Let the Sun Shine: Tubular Skylights

Tubular skylights invite natural light into your home.

| July/August 2005

Natural light provides a cornucopia of benefits in our homes. It lifts our spirits, can make spaces appear larger, and connects us with the outside world. If you’re thinking about building or remodeling a home, one way to achieve daylighting—another term for natural lighting—is to install skylights, which come in two basic varieties: the conventional square or rectangular design and tubular. Both types bathe interiors in revitalizing natural light, reduce the need for electrical lighting during daylight hours, cut electrical bills, and offer a host of other benefits. Tubular skylights, however, were developed in response to problems posed by conventional ones.

Conventional skylights typically consist of two panes of window glass mounted in a wooden frame, while tubular skylights capture daylight through a small, durable plastic lens mounted on the roof. Light is directed down a reflective tubular shaft—ranging in diameter from about eight to twenty-four inches—to a diffuser mounted on the ceiling in the interior space. The shaft’s polished aluminum interior ensures maximum light transmission and provides a high level of illumination, even on cloudy days. The diffuser, which looks a lot like a ceiling light fixture, enables light entering the room to disperse naturally over a wide area. In larger rooms, several tubular skylights can be used to provide uniform lighting.

Enlightened Design

Tubular skylights virtually eliminate unwanted heat gain in summer months—a common problem with conventional skylights whose large glass surfaces allow enormous amounts of sunlight into our homes. In winter, tubes provide natural light during daylight hours while permitting little heat loss during evening hours or on cold, cloudy days—another common problem of the conventional design.

Ease of installation is another advantage. A conventional skylight requires a day or so to install in an existing home and requires creating a large opening in the roof and ceiling. Often, this involves cutting through framing members and modifying existing framing to maintain structural integrity. In addition, a light shaft must be constructed to transmit light from the skylight into the house. And finally, you have to repair the damaged ceiling and roof, apply drywall to the light shaft, and repaint.

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