Repair & Renovation

What Is a Solar Tube and Why Should I Get One?

Nothing brightens a room like natural sunlight, but what can you do if your home lacks windows?

A simple and affordable option is to install a solar tube to bring in light.

Solar tubes are a skylight alternative and a great way to bring daylight into gloomy spaces.

Interested? Stick around to learn all about solar tubes, including reasons to get one, where to install them, overall cost, and the best brands to consider.

Solar tubes can quickly enhance your home’s interior, making it a brighter, safer, and happier place to be!

What Is A Solar Tube?

A solar tube is a device that transfers the daylight hitting your roof and moves it through the attic and into your home’s interior.

Solar tubes are often for sale under these names:

  • Light tube
  • Sun tunnel
  • Tubular skylight
  • Sun scopes
  • Daylight or Sun pipes

How Does a Solar Tube Work?

Solar tubes have three main components; a clear cover on the roof, a flexible tube or rigid pipe, and a cover for the interior ceiling that resembles a standard light fixture.

The pipe has a metallic lining that acts almost like a mirror as it intensifies the light as it travels downward. Once daylight hits the roof, the light transfers into the home with no need for electricity.

Solar tubes should state the Light Transfer Efficiency (LTE) of the tubing, which measures how effective daylight transfers into the interior. A high LTE will provide a brighter and more consistent amount of lighting during all times of day and season of the year.

How Much Light Can Solar Tubes Bring In?

Solar tubes come in two standard sizes, a 10-inch and 14-inch pipe. The smaller tube delivers light similar to what three 100 watt light bulbs produce and can illuminate spaces up to 200 square feet.

Smaller tubes work well for hallways, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and offices.

The 14-inch tube expands the lighting to cover an area up to 300 square feet, which is enough to brighten dim rooms in just about any area of your home a solar tube can reach.

Because solar tubes work off the sun, the lighting they provide is only available during daylight hours. There is no on and off switch to control the unit, nor are they sold as an alternative to traditional electrical-run light fixtures.

Depending on your needs, this extra boost of light may be just what you need to avoid turning on lights during the day but will be of no help during the night. 

Reasons to Install a Solar Tube

Advantages of solar tubes include:

  • Increases interior illumination with beautiful natural light
  • Product costs less than a standard skylight
  • Does not need electricity to operate
  • Small footprint reduces solar heat loss and gain vs. skylights and windows
  • Easier to install than a skylight
  • Small size fits nicely between existing framing
  • Flexible tubing can adjust to fit around attic obstacles
  • Low-profile design blends in well with other ceiling light fixtures

There are areas in many homes that can benefit from more natural lighting, but space doesn’t allow for large skylights.

Solar tubes deliver a soft, diffused light. This can not only increase safety in poorly lit areas but also adds cheerfulness and makes your home feel more spacious.

Solar Tubes vs. Skylights

Still unsure if a solar tube is a better solution than a skylight? Let’s take a peek at the pros and cons of both.

Solar Tube Pros:

  • Low cost
  • Easier to install
  • Energy efficient
  • Reduces intense direct sunlight that can heat up the room
  • Filters out harmful UV rays that cause fading

Skylight Pros:

  • Brings in much more light
  • Allows you to see the sky and stars
  • A home upgrade that can increase value
  • Many can open for extra ventilation

Solar Tube Cons:

  • Brings in less light
  • Can’t see the sky
  • Does not open for ventilation
  • The exterior dome is acrylic, not glass, which can crack under extreme cold or heat conditions

Skylight Cons:

  • More area in the roofline which leaks can occur
  • Direct sun into the home increases heat and cooling losses
  • Much more expensive overall to buy and install
  • Allows UV rays to penetrate, which can fade carpets and furniture

Is a solar tube right for my house?

The biggest factors for determining if solar tubes are right for your house are:

  • Your style of roof
  • The distance between your roofline and ceiling in the areas you wish to have extra light
  • Any obstacles in your way in the attic, such as venting for an HVAC system

Solar tubes work best in rooms directly underneath the roof. In a home with a second story, you will not be able to install solar tubes to first-floor rooms without a lot of additional trouble and expense.

Not every space will be conducive for installing a solar tube, in which case you may have to consider a traditional light fixture instead.

Solar Tube Costs

Unfortunately, large-scale remodeling to install windows can be expensive. Even a single skylight fitting can run into thousands of dollars. 

Here is a cost breakdown between solar tubes and skylights, and how solar tubes can continue to save you money long-term.

Product

Solar tubes average between $200-$600

Skylights range anywhere from $500-$1500

Installation

Solar tubes average $200-$400 (installs in around 2 hours and is DIY friendly)

Skylights range between $400-$2000 (can take 1-2 days to install and requires expert carpentry skills )

Maintenance

With proper installation, solar tubes rarely leak, which means less cost for upkeep. Replacement or repairs are also faster to perform and much less expensive.

Skylights will need yearly maintenance checks to ensure caulking and seals are intact. Leaks are more common, which can entail substantial repair costs.

Cost savings

Solar tubes – Aside from the cost savings of purchase and installation vs. skylights, solar tubes reduce electricity bills as they require only the sun to operate. 

The unit dissipates heat as it travels down the tube, so the interior of your home stays cooler. Meanwhile, the small footprint also reduces heat loss during the winter.

Skylights allow the intense rays of the sun to heat your home’s interior as well as cause damage from UV rays that ruin furniture, drapes, and carpeting. During winter, the broad expanse of glass allows heat to escape. 

All-in-all, skylights cost more in energy loss and replacement of personal belongings damaged from UV rays as well as possible repair costs and the initial higher price tag for both product and installation.

Best Solar Tube Brands

The leaders in solar tube manufacturing are Velux and Solatube. Both offer reliable and efficient solar tube models, but each has its benefits.

Velux

Velux is known for its Sun Tunnel line that comes in both rigid and flexible tubing that makes installation much more straightforward. The brand offers builder-grade lines as well as commercial-grade. 

Sun Tunnel products come with a 20-year warranty, but Velux is known for the light quality it delivers, which is soft and less harsh on the eyes even on the brightest days.

On the downside, the reflectivity of Velux tubing is 98-percent, which is lower than Solatube.

Solatube

Solatube has been in business for nearly 40 years and is a master at product development with a 99.7-percent reflectivity in their tubing. 

Their experience means you can purchase products other companies can’t deliver. These include larger tubing sizes to increase lighting, venting for tubing airflow, integration of accessory lighting, and customization of fixture appearance.

On the downside, Solatube products come at a premium price and only offers a 10-year warranty on their products.


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