Living off Grid – Solar Tubes

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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We have a lot of off grid design features in our house. One of those is solar tubes. Since they seem to generate so much interest with visitors I thought I would share what I know about them after using six of them for three years.

Someone mentioned solar tubes to me a few years ago. I had “sort of” heard about them but never really looked in to what they were. Solar tubes are a cylindrical version of a skylight. They have a plastic dome on top which sits on the roof of your home. The dome top is attached to a round polished tube which extends through your attic and ends at your ceiling. At the ceiling end you will find a diffuser or round lens which diffuses the light. Put a different way, light starts at the exposed dome above the roof and travels through the polished cylinder and ends at the diffuser. I have borrowed a picture from Google (shown below right) to illustrate.

To start my research I called a salesman in a local glass company and asked about them. He thought they were a great product but he told me they worked so well that in one home they had to remove the solar tubes they had installed because they let too much light in. Apparently the owners were unhappy because the tubes let too much light in from vehicle headlights at night and they couldn’t sleep.
Let me put that and your main question to rest right here. Solar tubes work and work well and no, I’m pretty sure they won’t let so much light in at night that you won’t be able to sleep. I have no idea where he came up with that story but I did mention he was a salesman right?

We have six of them. We have one room that doesn’t have a window. It is a small bathroom. Without the solar tube you would have to turn a light on every single time you used the room. With the solar tube we don’t have to turn a light on any more than in any other room with a window. You only need a light at night. That’s how much light they let in. We also put one right over the stove in the kitchen, one right at the appliances in the laundry room, one over the desk I am writing my blog from and one each in Eds “hobby” room and Laurie’s “crafts” room.

For the most part, each of these areas can be used any day, rain or shine, without turning the lights on. They are in fact a miniature skylight but with a difference. Skylights are notoriously prone to leaking. These solar tubes are installed just like a common roof vent. They take up very little space and put out much more light than their size because light is amplified in the polished tube and then spread out via the end diffuser. The tubes can also be insulated.

We live in snow country. The solar tubes are always the first roof objects to appear after a fresh snow. There is enough heat loss in them to melt the snow but that being said I don’t believe we lose very much heat from them.

Over all I am glad we had them installed. In our opinion they are a must have for any home but especially an off grid home. I would guess they cut our daytime light fixture usage by about 90%. Thanks to the solar tubes we don’t have any dark corners or hallways or rooms we can’t use without turning on the lights. We confidently recommend them to anyone.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and

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