What are the drawbacks to solar tube lighting?

solar tube installation

Installing solar tube lighting, also called sun tunnels, tubular skylights, and light tubes is indeed a cost-effective way to light up your abode.

Well, that is, if solar light tubes are suitable for your house. Not many homeowners know that these lighting tubes require a particular type of roof tilted at a particular angle for them to be truly effective.

And that’s not even a fraction of the problems you might face while opting for solar tube lights. So, to make things easier, here’s an informative guide answering the question, “What are the drawbacks to solar tube lighting?” and everything in between.

A Brief Guide To Solar Tube Lighting Systems

Basically speaking, solar tube lights use natural light to brighten our indoor space. Compared to regular tube lights, a 10-inch sun tunnel offers as much energy as three 100W light bulbs.

Moreover, you can install solar tubes between roof rafters since they are usually quite small and prevent losing energy to heat gain and heat loss to some extent. Hence, solar tube lighting is an ideal option for illuminating dark interior spaces that do not receive direct sunlight.

How Does Solar Tube Lighting Work?

Available in sizes ranging between 1-2 feet in diameter, a solar tube is optically engineered to transmit the maximum amount of natural light into the desired area. The system also boasts a weather-resistant acrylic dome that reflects natural lighting and transports it into your house.

For your convenience, the piping length of a solar tube lighting system can be extended as much as you want. It is further coated with a highly-reflective “continuous mirror” that maximizes the amount of solar light traveling through the tube.

Note that most brands offer hassle-free, flexible tubing, which is much easier to install as compared to a rigid solar tube light. Some may even offer solar tube lighting systems with small skylights to be fixed onto your roof instead of large domes.

While opting for solar tube lighting, you can even find some units that offer protection from UV rays. They are either fitted at the light source on the rooftop or the end of the metallic tube to prevent any UV light from entering your space.

Difference Between Solar Powered Systems And Skylights

Energy Efficiency

Solar tubes are much more energy-efficient than skylights as the former distributes a soft but bright glow throughout the house. On the other hand, skylights bring natural light while causing more heat accumulation during summers. And to make things worse, skylights do not show the same kind of insulation during winters.

So, if you reside in a place that experiences extreme temperatures, skylights are a no-go!


If you’re looking for an aesthetically-pleasing lighting option, it’s best to go for skylights as they are available in various shapes and sizes. On the contrary, solar tube lighting offers a contemporary but basic look.

Water Condensation

Water condensation is a major issue in both of these lighting options. In the case of solar tubes, you’ll have to cover them with an effective insulator, and for skylights, you might have to invest in a dehumidifier.

Protection From UV Rays

Some solar tubes offer UV-ray protection, thereby having the edge over traditional skylights. Although the latter also filters some amount of UV rays, it does not effectively protect you from the harmful effects.

What Are The Drawbacks To Solar Tube Lighting?

Despite being an energy-efficient source of lighting, a solar tube lighting system has its fair share of drawbacks, which we’ll be discussing below:

Not Suitable For Every House

One of the major drawbacks of solar tube lighting is that it may not be suitable for your house. This is because most of these lighting systems are designed to be installed on conventional roofs with a slope of 15-60°. Hence, anything too steep or too flat will create problems, which you must consider before investing in this renewable light source.

Additionally, a solar tube can be properly installed on roofs with asphalt or wood shingles only. So, if you’ve got a two-story house, then, again, solar tube lighting may not be as efficient on the ground floor.

Blocks Outside View And Ventilation

Solar tube systems can only reflect natural light and do not allow direct sunlight to enter your space like traditional skylights or windows do. So, no more gazing at the night sky or basking in the sun on cold winter days!

Another significant drawback is the inability to install a ventilation system once you get solar tubes. Consequently, you won’t be able to release heat or enjoy some gentle breeze in your room.

May Cause Water Condensation

Aluminum is an effective conductor of heat, making it the preferred material for constructing solar tube lighting systems. However, in winter or on humid days, aluminum allows water to condensate within the tubes and the dome area.

Also known as thermosiphoning, this condensation process can significantly reduce the life span of the solar tube.

Lacks Durability

Adding to the previous point, durability can become a major issue when opting for solar light tubes. More so because a part of the tube remains outdoors, making it prone to damage from external factors. Also, if any part gets damaged, you’ll most probably have to get the entire solar lighting system replaced.

Hence, those living in areas experiencing erratic weather conditions may not benefit a lot from installing solar tube lighting.

Fewer Designs With Limited Customization

Solar tubes are available in basic designs, so it is not suitable for someone looking for a stylish option for lighting their home. Also, most of these lights are designed to be attached to the ceiling, allowing very limited styling and placement options.

Using shades and diffusers is also impossible with solar light tubes. And as mentioned earlier, installing a ventilation system is completely out of the question.

Only One Energy Source

Unlike artificial lighting systems, solar lighting tubes depend on only one source of energy, i.e., natural solar light. So, your location must receive strong, consistent sunlight for solar tube domes to produce enough light.

This means that the lighting system will be useless at night and on rainy/cloudy days. As such, the solar tube will either produce a dim glow or no light at all.

Limited Control

Apart from having limited options in terms of design and customization, installing solar tube lighting will also remove your freedom to control the system. Thus, you will not have any on/off switch to control the solar light tubes as and when required.

May Get Noisy

Now, this may not be the case with all types of solar tubes, but only those that are equipped with additional aluminum reflectors. While these reflectors are ideal for producing a bright glow, they can get annoyingly noisy on windy and rainy days.

Requires A Lot Of Space

Solar tubes can take up a lot of space during installation, making them unsuitable for small houses. Hence, make sure you check the dimensions of the lighting unit carefully before opting for one.

How Much Do Solar Tube Lights Cost?

When compared to skylights, solar tube lighting is quite cost-efficient in the long run. While you may have to shell out $1500-2500 for traditional skylights, solar tubes will cost approximately $750 per piece. Moreover, the cost of skylights can increase depending on the design, size, and installation requirements.

If you are confident enough, you can even check out some DIY solar tube kits, which are usually priced at around $300. However, check from your roofing installer about any warranties to avoid huge expenditures on repair in case you mess up.

Also, keep in mind that solar tubes are primarily designed to be installed on roofs made of wood shingles or asphalt. In the case of other types of roofing material, you may have to look for adaptors for a smooth installation process.

FAQs About Solar Lighting Tubes

Do Solar Tubes Cause Roof Leaks?

Unlike skylights, solar tubes are less likely to cause roof leaks as the smaller dome shape allows efficient water drainage, thereby preventing any chances of leaks. On the flip side, skylights are large enough to catch debris, allowing water to remain on the roof and causing leakage.

Are Sun Tunnels Worth It?

Sun tunnels are an ideal way to bring natural light to your space, so they are definitely worth it if you want an affordable lighting option. However, we’d like to add that installing multiple sun tunnels will be more effective if your house does not receive as much sunlight.

So, think of it as a long-term investment because once installed, you’ll be saving all that you would have spent on electricity bills and regular maintenance.

Final Words

With that, we come to the end of this informative guide describing the drawbacks of solar tube lighting. However, it all comes down to your preferences, the structure and location of your house, and much more.

Regardless, solar tube installation is, in fact, an affordable and versatile renewable light source for those who want to create a warm, cozy, and natural spot in their house. And with the right type of insulation, you really cannot go wrong with them.

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