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Are sunpipes the solution to dark rooms and stairwells?

Posted by Anna Carlini on 11 October 2016 at 10:30 am

Sunpipes are cylindrical tubes which channel natural sunlight from a transparent dome on the roof to bring it to areas that wouldn’t otherwise get natural light. Many of us have dark stairwells and rooms that get little sunlight in our homes. Sunpipes (sometimes called solarpipes) are a low energy way to brighten up these dark spaces, and save money that would otherwise be spent on electric lighting.

Two SuperHome owners we spoke to, Jill Goulder and Colin White, consider the sunpipes installed in their houses to have transformed their living spaces. 

How do they work and what do they look like?

Sunpipes have three parts. A dome sits on the roof and collects sunlight. It then reflects the sunlight along an aluminium tube with the help of a reflective coating or film, through to the interior of the house. Finally a diffuser spreads the light about the room. This usually resembles a circular light on the ceiling.

Sunpipes are easy on the eye and give a good base level of extra light, but they also provide an interesting dynamic light rather than the static results you'd get with a fluorescent tube.

It is easiest to fit a sunpipe in rooms which have easy access to the roof, so they are generally found in the upstairs parts of a house. They can be installed in downstairs rooms, but it is a more complex process. Longer sunpipes have to be run through ducting, or be placed in an enclosed column up a wall and through the ceiling, so this involves a lot more work.

Windowless or interior rooms benefit greatly from sunpipes as they bring natural light into the room without the expense of installing windows. Jill says the sunpipe in her attic has “transformed” the room, which previously had no natural light. “It is like having a floodlight in the attic - even on rainy days”.

Colin had three sunpipes installed, all into darker areas of his home. Two of the pipes were fitted into rooms in his extension, and he says the light they provide has improved his living conditions. The sunpipes mean that he no longer needs to turn the lights on as often. For him the greatest improvement came with the pipe installed above his stairs, which he describes as “a revelation”. Previously the darkest area of the house, the sunpipe now lights the stairway all day long and the lightbulb is only used at night. One of Colin's sunpipes is shown in the picture below.

Colin's sunpipe

Limitations

Sunpipes have one major issue. Because they collect sunlight they only work during the day. At night you will still need to use electric lighting. When considering the cost effectiveness of a sunpipe it is important to think about when you usually use your lights.

If you use a room extensively during the day, and would almost always use electrical lights to supplement whatever daylight is available, consider fitting a sunpipe.

In a frequently used space which has no other source of natural light and where good visibility is also better for safety, like your stairs, a work space or the kitchen, sunpipes may produce a surprising level of improvement.

Sunpipes won’t entirely replace other forms of lighting, especially as lightbulbs are still needed at night, but they are an excellent complement to electrical lighting. They brighten up the house, and provide light without costing energy.

The real question is why don’t more people have them? One possible concern is that sunpipes might leak and let in water given they are fitted through the roof. However, at the National Energy Foundation where six large sunpipes were fitted in the roof over a decade ago, there has never been a leak, so this fear looks to be misplaced.

If you do have a sunpipe, please comment below and tell us why you had yours installed and whether you consider it a success.

Images:

GreenLab

Brian Snelson

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Comments

2 comments - read them below or add one

BrixhamRosemary

BrixhamRosemaryComment left on: 31 October 2016 at 8:13 am

Due to the configuration of our bungalow we had a bathroom with no natural light. We had a sunpipe fitted and it has transformed the bathroom plus the hall. We then had a second sunpipe fitted in a lounge. Would recommend having a sunpipe fitted.

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JG

JGComment left on: 11 October 2016 at 11:27 am

As mentioned in the blog above, I love the sunpipe in my attic; it has a much smaller footprint on the roof than a skylight, with much less likelihood of leaks and deterioration. Recommended!

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