Skylights are great to illuminate those dark corners and hallways in your house (for us, it's the hallway leading up to the second floor and an interior bathroom.) But they're also expensive and difficult to install: we got a bid of $3000 to install one simple glass skylight. If it's light you're after, rather than a view of the sky, Solatube tubular skylights may be a simpler, more energy efficient, and less expensive choice.
The principle is pretty straightforward: cut a small hole in the roof, then install a metal tube that leads down to wherever you want the skylight. The sizes Solatube offers fit between most joists and rafters. Cut another hole in the ceiling and install a lens, and presto: whenever there's daylight, you've got free light indoors. And because the light is reflected down a long tube, most of the heat and glare problems associated with typical skylights are eliminated.
There are a few things to look for when buying a tubular skylight. As far as we know, Solatube has the most reflective interior coating -- so the most light makes it down the tube. We also prefer the flashing kits Solatube offers: those are the metal bits that interlock with the shingles on your roof to keep water out. (We saw a copycat product some time ago that relied on nothing but caulk to seal the roof joint: that's not a good design.)
We also like the effect lenses Solatube offers, which can warm the color temperature of daylight. Surprisingly, daylight is very cool -- at noon, it's the same color as those fluorescent bulbs people love to complain about. There's also a ventilation kit, a light add-on kit, and a light damper you can operate with a switch. Cost varies depending on options and the length of the tube, but it's not unusual for one to cost far less than $1000 installed.
Check out the Solatube website, and if you know of a good installer in your area, leave us a note below.