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Sun Tunnel vs Skylight: What’s The Difference

view from a skylight in a roof

There’s nothing better than bright, natural sunlight filling your home. Aside from your windows, a skylight or a sun tunnel are both great ways to add light to the rooms of your home. Unlike windows, these bring light from above. Both a sun tunnel and a skylight are placed on your home’s roof. But when it comes to a sun tunnel vs a skylight, which is the right choice for you? 

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at each, outlining pros and cons, and discussing how to know which one to install on your roof if you’re looking to add a touch of natural light. 

What is a Sun Tunnel?

A sun tunnel is a dome that’s placed on your roof to allow natural light to stream into your home. It’s connected by an aluminum tube that attaches to an acrylic dome on your roof and a light fixture (often referred to as a lens) that’s set into your ceiling. A sun tunnel captures light from the sun and magnifies it, then diffuses it into your home for a touch of soft brightness in any room. 

A sun tunnel can be either rigid or flexible, depending on your roof’s pitch. Slanted roofs and those with other obstructions (such as beams or other roof features) will require a flexible tunnel, while flat roofs and those with fewer obstructions overall can house rigid tunnels. When it comes to installation of a sun tunnel vs skylight, a sun tunnel is much simpler thanks to its having only three parts: the dome, the tube and the lens. 

Benefits Of A Sun Tunnel

The benefits of installing a sun tunnel are many. Here, we’ll outline a few of the major upsides to adding a sun tunnel to your home. 

  • Diffuse, pleasant light. The lens on a sun tunnel causes the incoming light to be dispersed in order to create a pleasing, gentle illumination instead of a harsh glare. 
  • Energy efficient. Especially when used in a small room, a sun tunnel can effectively cut down on the need for artificial light. In fact, many people tend to mistake a sun tunnel for a light being left on in a room. 
  • Low maintenance. Once a sun tunnel is installed, it requires very little maintenance to keep it up and running. Homeowners can opt to wipe down the interior lens as part of a room’s regular cleaning schedule, and debris that builds up on the roof dome should be removed to allow for maximum flow of light. 
  • Low installation cost. Sun tunnels are simple to install, which keeps costs lower in comparison to traditional skylights. 
  • Suitable for small spaces. Because they tend to be much smaller than skylights, sun tunnels are perfectly suited for smaller spaces like bathrooms, hallways and even closets. They have the potential to illuminate the entire space when used in a smaller room, which could eliminate the need for artificial lighting entirely. 

Drawbacks Of A Sun Tunnel

Despite the many advantages of having a sun tunnel, there are some things to consider before moving forward with this type of project. Here are a few cons of a sun tunnel. 

  • May not work with every kind of roof. If your roof is flat or too steep, a sun tunnel may not be the best option for you. They’re best suited to roofs with a pitch between 15 to 60 degrees. So it’s best to calculate your roof’s pitch before moving forward with a sun tunnel installation.  
  • No sun, no light. While this drawback certainly applies to skylights, it’s important to know that at night and on grey days, your sun tunnel won’t produce as much (or any!) light. So if it’s crucial you have light in a particular space, a sun tunnel alone might not suffice. 
  • Does not provide ventilation. Unlike a skylight, a sun tunnel can’t be opened for ventilation purposes. 
  • Prone to condensation. Especially in humid environments, the aluminum tubing can be prone to condensation, which can potentially cause issues with mold and mildew. 

What is a Skylight? 

In short, a skylight is a window that’s installed on your roof. Some skylights can be opened for additional ventilation inside your home, while others simply serve the purpose of letting light in. If you choose a vented skylight for your home, you’ll have the option of opening it manually or electrically. When it comes to a sun tunnel vs skylight, a skylight is often larger than a sun tunnel, and can be customized in a number of different ways to suit your individual needs. 

Benefits Of A Skylight

Skylights are a wonderful addition to any room, adding voluminous light and sometimes even ventilation. Here are just some of the benefits of a skylight. 

  • Added heat. Skylights can add warmth to your home on cold days by allowing the sun’s rays inside your home. 
  • Reduce energy bills. Because they allow ample natural light into your home, you’ll rely less on artificial light in rooms that have skylights. This helps reduce your monthly electricity bill. 
  • Greater customization. There’s a host of design options when it comes to skylights. They come in many different shapes, colors, styles and sizes, can be vented or not, and can open in several different ways if they’re vented. If you’re looking for something very specific when it comes to a sun tunnel vs a skylight, a skylight is the way to go. 
  • Ventilation. Choosing skylights that can be opened can add fresh air to your home. This is especially helpful in a bathroom or other room that builds up condensation. 

Drawbacks Of A Skylight

Despite their many advantages, there are some things to be aware of that some homeowners consider to be drawbacks of having a skylight. 

  • Too much heat. When the sun beats down on your skylights when its at its peak, you may find that too much heat builds up. This can be combated with shades or blinds, which you can purchase or have custom made to fit your skylights. 
  • Too much light. Similarly, since skylights are more like windows and less like the lens of a sun tunnel, you may be put off by the harsh, glaring light that streams in during high sun hours. Here again, blinds or shades can help, as can installing skylights on the north-facing side of the roof. 
  • More difficult to install. The installation process for a skylight is much more complicated than that of a sun tunnel, which can be a major drawback. Often, installing a skylight requires you to find a roofer, a carpenter (to fix/install drywall) and a painter (to paint once the drywall is replaced). 
  • More expensive. Because of the more involved installation process, skylights tend to be more expensive than sun tunnels. 
  • Prone to leaks. Skylights are notorious for leaking. After all, they require a sizable hole to be cut directly into your roof. If you opt for skylights for your home, be sure to use a reputable roofer in your area. 

Sun Tunnel vs Skylight: How to Decide Which is Right for You

Many similarities exist between a sun tunnel and a skylight, which can complicate your decision as to whether to install a sun tunnel vs a skylight. In general, if your room is larger, a skylight might make the most sense, since it would take several sun tunnels to even get close to the amount of light you’ll receive from a skylight in a large room. On the other hand, smaller spaces like powder rooms without windows, dark hallways, and closets can greatly benefit from a sun tunnel. It’s a simple installation process that can greatly enhance the amount of light that streams into a small space. 

If you’re trying to decide whether to install a sun tunnel or a skylight, first browse through the pros and cons of each, listed above. This will help you make the decision based on what you’re looking for.

Fact Checked by Christin Perry 4/30/2024