One of the major misconceptions that is prevalent today is the idea that in order to have an energy efficient home, one must scrap the old house entirely and build a new home. While this is true in a few isolated situations, the majority of existing homes in our area can be retrofitted to utilize solar energy to both heat the home and heat water for domestic use. Of course it is obvious that sky lights can be used to use natural light in place of electric lights.
When we examine the market today we find that there are many companies now operating in our metro area who are supplying home and business owners with solar powered energy units. The range and variety of such products is increasing steadily. And one such particular class of products are the skylights and solar lighting options.
In times past we had a limited number of options if we were to shop for skylights. The typical skylight was a square or rectangle shaped aluminum frame unit with a lexan or plexiglass or poly carbonate bubble type panel to allow light in. But today’s skylights are often custom designed for specific applications.
One skylight which is very versatile is tube type that can literally ‘pipe’ the sunshine in to interior rooms while not taking up a large volume in space between the roof and the room being lighted. There are more than a few choices in this particular style, And a choice of brands to choose from as well.
Solatube is one such brand name in the tube type skylights. Solatube introduced to our market a tube type skylight in the last decade that is a very efficient source for sunlight in interior rooms and hallways.
Quite simply, the tube type skylight consists of a skylight with a round dome shaped bezel or window to allow sunlight in. This dome and it’s accompanying tube are held in the roof with a roof flange that looks much like a roof jack for a large vent or chimney. The tube is attached to the flange and dome at the top in the roof deck and at the bottom it penetrates the ceiling of a room and has a bezel which is usually frosted glass or synthetic transparent material. The tube that ‘pipes’ the light to the interior of the room below is polished metal, either aluminum or stainless steel, and it will deliver a large amount of natural light to the interior of you home.
These tube type skylights can be fitted into older homes and come in kit form with a variety of application options. THey are also available with a light fixture/socket for screw base bulbs inside the bottom of the tube. This makes it possible to install the tube in a confined space or smaller room and during the day use natural light and at night use the electric light.
Tube type skylights are available off the shelf at Lowe’s and Home Depot and have been available intermittantly at Costco. They are also available at Mountain West Sales just south of the intersection of University and Candelaria immediately east of Interstate 25. There are several brands available in the Albuquerque area so look for tube type skylights and/or ask for them at you local lumber store or yard and you will find them fairly easily. The Solatube brand is available on line as well.
Tube type skylights can be installed by a do it yourselfer and are a good weekend project.
If you are needing more light than the tube type skylight can provide, the old standard square or rectangle shaped skylight is readily available. But, whereas in the past we only saw a few brands and a standard form with few variations, now there is a large variety of types and options in this shape of skylight. For example, one type is an opening skylight. It has a crank operated system that allows you to stand on the floor and by plugging in a removable crank, you can crank the skylight open to allow hot air to vent from a house in the summer or allow cool air to enter the house.This type of skylight has a screen to prevent insects access to your home and they come in a variety of standard shapes and options.
There are also options in the glass or synthetic panels allowing light to enter the home. With the advent of Low-E glass and special coatings that keep out harmful rays from the sun whille allowing the light to enter, skylights have ceased to create excess heat gain during the summer months. In addition to the glass types and synthetic panels available, there are also a new line of skylights that are designer friendly, having wood interior frames and finishes while retaining the tough weather resistant aluminum exterior surface. Another very classy addition to the options for skylights are movable shades and blinds that can be controlled by a person inside the home. This option is especially useful when you are needing more light in a bedroom while awake but want to dim the light for a nap. It is also a great feature for the west and south rooms of a home where the light and heat gain can be tremendous even with the special glass or bezel.
Again, it is often assumed by home owners and buyers that an older home cannot be retrofitted with new solar gain technology. But all of the above mentioned products can easily be installed in an existing home. Even mobile homes can be fitted with these same types of skylights.
Another great way to allow light to enter a home is with Clerastory windows for homes with flat roofs or dormers if your home has a pitched roof.
Clerastory windows can often be installed in tall walls from floor to ceiling and the light that enters controlled by blinds or shades or curtains or even a combination of the three. Clerastory windows can be added in foyers to create a glass wall or a pattern with windows can be installed that is pleasing to the eye and also being apractical source of light. Often, adding a series of windows or a window high in the wall above the entrance door allows a lot more light into the home and also provides security.
Clerastories that extend above the roof on a flat roof can also be added to an interior room to allow light to enter such as in the case of those houses which have a large central room with no exterior walls much like a covered inside courtyard would be. In such cases the clerastory would be astructure like a cupola or ‘dog house’ structure that would project higher than the roof line.
Adding a clerastory to a home is an advanced project. It requires advanced carpentry skills and will require an engineers stamp/sign off on the plans before a building permit would be issued. Research this idea thoroughly before proceeding with it.
Houses that have pitched roofs can also be lighted with a dormer. A dormer is basically a structure extending out of the roof at right angles to the ridge line of the house. A window is placed in the end on the down slope(of the roof) end and the dormer is insulated sided and lined to match the existing construction. If the house has cathedral ceilings, the dormer opens directly into the ceiling of the home. If the house has an attic, the dormer window is connected to the interior of the house with a lined insulated tube with a shape that matches the skylight window. This tube can be lined with polished stainless steel or aluminum to enhance the light transmission from the outdoors into the house.
Dormers are easier to add than a clerastory. However, they are still advanced carpentry projects and a additional weight is added to the roof load. In the case where you are dealing with rafters rather than trusses, a engineer is required to sign off and stamp the plans before a building permit can be issued. In some cases the trusses used on older construction no longer meet the modern building codes as well so there are times when the roof framing needs reinforcing in order to carry the additional weight. Architects and engineers are qualified to determine the requirements for the load limits and computations in the plans.
Finally, one of the easiest types of upgrades has been left for last in this article. Windows are by their nature built to allow a view to the outside and allow light to enter. If the windows h
ave not been upgraded in your home you can add a considerable amount of energy efficiency to your house just by upgrading windows. Today the windows available are so varied and in such extensive options and choices that you can choose what best fits your home and increase your homes energy efficiency considerably as well.
Pella Windows and Doors has a design center on Alameda just west of Interstate 25 and is a great place to find beautiful windows and doors to make your home both energy efficient and more beautiful. In addition to Pella, Lowe’s carries an extensive line of windows and have an associate that can help you choose a window system that is perfect for your home. And of course Home Depot also has a window and door department that is quite extensive.
There are certain procedures that can be implemented in the istallation and retrofitting of new windows and doors that will greatly increase the energy efficiency of your home. In this series of articles we will address solar collection panels next and then look at individual door and window installation techniques, and in particular we will consider older adobe homes and the problems unique to retrofitting windows to the existing openings.