Exploring Solar Tubes: Understanding Their Function and Relevance

Graphic of two people on an ladder installing solar tubes

Solar energy has gained significant recognition as one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly energy sources. While solar panels are commonly known, solar tubes are another innovative alternative that can benefit residential and commercial properties significantly. We will explore what solar tubes are, how they work, and whether or not they are a viable option for your energy needs.

What Are Solar Tubes?

Solar tubes, also known as sun tunnels or light pipes, are a creative way to harness natural sunlight and redirect it into spaces that lack natural light. These tubular devices consist of a transparent dome that sits on your roof and captures the sunlight during the day. The captured sunlight is then channeled through highly reflective tubes, making its way to the desired area through diffusers that evenly disperse the light.

Purpose of Solar Tubes

The primary purpose of solar tubes is to bring natural light to spaces that lack windows or where conventional windows are not feasible. They are commonly used in areas such as hallways, closets, bathrooms, and kitchens, where it is challenging or impossible to install larger windows. 

Solar tubes can seamlessly integrate into your roof without the need for major retrofitting or structural changes, making them a cost-effective option for enhancing the natural light in your living or working space.

Advantages of Solar Tubes

There are several advantages to using solar tubes. Here are a few of the top reasons people switch to solar tubes: 

Reduced Energy Bill

By using natural sunlight to illuminate interior spaces, solar tubes can significantly reduce the need for artificial lighting during the daytime, thereby cutting down on electricity costs.

Solar tubes can be installed in various settings, including homes, offices, warehouses, and more, to bring natural light into interior spaces that otherwise wouldn’t have access to it.

Consistent Light Quality 

One of the main advantages of solar tubes is their ability to provide a consistent and pleasant quality of light throughout the day. Unlike traditional windows or skylights, which can be affected by the sun’s position and obstructed by shadows or cloud cover, solar tubes capture sunlight from different angles, utilizing various technologies to maximize efficiency. 

As a result, even on cloudy or overcast days, solar tubes can still provide a significant amount of light, creating a brighter and more inviting atmosphere.

Reduce Energy Consumption

Solar tubes can help reduce energy consumption during daylight hours. By utilizing natural sunlight, you can minimize the need for electric lights, especially in areas that require consistent lighting throughout the day. This decreases your reliance on grid electricity and reduces your carbon footprint, contributing to a more sustainable lifestyle.

Positive Impact

In addition to the environmental benefits, solar tubes can positively impact your overall well-being. Natural light is known to improve mood, increase productivity, and enhance overall health. By introducing more natural light into your living or working spaces, solar tubes can create a more vibrant and pleasant environment, positively affecting your mental and physical well-being.

Drawbacks to Solar Tubes

While solar tubes offer an energy-efficient way to bring natural light into interior spaces, they do come with some disadvantages:

Limited Light Source

Unlike electrical lighting, solar tubes can only provide illumination during daylight hours. They are ineffective at night and less efficient on cloudy days. The amount of light they provide can vary throughout the day based on the sun’s position, potentially causing fluctuations in indoor lighting levels.

Installation Limitations

Solar tubes require a direct path from the roof to the interior space being lit, which may not be possible in multi-story buildings or in rooms without roof access. Installation may be more challenging or not recommended for certain types of roofing materials or roof pitches.


While generally cheaper than solar panels, solar tubes still require an initial investment for purchase and installation. To function effectively, the exterior dome may require periodic cleaning to remove dirt, debris, and snow.

Solar tubes are designed exclusively for lighting. Unlike electric lights, solar tubes can’t be turned off during the day, which might be an issue if you want a dark room for any reason (e.g., to watch a movie or take a nap).

Solar Tube Considerations

man on a ladder installing solar tubes inside

Before considering the installation of solar tubes, it is essential to assess whether your space would benefit from this alternative lighting solution. Some key factors to consider include the availability of natural light, the layout of your property, and your budget. Solar tubes could be an ideal solution if you have an area with limited windows or a lack of sunlight penetration. If, on the other hand, your space already receives sufficient natural light, investing in solar tubes may not be necessary.

It’s also worth noting that solar tubes require regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance. The tubes need cleaning periodically to remove any dirt or debris that may have accumulated. In certain regions where snowfall is common, the design and placement of solar tubes must be carefully considered to prevent any blockage during winter months.

Cost & Longevity 

The cost and longevity of solar tubes can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the brand, quality, size, and installation complexity. Here’s a general idea:

The cost of the solar tube kit itself is typically around the $500 mark for basic models, but higher-end models with additional features like light dimmers or ventilation can cost more.

Professional installation costs can vary significantly based on location and the job’s complexity but generally start around $1,000. DIY installation is also possible for handy homeowners and can save on labor costs.

There may be additional roof repair or reinforcement costs, especially for older homes. Some models ‘ electrical features, like backup LED lights or ventilation fans, can also add to the cost.

High-quality solar tubes made of durable materials like polycarbonate or acrylic can last longer. A solar tube can last up to 20 years or more with proper installation and maintenance. Many manufacturers offer warranties ranging from 5 to 10 years, giving you an idea of the product’s expected lifespan.

Generally, solar tubes require very little maintenance. Seasonal cleaning of the exterior dome to remove dirt, debris, or snow will help maintain its effectiveness. Over time, the seals and joints may deteriorate and might require replacement to prevent leaks. However, this is typically a minor expense.

It’s advisable to consult local installers for a more accurate quote and lifespan estimate based on your specific circumstances. Also, consider the long-term savings from reduced electricity costs for lighting when evaluating the overall cost-effectiveness of solar tubes.

Difference Between Solar Tubes and Skylights

Both solar tubes and skylights are designed to bring natural light into a building, but they operate differently and have distinct features, advantages, and drawbacks. Here are some key differences:


Appearance: Skylights are generally larger and can be seen as a window in the ceiling, providing both light and a view of the sky. Solar tubes are more discreet, with a dome on the roof and a diffuser on the ceiling, providing only light.

Structure: Solar tubes use a reflective tube to direct sunlight into an interior space, while skylights are essentially windows installed on the roof.


Ease of Installation: Solar tubes are generally easier and quicker to install than skylights. They require smaller openings and less structural modification, which is particularly useful in areas with obstacles like HVAC systems or rafters.

Cost: Due to simpler installation and smaller size, solar tubes are often less expensive to install than skylights.


Energy Efficiency: Solar tubes are often more energy-efficient than skylights because they are better insulated and have less surface area exposed to the sun, reducing heat transfer.

Light Distribution: Solar tubes often provide more even lighting compared to skylights, which can create bright spots directly underneath them.


Space Requirement: Solar tubes take up less space and can be used in smaller rooms where skylights would be impractical.

Flexibility: Solar tubes can direct light to areas that are not directly below the roof, such as hallways or ground-floor rooms in multi-story buildings, thanks to their reflective tubing.


View: Skylights offer the benefit of a view, which can be an aesthetic bonus or even a requirement in some architectural designs, while solar tubes do not provide a view of the outside.

Architectural Integration: Skylights are often considered more aesthetically pleasing and can be a feature in architectural designs. Solar tubes are more utilitarian and less visible.

Additional Features

Ventilation: Some skylights can be opened to provide ventilation, whereas standard solar tubes do not offer this feature.

Options: Solar tubes may come with additional features like integrated electric lights for nighttime use or dimmers to control the amount of daylight. Skylights can come in various styles, including flat, domed, vented, and tubular.

Solar tubes are an innovative and environmentally friendly way to bring natural light into spaces where conventional windows aren’t practical. They offer consistent lighting throughout the day, reduce energy consumption, and positively impact overall well-being. If you have areas in your home or office that lack natural light, solar tubes could be a cost-effective and sustainable solution. However, it is essential to assess your space and consider maintenance requirements before making a decision.

You might also be interested in: Top 9 Reasons To Switch To Solar Today

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