What I Like About Solar Tubes In A Home

If you are looking to add some natural sunlight to the inside of your home, you are probably wondering about solar tubes. What are the advantages of solar tubes and are they the right choice for your home?

Solar tubes are a simple way to let natural light into a home. They can be an affordable method of capturing the sun’s light to use indoors. For small spaces, a solar tube could be the only solution to have some natural lighting. Solar tubes won’t require as much cleaning as other types of windows. Finally, solar tubes are unobtrusive and look just like a can lighting fixture in the ceiling.

To learn more about solar tube lighting systems and if they are right for your home, check out this article. Find out why solar tubes are a great source of natural light for so many homes.

What is a Solar Tube?

Stefan Kühn, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

A solar tube is a device installed in the roof of a house that directs sunlight into the interior of the house. They have a transparent dome or a flat window at the top, then a tube that is lined with reflective material runs down into the ceiling of a room in the house where a diffuser spreads the light evenly. 

Most solar tubes are 10 to 14 inches in diameter. They emit a lot of light despite their small size and I can remember how amazed I was the first time I saw them in action.

The tubes themselves are made from aluminum. The inside of the tubes is polished so that they can reflect about 99.5% of the light that enters it down into the home.

Solar tubes can be of various lengths up to about 14 feet to reach through an attic and can bend or turn as they need to. The longer the tube and the more it curves, the less light that will make it down to the bottom of the tube. But even with long runs and curves, a surprising amount of light will be distributed to the interior of the building.

Inside the home, solar tubes look a lot like can lights that are flush with the ceiling and most people think they are electric light fixtures when they see them during the day. They have a nice sleek appearance that will not draw much attention.

Are Solar Tubes Better than Skylights?

Skylights are like solar tubes in that they bring sunlight into the interior of a home. Solar tubes are not necessarily better than skylights and the two design features have different applications where one will be advantageous over the other.

The biggest difference between the two is that you can see out of skylights, while solar tubes only emit light with no view of the outside world. This could help you choose which one is right for you. If you want to be able to see the clouds or stars, a skylight is the only way to go.

While the views from a skylight are stunning, they also let in UV light that might be damaging to the interior of your home over the years. Solar tubes filter out UV light so you won’t have to worry about anything in your home being damaged by the sun.

Skylights take up more space than solar tubes and can range in sizes from 14 inches by 19 inches and up. Besides the area of the glass, they also require more space on the roof for their frame. 

Skylights are heavier than solar tubes so they may require extra structural support in the roof. If the rafters of your roof are not spaced correctly, you may not be able to fit the size skylight that you want.

One of the biggest factors that might make you choose solar tubes or skylights is that skylights are more expensive. The typical cost for a skylight installation is double that of installation for a solar tube. The unit cost for a skylight is higher than for a solar tube, and then the installation is more difficult for a skylight than for a solar tube.

Best Location For Solar Tubes

Solar tubes will collect the most light if the exterior part faces in a southwesterly direction, but they will always maximize the light available. Many people choose to install solar tubes to light up smaller rooms like bathrooms, closets and hallways.

If you want to install solar tubes in a larger room you may need more than one to provide adequate lighting. They may cause glare off of screens if you install them in a TV or computer room.

Cost Of Solar Tubes

To have solar tubes installed in your roof will cost about $750. There are DIY solar tubes available online starting at $188, this would be for a basic model that will be short and not have bends.

A higher-quality solar tube DIY kit that can reach further and bend could cost you as much as $540. There could be other parts you will need to buy to make a solar tube work on your roof.

Solar Tube With Electric Light

If you would like to have a light source during the night but you don’t want to have extra light fixtures in your ceiling, you can purchase solar tubes with electric lights built-in. This makes your solar tubes even more convenient without making your ceiling look crowded.

Brightness Of Solar Tubes

The smallest solar tubes, 10 inches in diameter, can output light equivalent to three 100 watt light bulbs. That is a lot of light and will be plenty to illuminate a 200 square foot room.

Moving up to the 14-inch solar tube will give you brightness equivalent to four 100 watt light bulbs. The diffuser at the bottom of the solar tube gives off a soft, white glow that many people find pleasant.

Cleaning

Over the years dust or other debris might build up on the exterior part of the solar tube that would reduce brightness. They will require some cleaning every few years.

This will be more difficult if you have a steep roof, and you may want to leave it to a professional in that case. If it is safe to go onto your roof, clean any leaves or debris that have accumulated around the solar tube. Next, use a soft cloth with soap and water to clean off the exterior surface of the solar tube. 

Dust might also get trapped on the light diffuser in the ceiling. You can take apart the diffuser and clean it off with soap and water, then allow it to dry before you reinstall it. 

Can Solar Tubes Be Installed in any Roof?

Mimi Kotter, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Solar tubes are recommended for roofs with pitches between 15 degrees and 60 degrees. There are also special flashings made that will allow you to install a solar tube into a flat roof.

The installation kits for solar tubes are designed for asphalt shingles. There are adaptors available to work with roofing shakes, metal roofing, or tile roofs, making solar tubes a possibility on almost any standard roof.

Do Solar Tubes Cause Roof Leaks?

When installed properly, solar tubes will not cause roof leaks. The dome shape that many solar tubes have doesn’t let water stand on them so there is less chance of water infiltration.

In high humidity areas, condensation can form on the inside of solar tubes. This problem can be solved by wrapping the solar tubes in insulation.

Energy Efficiency

The light provided by solar tubes will replace electric light bulbs during the day, which will help reduce your energy bills. They are a great way to harness the sun’s energy to light your home during daylight hours.

Solar tubes also will not create heat loss during the winter or heat gain during the summer. This means you won’t need to use your home’s heating or air conditioning to make up for this.

Skylights can cause heat loss in cold months and heat gain during hot months. This causes more energy consumption which might offset any gains you make by needing less electricity for lighting.

Do Solar Tubes Work On Cloudy Days?

Days with more sunlight will make solar tubes brighter, but they will still be surprisingly bright on a cloudy day. Solar tubes are designed to maximize the amount of light that makes it into your home, so even on cloudy days, they work well.

Solar Tubes During Winter

There are not as many hours of daylight during the winter, so you won’t get as much light from your solar tubes. The sun will also be lower in the sky and the light may be blocked by trees, hills, or nearby buildings, which would reduce the amount of light that makes it into your home.

The dome-style solar tube will not easily be blocked by snow as it will fall off of the side of the dome. A flat-top solar tube may be blocked by snow.

Solar tubes could be beneficial to your health during the winter because they let the sun’s vitamin D enter your home and be absorbed by your skin. With cold temperatures outside, it can be difficult to get enough vitamin D, so having some come into your home can be a big help.

Are Solar Tubes A DIY Friendly Project?

Installing solar tubes yourself will take some skills and special tools, and this would be on the difficult and dangerous end of DIY projects. For these reasons I cannot recommend installing a solar tube as a DIY project, leave this one to professionals who will also give you a warranty.

To install a solar tube you will need to work on your roof, which could be deadly. If you fail to install the solar tube into your roof correctly there is a good chance you will end up with a leak and then your home could become damaged. 

Solar Tube Blackout Covers

One drawback of solar tubes is that you can’t turn them off if you don’t want light to enter your house during the day. To solve this, some brands like Solatube offer dimmers that you can operate from a wall-mounted switch like an electric light fixture. 

There are also block-out shades available which come with a rod so you can attach it to a solar tube to stop the light from coming in.

If those options are not available to you, you could get up on a step ladder and tape a cloth over the solar tube, but that is not a very convenient option.

David

David has been an avid DIYer for years. Recently he's really taken to home security, but he has a lot of experience with all sorts of projects from Plumbing to Electrical and Framing to Tiling.

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