solatube – solar tube skylight installation how-to

at a recent art festival, we came across a booth showcasing solar tube lighting, something i’d been interested in for a while. we signed up for a professional installation of solatube solar lighting by solartex, a local austin dealer. i’d researched solar tube lighting in the past, but found the notion of cutting holes in my roof a bit too daunting for a self-install.

the very friendly solartex installer, aaron, mentioned he could teach me how to install them myself if i was interested. little did he realize i’d then be following him around with my cameras, documenting his every step…he was a great sport and grinned throughout my pestering.

the result is a how-to photo essay of professional solar tube installations:

first, one must choose the appropriate size solar tube for the room. solatubes come in 10 and 14 inch sizes. we decided on a 14 inch solatube for our kitchen / breakfast room area. it gets some natural lighting from north and south windows, but we end up using overhead lights in the morning and early evenings.

here’s the kitchen with natural lighting from north and south facing windows

here's the kitchen with natural lighting from north and south facing windows

ensure you have ample room between joists in the ceiling, then make a center point hole with a drill

ensure you have ample room between joists in the ceiling, then make a center point hole with a drill

draw and cut out a 14 inch circle

draw and cut out a 14 inch circle

eyeballing the center of the circle, use a measuring tape to find a matching center point on the roof

eyeballing the center of the circle, use a measuring tape to find a matching center point on the roof

drill a hole from the attic, then find the hole on the roof. use the dome skirting to trace another circle.

drill a hole from the attic, then find the hole on the roof.  use the dome skirting to trace another circle.

cut circle piece from the roof

cut circle piece from the roof

installer hint — when you get close to completing the cut, grab the piece so it doesn’t fall through your ceiling below!

installer hint -- when you get close to completing the cut, grab the piece so it doesn't fall through your ceiling below!

remove roofing nails around sides & top of hole

remove roofing nails around sides & top of hole

cut shingles to create water channel

cut shingles to create water channel

caulk the underside of the dome housing to ensure a watertight seal. he used two tubes on this one.

caulk the underside of the dome housing to ensure a watertight seal.  he used two tubes on this one.

lift loose shingles and place dome housing under

lift loose shingles and place dome housing under

screw down to roof

screw down to roof

measure distance to ceiling below

measure distance to ceiling below

build reflective tube to length using solatube’s “spectralight infinity” sheets

build reflective tube to length using solatube's spectralight infinity sheets

here’s the solar tube with the protective plastic still in place

here's the solar tube with the protective plastic still in place

once plastic is removed, the tube makes a great fun-house lens

once plastic is removed, the tube makes a great fun-house lens

attach the top section of the tubing

attach the top section of the tubing

insert the tube down the dome skirting & screw into place

insert the tube down the dome skirting & screw into place

just look at that Raybender® 3000 Technology!!!

just look at that Raybender® 3000 Technology!!!

dome’s fresnel lens

dome's fresnel lens

install metal reflector in northwest corner of lens to grab more rays

install metal reflector in northwest corner of lens to grab more rays

attach dome lens to roof mount. that’s it for the roof!

attach dome lens to roof mount.  that's it for the roof!

there is an amazing amount of natural sunlight pouring down the tube

there is an amazing amount of natural sunlight pouring down the tube

slide ceiling mount up and tighten screws into place. reflective-tape the seam with the tubing in the attic.

slide ceiling mount up and tighten screws into place. reflective-tape the seam with the tubing in the attic.

add diffuser plate. the solartex installer gave us two options for it.
one was a flat diffusion. we chose the multi-lens option which looked waaay cooler…

add diffuser plate.  the solartex installer gave us two options for it.

using the exact same camera settings as the first kitchen photo, this photo illustrates a quite significant increase in light!

using the exact same camera settings as the first kitchen photo, this photo illustrates a quite significant increase in light!

with auto settings, here’s the kitchen after installation of Solatube light

with auto settings, here's the kitchen after installation of Solatube light

we’ve been enjoying our solatube natural lighting for weeks now. it’s amazing how much light the tube directs into the room…we still catch ourselves turning around to “hit the switch” on our way out of the room… i would highly recommend the solatube natural lighting skylights to anyone looking to add a bit of “green” lighting to their home.

Posted by November 13, 2007 Category: any photos, sampled

17 comments on solatube – solar tube skylight installation how-to:

  1. rick.proctor@rogers.com January 30, 2008 1:51 pm

    Hi there. Great page. You mention Austin, safe to assume the one in Texas, yes? I would love to install one of these in my house to brighten a dark hallway. How do they perform in Canadian climates? If there is anyone you could recommend in the Toronto area selling this product, I would appreciate the info.

    Thank you in davance.
    Rick Proctor

  2. dean February 2, 2008 8:24 pm

    Howdy Rick! Yes – Austin, Texas that is. A dark hallway is a perfect use for these solar tube skylights. You’ll never have to switch a light on again during the day. I have to assume that they will perform very well in Canadian climates, as ours puts out a good amount of light even on very overcast days. The technology that the Solatube brand utilizes (proprietary dome, reflective tube, and dome reflector) seems to suck all the available natural light down the tube and into the house. That’s what they sold me on, and I have no reason to believe their product isn’t the best at it. I wouldn’t want more light, actually, than we get with these tubes as they can be amazingly bright at times.

    As for Solatube dealers in your area, I did a search on their website and found these Toronto dealers. If these aren’t near you, just put in your zip code in the search box and it will give you more local Solatube dealers. Good luck!

  3. rahul February 23, 2008 11:27 pm

    1. What was the total cost break up for your 14 inch light? It would be great if you can split it between product cost and installation cost.

    2. Also – I am planning to use two of these in my living room. What are your thoughts on this.

    3. Another website said that these may make soft ‘clicking’ sounds sometimes due to contraction and expansion in tne heat. Is it true?

    Great tutorial btw – way better than the one on lowes website

  4. dean March 9, 2008 7:42 pm

    Hey Rahul! Sorry I’ve been off the website for a while. The 14″ ran somewhere in the $5-600 if I remember. Installation costs are around $150, plus there may be costs added for additional length of the reflective tubing if your run from the ceiling to the roof is longer than the length included in a normal install (something like 10 feet). The length of that run would be something worth measuring yourself to allow an installer to give you an accurate quote, or to know how many panels to purchase if you’re installing them yourself.

    We purchased our Solatubes at a local arts & crafts festival that SolarTex Austin had a booth at. They were offering significant discounts on installation for those that signed up in the booth. You may check your local Solatube dealer’s website to see when they might be showcasing at an “event” or having an open-house, as they will likely be providing discounts.

    These would be great in a living room, and two 14″ will provide a LOT of light. Be prepared for having a fully lit room during the day. They do offer an electronic dimmer that I think works like a shutter in the tube. You may consider this option as I can imagine there might be times in a living room where you might need to control the light level.

    I’ve never heard any clicking noise from these. Not sure what others have experienced but we’ve had these with weather in the 20s – 100 and haven’t noticed any expansion or creaking noises.

    Thanks! I’m glad that this information & pics help.

  5. Matt October 7, 2008 12:00 am

    Is there a comparison between a light bulb and a solatube? If a solatube offers the sam lighting as say a 40w bulb the I would say it is doing pretty good and would be a good for what I need.

  6. Matt October 7, 2008 12:02 am

    Oh yes and also how much heat is generated from a solatube as I live in the desert.

  7. dean October 7, 2008 12:31 am

    Matt, it’s a tough comparison to a light bulb as it varies with the day’s sunlight conditions but I would estimate on a bright day the 14″ appears something like a few hundred watts. It shines an area a good 30 feet in diameter.

    I personally really enjoy the variation in intensities as the days & seasons change. You forget it’s there, and there’s something very grounding about living with a light source dependent on the day’s weather.

    As for heat, I really don’t notice any heat at all coming from it. It would be a great investment for a desert home for sure!

  8. Russ Meier January 5, 2009 3:14 pm

    I have purchased a Solar Tube for my wife for our house. My house is positioned North and South. so my roof flat sides are on the East and West. My son insists the the Tube be on the West side and I don’t think that it makes a difference. The dining/kitchen where we want to place the first one is on the East side and we could place the dome on the east side. We could do it on the West side but would need a longer tube.

  9. Jorge Bermudez January 8, 2009 9:00 am

    Hi need a phone number for you. I own first choice framing. I may have some customers for you.

    Thank you
    George 512 626-9644

  10. dean January 8, 2009 11:13 am

    Howdy Russ! If the East side of your roof has sunlight on it, the Solatube will suck it down. My roof peak runs East & West, and the tubes are both positioned further down on the North slope. The domes stand about 12″-20″ off the shingles and get direct sunlight until late afternoon. Even in the early evening at dusk they still provide sunlight to see in the room – enough to keep from turning on a light if you are just moving through. Some evenings, the moonlight provides a soft light with a nice blue color cast 🙂

    The Solartex installer that put our solar tubes in mounted them in the roof directly above the ceiling cutouts. I know you can run the tubes at angles, but it probably adds to the difficulty of installing with more custom joints needed. If you are doing this yourself, I would highly recommend putting the dome directly above where you cut out the ceiling mount. The Solatube dome has a mirror reflector in it that you install facing Southeast to grab the most light during the morning hours. You may play with the positioning of the reflector if you don’t get enough light in the evenings. Best of luck to you!

  11. dean January 8, 2009 11:17 am

    George, I’m not an installer or reseller, just a very satisfied Solatube customer. Please give Aaron a call over at Solartex Austin at 512-371-0399. Their website is http://www.solartexonline.com. Tell them that annoying guy with the cameras & questions sent you!

  12. cannuck February 23, 2009 12:27 am

    i would be interested in information on the installation of a light tube with a cedar shake roof. thank you

  13. Eco Building Products March 25, 2009 2:38 pm

    Wow, great pictures and nice installation.

    For those interested in pricing:

    Solatube Pricing: 10in range from $235-280. Some kits include additional tubes, some don’t. The flashing comes in pitched or no-pitch. Additional tubes typically cost about $35-45 for 16″, more for the 24″. You typically have an inch overlap (so you get about 14″ out of an additional tube). The kits cover about 13″ without any additional tubing.

    14″ kits are about $330 – 400. Similar price structure.

    For most up to date pricing use Google Shopping search.

    Thanks again

  14. jsd April 8, 2009 11:13 am

    Awesome help! Thank you!

  15. Wayne April 13, 2009 2:14 pm

    Dean,

    Thanks for the article and great pics!. I’m considering a solatube for my kitchen as well and would appreciate your input. My kitchen area is 14 X 12 with a dining area open off to the side. Including the dining area it’s 14 X 20. My primary interest is in getting additional light into the kitchen area and whatever extra spills over to the dining area is gravy. I didn’t notice any references to the dimensions of your kitchen area, but based on your experience so far would you think that the 10″ kit would suffice for a 14 X 12 area or would the 14″ be the way to go? I guess I’m worried about not getting enough light vs too much. I suppose the 14″ witht the light dampener woudl work. Just looking for your thoughts on size vs amount of light coming through.

    Thank a lot,
    Wayne

  16. How to Install a Solatube Skylight on a Steep Roof | HandymanHowto.com

  17. How to Install a Solatube Skylight on a Steep Roof - Part 2 | HandymanHowto.com