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Simple Skylights

Q – Several rooms, especially my kitchen, always need the lights on. I prefer natural light, but can’t afford a skylight. What do you think of skylight tube kits?-Ann T. 

A – I have been following the improvements of skylight tubes since I wrote about them in this column three years ago. The new models are much more efficient and easier to install. Any time that you can avoid using electric lights, you lower your utility bills and eliminate the expense of bulbs. 

  After researching skylight tubes and evaluating the claims by the many manufacturers, I used a kit to install one in my garage where I spend time restoring cars. The results were, in a word-WOW! It is so bright in my garage now that every time I leave I still reach out to switch off the light (which is seldom on). These new skylight tubes transmit light so efficiently that on a clear moonlit night it glows indoors. 

  Natural light makes most things look better. Since natural light is full-spectrum light, some doctors claim it minimizes the winter “blues.” The acrylic rooftop dome and diffuser block nearly all of the furniture-fading ultraviolet rays. 

  A bathroom or dressing area is an excellent location for a skylight tube. Some models have optional kits to both light and vent the bathroom with one unit. The trim ring around the decorative ceiling light diffuser is also an air inlet vent, which is attached to a flexible duct. A small fan is mounted in the duct, which branches off to the side of the skylight tube inside the attic. Since the fan is located well up inside the duct near the roof, it operates quietly. 

  Don’t just buy the cheapest kit because there are major differences in quality. The kits are shipped with various levels of preassembly for easy installation and some have lifetime warranties. 

  A skylight tube is simply a tube (a rigid smooth or a flexible corrugated material, 10 to 21 inches in diameter) with a super-reflective lining. It runs from your ceiling up through the roof. There is a light diffuser on the ceiling and clear dome on the end that sticks up through the roof. Many of the new designs have high-quality flashings and storm collars to eliminate leaks. 

The major advantages of a tube over a standard flat skylight are its low cost, simple do-it-yourself installation, and energy efficiency. Since it is small in diameter and the entire tube forms a sealed dead-air space, there is very little energy loss compared to a skylight. Tubular skylights even use a double-insulated diffuser indoors for a total insulation value of R-22. 

  From indoors, most skylight tubes look like an ordinary ceiling-mounted light fixture. For a more interesting and contemporary look, choose a decorative or “mood” ceiling diffuser. The quality of the reflective tube material is the heart of any efficient skylight tube. Two of the best rigid aluminum tube materials to check for are Alcoa Everbrite 95 and 3M Silver-lux. These are used by the best quality rigid skylight tube kits. Look for these names on the protective film on the reflective surface. 

  Rigid aluminum skylight tube sections can be rotated (45-degree angle joints) to fit around attic obstructions; however, straight is preferable and the most efficient. If your attic has many obstructions, consider a kit that uses a flexible corrugated tube material. If you use the area at night, consider an optional electric light kit. A 100-watt incandescent or 20-watt compact fluorescent bulb is positioned inside the tube. This is ideal if your room does not have a ceiling light fixture and is much easier to install. If you like bright light in the early morning or evening, consider a kit with a prismatic top dome that directs more low-angle sunlight into the tube.

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