Let There Be (Sun)Light!

Maggie with hole in ceilingWell, approximately one year after we purchased an ODL solar tube from the Home Depot, we have finally installed it in our kitchen!!  So far we love it and are even contemplating installing a second one, although Will’s a little concerned that it might reduce our energy efficiency a bit since it’s a little less insulative than an intact ceiling with a thick layer of insulation.

The installation was surprisingly easy with two exceptions:

1. Short attics with fiberglass insulation are not fun to work in.

2. There were two pieces of pipe and we managed to swap them, meaning we were almost done and then had to go back to the beginning so it would all fit.  Aargh!

The first step was to stand in the kitchen, think about where we wanted to put in the solar tube, and drill a hole in that spot through to the attic.  I threaded a coat hanger up through the hole and then took the dreaded step of crawling around in the attic looking for it.  (It is surprisingly easy to get disoriented in a small space filled with insulation.)  Once I found the coat hanger, I figured out where the true center point of the solar tube would go (centered between the roof joists) and drilled one nail down through the ceiling and one nail up through the roof.

Maggie caulksNext came the fun but mildly intimidating step of drilling a hole in the roof!  We rented a “Sawzall” reciprocating saw for the job since it didn’t seem like a piece of equipment we really needed to own.  I am mildly afraid of heights but I do love power tools so I had a good time cutting out a big chunk o’ roof.  Happily, the solar tube is designed in a way that the hole does not need to be perfectly circular (it wasn’t) since it comes with a rubber “boot” that fits over the hole, under the neighboring shingles.  Once we had the hole cut, we pried up the shingles around it, put some roof sealant on the rubber boot, and slid it into place.

Solar Tube PipeSomehow we didn’t get any pictures of us sliding the actual metal tube into place, probably because I kept blinding Will with it.  The solar tube is comprised of two very shiny metal tubes and a clear plastic dome.  Sun shines down on the dome and then bounces down through the tubes to our kitchen, where a frosted plastic light fixture lets the light shine through without blinding anyone.

We slid one pipe down from the roof and then attached the dome on top.  Then I headed down into the kitchen with a keyhole saw (not powered this time) to cut a hole in the ceiling.   (The picture at the top of the post is my very ragged hole before we put in the light fixture piece.) Once I was thoroughly covered with drywall plaster I headed back up into the attic to put in the final metal tube.  This was the part of the process that was very difficult, largely because there was not very much room in the attic.  I’ve never been super handy with tin snips (picture giant deadly scissors) but it was particularly challenging to cut the metal tubes to size while lying on my back across three attic rafters.  The idea is to have one tube coming down from the roof and one coming up from the ceiling with about an inch of overlap.  Alas, I realized that I had the tubes swapped and the one I was trying to fit neatly into the ceiling fixture just wasn’t going to work.

Maggie installs domeSo, back up to the roof to remove the dome, swap the tubes, then Will stayed on the roof while I went into the attic and it was much easier to get the tubes together.  He pulled the top tube up while I put the correct bottom tube into place in the ceiling fixture, and then he pushed the top tube down, helping me wrestle the two tubes together and then tape them with the shiny metal tape enclosed in our original kit.  Whew!  I totally used some muscles I didn’t know I had but I would willingly do it again and I know it would go faster the second time.

Will it lower our energy bills?  I hope so, although lighting for one room is not that huge of an electrical draw.  We’ve also entered that charming time of year called Daylight Savings so the solar tube really only helps out at lunch time.   (Oh, I miss the days when Indiana ignored Daylight Savings!)   Still, increasing daylight inside the house is one of the best uses of solar “energy” even if photvoltaics are more sexy.  Having a solar tube makes the kitchen feel a *LOT* brighter so we’re definitely calling it a success.  And it was a great weekend project for improving my confidence in making minor home repairs.

Check out the before and after pictures!  (They’re a bit overly dramatic but the solar tube really does make a big difference.)

Kitchen Before Solar Tube

Kitchen After ODL Solar Light Tube

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10 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    susan sullivan said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

    Cool! Maybe we need one for our dark hallway…

  2. 2

    Joyce said,

    November 13, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

    Wow, you’re a pretty handy lady! Great Job. We could use one of these in our hallway too.

  3. 3

    Maggie said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

    Thanks! I try to be handy but it can be a bit overwhelming at times to realize how much there is to learn about, well, anything really. And as my parents always say, no home project is complete without three trips to the hardware store. :)

  4. 4

    Jamie said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

    >We rented a “Sawzall” reciprocating saw for the job since it didn’t seem like a piece of equipment we really needed to own.

    Now that is just short-sighted. Who doesn’t need to own a sawzall? :)

  5. 5

    Pete said,

    November 27, 2009 @ 9:52 pm

    I’ve just had two 10 in. ODL tubes installed in my tiny kitchen and I’m very disappointed. The light from them has a kind of dirty blue hue and the lighting effect is very limited – I still need to turn the light on in the day time. Apparently the lens has to be oriented correctly, perhaps my installer didn’t get this right?

  6. 6

    Maggie said,

    November 30, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

    Huh. We’re really pretty happy with ours although it’s not super effective when it’s cloudy out and the days are getting rather short this time of year. I hadn’t noticed a bluish tinge at all. I wonder if he forgot to take the plastic off the inside of the metal tubes? Have you tried taking the diffuser off to see how bright it is? You should be able to just unscrew it from the kitchen side and look up into the tube. I’m not sure how you could install it wrong although the dome does have one side that’s supposed to face north that I think has some extra glazing on it. Hmmmm. Let us know if you figure anything out!

  7. 7

    Maggie said,

    November 30, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

    I think Will was a little nervous I’d find too many opportunities to use the reciprocating saw…. :)

  8. 8

    Cinco said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    Holy cats, that looks so much better!!!

  9. 9

    ann said,

    April 8, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

    We have a skylight in a windowless bathroom. Obviously, this eliminates the need to turn the light on during the day, but even at night there’s usually no need to turn on a light when using that bathroom. Before the skylight, it was dark as a cave in there any time of day.

  10. 10

    Cool Down with a Solar Attic Fan | GreenCouple.com said,

    August 5, 2011 @ 9:39 pm

    […] to stay at ground level.  I took the fun job of cutting a hole in the roof (gotta love those sawzall projects) and then he helped me install the fan […]

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