Solar Tubes: What Are They, and How To Use Them?

April 27, 2023

Natural light not only brightens up your living spaces but also offers numerous advantages for your well-being and energy efficiency. In this article, we will explore sun tubes, a cost-effective and eco-friendly way to introduce sunlight into your home. Despite the name, solar tubes don’t generate solar electricity; instead, they harness the sun’s rays to brighten indoor areas, offering improved visibility and potential health benefits.

view of a tubular skylight

Source: cjx.hinege.top

These innovative devices come in various sizes and types, and their installation can significantly impact your home’s energy efficiency and aesthetics.

We’ll delve into how solar tube skylights work, their advantages, and some considerations for selecting the right type and size for your space. We’ll also compare solar tubes to traditional skylights, giving you valuable insights to make an informed choice. So, whether you have a small, dim room or you’re simply looking for an eco-friendly lighting solution, this article will help you harness the power of natural light with sun tubes.

What Are Solar Tubes?

Solar tubes, also known as ‘sun tunnels’, ‘sun lights’, ‘daylight pipes’, and ‘light tubes’, are compact and cost-effective devices that serve as conduits for sunlight, offering an innovative alternative to traditional skylights. Despite their name, solar tubes do not generate solar electricity; instead, they harness the sun’s rays to illuminate indoor spaces, providing improved visibility and potential health benefits from exposure to natural light.

One of the remarkable advantages of tubular skylights is their ability to enhance the overall energy efficiency of your home. By adopting these next-generation light sources, you can move closer to achieving a Zero Net Energy (ZNE) home, significantly reducing your carbon footprint.

Efficiently utilizing natural daylight indoors not only reduces electricity consumption but also enhances the visual comfort of occupants. Solar tubes excel in distributing light effectively, outperforming other methods by improving light uniformity by up to 15.7%. Furthermore, when installed at vertical angles, they can increase light intensity by up to 17.5%, further enhancing light distribution.

When considering sun tunnel options, you will encounter two main types: rigid and flexible tubes. Each type has its benefits, and the choice depends on your specific requirements.

Rigid Tubes

 view of a rigid solar tube

Source: solumax.net

Rigid tubes are generally more expensive but offer a direct path to the room below and typically provide greater light transmittance. They are recommended for long distances exceeding 2 meters, although many flexi tube kits come with 2-3 meter tubes, offering flexibility. Rigid tubes can also be fitted with additional elbows and straight pipe sections as needed.

Flexi Tubes

view of a flexi solar tube

Source: clearviewskylights.com

Flexi tubes are perfect for shorter distances, especially on flat roofs where only a meter of tubing is required. In such cases, there won’t be a significant difference in light output between the two tube types, making flexi tubes a cost-effective choice. Flexi tubes are also easier to work with and generally less expensive when installation involves multiple bends in the tube.

Solar tubes provide an eco-friendly, energy-efficient, and cost-effective way to illuminate your living or working environment, reducing reliance on artificial lighting and enhancing the overall well-being of occupants.

view of zones solar tubes

Source: sciencedirect.com

What Is the Design of Solar Tubes?

The design of a solar tube typically features an outer end sealed with a weather-proof plastic dome to protect against the elements. At the interior-facing end, a porthole-style diffuser guides the captured sunlight into your indoor space.

The rooftop domes are usually constructed from UV-protected acrylic or glass, ensuring durability and protection from external elements.

The reflective tubing inside the tube is lined with a mirror-like film that can reflect up to 95% of incoming sunlight, optimizing the capture and transmission of natural light into the interior space.

The ceiling fixture or diffuser, located on the interior side, plays a pivotal role in evenly scattering the captured light throughout the room below. Many models of skylight tubes come equipped with dimmable fixtures, giving you control over the intensity of the natural light.

Sun Tube Kits are available in various sizes, from 250mm to 550mm in diameter, allowing you to choose the right one based on the size of the room you want to brighten:

Sun Tube Size Suitable Room Sizes Examples of Room Types
250mm Up to 10m² Hallways, Small Bathrooms
350 – 450mm 10 to 15m² Larger Hallways, Stairwells, Bathrooms
550mm 15 to 22m² Kitchens, Bedrooms, Living Rooms

While the concept of sun tunnel roof lights is straightforward, selecting the right product for your needs can significantly impact your desired outcomes. Sun tunnels are an ideal solution for illuminating areas such as corridors, stairwells, bathrooms, small rooms, and cupboards, especially in spaces where traditional roof windows or flat roof skylights aren’t feasible.

How Do Solar Tubes Work

Solar tubes direct outdoor ambiance and sunlight into your home via tubing installed from your roof to the room you wish to brighten. Most solar tubes begin with a weatherproof, transparent acrylic dome, which is fixed to the roof of your house. 

view of solar tubes

Source:chatron.pt

These domes are specifically engineered to maximize their exposure to the sun, ensuring that they capture and transfer as much sunlight as possible to your home.

From the rooftop dome of the solar tube, natural light passes through tubing lined with ultra-reflective material – essentially a continuous mirror. Sunlight passes through the dome of the solar tube and then bounces off this reflective lining to pass down the length of the tubing. At the end of the tubing, natural light reaches the ceiling diffuser, a disc between 1 and 2 feet in diameter, which distributes the captured sunlight safely and efficiently, maximizing brightness and thermal protection.

The best quality solar tube lights lose next to no sunlight during transportation, and they can transform windowless rooms into havens of sunlight or simply increase the natural light of regular rooms. 

component view of solar tubes

Source: wewillinspire.com

Relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and requiring next to no maintenance, skylight tubes are a carbon-zero alternative to electric lighting and can completely change the look and feel of a room, especially in small, dark parts of a house, such as laundry rooms or walk-in storage cupboards.

While we call them ‘solar tubes’, they do not generate electricity like ‘solar panels’ do. However, this does not mean that the way they work isn’t green or energy-efficient. Just like solar energy, solar tubes save you money on electricity bills by making the power of the sun work to your advantage.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Tubes

This comparison table outlines the advantages and disadvantages of solar tubes, offering valuable insights into the benefits and limitations of this lighting solution.

Aspect Advantages of Solar Tubes Disadvantages of Solar Tubes
Lighting Quality Abundant natural light without ongoing costs. Limited options for regulating light quality and quantity.
Design Impact Seamlessly blends into the living space, maintaining aesthetics. Typically too modest in size to make a substantial design impact.
Risk of Leaks Lower risk of leaks due to compact, flat domes. Traditional skylights are more susceptible to leaks.
Installation Cost Budget-friendly purchase and installation process. It may not offer panoramic outdoor views.
Roof Compatibility Suitable for roofs with slopes of 15-60 degrees. Challenging installation on flat or steeply pitched roofs.

Solar tubes offer a cost-effective and practical solution for introducing natural light into your home, especially in smaller spaces. However, they come with limitations, such as limited design impact and control over lighting quality and quantity. Choosing between solar tubes and traditional skylights should consider your home’s architectural characteristics, climate, and lighting preferences.

Solar Tubes vs Skylights

Regarding brightening up your living spaces with light, two popular choices stand out: solar tubes and traditional skylights. Each option comes with its own set of advantages and drawbacks, making it crucial to weigh the pros and cons to decide which suits your needs best.

comparison of Solar Tube and Skylight

Source: entechsolar.com

  1. Cost: Solar tubes offer an attractive cost advantage. On average, professional solar tube installation costs around $800, significantly less than traditional skylights, which can range from $1,000 to over $2,500. The price disparity is primarily due to the extensive structural changes required for skylight installation. Solar tubes are particularly practical in homes with ample attic space, where they can be seamlessly tintegrated without major reconstruction.
  2. Space: Solar tubes are space-saving champions. Even with a diameter of up to 2 feet, they have a small footprint and flexible tubing, allowing easy integration into your home without extensive alterations. In contrast, skylights demand substantial changes to the roof’s structure, including adding header beams and drywall, consuming significant attic space.
  3. Ease of Installation: Installing solar tubes is remarkably straightforward. DIY enthusiasts can even opt for DIY solar tube kits, further reducing solar tube costs. Their user-friendly installation process eliminates the need for expensive labor, making them a practical choice for many homeowners. Skylights, on the other hand, require a more complex and time-consuming installation.
  4. Maintenance: Skylights can be high-maintenance due to their exposure to the elements. Regular cleaning is essential to remove debris, bird droppings, snow, or leaves that can obstruct your view and reduce natural light. Solar tubes, with their domed construction, are designed to minimize the impact of weather and debris, resulting in minimal maintenance. Some solar tubes even come with condensation release features, reducing the need for constant cleaning.
  5. Aesthetic: While solar tubes are functional, skylights win in terms of aesthetics. Skylights provide a beautiful view of the sky, allowing you to enjoy starry nights and drifting clouds from the comfort of your home. Solar tubes, although practical, do not offer the same scenic views.
  6. Heat: Skylights have an advantage in capturing and storing heat due to their large glass construction. They are a part of passive solar architecture, effectively warming your home and storing heat for later use. Solar tubes, being smaller in size, cannot replicate this heat-trapping capability and are primarily focused on providing natural light.

Conclusion

Solar tubes offer an enticing solution for harnessing the advantages of natural light within your living spaces. These cost-effective devices efficiently capture and utilize sunlight to illuminate your home, contributing to enhanced energy efficiency, improved well-being, and a commitment to environmental sustainability. While solar tubes don’t generate electricity like solar panels, they are pivotal in reducing your dependence on artificial lighting, resulting in cost savings and a diminished carbon footprint.

To make an informed choice between solar tubes vs skylights, it’s crucial to consider your specific architectural characteristics, climate, and lighting preferences. The ultimate decision depends on factors such as cost, available space, ease of installation, maintenance requirements, aesthetics, and heat-capturing capabilities. By doing so, you can bask in the benefits of natural light in a manner that aligns with your unique needs and desires.

Jed Hilton

Jed Hilton

Jed Hilton, our Founder and CEO, has over a decade of experience in the solar industry. His innovative leadership and expertise in solar technologies guide our company's vision and strategy.

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