these reasons that skylights utilize drip pans. Mr. Magnuson does make a valid point, that most quality skylights today have drastically improved and, if installed correctly, will not lead to leaks. But that is exactly Mr. McKnight’s point, the buyer needs to ensure that if they plan to install skylights, that they are installed correctly to avoid leaks.

Breakage

Whether the Acrylic or Polycarbonate is new or five years old, it is my opinion that they are the most dangerous thing we put on the roof today. The inherent lack of durability of skylights contributes to OSHA regulation 1926.500-503 referring to skylights as “open holes.” OSHA’s Dr. Nigel Ellis, a leading authority on fall protection, believes so much in the bolstering of skylight safety standards that he has introduced a draft, ASTM standard EO6.51.25, that mandates a three drop test of 300 pounds, measured 36” from the top of the dome, frame, and corner (not from the roof itself, as some manufacturers will try to do). Currently, VTech is the only skylight that has documented passing this test.

Falls

If you ask skylight manufacturers how they feel about fall protection, they will tell you it’s not their problem. I believe it is our problem. From 2004-2010 there were 20-35 reported deaths per year directly connected to skylight related falls. If this isn’t an indication that skylights represent a danger to people on a rooftop, I don’t know what is. It is my opinion that a fall protection system should be the responsibility of the skylight manufacture to provide, not the third parties.

 

For more information about VTech Skylights, please visit http://www.vtechskylights.com

For our AIA Accredited presentation on why skylights fail, please contact admin@phpsd.com

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