Despite being the beginning to yet another crazy week, some really awesome steps were taken today at the house.
The guys from Solar Midwest came this morning and installed the Solatube skylights. I wasn't at all familiar with solar tubes, beyond a basic conceptual basis - but these are one of the greatest innovations for the effort, and I look forward to seeing more of them used in green building.
Installation was simple and went quickly. The solar tube is basically a little plastic bubble that sits on the roof, collecting light, sending that light down the inside of a mirrored tube, to a diffuser that is in the ceiling of your desired room. The diffuser is fairly inconspicuous, it's just directing the light to be a more broad, diffused light around the room rather than a little round bright spot on the floor.
Installation was basically making a whole in the roof, very similar to standard vent installation. Then making the necessary holes in the floor of the first floor. The roof-top portion of the unit has flashing, which slides up underneath the adjacent roof shingles. This creates a water-tight seal, exactly like the flashing around a chimney or other vent.
The most fun part of the whole thing was the finally connection, which allowed the sunlight to begin flooding into the basement room. Looking straight up the tube before the diffuser was attached was like looking into a bright, mirrored kaleidoscope of the sky.
The difference in light, most noticeably in the basement (which had been a little dungeon-like) is spectacular - the fixture uses parabolic mirrors to bring daylight indoors - that dark corner is now awash in natural daylight as long as the sun or moon shine.
All-in-all, Solatubes get my vote as necessary additions to any home. The benefits of natural light, as anyone with adequately windowed rooms or a skylight knows, are manifold. Having that benefit directed to the room you want, even several floors down, is excellent. They can even come with dampers to shut out the light when you don't want it, or a light fixture built-in to allow it to serve as the main light fixture in the room. They can even rig them up with exhaust fans, so that one fixture can light and ventilate a bathroom.