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Skylight vs. Sun Tunnel: Which is Right for You?

March 6th, 2024 | 6 min. read

Skylight vs. Sun Tunnel: Which is Right for You?

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Finding ways to add more natural light to homes is more popular than ever. And one of the best ways to do this is by adding a skylight or sun tunnel. 

While both are great options, one is better than the other in certain situations. Well, you can’t know which one is right for you without knowing the difference and how they compare on key factors.

For over 30 years, the team at Bill Ragan Roofing has taken pride in helping homeowners make the right decisions by providing transparent information. Now, I’ll help you determine whether a skylight or sun tunnel is right for you, your budget, and your situation.

On top of breaking down the difference between skylights and sun tunnels, this article answers the following questions:

  • Is a skylight or sun tunnel easier to install?
  • Does a skylight or sun tunnel let more light in?
  • Do both a skylight and sun tunnel qualify for the Federal Solar Tax Credit?
  • Does a skylight or sun tunnel cost more?

What’s the difference between a skylight and a sun tunnel?

A skylight and a sun tunnel are roof penetrations that allow more natural light into your home. However, they do it in very different ways. 

What is a skylight?

A skylight is literally a window installed directly on your roof. There are two types of skylights: vented (opens to the outside) and fixed (sealed tight). 

skylights installed on an architectural asphalt shingle roof

Vented skylights also have options for how they open, such as manual, electric, and solar-powered. Custom skylights are also available to fit unique spaces, architectural designs, or commercial buildings.

What is a sun tunnel?

A sun tunnel is an acrylic dome (on the roof) connected on one end to a pre-fabricated tube with a light diffuser (on your ceiling) on the other end. It works by capturing light with the dome, magnifying it, and sending it down the tube into the light diffuser.

examples of a flexible sun tunnel and a rigid sun tunnel(Graphics provided by

While there are two types of sun tunnels (flexible and rigid), the one you get depends on the space between the dome and diffuser. Flexible sun tunnels are used in spaces that require manipulating the tube around obstructions to connect the dome and diffuser.

On the other hand, rigid sun tunnels are used if there aren't obstructions between the roof and ceiling. You’ll also have different diffuser options to fit the aesthetic of the room it’s installed in. 

Skylight vs. sun tunnel: which is right for you?

Now you know the difference between skylights and sun tunnels. However, how they let light in isn’t the only thing that makes them different. 

Let’s compare skylights and sun tunnels on installation, amount of light, qualifying for the solar tax credit, and pricing. 

Is a skylight or sun tunnel easier to install?

Getting a new skylight is an actual construction project that requires much more labor and time to install than a sun tunnel.

skylight installation with ceiling cut out, framing completed, and roof hole cutskylight installed and dry wall completed after installation is complete

It requires cutting drywall and a hole through your roof, framing for the new drywall, framing the skylight, putting new drywall to enclose the area, flashing the skylight, and painting the drywall to put the finishing touches. 

If you get a curb-mounted skylight, there’s also construction involved to make the curb. While a sun tunnel also requires cutting a hole in the roof and ceiling, it’s much easier to install than a skylight. 

After making the hole from your roof to the ceiling, the tube is fitted into the space before installing the acrylic dome and light diffuser on the ends. This takes 3 hours to start and complete, while the skylight installation process could take days with multiple trades involved (carpentry, roofing, and painting) on one project.

Does a skylight or sun tunnel let more light in?

A skylight is a direct window to the outdoors, so it lets in much more natural light than a sun tunnel. However, a sun tunnel still provides plenty of natural light. 

sun tunnel installed in a kitchen(Sun tunnels in a kitchen)

You just need to think strategically about how much light you want to come into the room it’s installed in. That’s why I recommend sun tunnels for rooms in the middle of a house that doesn’t receive any natural light (such as hallways, laundry rooms, utility rooms, dark kitchens, bathrooms, large closets, etc.).

Do both a skylight and a sun tunnel qualify for the Federal Solar Tax Credit?

The Federal Solar Tax Credit allows you to deduct 30% of installation costs on solar energy systems. Both a skylight and a sun tunnel have the opportunity to qualify for the tax credit, but they must have something that’s solar-powered.

However, skylights have more ways to qualify. You can get the tax credit with a solar-powered skylight or by adding a solar-powered accessory, like blinds, to your skylight.

Unfortunately, sun tunnels don’t have many options for getting this tax credit. For example, VELUXs (the leading skylight brand) sun tunnels' only way to get the tax credit is by getting a solar night light.

Does a skylight or sun tunnel cost more?

Getting a new skylight will always cost more than getting a sun tunnel. Let’s use VELUX’s pricing as an example. 

For a new fixed skylight install, you’re looking at around $2,800-$4,700 compared to $850-$2,250 for a new sun tunnel. That’s a pretty big price difference, and a fixed skylight will be the cheapest option. 

The material costs for a skylight installation are higher than a sun tunnel, but the main reason it’s much more expensive is the labor costs. Remember, getting a new skylight is a construction project that requires multiple trades. 

The labor to complete the installation is much more intensive, requires different trades, and takes longer. Because of this, a sun tunnel is the least expensive way to add more natural light to a room.

Are you ready to get your skylight or sun tunnel?

At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with a skylight or sun tunnel. That’s why it’s important to pick the one that’s right for your budget and situation. 

A skylight lets more light in and has more options that are eligible for the Federal Solar Tax Credit, but it costs more and takes a lot to install. On the other hand, a sun tunnel is the quickest, least invasive, and most cost-effective way to add natural light to your home. 

However, it won’t have multiple tax credit options or let in as much light as a skylight. 

Whichever you choose, it’s crucial to hire an experienced installer to avoid costly leaks. The best way to do this is by going to VELUX’s website to find a qualified and certified skylight installer.

Check out Velux’s Find an Installer to get a list of local companies who can help with all your skylight or sun tunnel needs.

roofing contractor questions checklist

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