What is a Roof Window?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Roof windows are operable windows that are incorporated at part of the design of a roof. Often confused with skylights and sky windows, the roof window does differ from each of these other architectural and natural lighting elements in a few basic ways. A roof window is often a good option when there is a desire to allow both light and fresh air into the space.

Roof windows can usually be opened and closed.
Roof windows can usually be opened and closed.

While many people assume the roof window is just another name for a skylight of sky window, that is not the case. All three of these design elements are glazed openings that are added to the roof in order to make more efficient use of natural sunlight. However, there are a couple of distinctive traits that set this type of window apart from the other two options.

As long as the framework and the slope of the roof allow for the inclusion of this type of window, it can be installed with relative ease.
As long as the framework and the slope of the roof allow for the inclusion of this type of window, it can be installed with relative ease.

A roof window tends to be larger than a skylight, making it possible to enjoy a wider view of the sky overhead. In addition, skylights are usually stationary; that is, they cannot be opened and closed. With some designs, it is possible to retract a portion of the glazed panes to allow in fresh air as well as enjoy the natural light.

This type of window is also different from a tubular skylight, in that the light is not directed through any type of channel or tube in order to provide lighting for the interior of a building. This type of light tube design is often employed with buildings where the installation of a skylight or roof window is not practical.

When comparing a sky window to a roof window, the main difference has to do with the type of roof involved. When the glazed panes are fitted into a flat roof, the construction is normally referred to as a sky window. However, a true roof window requires that the roof have a least a modest amount of slope.

One characteristic that sets this window apart from both the skylight and the sky window is the fact that a roof window offers a means of escape from the building in the event of a fire or other threatening situation. This is not true of the other two options, which are normally set in place and cannot be opened and closed at will.

While the window is normally included in the original construction of the building, it is possible to add the design feature to an existing structure. As long as the framework and the slope of the roof allow for the inclusion of this type of window, it can be installed with relative ease. Many manufacturers offer prefabricated window inserts of this type that can be installed by a professional in a matter of hours.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@Feryll - Water is going to find any opening and when it can't find one it will make one if there is any way possible. Whether you have a roof window or a roof skylight you can expect to have water coming into your house eventually. A skylight is just going to be something that is going to leak at some point.

I have a friend who wanted a skylight so bad. Finally she got one and it has been nothing but one big headache after another since she had it put on the roof. Now she simply wants to close the roof back up and be done with it. My advice is stay away from skylights.


@Feryll - You should know that any type of these roof additions such as the roof window, the roof skylight and the skylight tube can leak. Personally, I think the tube is least likely to leak in general, but if you get a quality window or skylight and have it installed by a professional who knows what he or she is doing then you shouldn't have any problems.

You should check the flashing around your skylight, usually that is what is causing the issues you have. Loose flashing is a common problem, and it is easily repaired.


I heard someone at work say that a roof window was a good way to get fresh air into an attic. He said you can open the window whenever needed and this sounds like the case according to this article.

We already have a skylight, which I now know is not the same thing as the roof window. However, the roof window and the skylight do have a good bit in common. And the biggest problem we have with our skylight is that water leaks through/around it when we get rain. Wouldn't a roof window be just as likely to leak as the skylight. Actually, I'm thinking the roof window might be even more likely to leak since it is designed to open and close anyway.

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