March 14, 2007 12:28 PM PDT

Solatube brings daylight indoors

Solatube International says it can bring sunshine into your life even when you're in a dark room.

The Vista, Calif.-based company earlier this week detailed an update to its "daylighting system." The system consists of a plastic dome that sits on a building's roof and a reflective tube that carries the light inside.

But this is more than just a fancy name for a skylight.

The dome of Solatube's daylighting system is actually a Fresnel lens shaped to maximize light intake while cutting out ultraviolet and infrared light. The tube that transports light is made of reflective material and can be bent to carry light to under-lit rooms.

Solatube

Having abundant light inside a building can certainly brighten up a person's home. But commercial and municipal clients are increasingly seeking out daylighting systems as well. Such investments in natural lighting are often justified on the basis of higher worker productivity, decreased absenteeism, or better retail sales.

"Daylighting is huge," said Kenneth Weston, an architect at Oak Point Associates who is certified to work on so-called green buildings. "We sell it on those facts and figures (around productivity), but mostly people just want access to daylight. On a subconscious level, when you're designing someone's work space, they always want the office by the window versus the cube in the middle."

Indeed, Solatude may sell primarily to homeowners and residential architects right now, but a bigger opportunity lies in selling to businesses, said Neall Digert, vice president for commercial market development at Solatube.

"Commercially we are applying this to literally all building types, from schools, warehouses, office spaces or stores," he said.

Other daylighting companies also have built roof-mounted fixtures to carry in light. Both Nature's Lighting and Sunlight Direct, which was spun out of the Oak Ridge National Laboratories last year, focus on the commercial market.

Light controls
The latest system from Solatube has a number of enhancements designed to provide even light and reduce the amount of heat loss or gain.

The product was first conceived in the 1980s in Australia as an improvement over skylights, which are used more often to bring light in.

The new dome has a molded lens to capture light at low angles, which means it can operate better earlier and later in the day. The flashing that sits on the roof avoids the use of caulking to prevent leaks and moisture, a common complaint with skylights.

The dome and the tube that carries the light inside the building are made of a reflective acrylic that manages to maintain almost all of the light regardless of the distance it travels, Digert said. And enhancements to the lens and a dimmer allow the fixture to have a more consistent light over the course of the day, he added.

"We've been able to engineer out the shifting patterns of light you'd associate with a skylight," he said. "Because of our optics, we can control very precisely how to diffuse light into the space."

Depending on the model, the daylighting system can illuminate 200 feet or 300 feet. The lens also can reduce the amount of heat lost through the dome and maintain the color of natural light.

Weston at Oak Ridge Associates said that although there is a rising interest in architecting daylight into buildings, often commercial or municipal clients shy away from skylights because of fears about leaking. That said, flashing and sealants have greatly improved, so a properly installed system shouldn't have problems, he said.

His firm has not used roof-mounted systems, instead favoring large windows or "light shelves" that bounce light off ceilings as a way of maximizing daylight.

"The big issue with natural light or daylighting is controlling glare," he said. "Productivity goes down in the presence of glare."

See more CNET content tagged:
lens

9 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
homeless depot
I looked at these at home depot. Pretty flimsy IMNSHO. And cutting holes in a roof seems to be less than a good idea when the rains come.
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Reply Link Flag
homeless depot
?????

We've had one of these for about 10 years and love it. We'd have even more but the roof above our bathrooms were too shallow for the multiple bells and whistles units with the exhaust fan and light. Regarding what you saw at Home Depot, I don't remember seeing the Solatube brand there. I'm sure you just saw a knock-off. You should compare it to the real thing and see if you still think it's flimsy.
Posted by DPIQ (53 comments )
Link Flag
Solatube has a great product!
You're wrong gggg - that's not a Solatube.

I just finished shopping this product recently and bought Solatubes through a dealership. There is a knock off at Home Depot and it doesn't compare. They don't carry them at HD or Lowes.

I just remodeled my kitchen and put a couple of the Solatube daylighting systems in both my kitchen and hallway. It's amazing the amount of light I have in my home now - especially the hallway where it was so dark. I had a dealer put them in for me. They have a seamless flashing to guard against leaks plus they offered a guarantee. Can't beat it! I'm thinking about putting more in my bathroom and closet now!
Posted by Green Lover (1 comment )
Link Flag
Great comments Green Lover and DPIQ.

Home Depot DOES NOT sell Solatube, and yes the Home Depot product ( ODL) is very flimsy and I wouldnt recommmend my worst enemy install that product in their home.

I represent Solatube as a dealer in the Bay Area ( www.solabrite.com) The product is excellent and the manufacturer stands behind its product.

If you are looking for a tubular skylight I encourage buyers to visit my showroom. It is important that they see what the product will look like installed.

Solatube has a high quality product that is Energy Star rated and very attractive at an affordable price. Dont sacrifice quality for price when shopping for tubular skylights.

Visit my site for more information at www.solabrite.com

Feel free to call 1-800-846-6621 with any questions on Solatubes. If you are not in my market, I will direct you to your local Solatube dealer.

Best,
John Izzo
General Manager, Sola-Brite
Posted by solabrite (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
For Solatube, DwellSmart is a good option if you're in the SouthEast. They have an in-store display and also sell via their website (www.dwellsmart.com/Solatube-10-Daylighting-Kit). I've found the quality to be quite good - no complaints. I don't think you can beat the feeling that natural sunlight provides.
Posted by krking (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I've been eyeing solatubes to replace two very aging skylights. I suspect I won't get much use outta them in the winter here in the Northwet, but summertime they should light up nicely. Anyone know how much heat loss they generate?
Posted by KenGrubb (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
just came home to a flooded living room. Solatube leaked all over. We are supposed to have another 3 installed. To be fair to Solatube, the workers hired by our roofing contractor don't know what they are doing. However, figured i'd throw our experience out there since obviously to our roofers the install process is not a slam-dunk.
Posted by janeydoey (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Solatube is a leak proof product. However, as Janeydoey pointed out, if they are not installed correctly, you may get a leak. Janey doesnt say where the leak was coming from. I would probably guess that the roofers did not caulk around the flashing properly and did not screw down the flashing. If they didnt cut the shingle back properly, could have had wind swept rain getting swept up under the dome.

Her comments highlight the importance of selecting a Premier Solatube Dealer to install these products. Premier Solatube Dealers have certified and trained employee installers to do the installation.

To find a Premier Solatube Dealer near you, visit www.solatube.com and locate a dealer via zip code.

As a reminder, Solatube Daylighting Systems qualify for a 30% Federal Tax Credit.

For customers in the Bay area visit www.solabrite.com (East Bay, North Bay, San Francisco, and San Joaquin counties) visit sunlightconcepts.com for the South Bay.

All the best,
John Izzo
General Manager, Sola-Brite
"We Brighten Your World"
Posted by solabrite (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.