Green Renovation: Tubular Skylights, Part 1

Jim Mallery

This is Part 1 of a two-part series, on Green Renovation: Tubular Skylights

OK, so tubular skylights look a little goofy--maybe a little like bald heads or space-age proturbances sticking out of your roof. But they are highly effective and definitely have a place in most homes--and, they are simple to install.

Why Go Tubular?

What home doesn't have a few small spaces that could use light? Tubular skylights are ideal for illuminating small, windowless spaces--walk-in closets, bathrooms and hallways. They bring in full-spectrum light from outside through a relatively small--10- to 14-inch--circular ceiling window that can virtually eliminate the need for flipping on lights in those rooms during the day.

The "Magic" of Tubular Skylights

A small domed window in the roof collects light. It is transferred through a mirrored tube that on the outside looks a lot like furnace ductwork. The light reflects down the mirrored tube; then floods the room through a round 10-inch to 14-inch "light diffuser" window in the ceiling. And like ductwork, the light tube can be curved to avoid attic obstructions.

Energy Saving Skylights

Tubular skylights are more energy-efficient than standard skylights. Because the light collector on the roof is smaller, and there is airspace between the roof and the light in the ceiling, they have less solar gain (heating from the sun) than traditional skylights. In summer that usually means less need for air-conditioning. In winter, they are insulated from heat loss for the same reasons.

Watts with Tubular?

An oft-quoted 1995 research project by the Alberta Research Council in Calgary said the equivalent total light put out by a light tube was 420 watts in the summer and about half that in the winter.

Damage Control: UV Diffused

Unlike light from a traditional skylight, light from a tubular skylight is diffused and indirect, so ultraviolet-radiation damage to clothing, carpets and furniture is greatly reduced.

Less Is More with Tubular Skylights

Despite the little bald dome on your roof, a tubular skylight is otherwise unobtrusive. Most are about a foot in diameter, as opposed to standard skylights that can take up 16 square feet! While casting enough light to illuminate a small room, a tubular skylight looks like little more than a recessed fixture in your ceiling.

Special Effects

Some tubular skylights can include an incandescent light for evening use, so the skylight can completely replace a standard light in a room. And because they are so wonderful in bathrooms, there are models that work with exhaust fans. Some even come with baffles to reduce light in extremely sunny conditions.

By now you should be convinced tubular skylights are the way to go--they're small, unobtrusive, energy-efficient, and relatively easy to install--what's not to like? You're ready for Part 2--installation.

About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.

Search Improvement Project