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Natural Home Lighting: Solar Tubes

written by: Lindsay Evans•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 2/28/2011

Solar tubes are innovative, effective skylights. They work to refract and reflect the sun's light into your home, decreasing your need for artificial lighting. Also known as solar light tubes, solar tubes can help reduce your energy bill while flooding your home with bright, healthy sunlight.

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    How Solar Tubes Work

    Solar tubes are a hot new product in solar lighting for homes, offices, and other buildings. Applying modern technology to an age-old idea, solar tubes help solve the problem of lighting interior spaces utilizing natural sunlight.

    Solar tubes capture sunlight on the roof of your home through a small dome and reflect the light down a tube which runs through the attic. The light comes through a diffuser on the ceiling, lighting the room with all-natural sunlight. On the ceiling, the solar tube resembles a recessed light fixture.

    Solar tubes are particularly useful to light hallways, closets and other small spaces. Several solar tubes may be installed to light a larger space, drastically diminishing your need for artificial lighting.

    Solar tubes come in different designs and sizes to work in varied living and work spaces. Available add-on kits can accommodate a standard or compact florescent light bulb for use during the night. Dimmer switches can be used to "turn down" or block the light when needed.

    By utilizing the sun's light to light your home during the day you can save energy and money by leaving your electric lights off. Solar tubes can help to save a substantial amount of money in the long run.

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    A Typical Solar Tube

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    Solar Tubes vs. Skylights

    Solar tubes are not prone to many of the common hassles associated with skylights. Skylights are tricky and expensive to install, particularly on an existing building. Traditional skylights may also contribute to unwanted heat loss or gain in your home, and have been known to leak and cause condensation problems.

    Solar tubes are inexpensive and easy to install both on new construction and existing buildings. Installation takes about 2 hours by a trained technician. Alternatively, installing solar tubes is a relatively easy DIY project for the homeowner.

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    Where Can I Find Solar Tubes?

    Solar tubes are manufactured by several companies. Solatube International is an industry leader in durability, style choice, and technology. According to the Solatube website, "The Solatube Daylighting System is the only product line with Spectralight® Infinity, a revolutionary reflective tubing material that can transfer up to 500 percent more daylight than any other material currently used in the industry. With Solatube Daylighting Systems, all you see is the brightest, cleanest and whitest natural light possible." Other solar tube brands include VELUX Sun Tunnel, and Sun-Tek.

    When shopping for a solar tube, be sure the model you choose in Energy Star certified. Solar tube kits can cost between $175 - $350 each, which does not include installation or accessories.