Not every homeowner can install a roof window into their home. The hunt for a workable alternative often leads towards the installation of a solar tube. These can help to illuminate converted loft spaces and areas of the home in need of exposure to more natural light.
For anyone not familiar with the concept, we have put together a guide to help get you started. We will go through the many factors that must be considered before installation. This article will also explain the long list of benefits they can bring to any property featuring a pitched roof.
What is a Solar Tube?
A solar tube is a fixed pipe that homeowners can install into their roof to provide a source of direct light into a specific room below. This is an alternative solution to installing roof windows and are sometimes referred to as sun tunnels, sun pipes or solar tunnels.
The inside of a solar tube features a reflective surface which helps to direct light from the outside into the house. A roof dome cover is placed over the end of the solar tube facing outwards, with a diffuser positioned on the other side to ensure the equal distribution of light into the room.
What are the Advantages of Solar Tubes?
There are numerous advantages to solar tube lighting systems - we've listed a select few for you to browse below.
Solar tubes have established themselves as a green energy solution recommended by environmental experts. With more daylight being received by the room and those living in it, less artificial lighting is used which lowers emissions and reliance on fossil fuels used to produce electricity. The end result will also be apparent on your utility bills, with less usage also meaning savings are made on electricity payments.
You may be surprised by the psychological and physical benefits that come as a result of installing a solar tube. Exposure to natural light is essential for keeping our skin in good condition and it also helps to put us in a better mood during the day. Daylight helps us to avoid feeling tired and suffering from eye-fatigue while also increasing energy levels to perform our daily tasks.
Solar tubes are an extremely cost-effective solution when compared to traditional roof windows. This takes into account not only the price of purchasing the product but also the expenditure for having it professionally installed. This provides homeowners who cannot afford the expense of a roof window a viable alternative for their home. Combined with the energy efficiency it provides, it also means seeing a direct return on investment over time.
The ease of installation makes this an ideal product for those who do not want to go through the process of implementing structural changes. A professional contractor can install a solar tube within 2 - 3 hours. This includes avoiding the need to re-frame, tunnel, drywall or re-paint.
Solar tubes can be installed almost anywhere on the roof which means most rooms in the house can benefit. Whether it's for a hallway or a bathroom that currently doesn’t receive much natural daylight, they provide a perfect solution. In built-up urban areas where houses are often standing very close to each other, there are some rooms that can only rely on reflected light. Once a solar tube has been installed the room is transformed without compromising the privacy of the space.
What Options are Available?
Homeowners can choose between either a rigid sun tunnel or a more flexible solar tube to install on their roof. Which one will suit the property best will depend on several factors. These include the amount of space available on both the roof and inside the room, how much money can be spent, the installation process, how easily the roof can be accessed through the loft and the distance between the ceiling and roof.
Rigid Solar Tunnels
This option enables maximum exposure to daylight and is used in instances where there are no obstructions between the roofs and ceiling. When combined with the right roof pitch, a rigid solar tunnel is recommended as the best option. The light output is more understandable when explained in comparison to a light bulb. In most cases, a rigid solar tunnel can be purchased in one of two sizes, 10” or 14”.
- 10” – 150 – 200 watts of light
- 14” – Anywhere up to 250 watts of light
Flexible Solar Tubes
For those that are converting lofts or where there is a restriction on roof space, flexible solar tubes offer the best solution. Where there are any beams or other obstructions in the way they can find a route that will link the ceiling to the floor. Of course, attention must be paid to avoid extreme bends. If you don't you could minimise the amount of light being transmitted.
The longer the tunnel, the more you will see a reduction in light. To give you an idea of output, we will use the example of a flexible solar tube that has been installed on a non-south facing area of the roof, with a 2m length. It would be reasonable to expect an output of:
- 10” – 60 watts of light
- 14” – 80 watts of light
How to Maintain Solar Tubes
There are three basic parts of a solar tube: Dome, Solar Tube and Interior Diffuser. Maintenance of a solar tube is relatively low-level. It is mainly restricted to cleaning the exterior of the dome and the outside of the diffuser. The dome can be cleaned using a soft sponge or cloth. Simply add warm water mixed with a small amount of household cleaner. This is a process that can happen once every six months by safely using a ladder to reach the required area of the roof.
How you remove the diffuser for cleaning will depend on the manufacturer. Check the manual to ensure it is removed correctly without causing any damage. Once removed it can be cleaned in the same way as the dome by using a combination of warm water with a household detergent. It will need to be dried before being put back in place, so use a dry cloth to wipe it clean. Ensure there is no residue left and then the diffuser can be re-attached. Repeat this process every six months to ensure any dirt is removed to keep it in good working order.
Which Type of Solar Tube is Best for Each Room?
Simply put, the larger the solar tube you install, the more natural light the room will get. This is also true if you purchase more than one for installation. To maximise the amount of light your space will receive you can place the solar tube in the centre of the room, or space them evenly across the ceiling. To give you a rough idea of which size is best for a particular room, take a look at the table below:
|Room||Room Size||Solar Tube Diameter|
|Bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms||16 - 22sqm||52 – 55cm|
|Large Bathrooms, hallways and stairs||11 - 15sqm||32 - 45cm|
|Small bathrooms and hallways||4 - 10sqm||23 - 25cm|
|Small cupboards and rooms and short corridors||0 - 4sqm||15.5cm|