Tubular vs. Solar Tracking: Which Provides Superior Natural Lighting?

By Jeff Brain | April 14, 2016

Superior natural lighting is achieved when the chosen skylighting product is the right match for the building application. When faced with the decision of choosing between tubular and solar tracking skylights, there are a few key differences in their designs that can help point you toward the best product for your space.

Questions to ask before choosing a skylight include:

  1. What tasks are performed in the space?
  2. How large are the rooms?
  3. What is the building location and orientation?
  4. What quality and level of light do occupants prefer?

Knowing just a few basic details about the two skylighting products can help you evaluate whether the natural lighting product meets your needs.

Tubular Skylights

Tubular skylights have a clear, compact dome connected to flexible, highly reflective tubing that pipes natural light deep into a building. Because of its relatively small size, it is well-suited for residential and small commercial spaces. Tubular skylights are passive and will produce the most illumination around midday so long as there are no obstructions casting shadows on it and keeping it from receiving the sun’s light.

Like all passive skylights, their orientation in relation to the sun will affect the amount of light they transmit to the building interior. If they are mounted on a sloped roof, they will be less effective facing northward than southward, and eastern and western facing units will be limited to receiving light either in the morning or the afternoon rather than the whole duration of the day.

Tubular skylights bring in diffuse, natural light through dropped ceilings, attics, and upper floors, illuminating small areas far below the roof and bringing in natural light to illuminate hallways, bathrooms, closets, bedrooms, copy rooms, and small offices.

Solar Tracking Skylights

Solar tracking skylights, like tubular skylights, they are topped with a clear plastic dome. Unlike tubular skylights, though, they are larger and emit more light, because they have a sun tracking GPS unit beneath the dome that is calibrated with a solar-powered motor which keeps a set of mirrors in perfect alignment with the sun to reflect its rays downward into a building for up to 10.5 hours per day.

Solar tracking skylights produce more illumination per unit than tubular skylights, making them well-suited for large commercial and industrial spaces, as well as schools, hospitals, and airports. While they will illuminate the interior of a building once the sun is above the horizon, they are also subject to the same limitations that passive skylights face when they are mounted on a sloped roof.

Solar tracking skylights bring in high levels of diffuse natural light to illuminate a variety of workspaces. Large commercial, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, and education settings can all benefit from the abundance of diffuse natural light illuminating their interiors all day long.

If you are interested in learning more about how natural lighting products can be incorporated into your new construction or retrofit project, download our eBook The Power Of Daylighting Systems In Building Design.

Download The Power of Daylighting In Building Design

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