How to Install a Solatube Skylight

A Solatube skylight is installed to brighten up bedroom with small windows. Locate the skylight on the ceiling and roof, cutting holes and install the skylight.

My daughter’s bedroom needed more light than the two small dormer windows could supply. To solve the problem, I installed a Solatube 290 DS skylight. The Solatube tubular skylight – or sun tunnel – that is relatively easy to install, has a slim profile and does a fantastic job at delivering natural light to a room. I installed one of these years ago and was very pleased with its performance, so I choose Solatube again for this project. Aside: I also installed the HVAC ceiling vent to the right of the skylight in the Adding a Room Air Duct for Heating & Cooling project.

Solatube 290 DS 14 inch Skylight

Solatube 290 DS 14 inch Skylight

Solatube Skylight Kit

The Solatube skylight comes in a complete kit with everything you need to install it, including roofing caulk and metal foil tape.

Solatube 290 DS Skylight

Solatube 290 DS Skylight

Diagram on the back of the Solatube shipping box. Click here for the installation instructions.

Solatube Skylight Kit - Everything is in the Box

Solatube Skylight Kit – Everything is in the Box

Working on a Steep Roof

My house has a 10/12 pitch roof, meaning it rises 10 inches for every 12 inches of horizontal run. This works out to a steep 40 degree slope that is impossible to walk on. I’ve tried crawling up the roof and I just slide off. If it weren’t for the fact that the area I’d be working has two dormers that made it easier to access, I’d would have given this job over to professional installer. In fact, if I were to do this job again on such a steep roof, I’d hire a professional.

My area was hit by a major hailstorm last spring and several homes in the area had their roofs replaced. I watched how the roofers got around on these steep 10/12 pitch roofs. Roof brackets, toe boards and safety ropes are necessary – but the trick to staying put is a piece of foam rubber. The roofers take block of foam rubber from a cushion and kneel on it while working to stay put the steep roof. The foam rubber does a great job of gripping the shingles.

Poor Man’s Roofing Shoes

A block of foam rubber to kneel on is only part of the solution for working on a steep roof. I knew that soft soled shoes were necessary to get any kind of footing and none of my sneakers would get a grip. Google searches turned up Cougar Paws™ Roofing Boots that use a patented and replaceable sole designed for working on roofs. If I were working roofs all the time, I’d buy a set of Cougar Paws.

Inspired by the block of foam rubber used by the roofers and the Cougar Paws Roofing Boots technology, I decided to a make my own pair of poor-man’s roofing shoes.

I bought a set of foam rubber seat cushions from Wal-Mart for about $10, traced the outline of an old pair of shoes, cut out the foam soles and sprayed the shoes and foam rubber with 3M™ Super 77 Spray Adhesive purchased from Home Depot. I let the 3M adhesive tack up for about 10 minutes for an extra strong permanent bond and glued the foam to the shoes.

Making Foam Rubber Soles for Roofing Shoes

Making Foam Rubber Soles for Roofing Shoes

Here’s the materials for the poor man’s roofing shoe:

Poor Man's Roofing Shoes

Poor Man’s Roofing Shoes

The downside is the improvised foam shoe soles wear out quickly, but it got me through this project.

How to Install a Solatube Skylight

The skylight will be located on the roof between the two dormers and I needed to take exterior measurements to determine the position of the skylight from inside the attic.

Armed with a block of foam rubber and my home made roofing shoes, I exited the 2nd floor window onto the shallow roof of the covered porch. The foam-lined roofing shoes worked great as I was able to crab walk up the roof, using the block of foam rubber in one hand to maintain my grip. This is a view of the entry to roof. You can see my shoe heel at the extreme bottom right of the photo. I discovered that I don’t like heights.

Climbing the 10/12 Pitch Roof

Climbing the 10/12 Pitch Roof

View roof ridge over the bedroom. A 40 degree roof slope is quite steep! I liked it better if I didn’t look down.

Roof Ridge over the Bedroom

Roof Ridge over the Bedroom

I took measurements to determine where the dormers are in relation to main roof. The measurements are necessary avoid the dormers when fixing the position of the skylight inside the attic. The key measurements are:

  1. The horizontal distance from the main roof ridge to the valley between the two dormers.
  2. The vertical distance from the main roof ridge the top ridge of the dormers.
Solatube Installation: Main Roof and Dormers

Solatube Installation: Main Roof and Dormers

Ground level view of the dormers:

Bedroom Dormers

Bedroom Dormers

Solatube Placement in the Bedroom Ceiling

A tape measure and carpenter’s square are used to find the center of the wall between the two dormers and draw center line in pencil along the ceiling. A 3-1/2 long screw was driven into the ceiling about 18 inches out from the wall as indicated by the red arrow. This will be the center of the skylight.

Locate the Solatube Skylight on the Bedroom Ceiling

Locate the Solatube Skylight on the Bedroom Ceiling

Working in the attic above the bedroom, the screw for the center of the skylight is somewhere beneath the insulation.

Attic Area where the Skylight will be Installed

Attic Area where the Skylight will be Installed

The insulation is brushed away revealing the screw in the ceiling. Several problems are immediately evident:

  1. The screw is not centered between the ceiling joists.
  2. The ceiling joists are offset and don’t align with the roof trusses.
  3. There’s not enough room for me to work so close the edge of attic.
Solatube Installation: Screw Marking the Center of the Skylight

Solatube Installation: Screw Marking the Center of the Skylight

To remedy these problems, I decided to locate the skylight higher on the roof and verified this location would be clear of the dormers based on the previously made exterior roof measurements. A 3-1/2 inch screw was centered between the roof trusses and driven through the roof deck to mark the center of the skylight on the exterior roof.

The center of the skylight is transferred from the roof deck to the bedroom ceiling by plumb bob and line as shown.

Attic Area where the Skylight will be Installed

Attic Area where the Skylight will be Installed

Because the ceiling joists are offset relative to the roof trusses, the skylight in the roof will be offset by 1-1/2 inches to the base in the ceiling. Fortunately the Solatube skylight has two adjustable “knuckles” or joints to accommodate this situation. I therefore marked only the distance from the edge of the attic as shown.

Locate the Solatube in the Drywall Ceiling: Mark the Distance from Wall

Locate the Solatube in the Drywall Ceiling: Mark the Distance from Wall

The initial location of the skylight is the screw at the red arrow. The mark for plumb line from the roof is circled in blue. The final skylight location as centered between the ceiling joists is the hole made at the blue arrow.

Revised Solatube Skylight Center in the Drywall Ceiling

Revised Solatube Skylight Center in the Drywall Ceiling

This is the adjusted center of the skylight on the bedroom ceiling:

Solatube Installation: Revised Skylight Location on the Drywall Ceiling

Solatube Installation: Revised Skylight Location on the Drywall Ceiling

A 14-3/4 inch hole must be cut in the ceiling for the skylight lens. To do so, a foot long piece of string is taped to a pencil and the string is marked at 7-3/8 inches (the radius is 1/2 the diameter) with permanent marker. The string is wrapped around a screw in the center hole to the mark at 7-3/8 inches to make an improvised drafting compass. The resulting circle is 14-3/4 inches in diameter.

Solatube Installation: Compass using a String and Pencil

Solatube Installation: Compass using a String and Pencil

Circle to be cut out for the skylight.

Circle for the Solatube Skylight Cutout on the Drywall Ceiling

Circle for the Solatube Skylight Cutout on the Drywall Ceiling

The hole in the ceiling is cut with a Rotozip spiral saw. The Rotozip does a wonderful job without cracking or tearing the drywall as a hand saw is prone to do.

Drywall Ceiling Hole Sawn for the Solatube Skylight

Drywall Ceiling Hole Sawn for the Solatube Skylight

Per the Solatube Instructions, the bottom tube assembly is temporarily inserted in order to adjust the top tube assembly later when working on the roof.

Solatube Bottom Tube Assembly Temporarily Set in the Drywall Ceiling

Solatube Bottom Tube Assembly Temporarily Set in the Drywall Ceiling

This project is continued in Part 2.

Take care,

Bob Jackson


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4 Responses to How to Install a Solatube Skylight

  1. Eco Building Products March 25, 2009 at 2:29 pm #

    As a premier dealer of Solatube products (www.Eco-buildingProducts.com) I think this is an excellent how-to on installing Solatube skylights. Nice job!

  2. luisa April 16, 2009 at 10:53 am #

    I completely agree with Eco-building products. Very nice job! I hope you keep posting more about Solatube and their many applications. Do you know that Solatube also manufactures a Solar Attic Fan that is even easier to install? It’s also a great way to save energy, reduce your electrical bill and keep your attic cool. Thank you again for posting this.

  3. Shaked April 26, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    Great post , Great site , it seems that you really enjoy all these projects, i wish i had more spare time to finish my own…
    I’m considering installation of this system , but i need to get the light to the first floor, i wonder if you have any idea how to conceal the tube.

    Thanks

  4. Bob Jackson April 26, 2009 at 5:12 pm #

    I would try to route the light tube inside a 2nd floor closet with a couple of bends or elbows. If a closet isn’t available, route the light tube in the corner of a 2nd floor room and frame it in with 2×4’s and drywall. You’ll need to consider how to align the dome location on the roof with your the floor plans to get the best compromise.

    Let me know what you decide. Sounds interesting!

    Bob Jackson

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