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What Are the Drawbacks to Solar Tube Lighting?

Downsides to daylighting your home

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George Duval
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Solar tubes make use of the sunlight to brighten up your home. They are meant to mimic electric lights, appearing as flat fixtures on the ceiling. Replacing electric lighting with solar tubes can reduce the need for electricity during the day, helping you save money on your electric bill. They consist of a tube that allows sunlight to penetrate through the roof and into the interior of your home. While they aren’t as popular as skylights, solar tubes can be a more cost-effective option and don’t require nearly as much construction.

Solar tubes do have some drawbacks. For one, they’re dependent on the weather. You won’t get much use out of your solar tubes if there isn’t any sunlight. They can also be prone to leaks if they aren’t installed correctly, and the tubes can collect moisture in humid conditions.

What is Solar Tube Lighting?

Solar tubes are a way to bring natural lighting into your home. They are often used in deep interior spaces where there are no windows. The solar tubes allow the sunlight to penetrate into your home and bring sunshine to previously darkened rooms. Solar tube lighting requires no power to function and is completely passive. They can save electricity and lower your energy bill by reducing the need to turn on the lights during daytime hours.

Solar tube lights consist of a transparent tube that connects your roof to your ceiling. The roof end of the tube is either a clear dome or small skylight, while the ceiling end is usually a transparent or semi-transparent flat cover. This allows sunlight to pass through the tube and travel into the room below. The inside of the tube is highly reflective to maximize the amount of light that reaches the interior.

Solar tubes can be rigid or flexible. Rigid tubes are best when there is a straight, unobstructed path from the roof to the ceiling. Flexible tubes are used when there are obstructions, meaning the tube has to curve around an object to reach the ceiling.

Are you looking for solar-powered lighting for your home? Check out our reviews of the many available solar lights on the market!

Solar light tubes capture sunlight from the roof and distribute it through the interior of your home. Source: Stefan Kuhn

Downsides to Solar Tubes

Even though solar tubes are a great way to sustainably brighten up your living space, they do have their disadvantages. Here are a few things to consider if installing solar tube lighting sounds like a good fit for your home.

Weather

Solar tube lighting is entirely dependent on the weather. On overcast or stormy days, the lighting won’t be as pronounced. While skylights still allow for ample light in cloudy weather, solar tubes lack the surface area to compensate for the decreased solar irradiance.

Condensation

The inside of the solar tube is affected by both the outside and inside temperatures. This creates a temperature difference within the tube that can lead to condensation, especially on humid days. This causes water droplets to form on the exterior dome. Not only does this reduce the light coming into your home, but it creates a path for water to get inside the house as well.

Lack of Control

Currently, solar tubes are as-is, meaning there’s no way to limit or expand the amount of lighting from the solar tube. While on cloudy days you might not get enough light, on sunny days, the room may be too bright for your comfort level.

Limited Design Impact

Compared to skylights, solar tubes are purely functional. They don’t add as much aesthetic value to a room. For the most part, they look like normal lights. While this can be an upside for some, other consumers may be interested in making a more drastic change in the design of their homes.

Solar tubes can be a great addition to your home, but they do have some drawbacks. Source: Solatube International

No Views

Again, compared to skylights, solar tubes don’t offer sweeping views of the outside world. They exist solely to light up the interior. Those looking for a more open and breezy space in their home won’t be satisfied by solar tube lighting.

Possibility of Roof Leaks

If you’re installing solar tube lights in your home, you will need to make holes in the roof and ceiling. If done improperly, this can lead to roof leaks. Over time, a leaky roof can cause long-term damage to the roof and interior of your home. Just like a PV installation project, it’s essential to make sure that you find a reputable contracting company to install your solar tube lighting.

Not Suitable for All Homes

Solar tube lighting isn’t compatible with all structures. Sometimes the work involved with the installation will be too difficult, or worse, leave you with long-term structural damage and a leaky roof. It’s important to have a contractor assess the feasibility of installing solar tube lighting in your home. Generally speaking, the project isn’t worth it if there’s too large a distance between the roof and ceiling. Homes with oddly-shaped roofs also won’t likely be compatible with solar tubes.

Limited Passive Solar Heat

Where skylights are large enough to warm up your home, solar tube lights only provide light to brighten up your room. If you’re looking to passively heat up your interior spaces, solar tube lights aren’t the best tool for the job.

HVAC Efficiency

On the same note, solar tube lighting can lower the efficiency of your HVAC system. Solar tubes create a hole in the roof that directly connects the exterior with the interior of the house. This means that it bypasses the insulation. The temperature differential can cause an unwanted heat transfer that can lower the efficiency of your A/C or heating system.

Solar Tube Lighting Vs Skylights

As you’ve noticed, solar tubes are often compared to skylights, as they serve a similar function. But the two are quite different. If you’re stuck deciding between the two, evaluate your wants and needs before making a final decision.

Skylights are akin to having windows on your roof and take up a larger area of the ceiling compared to solar tubes. They allow plenty of light into your roof and give you a more expansive view of the sky and the outside world. They can also serve as passive indoor heating via the sun. Skylights offer a range of design options, with a variety of different shapes, configurations, and construction materials available. On the downside, skylights are much more expensive and are more laborious to install. They also allow for UV penetration which can damage your furniture.

Solar tubes are much smaller than skylights and are meant to mimic electric lighting. They are easier and cheaper to install, and still bring ample lighting to the interior of your home. The small profile means you get that natural lighting without the outside view, which is great if you want to maintain privacy. They also block UV light, which helps preserve delicate fabrics and furniture.

Skylights are a reasonable alternative to solar tube lighting. Source: Layton Diament

Making the Right Choice

Solar tubes might be relatively small, but it’s still a drastic change that requires professional installation. Make sure you take everything into consideration before making the investment. Decide whether solar tubes are going to add value to your home or just become a hassle. In the end, you might decide that skylights are the better option. Either way, here are a few things to consider before making the jump to install solar tubes.

  • Budget – How much are you willing to spend?
  • Maintenance – How much maintenance will your solar tubes require?
  • Local climate – Do you get enough sunlight? Will humidity be a problem?
  • Type of dwelling – Are solar tubes compatible with your home?

In the end, installing solar tubes can be a valuable and rewarding experience. Bringing the power of natural sunlight into the deepest interior areas of your home can make a small change feel like a huge upgrade.

Check out our articles on some cool DIY solar projects!

Final Thoughts

Solar tubes can brighten up the previously dark interiors of your home and help you cut back on your daytime energy use. They consist of a highly reflective tubing that allows the sunlight to shine through your roof and through the ceiling. Though it sounds like a wonderful addition to your home, they do have some downsides. Weather can be a major setback. Lack of sunlight renders your solar tubes useless. The inside of the tubes are also known to collect moisture during humid weather. Solar tubes are also not compatible with all kinds of structures. Before making a final decision, contact a professional, and see if solar tube lighting is right for you!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is solar tube lighting?

Solar tube lighting uses tubes and small skylights to bring sunlight into your home. It is a way of passively lighting your interior via highly reflective tubing that connects fixtures in your ceiling to small dome-shaped skylights on the roof.

What are some downsides to solar tube lighting?

Solar tubes are at the mercy of the weather. If there’s no sun, then solar tubes are useless. They also collect water in humid conditions. They can leak if they aren’t installed properly.

Are solar tubes compatible with every home?

Solar tubes aren’t compatible with any type of structure. Oddly-shaped roofs or homes where the roof is too far from the ceiling aren’t compatible with solar tubes.

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Author Bio

George Duval is a writer and expert in sustainability and environmental studies. After graduating with a B.A. in Sustainability from Florida International University, George began dedicating his life to researching new ways to make the world a greener place. His expertise ranges from organic gardening, to renewable energy, to eating plant-based diets. He is currently writing and editing for a number of publications, most of which focus on the environment.

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