What are solar tubes?

Have you ever looked up at the sky on a sunny day and wondered, ‘What are solar tubes?’ These innovative marvels of engineering are more than just a passing curiosity; they represent a fusion of technology and nature’s brilliance. Picture yourself in a room flooded with natural sunlight, courtesy of these ingenious daylighting solutions.

But what exactly are they, and how do they work? Let’s embark on an illuminating journey to explore the essence of solar tubes, unraveling their mysteries, and shedding light on their transformative impact on indoor spaces.

What are solar tubes?

Solar tubes, also referred to as “sun tunnels,” “light tubes,” and “daylight pipes,” serve as ingenious conduits that bring the brilliance of natural daylight into the heart of your home. Unlike traditional windows or skylights, these cylindrical wonders prioritize functionality over scenic views, offering a practical and energy-efficient solution for illuminating interior spaces without relying on electricity.

Their modest size makes solar tubes easily installable between roof rafters, eliminating concerns about compromising the structural integrity of your roof. Compared to conventional skylights, they boast superior insulation properties, minimizing both heat gain and loss. This not only ensures a comfortable indoor environment but also contributes to energy savings year-round.

Ideal for small, dimly lit areas such as hallways, laundry rooms, closets, and bathrooms, solar tubes infuse these spaces with a refreshing dose of natural light, enhancing their ambiance and functionality. With their ability to seamlessly blend aesthetics with sustainability, solar tubes emerge as a compelling choice for homeowners seeking to brighten their living spaces while minimizing their environmental footprint.

What are solar tubes?

Components and functionality:

Consisting of a clear dome mounted on the roof, a reflective tube, and a lens within the room, solar tubes efficiently capture sunlight and distribute it into the interior space.

The sunlight entering through the dome is redirected down the tube and diffused into the room through the lens, providing soft, natural lighting akin to a skylight. Unlike larger skylights, solar tubes are compact and ideal for illuminating small areas where conventional windows may not be feasible.

What are the advantages of solar tube lighting?

There are numerous compelling reasons why homeowners and business owners opt for solar tube lighting over alternative options.


Operating on renewable energy, solar tubes contribute to a greener environment by avoiding the emission of harmful gases and mitigating contributions to global warming.

This ecological sustainability makes them an environmentally responsible choice, aligning with efforts to achieve energy efficiency on a community level. Additionally, incorporating solar tubes can aid in achieving energy independence, reducing reliance on utility companies’ power grids.

Natural Sunlight:

Similar to skylights, solar tubes harness natural sunlight, which is not only beneficial for mood and health but also serves as an excellent source of Vitamin D, promoting stronger bones and regulating sleep patterns. Regular exposure to natural light reduces the reliance on artificial lighting during daylight hours, further enhancing both well-being and energy efficiency.

Installation costs of solar tubes are low:

Solar tubes boast easy installation procedures, translating to lower upfront costs. DIY installation can be accomplished for less than $500, significantly reducing expenses. Moreover, ongoing maintenance costs are minimal compared to traditional electric lighting systems. A properly installed solar tube eliminates concerns about monthly utility bills, offering long-term savings.

Design Flexibility:

With their compact size compared to skylights, solar tubes offer unparalleled design flexibility without requiring structural alterations to roofs or homes. Whether illuminating smaller spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms, closets, or hallways, solar tube lighting provides an aesthetically pleasing solution that ensures long-term energy and cost savings.

What are the drawbacks to solar tube lighting?

While solar tube lighting offers numerous benefits, it’s important to acknowledge potential complications, much like any other home installation. Here’s a detailed look at some drawbacks:

What are the drawbacks to solar tube lighting?

Dependency on Weather:

Solar tube lighting relies solely on sunlight, making it less effective during cloudy, snowy, or rainy days and at night. This dependency necessitates backup lighting sources for consistent illumination throughout the year.

Design limitations:

Solar tube lighting typically offers a narrow range of design styles, potentially clashing with certain home aesthetics. Additionally, their small size means they might not serve as focal points like skylights. Moreover, since they’re sealed into the roof, they provide light only, lacking the ventilation benefits of skylights.

Consider the slope of the roof:

Solar tubes require specific roof slopes ranging from 15 to 60 degrees for optimal performance. Homes with excessively steep or flat roofs may face challenges with standard solar tube installations. While solutions exist for flat roofs, they may be less readily available and more challenging to install.

Difficult to control light:

One drawback of solar tube illumination is the inability to regulate brightness levels consistently. While dimming kits are available, their effectiveness can vary, leading to inconsistent lighting experiences.

Affects the roof:

Installing solar tubes involves creating roof openings, which could potentially void the roof warranty according to some manufacturers. While proper installation can mitigate risks, consulting with both solar tube and roof manufacturers is crucial to understand any warranty implications.

Condensation Concerns:

Solar tube light pipes conduct heat due to their aluminum construction, leading to potential condensation issues in humid climates. Additional insulation measures can mitigate this problem but may entail extra costs.

Understanding these drawbacks allows homeowners to make informed decisions when considering solar tube lighting installations, ensuring they weigh the benefits against potential challenges effectively.

Benefits and features of solar tubes

A solar tube serves as a clever solution for illuminating interior spaces that lack direct access to natural sunlight. By harnessing sunlight and channeling it through a reflective tube, these devices offer an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional lighting methods. Here’s a closer look at the benefits and features of solar tubes:

How Does a Solar Tube Work?

Glare reduction:

Solar tubes feature a diffuser lens that evenly disperses incoming sunlight, eliminating harsh glare or bright spots. The diffused light creates a gentle illumination that is comfortable for occupants, enhancing the overall ambience of the space without causing discomfort from excessive brightness.

Low maintenance costs:

One of the advantages of solar tubes is their simplicity and low maintenance requirements. With few moving parts and a self-cleaning design for the roof-mounted dome, there’s minimal risk of mechanical failure. Routine cleaning of the diffuser lens and clearing any debris from the tube ensures continued efficient operation. Solar tubes offer reliable natural lighting without the need for extensive upkeep.

Energy Saving:

By utilizing natural sunlight to illuminate interior spaces, solar tubes help reduce reliance on artificial lighting during daylight hours. This leads to significant energy savings and lower electricity bills over time. By maximizing daylight utilization, solar tubes contribute to a more sustainable and cost-effective approach to lighting indoor environments.

In summary, solar tubes provide an effective means of bringing natural light into interior spaces, offering benefits such as glare reduction, simple maintenance, and substantial energy savings. As an eco-friendly lighting solution, solar tubes are a practical choice for enhancing both the aesthetics and efficiency of buildings.

Read more: Why is there an on off switch on solar lights?

Are solar tubes cheaper than skylights?

Solar tubes offer a cost-effective alternative to skylights, with professionally installed units averaging around $750 each, significantly less than the $1500 to $2500 typically required for skylights, which can vary depending on size and installation complexity.

For the DIY enthusiast, solar tube kits can be purchased for approximately $300, providing an affordable option for those with the necessary skills and time to install them independently. However, it’s essential to consider any existing roofing warranties, as attempting a self-installation may potentially void them.

When planning for installation, ensure your roof has a pitch angle within the range of 3 x 12 inches to 20 x 12 inches (approximately 14° to 60°), as most solar tube models are not designed for flat roofs or extreme slopes.

While most solar tube kits are compatible with asphalt shingle roofing material, adapters are readily available to facilitate installation on wood, metal, or tile roof types, offering versatility and ease of integration into various roofing systems.

Are they cheaper than skylights?

Compare solar tubes and skylights

Indeed, solar tubes serve as highly efficient lighting options for dimly lit interior areas such as laundry rooms.

However, it’s important to note that solar tubes come with a blend of significant benefits and drawbacks in comparison to skylights. Below, we’ll delve into these aspects in detail.


Cost Savings:

Solar tubes offer significant cost savings, particularly for homes with ample attic space. Instead of the expense associated with installing skylights, including header beams and new drywall, solar tubes provide a similar lighting effect at a fraction of the cost.

Ease of Installation:

Installing solar tubes is relatively fast and straightforward. Their small footprint allows for easy placement between roof rafters, simplifying the installation process. In contrast, installing skylights requires careful consideration to maintain roof structure integrity, often involving embedding large windows into the roofing membrane.

Energy Efficiency:

Each solar tube outlet functions akin to a light fixture in your home. By directing sunlight into commonly used spaces like dark dining rooms, significant energy bill savings can be achieved by reducing the need for artificial lighting.

Low Maintenance:

Solar tubes require minimal maintenance compared to skylights. Their curved exterior design minimizes debris accumulation, reducing the need for regular cleaning. Additionally, many solar tube models are vacuum-sealed and equipped with condensation release features, further mitigating maintenance requirements, even in high-humidity areas.

Environmental Benefits:

Utilizing sunlight as a clean, renewable resource, solar tubes contribute to environmental savings. They reduce interior heat gains during summer months, lessening the workload on air conditioning systems.

Similarly, in winter, solar tubes help retain heat more effectively than skylights, resulting in reduced heating costs. By utilizing solar tubes, homeowners not only save on their electric bills but also reduce their carbon footprint.


Limited Exterior View:

Unlike skylights, solar tubes do not offer expansive views of the outside world. While skylights allow for gazing up at starry night skies or contemplating cloud formations, solar tubes provide a more restricted view.

This limitation is particularly evident in rooms with vaulted ceilings where skylights can be embedded to offer a panoramic perspective of the natural surroundings.

Limited Passive Solar Heating:

Skylights hold an advantage over solar tubes in their ability to facilitate passive solar heating and enhance home heating efficiency. During winter months, the low angle of the sun streaming through southerly-oriented windows and skylights creates a miniature greenhouse effect, warming the interior of the home.

This passive solar design can generate significant heat, which may not be achievable with solar tubes due to their smaller size and limited capacity to capture solar energy.


Is the cost of installing solar tubes high?

Installing a solar tube not only introduces natural sunlight into any room but also offers significant energy cost savings. However, several variables affect the overall project cost, typically ranging from $500 to $2,500.

For a DIY solar tube installation, expenses may hover around $500, while opting for professional installation could raise the average cost to approximately $1,000. The total expenditure is contingent upon factors like the solar tube’s size, installation complexity, labor charges, and any additional features or modifications needed for the project.

It’s essential to carefully consider these factors when budgeting for a solar tube installation and weigh the advantages of professional installation against the potential cost savings of a DIY approach.

If you’re interested in maximizing natural light in your space, consider solar tube installation. Costs vary based on factors like size and complexity. DIY options start at around $500, while professional installation averages $1,000. Want to learn how to make a solar light? Explore our guide for DIY enthusiasts.

Should I install solar tubes?

If your goal is to reduce energy expenses linked to lighting, solar tubes emerge as a top-tier solution. They present clear advantages over alternative natural lighting methods, albeit with certain limitations. Consulting with roofing and lighting professionals can help determine whether your roof is suitable for accommodating solar tube lighting.

Should I invest in solar tubes?

Determining whether solar tubes are a worthwhile investment hinges on your home’s specific requirements and your lighting preferences. It’s crucial to evaluate factors like the desired level of natural light, installation costs, and potential energy savings to gauge whether solar tubes align with both your lighting needs and budget constraints.

How long is the lifespan of solar tubes?

The longevity of solar tubes is contingent upon several factors, including the quality of materials, installation method, and brand. Typically, high-quality solar tubes can endure for a decade or longer when properly constructed and installed.

The lifespan of solar tubes or solar lights depends on various factors such as material quality, installation technique, and brand. In general, the lifespan of solar lights also depends on whether you clean them regularly or not. Are you wondering how to clean solar lights? Explore our comprehensive guide for effective maintenance tips.

Which type of solar tube is best for your home?

Among the top choices for residential solar tube brands are Velux, Solatube, Sun-Tek, and Natural Light. Renowned for their efficiency and superior light distribution, these manufacturers provide high-quality solar tubes ideally suited for residential applications.