What is a Light Tube?

Mary McMahon

A light tube is a tube which is designed to be installed in a ceiling or wall to allow natural light to pass into a room. Light tubes are also known as light pipes or solar tubes, and they are an increasingly common feature in design and architecture. There are a number of advantages to light tubes, ranging from security to savings on energy bills. Many home supply stores carry light tubes which are ready to be installed, and they can also be custom designed.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

The most basic light tube design is simply a straight cylinder, capped with a dome on one end and a diffuser on the other. The dome end is pointed outside, allowing the dome to concentrate and collect light so that it can pass down the tube, and the diffuser diffuses the light into the room so that hot spots do not develop. Light tubes can also be bent and lined with reflective materials to pass the light on, and they can have other innovative features as well.

Light tubes have a number of advantages over skylights, another type of window commonly installed to allow more light into a space. Light tubes are much easier to install, and less likely to contribute to the development of leaks and weak spots in a roof. They are also more secure, as people cannot fit through a light tube. This can be an advantage for home security, and also in institutions which need to be secured, such as prisons.

The light tube design can be used to admit natural light into a space, which will cut down substantially on lighting bills. It also reduces the risk of heat loss, because it is sealed, and the air inside acts as insulation. This is in direct contrast with a skylight, a window which usually contributes substantially to heat loss because it lacks insulating properties. The tubes can also be used in environments where privacy is desired, such as bathrooms.

One of the best times to install a light tube is when work is being done to a roof, as it will be easy to fit the tube in while the upper layers of the roof are removed. It is also possible to install a tube in an existing finished roof, with the assistance of a roofer or a general contractor who is comfortable with roofing. Light tubes can also be very easily installed in walls, although people should be careful when punching holes through walls to avoid plumbing and electrical lines.

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Discussion Comments


@seag47 - What a cute idea! I loved ships while growing up, so I would have really enjoyed that daycare theme.

I have an artistic friend who uses light tubes to illuminate her studio in the daytime. On the wall that faces the sun for most of the day, she installed a few vertical rows of them that continue on up across part of the ceiling.

The light from the sun filters in through them and gives her some good natural light to work by. This is the best light to use when painting on a canvas, because you can see details more plainly than with an overhead light bulb.


You can get really creative with the placement of light tubes. My best friend owns a daycare, and she placed light tubes in a horizontal row along one wall to look like portholes on a ship.

She painted circles around them and painted the wall to look like a ship. She even hung a couple of life preservers on this wall.

She would read the kids stories about sailing, and they would all gather around the light tubes to pretend to look out at the waves. The kids loved it, and I believe she even inspired a parent or two to get light tubes installed in their own houses.


My sister had skylights in her old house, but the living room got way too hot in the summer because of them. She wound up running fabric across them just to keep the heat out.

When she moved, she had light tubes installed in her new home instead. If they let any heat in at all, I can’t feel it. They are good at letting light through, though.

I think that a ceiling with light tubes is far more interesting than one that is closed off to the sky. A room with light tubes just seems more natural and open, even if it only has a few.


The waiting room at my doctor’s office has natural light tubes in the roof. As a child, I passed the time by sitting directly beneath them and staring up at the blue sky.

Every now and then, a piece of cloud would pass by. This really entertained me at the time. I got really excited when I saw a plane fly over, because I had been staring up at blue nothingness for several minutes, and I did not expect to see that.

I think light tubes are great for rooms like this where people need something to look at. Most people, young and old, are incredibly bored in waiting rooms, and they will appreciate little visual effects like this.

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