I'm tired of living in a dark cave...
March 25, 2011 8:58 PM   Subscribe

Is a Solatube brand tube skylight worth the extra cost?

I just got my bonus and I've been dying to get some natural light into my kitchen--I'm ready to do this, people. My kitchen gets a lot of light in the mornings from some east-facing windows, but that's about it. I'm tired of having to turn on the light at 2 in the afternoon!

I keep reading differing opinions on whether Solatube is worth the extra dough, or if something like this would suffice.

Has anyone had any experience with differing brands?

The dome would be on the northside of the house and I'm in Seattle if it matters.

Would love to get your opinions everyone, thanks!
posted by Zoyashka to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I put a tubular skylight in my kitchen and also in the hallway in the middle of my house. Can't remember if they were Solatubes proper - I don't think they were - but either way they were awesome. In the kitchen we got the one with the dimmer that was attached to a switch next to the light switch. The important thing is shopping around and installing the thing correctly, but I think it's worth it and it's really up to you what you want to spend. I don't think there's a ton of difference between Solatube or another brand, just do your due diligence.
posted by buzzkillington at 9:20 PM on March 25, 2011

I have a plain old skylight in my kitchen. It's on the west side of my roof. It was probably installed 20+ years ago or so, I have no idea. It's very bright, I don't even think to turn on the kitchen lights during the day, even on cloudy days. It looks about 8" around or so. It gets a little dark when it's winter and covered in snow (sigh, Minneapolis), but there's no sun then anyway.

Mine is a straight up pipe that sticks about 18 inches up above to roof. The ones you linked apparently do angles? I guess I have no opinion on that, but to say any stainless steel tube would probably do the same thing.
posted by sanka at 10:19 PM on March 25, 2011

The short answer is no.

The long answer is that Solatube seems to be a huge marketing gimmick, and that you'd be better served by a decent southern facing skylight.

And you're in Seattle, welcome to the Northern Hemisphere. Like sanka above, I also live in the frozen tundra that is Minneapolis, and am forced to ask why do you want to deprive yourself of the best six months of the year?

Seriouspost: Can you post some pictures of the aforementioned kitchen? Maybe us non-Canadian northerners could point out a bit or two that could be changed before you go to the extreme of drilling a hole in your roof?
posted by Sphinx at 1:07 AM on March 26, 2011

I was just looking at these yesterday! In my research, I don't think the Solatube is worth it. The only benefit that I can see is that installation is covered in the cost for about 500 more (at least at our local dealer).

We've decided to get one in our back hallway where the roof faces south, but there are no windows (or possibility of because of rooms on either side). We have a skylight in our kitchen, but I'm definitely going with the tubular skylight on this one because the light is so much brighter. We're going to do most of the installation ourselves; we don't need a dimmer in this location.

If we're happy with this one, I'm going to do this in the master bathroom too. Nothing beats natural light for makeup application! We might get the dimmer in there & bring in an electrician to make the electrical connections for us.

If you google the DIY installation videos, there are a lot. I don't think any of them that I watched were for Solatube.
posted by Kronur at 5:48 AM on March 26, 2011

I've done a lot of research on tube skylights and I think that Solatube is mostly marketing. They popularized the concept.

What is far more important is the tube materials and construction. The tube has to be rigid and polished to a reflective surface on its interior, and any brand that has this (and decent flashing for the outside, to keep leaks out) is fine. What you don't want is a corrugated flexible tube that may be easier to install but will cut down drastically on light transmission.

Also, the bigger the diameter the better. Small increases in diameter bring large increases in transmitted light.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:23 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Of course, you could always go the Himawari route instead.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:26 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm an architect (and formerly had a general contractors license as well), live in Seattle, and have installed one of these on the north side of a house. In a remodel, it was used to bring light into an existing second floor bathroom that did not have an exterior wall. I would go with the Sonotube.

All versions of this idea work in the same way and about equally as well. You need not worry about which works best, you need to answer the question of which one is least likely to not work. In Seattle, a hole in your roof that leaks is a disaster. Our drizzle causes slow leaks that often saturate and destroy (with mold in addition to flat out water damage) everything in the interior vicinity of the leak. It rarely leaks powerfully enough to notice it so you can get it fixed. This is particularly the case on the north sides of roofs that stay wet longer, where the wet snow we get is likely to melt last, and where moss build up on our roofs not allowing water a speedy exit down the slope. The Sonotube brand, when I compared it to other less expensive brands, has more substantial flashings and an overall sturdier construction at critical parts of the assembly. This was the basis of my choice.

A failed skylight of any kind is a bad problem to have. A hole in your roof is a hole in your roof no matter what fills the hole. The thing that matters is the installation and the quality of the flashing job. These are made to not require additional flashings other than what is included with the kit. This makes the quality of those flashings the key factor in its worth. The cost of the cheaper kit plus the cost of one leak repair will more than double the cost of the Sonotube. Of course, the cheaper brand may not leak at all. But personally, I think a hole in the roof is the wrong place to roll the dice.

They all work the same and you will be happy with the additional light you get from it, particularly from November through February. I used the optional switched bulb that is available with the Sonotube and we put that on a dimmer switch. If you are going to put a round (and to my mind an awkward round plastic fixture in the ceiling of a main room in your home), then it is nice to be able to have it function as an actual light fixture in the evening and a dim night-light at night. Pay particular attention to the installation in the roof. Make sure it is done correctly, as this is what will make or break your decision to install one. Good luck.
posted by nickjadlowe at 8:58 AM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

I installed two of these light tubes. I went with Solatube because they seemed to be the only brand with a good enough energy rating to qualify for the 30% tax credit, although I believe if you are interested in that it has been reduced for 2011. I checked out the Velux brand that my Home Depot was carrying and it didn't seem to be great quality. That said, the Solatube didn't leave me overly impressed with its quality either, but the roof flashing seemed much sturdier and I was concerned about leaks. They installed easily (not having to cut any roof joists on my flat roof was a big reason for going this route versus a skylight) and I've had no leaks or other issues, even after a snowy winter. I'm very happy with the light they provide.
posted by orme at 4:26 AM on March 27, 2011

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