Is solar tube lighting worth it? Drawbacks, benefits, and costs

Written by Adam Morris
6 Min read
Table of contents

Over the last few years, solar tube lighting has become one of the most sought-after, innovative, and highly requested forms of lighting.

Anyone who has heard of solar tube lighting will already be well informed about the huge benefits this kind of lighting can bring, but the uninitiated may be scratching their heads wondering what on earth solar tube lighting is and what all the fuss is about!

We would like to shed a little more light (no pun intended) on this contemporary lighting option, detailing the benefits, drawbacks, costs, and, installation information. Read on to find out more…

What is solar tube lighting?

Solar tube lighting works by reflecting light from outside into a polished metal tube installed on the roof, which reflects sunlight as rays move through it, directing this light inside. On the roof end of the tube is a weather-resistant acrylic dome cap.

Solar tube lighting consists of two tubes that are connected to housing – a positive collector tube and a negative emitter tube. The top view of the dome cap is that of a Perspex dome, whereas the bottom view from the ceiling is a circular window-type fitment with a diffuser that helps to distribute the natural light all around the room.

Also known as sun tunnels, daylight pipes, tubular skylights, and light tubes, solar tubes are an efficient and effective alternative to skylights. However, unlike skylights, solar tube lighting is small and unobtrusive, can be installed in many different parts of your home, and can fill a space with natural light.

Solar tube lighting is an excellent choice for injecting daylight into small, dark spaces in your home.

Benefits of solar tube lighting

They offer completely free energy

On a sunny day, one 10-inch solar tube provides roughly the same light as three 100-watt bulbs. By using the power of the sun in regularly used rooms such as a snug or dining room, there are significant savings to be made from not having to pay for electric lights.

In fact, it has been reported that some people are reducing their electricity bills by around 15% by switching their lights to solar tube lighting, and in today’s climate this is not insignificant.

On even cloudy days, having a solar tube light will mean you don’t have to switch on your electric lights which will save you not just money but help your environmental footprint as well.

Ease of installation

Whilst the clean, modern lines of solar tube lights look like something from

a high-end magazine and therefore must be exorbitantly expensive, they are in fact relatively cost-effective to install.  They cost less than the more traditional skylights and as they require no major renovation work to install are easier, cheaper, and much less stressful!

You can hire a professional to install solar tube lights which will cost in the region of $1,000, or you can save even more money by installing them yourselves using a kit that will set you back less than $500. However, if the pipe needs to be fit around wiring, pipes, or air ducts you should consult with a professional before attempting this yourself.

Small and unobtrusive

Skylights take up a large percentage of your ceiling and are usually one of the first things you notice when you walk into a room, which is great if they are a purposeful design feature but not so great if you wanted to add light to the room in a more subtle way.

Unlikely to leak

Unlike a traditional skylight, solar tube lights are highly unlikely to allow water to leak into your room. The plastic dome on the ceiling allows the water to drain around it, and because it is virtually flat will not collect debris such as leaves and moss like skylights often do.

Unexpected health benefits

According to a recent study, almost half of all Americans are deficient in what is known as the sunshine vitamin – vitamin D – which is essential to a robust immune system, good mood, and strong musculoskeletal system.

A solar tube helps to bring more natural sunlight into your home and when your body is exposed to sunlight it makes vitamin D from cholesterol.

Enhanced TV viewing

Solar tube lighting won’t create an annoying glare, so you can watch TV or use your laptop without having to squint or shade your eyes.

Very little maintenance is required

Unlike a traditional skylight, you won’t be needing to climb up on the roof every few months to clean off bird poop or polish the glass, in fact, once the lights have been installed there’s very little extra work involved in having them.

The curved design of the weather-proof dome means that it’s very difficult for any kind of dirt of debris to settle on them, and most are vacuum sealed featuring condensation release systems, which means that even if you live in an area with a very high humidity level, you don’t need to worry about cleaning them regularly.

You can use them at night

No, we haven’t gone mad! It’s true, some of the newer, more modern solar tube lights allow you to use them at night! Most of these work with solar electricity, charging up by day and then switching to the generated electric at night.

Drawbacks of solar tube lighting

They won’t be suitable for every home

It’s an unfortunate fact that some homes simply won’t be right for solar tube lighting and will have to settle for an alternative instead, the reasons for this include:

  • Solar tube lighting must be installed in areas where there is six meters of space or less between the ceiling and the roof
  • It will only work on roofs with slopes between 15 and 60 degrees. Most aren’t compatible with flat roofs or roofs with a very steep slope
  • Most DIY solar tube light kits are designed for roofs made from asphalt or wood shingles, if you have tiles or a metal roof you will need to invest in an adapter

Very few control options

With an electric light you can turn them off, on, or use a dimmer switch to turn them down and up without completely switching them on or off. 

With a skylight, you can install window shades or blinds to allow you to block out or dim the natural light coming in. You can also open them to allow fresh air to enter the room.

With solar tube lighting, most of these options are unavailable, meaning you will be less able to control the light coming into the room from these lights.  This is ideal in areas that you would like to be well lit as often as possible, such as a dark laundry room or attic, but less ideal in living areas.

Not much design choice

Skylights are often added to a room as a design feature in themselves, making rooms appear brighter and airier, or to make the most of a beautiful view by bringing the outdoors inside. They add a very specific and desirable ambiance to a room.

Solar tube lighting is often too small to add any kind of ambiance or atmosphere and the design choices available for the lights themselves are very limited.

Powered by a single energy source

Solar tube lights require only one thing to make them work – the sun! which means that on dull, overcast, or extremely cloudy days your lights may not be quite as bright as they are when it’s super sunny.

Conclusion

Solar panel lights are an inexpensive, innovative, and effective way to light dark spaces within your home.  They can be purchased relatively inexpensively and either installed by professionals or a keen DIYer using a DIY kit.

Simply requiring the power of the sun to operate them, solar panel lights will save money and the planet by using one of the most sustainable energy sources available.

However, they’re not suitable for every home and probably won’t be suitable for anyone who wants to make a design feature out of the light.

FAQs

Do solar tubes work at night?

Most early solar tube light models will only work during sunlight hours, simply because they work by reflecting daylight into a room using a series of tubes and reflectors.  However, newer versions feature innovative designs that produce solar-powered electricity, essentially charging up during the day and then using this electricity to power the light at night

Can you turn off a solar tube light?

Some solar tube lighting models will allow you to turn them off and on, which is great during the long summer days and nights when you need to control the amount of sun coming into your home. However, some older models don’t feature this option meaning you will have very little control over the light.

Are solar tubes noisy?

Using just the power of the sun to light a room, a solar tube is not noisy in itself. 
However, some solar light domes use additional aluminum reflectors to boost as much sunlight as possible, and these can be noisy when it’s windy as they are prone to rattling around on the roof during extreme weather conditions.

So solar tubes make a room hot?

Solar tubes generally have a much smaller surface area that skylights and therefore won’t make your home much warmer. It’s a more energy-efficient option than skylights.

Appliances made simple. 

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram