If you are planning a loft conversion or are converting a garage at the side of your house to an office or work room you may be wondering how you are going to get natural daylight into the room. Traditionally a loft conversion would have used either dormer windows or skylights but there is now a modern alternative to having windows in the roof (the same applies to a garage conversion).

Recently the author visited a school that had just been built and noticed that the corridors were lit using sunlight piped down a tube. These “solar tubes” are basically a small lens that sits on the roof that directs sunlight down a mirrored tube and into the room below. It sounds so simple doesn’t it?

Having done some research by contacting manufacturers is seems that solar tubes can offer adaptable location options, lower cost of purchase and installation, and better lighting performance than the traditional skylight. The advantages are summarised below :-

Location – Solar Tubes can be installed where a traditional skylight would not fit such as rooms and other areas that are too small to allow a skylight (a landing for example), or areas such as bathrooms where a skylight may be considered inappropriate. Due to their compact design and the fact that the tubes can be fitted with angle adaptors to “bend” the tube they can often be fitted in very tight spaces.

Insulation – Anyone with a skylight will know that on a hot sunny summers’ day it can become very warm in a room with a skylight and on a cold winters’ day it can be quite cold in the same room due to the heat loss though the glass. Solar tubes have a much smaller surface area and this means that there is almost no heat loss or gain because of the solar tube, this in turn means that your heating and cooling costs are reduced.

Cost saving – Because a solar tube redirects sunlight into the space below there is a small cost saving in electricity where a light would normally be on to illuminate an area during the day. If a single 100w bulb is replaced by a solar tube this could reduce the annual bill by £29 (assuming electricity is 14p per unit and the bulb is on for 8 hours per day 5 days per week – the bulb uses 14/10 = 1.4p per hour x 8 hours per day = 11.2p per day x 5 days per week = 56p per week x 52 weeks = £29.12)

Leak proof – Skylights have had a reputation for leaking, often this is as a result of the skylight being installed incorrectly, but the traditional square design also plays a factor with debris being trapped against it that in turn leads to water being trapped and finding it’s way through joins in slates or tiles. A solar tube is typically a round design, and is much smaller than a typical skylight, this means that water and debris such as leaves can flow past it and do not build up.

If you are building an extension onto your house, converting a loft, or converting a garage it would be worth asking your architect or builder about solar tubes and see what the difference is between sky lights and solar tubes. You may be suprised how much you could save in the installation and running costs, as well as the other benefits.