About Roof lanterns

Published: 23rd November 2011
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The origins of the roof lantern can be found in the Roman Oculus - a circular opening in a

building - designed as a feature in itself but also to allow natural light in. Glazed Oculus became more popular in northern Europe however, due to the weather conditions and increased rainfall. The purpose of the glazed Oculus and today’s modern roof lantern remain the same: to

illuminate the area beneath.

Shape and size

Roof lanterns can transform a dark area in to one filled with natural light and ventilation and are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. To make maximum architectural impact, it can be tempting to invest in the largest roof lantern available, but there is usually a maximum size that appears in proportion with the rest of the building.

The smallest roof lanterns available start at 1m2, and the largest sizes simply depend on the engineering capabilities of each manufacturer.

The design and shape of a roof lantern will entirely depend on personal taste. Some property owners prefer the roof lantern to dovetail with the existing architecture and style of a building, and others prefer to make a bold statement in their choice. The most common shapes include square, rectangular, circular, eliptical and octagonal. Depending on the shape chosen, roof lanterns can be installed with vertical clerestory (i.e. onto a small vertical wall of glass or windows) or directly to a kerb on a flat roof. The latter is most classic and in-keeping with the

modern concept of an Orangery.


There are a variety of internal and external embellishments available from panelling and

decorative cornices to turned pendants and finials. Final choice often comes down to personal taste but the manufacturer will be able to advise about which decorations are most in-keeping with the period of a property - whether that be obelisks, spires or ball etc.

Specification and maintenance

Glazing should come in the form of toughened, energy efficient, sealed units and woodwork is usually laminated hard wood. Therefore the only real maintenance required for a timber roof lantern, is an occasional wipe down with a weak water and detergent mix and a repaint every 5-6 years. As most roof lanterns are installed on to flat roofs, the surrounding space gives access to clean the outside of the construction.


The ventilation of a roof lantern is usually provided by fanlights which can either be operated electronically or with scissor hooks. The benefit of selecting an electronically controlled ventilation system is that rain sensors can also be specified for totally automated operation, making life even easier.


Roof lanterns are positioned either to flood the underlying room with light in general or to illuminate a certain feature or define a particular space. They are suitable for most styles of property and as such, uses include highlighting a kitchen island, an art collection through to brightening up gloomy stairwells, offices, restaurants and shops. In fact the commercial uses of roof lanterns go beyond simple lightening up an area. They may help generate more profit by making previously darker areas of a property more appealing, which in turn can attract more customers to an eating establishment, retail outlet or museum.

A well designed and executed roof lanterns will not only bring the best out in the property below but it will be a centrepiece and talking point of any room, wherever it is situated.

Article submitted by Jonathan Hey, Managing Director at Westbury Joinery. Founded 20 years ago, Westbury has grown to become one of the premier window, door and roof lanternmanufacturers in the UK.

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