So, You Want to… Install Tubular Skylights

By Jim Nash | Updated Feb 7, 2018 2:49 PM

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Tubular Skylights

VELUX SUN TUNNEL tubular skylight

It’s amazing that with the growing focus on solar power, tubular skylights are relatively unknown, especially among DIYers.

These dead-simple devices direct natural light through a reflective tube to provide a diffused natural glow in a room. In a development that lashes Thomas Edison’s vengeful ashes into a fury, people are enjoying free light in their homes and businesses. Also amazing is just how much light these skylights transmit. Cloudy days or even starry nights are much brighter than most people realize, until they stand in a room with a tubular skylight.

OK. To business: What are tubular skylights, how much do they cost, and perhaps most important, can you install them yourself?

Among the major manufacturers are:

• VELUX makes the Sun Tunnel

• Solatube markets its skylights as “high-performance daylighting systems”

• ODL sells a remote-controlled slide that mounts above the ceiling and dims the skylight

• Natural Light Energy Systems has its own remote-controlled dimmer—a rotating disc in the tube

ODL Tubular Skylight Diagram

ODL tubular skylight diagram.

The designs are essentially the same. There’s a clear acrylic dome, roof flashing, flexible or rigid tubing, a ceiling trim ring, and a diffusing lens. The latter commonly come in 10-, 14-, 18-, and 21-inch diameters and can be installed on most roof types.

Extras are few and include:
– Integrated vents
– Various manufacturers offer an in-tube bulb that turns the skylight into a conventional ceiling light
– The electric dimmers mentioned above plus a round plate from VELUX that you stick over the lens using a pole

You can buy them online from the manufacturers and resellers, as well as at bigger home-improvement chains. The least expensive residential model I saw online was $153 for a 10-inch asphalt-roof ODL skylight at Menards. The most expensive, a 14-inch model from a reseller, for $425. Bonus: You might be able to get a 30% federal tax credit for buying a tubular skylight.

Installation prices vary widely based on the contractor, the type of roof, and the complexity of the job. Bruce Mosher, a product manager with VELUX, says installation of the company’s 10- or 14-inch Sun Tunnels costs $250 to $350.

Even after you get past the fact that you are cutting a hole in your roof (something known to cause anxiety attacks in many homeowners), this is a DIY project you want to give a lot of thought to. Consider that:

• You’ll be up on your roof, which is a significant complication. Tread lightly, both figuratively and literally. (Note: Check your roof warranty before buying skylights. Some policies won’t cover shingles that are damaged during skylight installation, yours or a contractor’s.)

• You want to pick a path for the skylight that avoids wiring and trusses.

• Positioning the lens in the ceiling is critical. You do not want to be patching a 14-inch hole in your ceiling (or your roof).

• Putting it too close to a display screen of any kind will give you annoying glare, for instance.

That said, Mosher, who has a background in remodeling, recommends setting aside two hours for this project, assuming it’s straightforward. Between 10% and 15% of VELUX buyers do their own installation, he says.