In an earlier post, I wrote about some of the things we want to change about our new house. One of them is poor lighting due to the many shade trees we have growing around our house. Our back hallway, back bathroom and kitchen had particularly poor day time lighting, which necessitated flipping the light switches on during the day. This adds to electricity costs and was just annoying. Here are pictures of two of the areas in question. As you can see, with the flash of my camera turned off, it is very dark. Not ideal at all.
We originally considered putting a sky light in the back hall, but sky lights are costly, have the potential to leak, let in UV rays and we were not sure we even had the necessary roof access to do it. Then, I got an email from Costco advertising a particular brand of tubular skylight that they sell. A tubular skylight is basically a flexible or rigid tube that runs from the ceiling of the area in question through the attic to the roof. Due to the highly reflective walls of the tube, sunlight makes its way in like magic and presto- natural lighting at a fraction of the cost of a skylight.
My husband and I both did a little research and found that there are three main types of solar tubes available- ODL (carried by Home Depot), Sun Tunnels (Velux) and Solatube. All three can be installed by commercial installers or as a DIY project utilizing their video installation guides. We did not hear good things about the ODLs. Some complaints were less light reflectivity (listed as 95%) that was especially disappointing in the winter, giving off light with a bluish tint, frost/condensation on the diffuser and composite rather than metal flashings. We crossed them off our list and considered the other two- Velux vs. Solatube. We had two local companies come to give us estimates.
The Velux guy said stay away from Solatubes. They are more expensive and they do not filter out enough UV light. The Solatube guy said stay away from Velux. They are less reflective and have flexible tubing, which is less effective and may even be a fire hazard. The pricing turned out to be fairly similar in our case (many say the Solatube is significantly more expensive, it just was not our experience). I think one company’s bid was a little higher for the kitchen tube and the other was a little higher for the tubes for the hallway/bath.
So we did a little more research. From what I read, Solatube is slightly more reflective, 99.7% vs 98% for Velux. One site even claimed that the Solatube performs 6x better than the Velux Sun Tunnel on an overcast day. I am not sure if that was a scientific study or just here say. Even the Velux rep did not recommend their flexible tubing. He said he only recommended rigid tubes, which was A-ok with us. Some folks said that the Solatube only came with one kind of flashing and that if you had a pitched roof, you may want to go with Velux so you don’t have an unsightly dome on your roof. We found that there were several options for the flashing with our Solatube dealer (pitch, no pitch, universal tile for either pitch or curb mount) and I think all the flashings are a little bit unsightly, so that didn’t weigh in much with us. In the end, we were swayed by the fact that Solatube has been around forever. They seem to be the original innovators of this technology. They also offered more design options than Velux. You can choose from several designs for the diffuser or fixture. You can also opt to go with a softening lens or a warm lens if you are worried about the light being too blue or cold. If you do not need 100% of the light, 100% of the time, you can add on a daylight dimmer. I can see this being a plus in a bedroom if there is a need for daytime napping. Velux does have a light controlling chandelier, which is pretty cool.
Here are some pictures during the install. We elected not to DIY mainly because the attic is outrageously hot during the summer and it did not seem like fun at all. Also, I was more than a little nervous about us cutting a hole in our roof. Maybe next time.
I will let you be the judge of our results. I think it is rather remarkable.
For more information:
SolarTex (our Solatube dealer)