Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Poor Man's route to Solar Energy

You can tell it is the dead of winter and not much is happening at Humphrey House. However, this gives us a chance to give an update on some of the projects we never got around to mentioning last fall when we were too busy working. One of these is the addition of a tubular skylight into our dining room.

This is a bit of unique installation because we really have taken advantage of every nook and cranny on the second floor, which may make you wonder how we managed to squeeze what effectively is a 10-inch HVAC duct through the space to connect the dining room ceiling and the roof. Well, we really got to take advantage of some of the existing architecture, which makes the suntunnel appear as if it goes right through the second floor living space, when it fact, it does not.

I cut in the suntunnel from the attic chase area behind the knee-wall in our laundry room upstairs, as close to the knee wall as possible. This was about 4 feet from where the exterior wall would normally be. But, as you can see in the photo, the suntunnell spills into the room a good six feet from the outside wall. How? By taking advantage of the bay window that juts out of the dining room. This makes the suntunnel appear close to the chandelier light fixture towards the center of the room, and yet the tube does not pass through any living space in our converted attic.

You would think with the windows in the bay that the dining room would receive plenty of light and not need additional daylight. However, if you look through the window in the photo above, you can see the house next door is quite close to us. And worse, it's a full two-story house with a steep roof, which ends up blocking out all direct sunlight to our first floor for 7 months out of the year. With the winter months being dark to begin with, I wanted to brighten up the space naturally as much as possible. And a $150 suntunnel was an ideal solution.

When we were on the green home tour in September, I described this as the poor-man's solar energy. I got quite a few puzzled looks, and Jen pointed out that is a bit misleading as it isn't really power. However, the tubular skylight does replace the need for us to turn the lights on during daylight hours. Just look at how bright it is After, compared to Before (and note the chandelier is not turned on).

During the day, the tubular skylight channels the sun into the dining room, located at the center of our home, making it brighter and feel warmer. So the suntunnel is our small leap into what is a form of solar power - passive solar (no moving parts). Speaking of which, our friend Jim is teaching a free seminar on passive solar and architecture at the Chicago Center for Green Technology in a few weeks on March 12. If you live in the area, want to learn more, and get some great ideas, it will be well worth your time.

As for now, I think I'll take advantage of this sunny day and go read by the daylight flooding into our dining room.


Sandy said...

I thnk that is totally awesome!

Kalen Hughes said...

This is very cool. I've been thinking about doing something along these lines in my kitchen (should I ever actually manage to get through this whole house buying process, LOL!).

Fargo said...

That's a great solution. I've been thinking about adding one or two of those at our place.

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