Solar tubes vs. skylights are compared in different areas such as appearance, material, installation procedure, UV radiation filtration, costs, design, view, energy efficiency, extreme climates, mist, and internal condensation. The one thing they have in common is that they provide natural light for the home.
Homeowners who are also clean energy enthusiasts usually have one common problem. To cut energy costs and reduce energy usage, they have to decide between installing a solar tube or a skylight. There are arguments for and against skylights and solar tubes, and that’s the focal point of this article.
As you read on, you’ll learn about what solar tubes are, what skylights are, how much they cost to install, their pros and cons, and the different areas of comparison between them.
What Are Solar Tubes
Solar tubes are simply structures that capture natural sunlight and diffuse its luminance across an area or room. This lighting is also referred to as sun tunnels or tubular skylights. The solar tube has a dome on your roof equipped with flashing and metal tubes that have mirror surfaces that directs light from the sun to your ceiling.
Solar tubes come in a rich variety of designs and sizes. There are basic solar tubes that function like traditional skylights in the sense that they’re not capable of filtering out the harmful UV rays of the sun. There are sophisticated tubes that can block out the UV rays of the sun from penetrating the home. This radiation from the sun not only damages your skin but also makes things fade.
Lastly, there are high-quality tubes that are capable of providing just the light from the sun while filtering the heat energy away. The solar tube works in a way that it’s hard to distinguish it from electric lighting. The solar light tubes diffuse light across the room excellently and provide as much light as a 300W bulb.
It works by letting in sunlight through a metallic tube that goes through an area jutting out from the roof. The direct sunlight goes all the way through the tube and lands on a very reflective shiny sheet that acts like a continuous mirror. Most sun tubes don’t utilize solar energy to provide electricity. However, the modern versions of these tube skylights now have integrated photovoltaics that enables the light fixture to provide indirect light when the weather is not favorable.
What Are Skylights
Skylights can also be referred to as roof windows because they’re openings on your roof that give you a view of the sky. They are more popular than sun tunnels. During the day, they provide natural light from the sun for the home, and at night, give you a breathtaking view of the sky with the glitter of the moon and stars. The skylight should take up less than 15% of the room’s surface area.
The transparent part of the skylight can be glass, polycarbonate, or acrylic dome. Skylights are surrounded by flashing to prevent leakages. Unlike solar tubes, skylights require expertise to install.
Comparing Solar Tubes and Skylights
There are different areas in which we can put the sun tube or tubular skylight side by side with the traditional skylight. These areas include;
Firstly, the sun tunnel appears very different from the skylight. The former looks like a standard light fixture while the latter looks like regular windows mounted on the roof. Solar tubes or sun tunnels, as the name suggests, are cylinder-shaped tubes that capture sunlight from their position on the roof and channel its luminance to a light bulb on the room’s ceiling. It has a setup similar to electric lighting.
As you can imagine, solar tubes and skylights are made using different materials. The skylight is made up of strong frames and transparent material. We’ve already discussed what the transparent material can be made of. The frames, on the other hand, are made up of metal, wood, or plastic.
Using just any glass for the skylight’s transparent material is incredibly dangerous because it can break and cause serious injuries to the occupants of the home. However, sturdy glasses such as laminated or tempered glasses are what are installed on skylights. The tempered glass has blunt edges, so it’s less dangerous than normal glass if it breaks.
The solar tube, on the other hand, is made up of a diffusing lens, dome, and sheet metal tube. They are made of different materials. The dome is made of acrylic dome and flashings, the tube is made up of reflective metal surfaces, and the diffuser is like a lens.
Solar tubes can be installed on your own while the skylights require professional installation. The latter requires the services of a professional because of the geometric calculations involved to ensure the skylight is positioned at the perfect spot on the roof. Before all this though, you need to ensure that there’s an architectural design in place that will determine if your roof is suitable for a skylight installation.
It’s easy to build a skylight to provide light to a room that’s close to the roof, but very difficult to do the same for the rooms that are the farthest from the roof, for instance, laundry rooms. However, it can be achieved with careful, precise calculations, but it will cost you a lot. After the installation, the installer will place flashing on the skylight frame to prevent leaks and use sheets of metal to cover its joints.
On the other hand, solar tubes take a period of three hours to install. The entire process can be summed up by using a step ladder to access your roof, creating a hole from the roof to your ceiling, and inserting the diffuser, dome, then tube to connect both of them. Lastly, install the diffuser lens.
Solar tubes provide natural light while protecting you from the harmful radiation of the sun and its damaging effects. On the other hand, skylights add natural light to the home but are incapable of offering UV protection since they provide a direct view of the sky.
Solar tubes take less time to install and are more affordable. Solar tubes cost between $500 – $1,000. On the flip side, installing a skylight will incur roughly triple the average cost of installing a solar tube and ranges between $1,500 and $2,000. The price of the latter depends on the skylight sizes.
Solar tubes are more efficient because they use the much-needed sunlight to illuminate the home and result in minimal heat gain, capturing most of the sun’s energy in the process. On the other hand, skylights provide more light than solar tubes, but they add a lot of heat, losing a significant amount of energy in the process. This makes the solar tube more ideal for the home in extreme temperatures than the skylight.
Mist and Internal Condensation
Both the skylight and solar tunnels are prone to water condensation when there’s high humidity and this will affect the lighting. However, the solar tube can be wrapped with insulation while the use of a humidifier in the home will eliminate this problem for skylights.
Pros and Cons of Solar Tubes and Skylights
Below are the upsides and downsides of using these natural lights;
Pros of Solar Tubes
- It’s typically easier to install solar tubes than the skylight
- It’s more affordable to install than skylights
- Solar tube installation will incur energy tax deductions
- It protects your home from the harmful UV rays of the sun
- It’s more energy efficient than skylights
- Adds minimal heat while illuminating the home, helping you reduce air conditioning costs in the process
- It doesn’t require pricey interior finishing
- You can use a decorative light fixture.
Cons of Solar Tubes
- Doesn’t offer you a view of the sky
- Doesn’t provide ventilation
- It’s prone to water condensation
- Offers very little resale value.
Pros of Skylights
- Skylights work just like windows by providing illumination and even ventilation for the home
- They give a good view of the sky
- They enhance the visual appeal of the home
- It enhances the resale value of the room’s floor area.
Cons of Skylights
- They are harder to install
- Skylights are not energy-efficient
- They add much heat in the process of illuminating the home. You may need to have shades installed to block out the sun when the weather is very warm
- Skylights require carpentry work and expensive interior finishing which makes it more expensive to install
- They don’t block UV radiation.
Both the skylights and solar tubes are good options, but the solar tube has the upper hand. It’s a great option to provide natural lighting for the home without adding heat in the process.