When it comes to adding value and enjoyment to your home, kitchen and bath remodels still remain tops, remodeling and real estate experts say. But how people remodel is changing. High-end renovations, costing tens of thousands of dollars, are dwindling, replaced by upgrades that provide homeowners with the most return for the least investment.

Part of the reason could be that mid-range kitchen and bathroom remodels now recoup more at sale time than do up-scale projects, according to the National Association of Realtors’ Cost vs. Value Report. “A mid-range kitchen remodel brings an average 72.1 percent return on investment, while an upscale kitchen re-do returns only an average of 63.2 percent of the money invested,” the NAR reports on its website. Mid-range bathroom remodels recoup an average of about 71 percent, while upscale projects return only about 61 percent, the site says.
“Given the decline in ROI for major remodels, it makes sense to get the most value out of upgrades for the least amount of money,” says Joe Patrick of skylight manufacturer VELUX. “Installing a skylight is one cost-effective, energy-efficient upgrade that’s becoming increasingly popular for kitchens and baths.”

Kitchens and baths are logical candidates for natural lighting and passive ventilation upgrades. Along with laundry rooms, they tend to have higher moisture and humidity levels than other rooms in the home, making them among the most popular locations for venting skylights.

“Skylight installations can start around $800 each or range up to more than $2,000 each for electric venting models with remote control and blinds. The complexity of the shaft and other application specifics make a difference too, so it is best to get a qualified contractor or skylight specialist to give a detailed quote,” Patrick says. Adding a skylight can help lower energy bills by reducing the need for artificial light in a kitchen or bath, and, when used for ventilation, can help remove humidity, cooking smells and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

“Venting skylights in a kitchen can release hot air and odors, lessening the need for energy-consuming mechanical ventilation, while providing better light for brighter days and more pleasant cooking and dining,” Patrick points out.

Another kitchen- and bath-specific issue that skylights help address is the need for privacy. “Light from windows is rarely enough, especially in places where lot sizes are small,” says Jennifer Powers of design firm Scott-Ulmann. Many modern homes have been built on small lots, in very close proximity to neighboring houses.

“A clear window in your bathroom might fill it with natural light, but it can also give your next-door neighbor a view you don’t want to share,” Patrick says. In fact, 65 percent of homebuyers request skylights in their bathrooms, according to a National Association of Homebuilders survey.

“In bathrooms especially, venting skylights reduce condensation build-up while providing a beautiful view of the sky above, without affording anyone the opportunity to see in,” Patrick says. “You get privacy plus the use of wall space, where a window isn’t necessary, for decorating, storage, or another form of space utilization.”

Modern skylights also eliminate one of the biggest fears of homeowners considering the upgrade – leaks. VELUX markets an Energy Star-qualified “No-Leak Skylight” that is guaranteed for 10 years not to leak when installed according to instructions. Today’s skylights also contribute to energy efficiency with light and heat control as much as with ventilation by offering easily installed accessories to adjust and control light, as do vertical windows.

“Venetian blinds are available to adjust light, as are roller blinds to diffuse light and blackout blinds to block light,” Patrick says. “And the accessories, as well as the units themselves, can be operated by remote control.” Solar blinds are also available that qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit.

“From an economic standpoint, venting skylights admit light from above and reduce energy costs. It’s also a way to stretch dollars,” Patrick says, “with a one-time purchase that pays long-term benefits by reducing energy bills.”