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What Is a Sun Tunnel and How Does It Work?

by Business Bod

In some homes, natural light seems to flow like water. You can move from the kitchen to the dining nook to the bedroom and trails of sunlight follow. These properties feel bigger and more modern, in line with the airy farmhouse aesthetic that continues to dominate the design industry.

Are you looking for ways to help your home feel bright and open, too? Thanks to modern technology, there are ways you can get there. One tool that can help is called a sun tunnel.

What is a sun tunnel and how does it work? Today, we’re taking a closer look and sharing the answers you need to know.

What Is a Sun Tunnel?

Put simply, a sun tunnel is a mechanism that channels sunlight down from your roof.

Once it enters, the light travels through a highly reflective tube, and into a designated room below. As you might expect, this allows spots in your home that had previously been blocked from natural light to enjoy the benefits that the extra illumination provides.

Some of the most popular places to install sun tunnels include:

  • Laundry and utility rooms
  • Hallways
  • Foyers
  • Dark kitchens
  • Dark bedrooms
  • Dark bathrooms
  • Walk-in closets

Installers can add a sun tunnel to a variety of different roof designs, including pitched roofs and flat roofs. Once yours is in place, you’ll be able to add extra sunlight to the rooms that need it the most. If you have a system installed in your home, you can even use the extra sunlight to help lower the cost of solar energy!

You can install one in any room in your house, and you don’t even need constant, direct sunlight to make it work.

Different Types of Sun Tunnels

There are two basic types of sun tunnels. These include:

  • Flexible
  • Rigid

If you have obstructions that make it challenging or impossible for installers to add a sun tunnel to your roof without altering its structure, they will likely recommend a flexible model. These are typically less expensive than rigid varieties and are best for short distances. Using flexible tubing, installers can maneuver around any type of obstacle or obstruction on your roof.

Note that while they might cost less, there is a drawback to choosing flexible sun tunnels. Their structure doesn’t allow light to reflect as easily, so they aren’t quite as efficient at illumination. Alternatively, rigid sun tunnels are ideal if you have a straighter, longer path that leads down from your roof and through to your ceiling.

In most cases, rigid sun tunnels allow the light to transmit more easily than flexible ones. In addition, they also provide a direct path through which the light can channel down through the tube and into the ceiling below. This is because their structure prevents light from bouncing too much off the tube’s inner surface.

Your installation team will help you decide which type of sun tunnel is best for you and your home. In addition to the model, they can also tell you the size that you need. This will depend on how much room there is between your ceiling and the roof above it.

How Do Teams Install It?

When you’re ready to install a sun tunnel at your home, it’s important to choose a team that’s well-reviewed, experienced, and qualified. This isn’t an especially dangerous task, but it involves working at a high elevation, which is always a liability. Take your time, and only hire a roofing contractor that you know can provide safe, quality service.

In most cases, only one or two people are required to complete a sun tunnel installation. The installers will work together to create a hole that goes from the exterior of your roof down into your ceiling.

Then, they will position the tube into the hole and install the acrylic dome on the side of the tube that touches the roof. The final step is to install a light diffuser in the space where the tube and ceiling intersect. In all, this process should only take a few hours to complete.

When it’s all done, the result will look like a small circle on your ceiling, similar to a skylight.

How Do They Work?

In the simplest sense, sun tunnels channel sunlight from one location to another. However, that’s only scratching the surface. To get more specific, these appliances function through the use of reflective mirrors.

Inside each tunnel, there’s an acrylic dome. This dome captures natural light and then magnifies it. Once that process is complete, it sends the light down the tube into a special mechanism called a light diffuser.

All throughout the tube, there’s a shiny, polished interior that works like one long mirror. As the sun’s light travels through the length of the tube, it’s able to maintain its full intensity the entire time. That way, it will be as strong and direct as possible once it finally enters the room.

While it doesn’t deliver the exact same effect as full sunlight, it can still go a long way toward making the darkest areas in your house feel much brighter.

How Many Do I Need?

Sometimes, one sun tunnel isn’t enough to totally light up a space. In that case, you can add multiple ones to achieve a dynamic effect. Of course, the more you install, the brighter the room will appear!

Instead of purchasing and installing a large number of smaller sun tunnels, it’s usually more attractive and effective to invest in the largest size you can and use only as many as you need. Position them in the center of your room for the most noticeable effect.

Sun Tunnels vs. Skylights

So far, the look and function of a sun tunnel might sound similar to that of a skylight. In the most basic way, they do function alike. Both sun tunnels and skylights help to brighten up your rooms and make them easier to see within.

However, there are a few important distinctions to make between these two home installations. Let’s take a look at a few of the top ones.

Method of Installation

Skylights mount directly to the roof of your home and do not require any sort of tunnel to operate. In this way, you can think of them as a window that’s simply located on your roof! On the other hand, sun tunnels have a few different parts that must work together to make an installation successful.

These include the acrylic dome, which is required to capture and magnify the light, as well as the light diffuser itself. The tunnel is a channeling mechanism and is not a direct window that leads to the outdoors. This is the chief reason that skylights can make a room brighter than sun tunnels.


Most sun tunnels are round on the exterior, while skylights tend to have an appearance that mimics a traditional window. However, there are skylights that have a rounded dome similar to that of a tunnel.

In terms of style, you can choose from two different looks when you’re ready to install a sun tunnel. These include:

  • Dome that sits on top of the roof
  • Flat glass panel

A benefit of choosing a glass panel is that it can be on-trend and stylish for years to come. You can also request that your installers create them in a way that corresponds with your existing windows. However, domes can also be visually stunning!

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. Both options can look classic and refined as long as they’re installed by a professional team. However, it does help to know the functional difference.

In general, light reflects off a flat surface. However, it refracts when it intersects with a dome shape.

This means that if you install a flat panel on your tunnel and light hits it, a portion of that light is lost to the reflection. Yet, it refracts (turns inward) when inside a dome, which allows dome-shaped sun tunnels to capture even more light than other models.

This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it can affect the way the light looks when it leaves the sun tunnel and enters your home, so it’s an important element to consider.

Is a Sun Tunnel Right for Your Home?

Now that you know a little more about how sun tunnels work and the benefits they provide, are you ready to add one to your home?

A sun tunnel can transform the look and feel of your property, and these installations are becoming more common. The key is to choose a team you can trust and make sure you know how the final design will look and function before you get started.

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