Building managers and owners are typically surprised that skylight can stink, horribly, but have no idea what causes this unpleasant condition.
Fiberglass skylights are protected from the elements by a coating sometimes referred to as “gel coat”. The coating has a UV blockage component to help prevent the sun’s rays from damaging the fiberglass and causing fiber bloom. This coating breaks down over time, and when its lifespan is over, fiber bloom starts to occur.
Fiber bloom is when bacteria are able to get into the fiberglass, and start to break down the material and spread. It’s basically a bacterial infection for your building. Its unhealthy for the inhabitants of the building, and causes a very unpleasant stinky smell.
Detection of Fiber Blooming
One method of inspecting the skylight for fiber blooming is by running your hand across the surface on the exterior of the panels. If your hand picks up fiberglass and you see fiberglass particles in the air, then you know that you have lost the gel coat and immediate maintenance is required.
If you notice brown spots inside the panels or even notice an unpleasant or stinky smell permeating the air inside the building then the gel coat is gone and water has penetrated to the interior of the panels. The spots are bacterial growth spots, and the smell is from them breaking down the fiberglass. Replacement of those panels with a product other than fiberglass is recommended.
Fiberglass Gel Coat
Unfortunately the coating applied to the exterior of the skylights by the fiberglass manufacturers does have a short life-span and requires a regular scheduled maintenance. This time span varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Fiberglass Skylight Inspections
Our experience has shown that the skylights should be inspected about every five years to insure that the exterior surface is in good condition and does not degrade too far. If the coating disintegrates it leaves the fiberglass strands exposed and allows water penetration. This should be avoided if at all possible, because it begins a process that is very difficult to return the skylight to its original condition. If caught soon enough a new layer of gelcoat can be applied that will extend the life of the product.
A warning sign of fiberglass breaking down is when the skylight emits a yellow light. This yellow light is bad for our health and typically our clients are tired of the feeling it gives. They express the desire to replace the skylight in order to capture the blue light available from the sun. But if the skylight has become smelly, then it’s too late to save, and absolutely needs to be replaced.
Skylight Specialists, Inc., a Denver, CO company brings 35-years of commercial skylight repair experience to the table. We approach skylight repairs from a perspective that comes from decades of hands-on experience with problem skylights. From the smallest to some of the largest skylights in America.