Dear Jim: I try to use fewer electric lights to save electricity. I would like to get more natural light, but the cost of a skylight is over my budget. Are tubular skylights effective and easy to install myself? - Bill F.
Dear Bill: Tubular skylights do bring a lot of natural light into a room and will reduce or eliminate the need for electric lights during the daytime. They are less expensive than standard rectangular skylights and are relatively easy to install for the average do-it-yourselfer in an afternoon.
If you are installing one basically to save money on your electric bills, the payback period can be long. Eliminating two 100-watt light bulbs that are on for six hours a day for five days per week, the annual electricity savings at 10 cents per kilowatt-hour would be about $36. If you use compact fluorescent bulbs, the annual savings would be about $10.
The best reason for installing a tubular skylight is you prefer natural light. It makes everything, particularly colors, look better, and some people claim it makes them feel better. Some older people (like myself) see better under natural light. For environmentally concerned citizens, using less electricity, even only $10 less, is a step in the right direction.
Tubular skylights are simple devices that rely on super reflectivity. A tube with a reflective interior, typically from nine to 14 inches in diameter, is installed from the roof to the ceiling of the room below. The tube is sealed at the top and bottom so no indoor air is lost. With the small size of the tube and the dead air space inside, it is efficient.
The typical tubular skylight kit includes a length of reflective metal tubing, a top dome, roof flashing, storm ring and an indoor ceiling light diffuser at the bottom. To install one, a hole is sawn in the roof and one is cut into the room ceiling and the tube is connected between them.
For tall roofs, extra lengths of reflective tubing can be purchased to reach from the roof to the ceiling. Keep in mind though, a longer tube means more brightness is lost as the light bounces back and forth on its path down.
For attics with many obstructions, a flexible reflective tubing is available. This is not quite as efficient as a smooth tube, but it sometimes is the only way to weave the tube through the attic.
At midday, the brightness from a tubular skylight can be strong. Adjustable dimmer flappers can be installed to partially block off the tube. ODL just designed a new remote-controlled dimmer system that is powered by a small solar panel on the roof.
This makes installation simple, and it uses no electricity. Other dimmer designs require electric wiring for power. Solatube offers a bathroom model that includes an efficient vent fan and optional electric night light.
The following companies offer tubular skylight kits: ODL, (866) 635-4968, www.odl.com; Solatube, (888) 765-2882, www.solatube.com; Sun-Dome, (800) 596-8414, www.sun-dome.com; Sun Pipe, (800) 844-4786, www.sunpipe.com; Tru-Lite, (800) 873-3309, www.tru-lite.com; and Velux, (800) 888-3589, www.veluxusa.com.
Dear Jim: I was up in my attic and noticed a large gap between my brick chimney and the attic floor. I could feel a light breeze flowing upward through it. What is the best method to block this leak? - Guy W.
Dear Guy: Cut aluminum flashing material slightly larger than the distance from the joists to the chimney. Lay a bead of caulk on top of the joists and nail the flashing to them. Bend the edge down over the side of the joist.
Using a piece of lumber as a straight edge, hammer it against the other end of the flashing and the chimney to form an upward bend tight against the chimney. Run a heavy bead of caulk to seal it against the chimney.
Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com