No one wants a dark house, so what about a sun pipe to flood your somber spaces with lovely light…
When architect Chris Lelliott bought his three-bed terraced cottage in Wrecclesham, Surrey, the one thing he didn’t like about it was the dark landing and windowless bathroom.
“I’m an architect, so I prefer things to be light and airy,” says Chris, so he installed the latest thing in lighting: sun pipes.
These clever little gadgets, which are also known as light tubes, sky tubes, solar pipes or daylight pipes, are a type of highly reflective tube that run from the roof to the ceiling and conduct natural, free, eco-friendly daylight into your home.
As he also needed ventilation, Chris chose a pipe that provided both natural light and fresh air. And, with a little help from a roofer, he was able to install the sun pipes himself in about a day.
“It makes a massive amount of difference,” says Chris, whose house is now on the market.
“On a sunny day the landing space is flooded with light but so is the hallway where you first come into the house.”
Making Light Work: The Benefit For Sellers
Everyone wants a bright home. Daylight is said to affect your mood, your concentration, even your weight, and it certainly affects your chances of selling your home.
Chris Taffs, marketing director at Solatube, the inventors of the sun pipe, says:
“We’re getting more and more interest as the market gets tougher out there.
“Just the other day we had someone ring up and say that they were trying to sell last year, but they couldn’t do it because the house was too dark.”
So light and, therefore, glass are becoming expected, even in the more traditionally dark country cottages.
“You see people putting more and more glass in their homes,” says Chris.
“But energy efficiency is an issue with glass, whereas with the Solatube it’s pretty neutral, there’s no solar gain or heat loss.”
How Does It Work?
Although the word is spreading, Chris says that the level of awareness of sun pipes is still surprisingly low among the general public.
“People ask me ‘where do you store the power?’ But it’s just a high tech window really. The concept is simplicity itself.”
Briefly, a glass-dome-topped sun pipe captures daylight from your rooftop, directs it down a reflective tube, then delivers the diffused light into the room below.
All the systems available are slightly different, but the Solatube uses a patented lens system to harvest additional light that would otherwise have passed straight through the dome and out the other side.
You lose a percentage of the light every time the rays bounce, so there is a finite limit to the length of the tube. But at the moment the Solatube can go up to 6m on a small system.
Flexible tubes are available that have the advantage of being slightly easier to fit than a rigid tube, but, according to Chris, you can end up with a poor amount of light if you follow this route.
And the dome doesn’t necessarily have to be fitted into the roof. With a bit of imagination, they can also be used on an exterior wall to bring daylight into a basement.
This is Britain, and the sun does spend a fair amount of time lurking behind clouds.
On miserable days the colour and intensity of the light from a sun pipe changes, but, to be fair, this is similar to the change in quality of light through a window.
More of a problem could be too much light if a sun pipe is used, for example, in a bedroom.
There is a solution to this in the form of an electric dimmer switch, which could save you from a rude awakening at 4am by a beautiful, but unwelcome shaft of sunshine.
And, don’t forget that what goes down can also go up.
At night any light produced in the house will be reflected outside. This can be an issue on large sites, where the reflected glow can cause light pollution.
This problem was overcome at the Greenwich eco-friendly Sainsbury’s by fitting daylight dimmers that come on automatically as the light level drops.
However, on a domestic level this is unlikely to cause more than a mild stir with the neighbours. As Chris Taffs puts it: “Don’t worry, it won’t look like the blitz!”
Due to the small size and minimal impact of the sun pipe on the roofscape, you usually won’t need planning permission. However, if you live in a conservation area or in a listed building you will need planning approval.
The good news is that some companies have produced special products for this sector. Monodraught, for example, sell a Conservation SunPipe designed to replicate a Victorian cast iron rooflight.
According to the company, they are “particularly favoured by Listed Building Officers since they are of steel construction and fit virtually flush with the roof tiling.”
As part of their service they will provide detailed construction drawings or any other information requested by planning officers.
For most simple situations, for example, sun pipes for a top floor or a bungalow, one unit will cost around £250.
Fitting will cost around the same again, but about a third of Chris’s customers install sun pipes themselves, though on taller homes you may need scaffolding and professional assistance.
Many people do it just before they put their home on the market. But, says Chris, when they see the results they regret it.
“The biggest comment we get is ‘we wish we’d done it sooner because we won’t be here to enjoy it.”
If your house still seems dark try these tips for brightening your home from house doctor Suzy Maas of The Final Touch.
1. Glossy surfaces reflect light, so go for glass tables and high gloss kitchen units, and, of course, put up lots of mirrors.
2. Decorate using light colour and fabrics. Using the same colour on the ceiling, walls and woodwork makes a space seem lighter and fresher.
3. Hidden lighting can help. Use daylight bulbs hidden under plinths, behind eye-level architrave, furniture or pictures, or on top of pelmets.
4. To let in extra light arrange curtain poles to extend 10-15” beyond the window on either side so you can open the curtains right back.
5. AVOID – wooden shutters, venetian blinds, and net curtains because they all block out light. If privacy is an issue try Cosmos roller blinds that let in light but keep out prying eyes.