Skylights vs solar tubes: what’s the difference and which is right for you?
Want to add natural light to a drab room? Skylights and solar tubes are two options to consider. The orientation of your roof, your design tastes, your budget, and your energy efficiency goals all come into play when you are weighing these choices.
Our guide explores the main differences between skylights and solar tubes – how each works and which might be best suited for your home.
Skylights are windows installed on your roof, usually made of plastic (acrylic and polycarbonate) or glass. They offer a view of the sky and allow sunlight to reflect into your room.
Plastic is the more affordable option, but it has its share of limitations. It may fade over time. And it doesn’t block UV rays well unless you’ve installed a glaze or blinds. In turn, your furniture may turn pale due to overexposure. Conversely, glass does not fade and offers greater durability thanks to its safety glazing, but it is more expensive.
Skylights are also versatile. They come in different shapes and some skylights open so you can ventilate the room.
The orientation of the skylight is a critical factor. The slope affects when and how much sunlight you receive. If you need more light in your home office for morning work, then having one installed facing east might provide enough light to accommodate you.
Solar tubes have a pipe design, varying in diameter from 10 to 22 inches. The top contains a weatherproof dome that absorbs sunlight and prevents UV rays from entering your home. Reflective surfaces move light through the tube. Once at the bottom, a diffuser, installed on the ceiling of a room, emits a bright light.
Although smaller, solar tubes contain a lot of power. They can scatter as much light as three 100W bulbs.
On the cost side, solar tubes are easy and inexpensive to install. You can add them to any room in your home, making them a great addition if you want to reduce your energy use without making drastic changes to your home’s architecture. In addition, there is minimal heat loss or gain with solar tubes due to their smaller size.
Skylights vs solar tubes
The cost of skylights and solar tubes varies depending on the size of the project. Skylights start in the hundreds, while ventilated models are more expensive, starting at around $ 500. Solar tubes range from around $ 200 to $ 600 on average.
Installing both options can cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the number of installations and the company doing the work – and, in the case of skylights, which style you choose.
Winner: Solar tubes, in most cases
Skylights give homeowners more options in style and function. You can buy models that open, provide cool air to your home, or exhaust hot air outside. You can also explore different shapes, sizes, and building materials to match your design preferences.
Alternatively, solar tubes have a basic design. The configuration of the smaller pipes allows you to get natural light without having to make significant changes to the design of the rooms. However, it also means that you don’t have much room for customization if you go for solar tubes.
Allowing natural light into your room shouldn’t come at the expense of the objects inside. Long-term exposure to UV rays weakens the color of fabrics. Solar tubes prevent this by blocking these rays on the surface. This prevents them from damaging furniture, artwork and more.
With skylights, you have a higher risk of UV rays intruding because the surface area is much larger. There are ways to reduce these risks with glazing, solar shading and blinds. Solar tubes provide natural light with less UV exposure, making them a better option overall.
Winner: Solar tubes
Skylights require more complex installation. You must take into account the orientation of the roof. The lower the slope of the roof, the more sensitive it is to solar heat gains and losses. The US Department of Energy recommends installing the skylight 5 to 15 degrees above your latitude.
Unless you are an expert handyman, you will likely need a professional to get the job done. And because of the effort involved, it can dramatically increase your overall costs.
Conversely, the installation of solar tubes is more practical and takes less time. And if you hire a professional to do the job, you could pay less than you would with skylights. Overall, when comparing the costs, complexity, and time to complete projects, solar tubes line skylights.
Winner: Solar tubes
Skylights accumulate dirt and other debris. Therefore, you need to clean them regularly. And that usually involves climbing on your roof.
Solar tubes are generally easier to maintain. The curved design reduces the amount of debris collected on the dome, and many are vacuum sealed to prevent entry of dust and other objects.
Winner: Solar tubes
Efficiency and climatic considerations
Skylights have a larger area than solar tubes and are therefore subject to more solar heat gain. Solar heat gain means the area around your skylight gets hotter, forcing your air conditioner to work harder and your energy bills to go up. You can mitigate this by placing your skylight in a shaded area, having the manufacturer apply special glazing, or installing exterior shades.
While solar heat gain from a skylight is difficult in the summer, it can be beneficial during the winter months. Because your skylight attracts more light, it absorbs more energy. And when your room is naturally heated by the sun, your furnace doesn’t have to work as hard.
There is less heat loss with solar tubes due to the smaller surface. This is a more energy efficient option, especially for those who live in warmer climates and are more concerned about solar heat gain.
Winner: Depends on your climate
Which one is right for you?
Skylights and solar tubes each fill a room with natural light. Your choice depends on your design tastes, budget, climate, roof orientation, and other factors. For some, the allure of a skylight is too good to ignore. The unobstructed views of the sky, the energy efficiency gained in winter, and the possible increase in attractiveness when reselling your home make it a smart choice. However, solar tubes could attract others. They come with a simple design and generally lower price without much solar heat gain.
Check out the links below to learn more about solar power.