Solar Tubes: Pros, Cons, & FAQ
Solar tubes are an environmentally friendly way of diverting natural sunlight into a home or business. They are relatively simple, consisting of a reflective pipe with a weatherproof dome that sits on the roof and some kind of diffuser to better bathe the internal space in light. They serve a similar function to that of a skylight, but there are several key differences between these two architectural lighting styles.
If you’re looking for a method of bringing natural light indoors, skylights and solar tubes are your main options and there are pros and cons to each. Below, we look at solar tubes to help you determine whether this is the right choice for installation in your buildings.
Solar Tube Pros
Solar tubes are simple and unobtrusive but still offer a good amount of daylight into a room. The actual size of the tube does vary, but it is usually no wider than a ceiling dome light. This means that this type of light can be added in almost any room, including kitchens, bedrooms, and even in those rooms that wouldn’t be able to accommodate a larger skylight. One can even be installed above the shower or conveniently placed above the kitchen sink.
The size of the sun tunnel is also one of the reasons why they are cheaper than skylights. There will still be some installation costs because the installer has to alter the roof and run the pipe down through and into the room of the house, but it takes less time and fewer materials than installing a skylight. You don’t have to pay the costs of glazing, either.
Natural light has been shown to improve moods and encourage better health. It is a source of vitamin D and can even manage our circadian rhythm or the amount of time we sleep. For offices, natural light reduces headaches and produces less screen glare. Compared to having internal electric lights, natural light is better for us.
A natural light source is also better for the environment than electricity, which is used whenever we turn on internal lights. They don’t work at night, which means that you will need an additional light source, but a solar tube prevents you from having to run those lights during the day.
During summer, skylights not only let in light, but they also let in heat. This means that they add to the temperature of your building, which can increase reliance on your air conditioning unit. Running an air conditioner not only means using more electricity, which is bad for the environment, but it also inflates your energy usage and costs.
Solar Tube Cons
For all their benefits, solar tubes are not the ideal solution to all problems, and they do have certain drawbacks when compared to the alternatives.
Skylights might take up more room, but they also offer a view out of the room. Solar tubes are enclosed and encased, which means that you can’t see out of them. If you want to take advantage of an external view, solar tubes are not the best option.
Extra heat isn’t always a bad thing, and warming your home with solar energy from the sun is a free alternative to using the heating system. While solar tubes might save you from using air conditioning in the really hot months, they won’t bring additional warmth so may still require that you have the heating on at other times of the year.
The tubes themselves are typically made of aluminum, which is a conductor of heat. This won’t benefit the heating in your room, but it is a cause of condensation forming in the pipes and in the light dome itself. Insulation can be added to the pipes to prevent condensation but this comes at an extra cost.
Are Solar Tubes Right for You?
There are pros and cons to solar lights, and whether they are right for your property will depend on the room you want to heat, your budget, and whether you want the benefit of being able to see out of your lighting solution. If you have limited space or you don’t want to hugely alter the structure of your roof, solar tubes are a good choice. If you want to benefit from a good view or you want greater control over airflow and even the amount of light in a room then a skylight may be a better choice, although one will cost more.
Solar tubes, also known as sun tubes or sun tunnels, are a simple but effective way of diverting natural sunlight into a room or area of your house or other building. They are inexpensive to install, unobtrusive when installed, and they don’t transfer heat from outside to the inside of your property so they won’t increase the need to use air conditioning.
However, their uses are also limited because they don’t offer control over lighting levels and do not enable property owners to take advantage of any external views. They also work better in properties with a shallower roof pitch, so may not be suitable for all homes.
Featured Image Credit: Lost_in_the_Midwest, Shutterstock