Generally, homes are equipped with the usual traditional windows and doors. However, there are additional ways you can brighten your home. Unfortunately, few home-building businesses will give you information on how practical and appealing these options can be, let alone give examples or suggest such options. The two types of light in this category, solar tube and skylights, are so similar that it is hard to say there is much difference between them.
Skylights need not be limited only to attic spaces. When you want to brighten a room that is too small to install a traditional window or that is simply lacking direct access to the roof to allow for conventional skylight installation, there remains another option to add natural light to your indoor environment.
Tubular skylights are installed through a shaft that starts on the roof and extends into your home. As it captures sunlight on the rooftop, the tube redirects that light down a highly reflective shaft and diffuses it throughout the interior space.
These skylights offer optional features, ideal for use in bathrooms and laundry rooms. Electric light kits can modify the unit, allowing you to use the tube at night as an additional light fixture. Or you may opt for a dimmer switch that allows you to adjust the level of daylight that enters through the tube. Upon installation, the entire unit is sealed to lock out dust, bugs, and moisture.
If you want to enjoy more natural light in your home but find skylights too big, expensive, or hard to maintain, solar tubes offer a simple alternative. Also known as tubular skylights or sun tunnels, solar tubes give you a discreet way to brighten the darker areas of your home with soft, natural light.
The standard solar tube is a polished sheet metal tube installed in the roof to channel sunlight into the house’s interior. They’re most commonly available in 10- and 14-inch-diameter sizes, which fit between standard 16-inch roof joists. On the roof end of the tube is a weather-resistant acrylic cap. On the ceiling side is a round window-like opening fit with a diffuser that helps distribute the light. When installing a tubular skylight, start by marking the location inside the room. Line up your preferred location with a flat area in the roof before cutting any holes.
Pros of Solar Tube Lighting
On a sunny day, one 10-inch solar tube provides about the same amount of light as three 100-watt bulbs. That’s enough to illuminate a 200-square-foot. room well enough for office work, or light a 300 square-foot room enough for less visual activities, such as taking a shower or folding the laundry. With this much light, you’ll no longer have to use electric lighting on sunny or even moderately cloudy days. You’ll enjoy extra convenience while saving money. If you want or need extra light at night, too, choose a solar tube model that includes an electric light.
Given their size, skylights are hard to miss when you walk into a room. On the other hand, solar tubes are subtle design elements that add light without calling attention to themselves. If you want to bring more light into your living room or bedroom without altering the room’s architecture, solar tubes let you do so. They also fit into smaller spaces than traditional skylights, making them a practical way to brighten a dim hallway or pantry.
Lower Risk of Leaks
Traditional skylights are well known for their tendency to leak. A significant reason for this is their tendency to collect debris, such as leaves, which prevents rainfall and snowmelt from draining off the roof. The built-up water then finds its way under the adjacent roofing material and then into your ceiling. Solar tubes are less likely to leak because their small, relatively flat domes allow water to drain around them.
Solar tubes might look like a luxury feature, but they don’t require a major investment. The tubes themselves cost less than skylights, and they’re also less expensive to have installed because they don’t require any changes to your drywall or framing.
Cons of Solar Tube Lighting
Less Control and Limited Design Impact
Solar tubes give you fewer options for controlling the light entering the room, and their small size means they do little to enhance your home’s architecture.
Fewer Options for Control
Skylights give you more control over the quality of light you let in. Skylight shades work just like window shades, while the variety of skylight diffusers on the market offers plenty of options for distributing the light in the room. You can also add film to reduce UV light, which can fade your rugs and furniture.
Vented skylights even allow you to bring fresh air into your home along with your sunlight just by opening the skylight as you would an awning window. With solar tubes, shades and venting aren’t options. While you can use diffusers and window film, you’ll have a more limited selection than what’s available for skylights.
Little Design Improvement
Skylights are an architectural design feature unto themselves, making rooms feel larger and airier and providing you with an ever-changing view of the passing clouds. They add both an ambiance of luxury and a feeling of connection to nature. Most solar tubes, however, are too small to affect the feel of a room beyond letting in light. They also don’t offer much of a view of the outdoors.
Not Equally Suited to Every Home
The type of roof you have might make it impractical to install solar tubes. Most solar tubes are designed for roofs with a slope between 15 and 60 degrees. If you have a flat roof, you’ll need to look for tubular skylight models specifically designed for this type of roof. On a steeply pitched roof, such as an A-frame, install
ation might not be possible at all.
In high-humidity climates, condensation on the inside of the tube can be a common problem. You can minimize this by wrapping the tube in R-15 batt insulation before you install it. If your home could use a little more daylight, particularly in smaller, darker spaces, but you don’t want to spend a lot or change your rooms’ overall look, solar tubes are a practical solution. On the other hand, if you want to make a significant impact on a room’s appearance and you’re willing to pay for it, you might want to stick with traditional skylights.
If you’d like more information about adding skylights or solar tube lighting to your home—whether as part of a custom build or a renovation or remodel of an existing home, our experienced team would be happy to guide you through your decision-making.
For more information, call us or click here to schedule your complimentary, no-obligation consultation.