Skylights vs. Solar Tubes: Which One Should You Choose?

Brionna Farney
Written by Brionna Farney
Updated May 12, 2022
home interior of a kitchen with a skylight
Photo: Jodie Johnson / Stocksy / Adobe Stock


  • Skylights and solar tubes bring natural light inside your home.

  • Solar tubes are more affordable and easier to maintain.

  • Skylights have a bigger design impact and let in more light.

  • A skylight costs from $500–$3,000 while a solar tube costs from $600–$1,000.

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It’s fair to say that every homeowner pines for a light-filled home. But some homes lack enough windows to get that coveted bath of natural light, and not all rooms have an exterior wall available for installing a new window. 

In those cases, a skylight or a solar tube is the perfect solution. Whether it’s a bedroom, walk-in closet, bathroom, or kitchen, a skylight or solar tube installed on your roof can bring in that much-needed sunlight. But which is better for your home? Here’s what you need to know before choosing between a skylight or a solar tube.

Skylights Pros and Cons

luxury bathroom with skylight
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

A skylight is a window set in the roof of your home rather than in the wall. The glazing is made from either glass or plastic. Fixed skylights do not open, while ventilating skylights open slightly to circulate air or release moisture. Skylights are typically square or rectangular and come in a wide range of sizes.


  • They provide a view outside.

  • They’re available in a wide range of standard and custom sizes.

  • They can be opened to vent out air or moisture.

  • Certain treated glass skylights can block out harmful UV rays.


  • Installation requires extensive roof and flashing work as well as interior finishing.

  • The large opening and glass barrier are less energy-efficient and allow more heat gain.

  • Their cost can be expensive due to the amount of roofing work required.

  • There’s potential for leaks or condensation issues if not properly flashed and maintained.

Solar Tubes Pros and Cons

Solar tubes, also known as sun tunnels, are rigid or flexible metal tubes installed through the roof of your home. A polycarbonate or acrylic dome set on the top catches sunlight and reflects it down the tube to a diffusing lens attached to your ceiling. Solar tubes are available starting at 10-inches in diameter and increase from there.


  • Installation requires minimal roof, flashing, and interior finishing work.

  • It’s the less expensive option when compared to skylights.

  • The dome on top blocks out harmful UV rays.

  • They’re relatively energy-efficient and heat gain is limited because the opening is small.


  • A solar tube does not provide a view outside.

  • They can’t be opened to provide ventilation.

  • They have potential for leaks or condensation issues if not properly flashed and maintained.

  • Fewer size options are available when compared to skylights.

Skylights vs. Solar Tubes

To add more light to your space, skylights or solar tubes are the way to go, but which one is better for your unique situation? Consider the direct comparison of each option below.


Skylights can bring more than just light into your home—the windows add to your home’s style, both from the interior and exterior. You can purchase skylights in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials to complement the other elements in your home. Some homeowners place two or more skylights side-by-side as an intentional design feature.

Solar tubes are usually smaller, therefore do not have the same design impact that skylights do. From the interior, a solar tube mimics the look of a recessed light fixture in your ceiling, almost disguising its existence.

Most aesthetically pleasing: Skylights


The cost of solar tubes and skylights will vary depending on the style and size of the products you choose, but in most cases, skylights will cost more. This is due to the extensive roof, flashing, and interior trim work required to properly install a skylight.

Expect the cost of solar tubes to be anywhere from $600 to $1,000 per tube, or an average of $800 per tube with installation included. Skylights will cost between $500 and $3,000 to install depending on the type of skylight you choose.

Most affordable: Solar Tubes

Ease of Installation

man installing sun pipe on roof
Photo: P A Thompson / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Solar tubes are typically easier to install than skylights due to the smaller size and less invasive roof work required. The diffusing lens attached to your ceiling requires a simple opening in your drywall and there is less material required overall.

When it comes to creating openings in your roof, it is a job best left to the professionals. Installing either a solar tube or skylight requires proper flashing and waterproofing to avoid water leaks. Hiring a professional skylight installer will ensure your project is installed correctly.

Easiest installation: Solar Tubes


The curved dome on top of a solar tube causes moisture and debris to slide off. Some solar tubes are vacuum-sealed when installed, preventing the infiltration of dust. For these reasons, solar tubes require minimal maintenance.

Skylights require much more maintenance. The trim around the edges of the window allows the accumulation of dirt and debris. Collected dust can impede your view out of the skylight. You will need to get up on your roof and clean your skylight regularly or hire a local roof cleaning company to do so.

Easiest maintenance: Solar Tubes


If you want a better view of the environment outside your window, installing a skylight is a no-brainer. Opt for a large skylight or multiple skylights and choose a location on your roof that overlooks the best scenery. 

Solar tubes are not intended to provide a view of the outside. If you look up into a solar tube, you will just see diffused sunlight.

Best view: Skylights

Energy Efficiency

The better choice for energy efficiency between a skylight and a solar tube will ultimately depend on your climate.

In a cold climate, skylights are the best option because the large opening allows sunlight to passively heat your home. In a warm climate, solar tubes are a better choice because less heat from the sun is likely to enter your home, therefore limiting your cooling needs.

Most eco-friendly: Tie—depends on your climate


When installing a new feature in your home, ideally it will have a return-on-investment, or increase the value of your home upon sale. A new skylight can significantly change the look and feel of a room and provide more function, therefore will have some ROI for a homebuyer. 

Since solar tubes have a similar impact to a new light fixture, installing one will not make a huge difference to a buyer. There is no significant ROI for a solar tube.

Best ROI: Skylights

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