Solatube Project

Why Solatube?

narrow band of winter sunlight coming through my clerestory

sunlight from my clerestory

My living room’s clerestory brings in a narrow band of sunlight during winter. In summer no sunlight comes in, so it’s much cooler than if I had a sunny window. I love the cool, but wish for the sunny.

My plants, on the other hand, languish without sunshine. Even lettuce struggles to make a few spindly leaves that suggest anemic, rather than healthy and nourishing.

Solatube box - for a flat roof like mine, everything's inside

Solatube box  with everything inside

When I discovered a product called Solatube, I was intrigued. After much reading and video watching, I was determined to give it a try.

I called the dealer in Albuquerque, I’m in Santa Fe which is far smaller. The story goes that in the early days, Santa Fe, as the capital of New Mexico, had the choice of the university or the prison. Those with the authority to choose, chose the prison on the rationale that a university would bring lots of people, whereas a prison would bring fewer, thus reducing the “threat” of change. In Santa Fe, old is beautiful. The Santa Fe lightbulb joke goes, How many people does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: One, and 60 to sit around and talk about how beautiful the old bulb was and how much they miss it.

The Albuquerque dealer quoted $600 to provide and install a 10″ Solatube. In contrast, Sunwest Construction in Santa Fe sells the 14″ Solatube kit for under $400.

The videos made installation look pretty easy, so I called around for someone to put it in. Prices began at $125 an hour, among contractors, and ranged up to $1,000 for the job. Some contractors who insisted on coming to take a look before giving a quote, arrived, saw my home without a gas meter, and left, calling to say they had something come up.

I was on the last page of classifieds in the New Mexican Newspaper online, when I found Jesus. He arrived to take a look, with his ladder and a smile, after his regular job. From our phone conversation I’d been concerned about understanding him, and he me, since he seemed more familiar with Spanish. Upon meeting him and chatting, my concern vanished.

I explained to Jesus that my solar electric will no longer run power tools because my batteries are wrecked. He said he didn’t need electricity.

“How much?” I asked him. Prior to this he has asked me how old I am. I had replied OLD. Then added, “in my 60s.” But truth won out, “Nearly 70.” Maybe that had nothing to do with his quote, but he said, “$100.”

That was perfect. I had that much, in addition to the money for the kit. But, he said he was busy and would have to schedule it for sometime next week. I pointed to my unhappy tomato and said, “My tomato needs the light soon, or it will die.” He said he’d come next morning. Well, I wasn’t prepared for that, I still had to have my friend go and buy the kit. In the end we agreed on “the day after tomorrow.”

ladder and Solatube hole in the ceiling

ladder and Solatube hole in the ceiling

On the appointed day, 11/07/2013, Jesus arrived with his ladder and hand tools.

I had a video on my computer about “What’s in the Solatube box” and we watched the beginning of that, mainly because it showed how to place the piece into the dome that will reflect the light into the tube rather than letting it zip through the dome and away.

Upon opening the box, we spent about an hour familiarizing ourselves with the pieces and the different sized screws. Jesus placed the pieces together, experimentally, to get the hang of it.

the board that was over the right side of the ceiling hole, was moved easily with a few hammer blows

the board that was over the right side of the ceiling hole, was moved easily with a few hammer blows

By then there was just enough time for him to measure, based on sixteen inches between joists, and cut the hole in the ceiling before going to his regular job. There was a slight hiccup when a thick board, spacing the joists, was covering three inches on the right side of the hole. I thought he’d have to re-cut the hole, but he said no, he would use a hammer to move the board. I didn’t see how that could work, but it did, and easily. Then he left, promising to be back next day to finish.

Promptly at 8 the next morning, Jesus arrived with a drill and very long drill bit to mark the middle of the ceiling hole through the roofing in order to match it exactly with the roof hole.

roof hole for the Solatube is cut, showing our wonderful blue New Mexico sky

roof hole for the Solatube is cut, showing our wonderful blue New Mexico sky

The edge of the roof hole is jagged because Jesus bashed the hole open rather than wasting time trying to saw the reluctant bits.

I was totally delighted until Jesus came down and said, “Your roof is very bad. There are two layers of roof. There’s water between them.”

I heard “water” as moisture, and said I wasn’t going to worry about it right then.

Jesus repeated, “Your roof is very bad.”

What I heard was Jesus wanting my roofing business, so I said I heard him and I understood, but for now we’d finish the Solatube.

Solatube flashing in place, set into a thick bed of roofing material

Solatube flashing in place, set into a thick bed of roofing material

Jesus went back up on the roof, laid a thick bed for roofing material and set the Solatube flashing into it, centering it over the holes. The bottom of the flashing is wider than its hole at the top, which is centered over the hole in the ceiling dry wall. With it in place, Jesus added tar for a good seal.

Next came the placing of the top part of the Solatube, which carries warnings about how hot it gets if left in the sun without its dome attached.

The piece slipped easily into the flashing and was easy to secure with the provided screws.

Next came slipping the ceiling part of the Solatube up into the roof part. This hit a snag when the clamps that are provided to assist if you have an attic. The clamps can be positioned to grip the top of the ceiling drywall, making it ultra easy to install. However, if you have no attic, as indeed I do not, then the clamps are in the way when you want to slide the ceiling piece in, and after the clamps are removed, their housing remains a problem. Jesus easily solved this by cutting four grooves into the outside edge of the ceiling hole, and with that the piece slipped into place. Jesus secured it with the provided dry wall screws and snapped the diffuser into place.

Despite having seen pictures of Solatube lighting, I was expecting a shaft of light from ceiling to floor

I’d seen pictures of Solatube light, still I expected a shaft of light

I thought there would be more light if the diffuser were removed. It has a tab that makes removing it really easy. With that done, Jesus snapped the Vusion “fixture” into place. It looked neat and tidy, and quite lovely, except there still wasn’t nearly as much light as I had anticipated.

There was a lot more light in my living room. My living room was not lacking light at all. The difference was enormous.

Solatube light on my tomatoes seemed dim

Solatube light on tomatoes seemed dim

But… my tomato plants didn’t seem to have as much light shining on them as I had hoped. That is what I had been paying for, and without more sunlight shining on my tomatoes, it seemed as if I’d wasted a lot of money. I was very disappointed.

To put the best face on it, I told myself that it was worth the investment to know how it worked. If I hadn’t bought it and tried it out, I’d have nothing but my desire for Solatube on my mind.

I was too upset to work on my website, so I decided to play computer games to take my mind off my utter disappointment, after, that is, I tweeted about it.

I was rather happily playing Big Kahuna and doing relatively well, when I heard the distinctive sound of a leak. We haven’t had any rain in days, and it’s very dry here, so the sound of a leak was unexpected.

Turns out, the water was coming from my Solatube, making it clear that when Jesus said my roof was very bad, and that there was water between the roof layers, he meant water, and not a bit of damp moisture, the way I had preferred to hear it.

Water collected in the Solatube then leaked out. What looks like a crack is the edge of the water.

Water collected in the Solatube then leaked out. What looks like a crack is the edge of the water.

Well, the water was better off being released from between the two layers of roof, so that was a good thing. And, there’s not electricity with Solatube, so there was no danger from electrical wires in the lighting fixture.

Overall, I was philosophical. Plus, since Jesus was coming over after work to sweep up, I could plan to tell him he was right about the water. My “planning” kept me from worrying. In fact, I decided that if Jesus drilled a small hole in the Solatube lens, the water could drip out easily, which would be fine till by some miracle I had money for the roof.

Jesus arrived, took down the lens, and said he thought it would take a couple days for the water to all run out. He looked quite worried when I asked him about drilling a hole in the lens.

I knew from experience that some plastic, like that I had put across the shaft of my kitchen skylight, cracks very easily. I sure didn’t want to ruin the Solatube lens. And, clearly Jesus felt the same concern because he looked a bit worried. Up until now he had not looked worried. He said he’d bring his tiniest drill bit tomorrow. I said, Great.

When he left I took out my silversmithing tools and found a fine, conical file. I thought maybe I could rotate the file enough to make a hole. Half an hour later, I decided to see if I still had drill bits, and how big my smallest was.

The drill bit, rotated by hand, worked quite well. It took about an hour, all together, but I made a lovely hole to drain the water. I felt quite good, except for my fingers, one of which developed a blood blister.

Without the diffuser Solatube produces arcs of light

Without the diffuser Solatube produces arcs of light

This may not be the look you want in a fashionable living room, but in mine, for my tomatoes, I’m hoping these arcs of light coming from the Solatube now that I removed its diffuser, are just the thing for my peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and other veggies.

I’ve ordered more Orca Grow Film for the top half of the wall, so when that arrives and is put up, hopefully the light will be even better.

I expect that the next hurdle is warmth. So, instead of continuing to work on this page, I’d better go turn on my full spectrum lamps, which produce a nice bit of heat over the course of the day.

Gasp ~ Glitches!

Solatube screws on my Candle Making Table, NOT in the Solatube

Solatube screws on my Candle Making Table, NOT in the Solatube

11/10/2013 ~ GASP! The screws that are supposed to be in my Solatube are sitting on my Candle Making Table.

Solatube on my roof, Sadly without screws in the tube

Solatube on my roof, Sadly without screws in the tube

11/11/2013 ~ My friend Del came and took pictures with my camera for me. Sadly, there are no screws in the places in the Solatube tube where there are supposed to be screws.

Jesus spent so much time talking about how bad my roof was, that he stopped paying attention to doing a good job.

Yesterday I was totally freaked. In fact, when I had to call for tech support to verify for Google that I own this site, I could barely talk. My brain injury doesn’t do well when there’s stress. The screws not being in place was Super Stress.

Tomorrow I’ll call Solatube and see what they say.

Sigh.

11/12/2013 ~ Wow, Solatube support is really great. The screws are an integral part of the installation. So, if there aren’t screws in those holes, then the dome needs to be snapped back off, using a key or something to lever it. Then the screws need to be put in.

However, the screws I thought should have been used were for a different kind of installation, where you need to use an extension piece of tubing. So, my worry related to those screws was unfounded.

2nd Solatube

3/27/2014 ~ I’ve had a second Solatube installed. Boy, what a learning experience this is! Turns out that the first one was not installed Level. I mean, it didn’t look level in that it wasn’t flush against the ceiling on all sides. I could see that, what I couldn’t appreciate, however, until there was a second one, one that was level, is the vast impact not being level made on the light coming from it.

Fig enjoying the wide band of light from the newly added Solatube

Fig enjoying the wide band of light from the newly added Solatube

I couldn’t afford the more experience installers, so I guess I’m glad I have a badly installed Solatube instead of none at all, but boy, it would be so super if they were both level. The additional light from the level Solatube is wonderful. The bands of light are wide and quite bright.

Up until I had Solatube I had to take my fig out every morning, and back in each evening when night temperatures were predicted to be near or below freezing. This year, with Solatube, my fig is doing really well indoors. I’m loving the way it looks in the Solatube light, and I’m loving not having to lug it over the door threshold every day, even with the plant trolley under its huge pot, it was still a struggle to navigate the threshold.

Look how much it's grown .

Look how much it’s grown .

5/17/2014 ~ My fig became tall and lush, inside with Solatube light. This is the first year in Forever that I didn’t have to take it in and out, endlessly, from warm March days on through May when nights finally become warm enough not to freeze plants. The only problem is that I’m going to miss it inside. It gave this wonderful forest-feel to my living room.

I’m calling my Solatube a Wonderful Success!

One comment on “Solatube Project

  1. Reply Tracci Nov 25,2013 11:12 pm

    Your tomatoes look great and very happy! I can’t wait to see what else you come up with. I sent you a link on twitter for a little candle heater we use here and it seems to work fairly well.

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