Understanding Types of Solar Tubes: A Comprehensive Guide

Discover the fascinating world of solar tubes as we delve into various types to help you harness the power of sunlight for your home or business.

Solar power is becoming increasingly popular as people seek to reduce their carbon footprint and save money on energy bills. One of the most efficient ways to harness solar energy is through the use of solar tubes.

These cylindrical devices are designed to capture sunlight and convert it into usable energy for homes and businesses. However, with so many different types of solar tubes available on the market, it can be challenging to determine which one is right for your needs.

In this article, we will explore some of the most common types of solar tubes, their features, benefits and drawbacks so that you can make an informed decision when it comes time to invest in this technology. So let’s dive in!

What Is a Solar Tube?

understanding types of solar tubes a comprehensive guide

The basic design of a solar tube consists of three main components: the dome on the roof that collects sunlight, the reflective tubing that channels it down to your interior space and an attractive diffuser lens which spreads natural light evenly throughout your room.

Solar tubes are designed to be installed in areas where traditional skylights may not be feasible due to structural limitations or cost constraints. They can bring natural daylight into any dark corner of your home without requiring major renovations.

The beauty of solar tubes lies in their simplicity – they require no electricity and have no moving parts making them virtually maintenance-free. They provide consistent lighting throughout the day without generating heat like traditional electric lights do.

Evacuated Tube Collectors

They consist of a series of glass tubes that are sealed at both ends and contain a vacuum. The inner surface is coated with an absorptive material, which absorbs sunlight and converts it into heat energy.

The evacuated design helps to minimize heat loss, making them highly efficient even in colder climates. These solar tubes can be used for space heating or hot water production in residential or commercial buildings.

One advantage of evacuated tube collectors is their modularity – they can be easily added to existing systems as needed, allowing you to scale up your solar power generation over time without having to replace everything at once.

However, there are some drawbacks associated with this type of collector as well. For example, they tend to be more expensive than other types due to their complex design and manufacturing process.

If one tube breaks or becomes damaged it will need replacing which could lead maintenance costs being higher than expected.

Flat Plate Collectors

They consist of a flat, rectangular box with a dark absorber plate inside that absorbs sunlight and converts it into heat energy. The collector is covered by a transparent glass or plastic cover to trap the heat inside.

One advantage of flat plate collectors is their simplicity; they have no moving parts, making them easy to install and maintain. They also tend to be less expensive than other types of solar tubes.

However, one drawback is that they are not as efficient at capturing sunlight as some other designs because they do not track the sun’s movement throughout the day like concentrated solar power (CSP) tubes do. Their size can be limiting for larger-scale projects.

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Tubes

CSP tubes are typically used in large-scale power plants where they can produce significant amounts of energy. Unlike other types of solar tubes, CSP technology can store heat for use when the sun is not shining, making it an excellent option for areas with limited sunlight.

One advantage of using CSP tubes is their ability to generate electricity even on cloudy days or during periods when there is less direct sunlight. This makes them an ideal choice for regions with variable weather patterns.

However, one drawback to consider before investing in this technology is its high cost compared to other types of solar panels and collectors. The installation process requires skilled professionals due to the complexity involved in setting up mirrors and lenses at precise angles.

U-Tube Solar Collectors

These collectors consist of a U-shaped pipe with a heat-absorbing coating on the inside, which is filled with water or another heat transfer fluid. The U-tube design allows for more efficient energy absorption and transfer than other types of solar tubes.

One advantage of U-tube solar collectors over flat plate collectors is their ability to operate at higher temperatures, making them ideal for use in industrial processes that require high-temperature heating. They can also be used in colder climates where freezing temperatures may damage other types of solar tubes.

However, one drawback to consider when using U-tube solar collectors is their cost compared to other types such as flat plate or evacuated tube systems. They require careful installation and maintenance due to their complex design.

Heat Pipe Solar Tubes

The heat pipe is made up of two tubes, one inside the other, with a vacuum in between them. This vacuum acts as an insulator and prevents any loss of energy during transportation.

The working principle behind Heat Pipe Solar Tubes is simple yet effective. When sunlight hits the absorber plate, it heats up and transfers this thermal energy to the fluid flowing through it.

The heated fluid then flows into one end of each heat pipe where it vaporizes into steam due to high temperature.

This steam rises towards another end where there’s cooler air or water which condenses back into liquid form releasing its latent heat in doing so before returning back down again by gravity flow for reheating at collector surface thus completing cycle.

Heat Pipe Solar Tubes are highly efficient because they can operate even when there’s no direct sunlight available since they use convection currents created by temperature differences within their system rather than relying solely on direct radiation from sun rays like some other types do such as flat-plate collectors or evacuated tube collectors which require more intense light conditions for optimal performance.

Direct Flow Solar Collectors

These tubes work by allowing water to flow directly through them, absorbing heat from the sun as it passes through. The heated water can then be used for various purposes such as space heating or domestic hot water supply.

One of the main advantages of direct flow solar collectors is their efficiency in converting sunlight into usable energy. They have a higher thermal efficiency compared to other types of solar tubes, making them an excellent choice for those looking to maximize their energy savings.

However, one drawback with direct flow systems is that they require more maintenance than other types due to potential scaling and corrosion issues caused by hard water or high mineral content in the fluid being circulated within them.

Despite this challenge, many homeowners and businesses are still opting for direct-flow systems because they offer a reliable source of renewable energy while reducing carbon emissions and saving money on utility bills over time.

Thermosyphon Solar Tubes

These tubes consist of two interconnected pipes, one inside the other, with an absorber plate at the bottom. The sun heats up the absorber plate, which in turn heats up the fluid inside it.

As hot water rises and cooler water sinks due to gravity, this creates a thermosyphon effect that causes circulation without any need for pumps or electricity.

One advantage of thermosyphon solar tubes is their simplicity and reliability since they have no moving parts that can break down over time. They are also relatively inexpensive compared to active systems like photovoltaic panels or concentrated solar power plants.

However, there are some limitations to consider when using these types of systems as they require direct sunlight exposure throughout most daylight hours for optimal performance and may not be suitable for areas with limited sunshine hours during winter months.

Polymer Solar Tubes

Unlike traditional glass or metal tubes, polymer solar tubes are made from lightweight materials such as plastic or acrylic. This makes them more durable and resistant to breakage, which can be particularly useful in areas with extreme weather conditions.

One significant advantage of polymer solar tubes is their ability to capture sunlight at different angles throughout the day. This means they can produce energy even when the sun is not directly overhead, making them an excellent option for homes or businesses located in areas with less direct sunlight.

However, one drawback of polymer solar tubes compared to other types like evacuated tube collectors is that they may not be as efficient at capturing heat energy from the sun’s rays. Because they are still a relatively new technology on the market today there isn’t much data available yet on how long-lasting these products will be over time.

Hybrid Solar Tubes

These hybrid systems use a combination of vacuum-sealed glass tubes and copper heat pipes to capture sunlight, making them highly efficient at converting sunlight into usable energy.

One significant advantage of hybrid solar tubes is their ability to operate in low-light conditions. Unlike traditional evacuated tube collectors, which can struggle in cloudy weather or during winter months with less daylight hours, hybrids can still generate power even when there is limited sunshine.

Another benefit is their versatility. Hybrid systems come in various sizes and configurations, making them suitable for different applications such as residential homes or commercial buildings.

However, like any technology on the market today, there are some drawbacks associated with hybrid solar tubes too. For instance:

  • They tend to be more expensive than other types due to their advanced design.
  • They require professional installation by experienced technicians.
  • Maintenance costs may also be higher compared to other types since they have more components that need regular upkeep.

Photovoltaic-integrated Solar Tubes

These innovative devices not only capture sunlight to provide natural lighting but also generate electricity through the use of built-in photovoltaic cells.

The integration of these two technologies makes them an excellent choice for those looking to maximize their energy savings while reducing their carbon footprint. Photovoltaic-integrated solar tubes can be used in a variety of settings, including homes, offices, and commercial buildings.

One significant advantage is that they do not require any additional space on your roof or property since they serve dual purposes. They are also highly efficient at converting sunlight into usable energy due to the advanced technology used in their design.

However, it’s important to note that photovoltaic-integrated solar tubes tend to be more expensive than traditional models due to the added cost associated with integrating PV cells into them.

Solar Tube Sizes

The most common solar tube sizes range from 10 inches to 22 inches in diameter. Smaller tubes are ideal for smaller spaces such as bathrooms or hallways, while larger tubes work best for bigger rooms like living areas or kitchens.

It’s important to note that the size of a solar tube affects its light output. A larger tube will allow more sunlight into your home, resulting in brighter illumination than a smaller one would provide.

When choosing a solar tube size, it’s essential to consider factors such as room dimensions and ceiling height. You want to ensure that you select an appropriate size that can deliver enough natural light without overpowering the space.

In addition to selecting an appropriate diameter for your space, it is also crucial to consider length when installing solar tubes. Longer lengths may be necessary if there are obstacles between the roof and ceiling where they need installation.

Benefits of Solar Tubes

One of the most significant advantages is their ability to reduce energy costs by providing natural lighting without the need for electricity. This means that you can enjoy a well-lit space during daylight hours while saving money on your monthly utility bills.

Another benefit of solar tubes is their eco-friendliness. By harnessing the power of sunlight, they help reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable living practices.

Solar tubes are easy to install and require minimal maintenance compared to other types of lighting systems. They also come in various sizes, making them suitable for different spaces such as bathrooms, hallways or kitchens.

Moreover, solar tube lighting provides a more natural light source than traditional artificial lights which can be harsh on eyesight over time leading to eye strain or headaches.

Drawbacks of Solar Tube Lighting

One of the most significant disadvantages is that they only work during daylight hours. This means that if you need lighting at night or in low-light conditions, you will need to supplement your solar tube system with other forms of lighting.

Another potential drawback is that solar tubes require direct access to sunlight. If your roof or building does not have a clear path for sunlight, then a solar tube may not be an effective solution for you.

While installation costs can vary depending on factors such as size and complexity of the system and location-specific labor rates; upfront costs can be high compared to traditional electric lights. However, it’s important also consider long-term savings from reduced energy bills when evaluating cost-effectiveness.

Solar Tubes Vs Skylights

There are some key differences between the two that may make one more suitable than the other depending on your needs.

Skylights are typically larger and installed directly into a roof or ceiling. They provide an unobstructed view of the sky above, which can be great for stargazing or enjoying natural light during daylight hours.

However, they also tend to let in more heat and cold air from outside due to their size.

On the other hand, solar tubes are smaller in diameter but can still provide ample amounts of natural light without letting in as much heat or cold air from outside. They work by capturing sunlight through a small dome on your roof and reflecting it down through a tube lined with reflective material until it reaches its destination inside your home.

Pros And Cons Of Solar Tubes

Like any technology, they come with their own set of pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look at some of these.


  • Solar tubes are highly efficient in capturing sunlight even on cloudy days.
  • They can be installed in almost any location where there is access to direct or indirect sunlight.
  • Solar tube lighting is cost-effective as it reduces energy bills by up to 30% compared to traditional electric lighting systems.
  • They require minimal maintenance once installed properly.


  • The initial installation cost may be high depending on the type and size required for your home or business needs.
  • Some solar tube models may not work efficiently during extreme weather conditions such as heavy snowfall or hailstorms
  • Depending on the design, solar tubes might not provide enough light output for larger rooms
  • Installation requires cutting holes into roofs which could lead to potential leaks if done improperly

While there are some drawbacks associated with using solar tubes; their benefits far outweigh them.

Solar Tube Installation

While some people may choose to install solar tubes themselves, it is generally recommended that you hire a professional installer. This is because installing solar tubes can be a complex process and requires specialized knowledge and tools.

The first step in the installation process is determining where to place the solar tube. Ideally, this should be an area with direct sunlight for most of the day.

Once you have identified a suitable location, your installer will need to cut a hole in your roof or ceiling through which they can insert the tube.

Next comes sealing around any gaps between the roof or ceiling and flashing so as not allow water penetration into your home during rainstorms or snowfall events.

Afterward comes fitting insulation around each end of tubing inside attic space before connecting them together at one end using elbows if necessary depending on design requirements such as U-tube collectors which require two separate pipes connected by an elbow joint at their base point before being sealed off from outside elements like wind gusts etcetera via weather stripping materials applied over joints/seams along lengthwise edges where possible.

Solar Tube Maintenance

Solar tube maintenance involves cleaning the tubes and checking for any damage or wear and tear that may affect their performance. Dirt, dust, and debris can accumulate on the surface of the solar tube over time, reducing its efficiency in capturing sunlight.

Therefore it’s crucial to clean them periodically using a soft cloth or sponge with mild soap solution.

It’s also important to inspect your solar tubes for any cracks or leaks that could cause water infiltration into your home during rainy seasons. If you notice any damage such as cracks in glass surfaces or broken seals around joints between components of the system like collectors panels etc., contact a professional installer immediately.

Regular maintenance will help extend the lifespan of your solar tube system while ensuring optimal energy production throughout its lifetime.

Cost and ROI of Solar Tubes

The initial investment can be quite high, depending on the type and size of solar tube you choose. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that this technology has a relatively short payback period compared to other renewable energy sources like wind turbines or geothermal systems.

The return on investment (ROI) for solar tubes varies depending on several factors such as location, climate conditions and usage patterns. In general terms though, homeowners can expect their ROI within 5-10 years after installation.

It’s also worth noting that there are various incentives available from federal and state governments which help offset some of the costs associated with installing a solar tube system. These incentives include tax credits or rebates based on your location.

Overall when considering cost versus benefits over time – including reduced energy bills – investing in Solar Tubes is an excellent choice for those looking for long-term savings while reducing their carbon footprint at home or business premises alike!


What are the different solar tube styles?

The two different solar tube styles are rigid, which gives off more light due to its straight path, and flexible, which can be adjusted based on the distance the light needs to travel.

What are the different types of sun tunnels?

The two types of sun tunnels are flexible, which are used when obstructions are present during installation, and rigid, which are used when there is a straight path from the roof to the ceiling.

What is the difference between a sun tunnel and a solar tube?

The difference between a sun tunnel and a solar tube is that they are essentially the same thing, with a sun tunnel being a common term for a solar tube, which is a skylight alternative for channeling sunlight into a building’s interior.

How do solar tube installation processes differ based on the design?

Solar tube installation processes differ based on design due to variations in materials, size, and mounting methods employed for each specific design.

What factors should be considered when choosing between various solar tube styles?

When choosing between various solar tube styles, consider factors such as cost, installation complexity, aesthetic appeal, and desired light output.

How does the efficiency and performance of different sun tunnel designs compare?

The efficiency and performance of different sun tunnel designs vary, with some designs capturing and transmitting more natural light, reducing glare, and minimizing heat gain compared to others.

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