fyi: there is such a thing as too much light

It is perfectly normal to want a living space with lots of light. In fact, you might even say that this is a healthy human desire. But I have learned that there is such a thing as too much light. In the following post, I will detail how I came upon this knowledge. I will do so in chronological order and in the third-person, so as distance myself from what is still a sensitive topic.

1. New Homeowners receive the keys to their new home at the The Closing. They excitedly drive straight to the house to walk through it, alone, for the first time.

2. When they reach their living room, their hearts sink. They simultaneously squint their eyes. Husband: “Is it a lot darker in here than you remember?” Wife, nodding: “I see that the sun is out but none is coming in.” Wife: “Did we just accidentally buy a black hole?” Wife, voice beginning to crack with buyer’s remorse: “What have we done?!” Husband, who is a calm person and ever-ready with a solution: “Well, maybe we can just get some skylights.” Wife, who is a straight-up shell-shocked from the enormous checks they just wrote at the closing: “But how much does that cost?”

3. Husband harnesses the power of the Google machine. He is determined to bring in more light: their apartment in the South Bronx was very bright, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. In fact, this feature, coupled with the huge kitchen island regularly convinced Wife that she was living inside a magazine:


Husband discovers that, while skylights can be quite pricey, there is something called “sun tunnels” that are a lot more reasonable and…they are ROUND, his wife’s favorite shape. (Some could argue that she has a polka-dot addiction, but she has been in therapy many years and has learned to control this.) (No, that’s not true, she hasn’t controlled this, at all; she has simply shifted her focus to decorative mushrooms, many of which have…polka dots.)

4. Husband learns that Velux is a good brand for sun tunnels. They look great online. He finds a local dealer and installer. The process seems pretty straight forward: they basically cut a 14  inch hole through your ceiling and roof and insert a tube to let some sun in.

5. Husband and Wife decide to invest in five sun tunnels: one in the guest bath, one in the front hall, and three in the living room. Let there be light!

6. Installers come to put in the sun tunnels while Wife is at work one day. By the time she gets home, they have finished installing two out of five.

7. Wife comes in, drops her bag and drops her jaw. Their front hall is… completely different. It looks like a large florescent light has been turned on, only brighter:

sun tunnel

Eek! The light doesn’t seem to be coming from one sun, but from TEN THOUSAND SUNS. Turns out the metal tubes lining these sun tunnels reflect/amplify the light and shine it into your house interrogation style. Wife grabs her sunglasses and calls out for Husband who is on a work call in his studio. Yes, it’s brighter than he thought it would be, too, and has a surprising blue-ish hue. It’s quite stark, kind of like the color of light in a Walmart or a laboratory…only…brighter.

8. They ask the workers to pause. Husband and Wife telephone the sun tunnel head honcho. They apologize to him –  they have made a very grave mistake. They have let in too much light. They ask if they can cancel the other three sun tunnels.

Interjection: These Sun Tunnels are amazing products, extremely effective! And very ecological: if you were to get these, you would never have to turn on a light in your house during the day ever again. No doubt, if everyone had these, it would significantly decrease worldwide energy consumption. On the other hand, if you have one in the guest bath, your guests will lose several hours of their lives looking for a light switch to turn off the light, but THERE IS NO SWITCH for this tube to the sky, it can’t be turned off.

9. Husband and Wife decide to go with a more traditional skylight in the living room instead. After all, the house came with a skylight in their bedroom and they like how it looks. Here is the view from Wife’s pillow, where she can watch clouds move across the sky, wave at the man on the moon, and, on clear nights, wink at the stars:

skylights in bedroom

These double skylights don’t amplify the sunlight, but merely invite it in.

Husband’s studio (converted garage) also has skylights, in fact, eight of them and they bring in a fantastic amount of light:

skylights in studio

On the other end of the telephone line, the sun tunnel dealer is very accommodating. He  agrees to install one skylight in the living room instead of the three remaining sun tunnels. It will cost more, and break the bank a bit, but this has become important to them. (Is there such a thing as escalating sunk cost?)

10. Wife stops hyperventilating. Then she strolls toward the front hall and guest bathroom and realizes that closing up these two existing sun tunnels isn’t exactly an option. She recoils like a vampire wounded by sunlight then melodramatically crumples to the floor quoting the Wicked Witch of the West, “I’m melting…” Husband, quite understandably, ignores her. Wife silently vows to always wear SPF 30 in her house during daylight hours. She is trying to not become completely unhinged, but her beloved new house seems a little less cozy now.  Oh, if she could turn back time – was it really so dark in there to begin with? She tries to pull herself together and asks, innocently, “Are there shades for these things?”

11. Apparently, there are not shades for sun tunnels. Therefore, wife dedicates every waking moment of the next several days DIY-ing her own. She will not sleep until the light is dim! She treks o’er hill and vale, to craft stores and sewing stores all over the county. She buys several different weights of paper and fabrics. She mixes and matches, nervously biting her lip the whole time. Husband cuts these samples to size and tucks them under the tunnel’s frame. On day three – Eureka! – she finds some cross stitch fabric, of all things, and it works nicely when paired with two pieces of tracing paper: this specific combination lets in some light, but not too much, and the cross stitch fabric is stiff enough that it doesn’t buckle once secured by the frame. The tan coloring of the fabric counteracts the blue hue, making the light warmer. They exhale, take off their sunglasses, and stop berating themselves for almost ruining an already-wonderful house.

12. (It seems appropriate to end this on Step 12, since it has been quite a healing process.) The two sun tunnels look great now – cross stitch fabric saved the day! Husband and Wife have become accustomed to the still-signifcant amount of light they bring in. Here’s how their front hall looked when they first saw the house:

front hall before sun tunnel

And here is how it looks now – sun tunnel tempered with cross stitch fabric and tracing paper:

front hall with sun tunnel

They are also pleased with the single skylight in the living room. It makes the room seem bigger and more open. This is how it looked before the skylight:

living room before skylights

And here’s how it looks now:

living room after skylight

Lesson: There is such a thing as too much light, so proceed with caution when considering sun tunnels. Every library in America should have them and so should every laboratory and Walmart. If you’re considering getting sun tunnels in your home or if you already have sun tunnels and find them to be too bright, simply invest in some cross stitch fabric and tracing paper. This is a pretty easy solution if you’re where we were at during step 10… i.e. freaking out.  Skylights, on the other hand? Ten thumbs up. If your rooms are feeling a bit dark and cave-ish, this is a “brilliant” (and more predictable) option.

Do you have skylights or sun tunnels? Did you ever do a home improvement project that you instantly regretted?

42 replies

  1. When I read your post title? I thought—No. That is incorrect. There is NO such thing as too much light. I LOVE natural light. Anyone who thinks you can have too much is insane.

    So I owe you an apology for assuming you’re insane. Because that sun tunnel? Is WAY too bright. Your skylights on the other hand, are lovely.

    • I know! I never would have believed it myself! The sun tunnel guy warned us that they were very bright and we were like, “that’s great, we love bright.” Here’s the thing: once sunlight passes through The Tunnel, it’s no longer natural light…it’s like…to quote you, sunlight on crack! 🙂

  2. We installed a ginormous home generator at our Miami house. It was the worst decision we ever made. The backyard was filled with propane tanks and machinery. Then we moved. I’ve never felt more relieved…regardless of much $$$ it cost.

  3. We’ve flirted with the idea of getting sun tunnels for our dark bedroom…now I’m realizing after your experience it would NOT create the right ambiance for a bedroom!! Someday, maybe we’ll splurge on a skylight…we love the ones we already have in the house!

    • Oh boy: I highly recommend against one in your bedroom, don’t do it! Especially if you sunburn easily! 🙂 I don’t want to bash them too much bc there is something fascinating and extremely cool about them. I have a feeling they will one day come out with shades for sun tunnels, or they’ll come out with little round skylights (I think these only exist right now as custom built things…)

  4. WOW! Who would have thought those little tunnels were capable of burning your eyes out! Good grief … I would have had a small panic attack, ….. HELLO, you’ve just put a hole in my roof and there’s no going back now! Good thing you reacted “at the speed of light” and stopped the rest.
    Women are so good at taking charge!!! (bathroom lighting must make me look at least 5 year younger or it’s going back!)
    On a serious note… the sky lights you already had are GORGEOUS! Very nicely done and I imagine provide lovely soothing light. We have 4 sky lights in our home and I do love them so much. I never have to turn on a light during the day! I remember our first night in the house, laying in bed and seeing the moon and stars and thinking “I am right where I need to be”. It’s lovely that you get the same view – twinkles and all. Great post, J.

    • Ha! Speed of light, nice.

      Yes, it was nothing short of shocking. I really did go into a panicked overdrive, trying to find a solution on that one…I may not know my way around a Home Depot, but I can certainly do some damage/good at a craft store.

      Not surprised to hear that you have skylights in the Goode house, too. They are just one of the many reasons I like living in a ranch – obviously they’re not a possibility if you have bedrooms/other rooms up above! 🙂

  5. I smell a patent coming on! Way to save your tunnels! I can’t imagine having too much light in our house, but I’m trying to meet you in the middle. 🙂

    • Oooh, patent, I like how your mind works 🙂

      Yes, it is difficult to imagine too much light, I certainly couldn’t imagine it! It would probably be good for all your succulents and other pretty plants, though! 🙂

  6. Great advice. I had never heard of sun tunnels and thought it was a great solution. As I kept reading I could understand your horror. The difference it makes in your hallway is amazing. I’m glad you found a solution to temper the light.

    • Count D, Actually….maybe YOU and you only should get a sun tunnel or several…I think it would do wonders for your complexion and open up that old musty castle a bite, I mean…a bit.

  7. you fixed it! well done (and who knew?!). and now i bet you both appreciate it all the more since you had to go through all the trials to get there. thanks for the cautionary tip!
    ps my husband’s favorite shape is the circle. symmetry and circles 🙂

    • I think you are right S and S – it was a Hire-it-Out that ended up having a DIY project piggy backing on it. And I must confess: we still take off the cross-stitch filter for show and tell when friends come over – we’re like, “Can you believe this?!”

      Your husband has good taste in shapes – the circle is just so non-threatening and easy-going… 🙂

  8. Great post — so very, very important that I read this as I was wondering about whether we needed more light in our living room. Gah! Too much light is right! I am a homebody who loves rainy days and cozy rooms. I would hate to have a Wal-Mart aisle for a living room. Your living room looks to have just the amount of light. And the hallway looks pretty great now too. Such a gorgeous, easy-feeling home you’ve got there.

    I have several family members who have had the sun tunnels installed — I had no idea that the metal reflection in the tube is what made them so stark bright!

    • Exactly – sometimes you need the cozy cave! I find this is especially true when feeling sick or a little icky. I want my house to give me a hug in those times, not put a spotlight on me! There is light and there is LIGHT. Proceed with caution when pursuing more. For example, I hear sconces are nice. (Not to be confused with scones, as my fingertips almost did.) But scones are nice, too. Cheers!

      • We have sconces (I want scones though) in our hallways, bedrooms and in our study. Very nice light. I prefer it to the overhead lights. Although, I love, love, love your skylight windows!

  9. That is surprising. Too much light? No way! But I can imagine how those tubes changed its color and impression… great space though and it looks just about perfect with the lighting now!

  10. if you change the tubing from the rigid hard tube, to the flexable tube, it will cut the light down about half, also, velux does sell a black out shade for them that holds it self up magnetically. just fyi

  11. OMG!!! I’m in the same position . Got one installed yesterday and feel sick !!!! I hate it!!!! It’s fluroesent and blue and looks awful, and worst of all it was my idea to do it ! I’ll be off to the store to try and find some cross stitch material and fix it – thanks

  12. Great blog. With the goal of brightening up our foyer area, my husband and I had one sun tunnel installed one week ago, and, boy, do we regret it, but for a different reason. The light output appears much dimmer than the 300 watts that the product claims to emit from the 10 inch dome that is supposed to illuminate up to 200 square feet. Based on our calculations, that is the equivalent of approx. a 14′ x14′ room, but we’re just not seeing the brightness or range we would expect. The product is a Sun Effects tubular skylight. I feel just terrible–like we put holes in our roof and ceiling for no good reason. Well, you can be sure we’re not going to be putting anymore holes in our roof, that is for sure!

    • I am surprised that it wasn’t bright enough – quite the opposite experience from ours! But yes it is terrible feeling when you aren’t completely satisfied!

  13. Aack! I’m in the midst of my “the installer just left and I secretly hate these” panic attack! Husband is still at work. It’s exactly as you described: overly flourescently-blue and too bright. So I hit Google looking for a solution … and here you are. To clarify (before I run to the craft store), you ended up using one layer of cross-stitch fabric and two layers of tracing paper. What order did you layer them for the best install? And (just making sure) you secured them with just the ring, so they are what the eye sees, in essence hiding the diffuser? Thank you, thank you!

    • Don’t worry – the crosstitch fabric and yes two layers of tracing paper will help considerably – it will still be bright but not so glaring! And The crosstitch fabric is on the outside and yes, they are all just secured with the outer ring. Have faith! Have faith! Let me know if it works 🙂

  14. Yes, my new kitchen sun tunnel made me feel like I was under a “Gigantic dental light”. Called the company, and they said, “we’ve never had anyone complain about that before”! Yeah sure!
    I figured out that a filter that would block some of the light for me would be “stage light filter” to hold up to the heat. I order several filters in different tones to cut down the white/ blue look, and found the right combo. Remember these sun-tunnel lights are NOT like sunlight and make the colors in the room look different, It really “washed out” my maple cabinets. Also the light will fade things, but I’ve accepted what I have.
    I would recommend you order the smaller one first. You can always cut it bigger .

    • Ooh! I was thinking about theater gels, too. Can you share what you found to work best? I first played with the recommended layers of tracing paper and cross-stitch fabric. I ended up going with just the cross-stich fabric for the past few months, which has gotten the blue out of the light, but it’s blocking out too much of the overall light. I’d love to find a new filter solution that lets in most of the light, but just adds a softer, more natural hue to it. Thanks for any details you can post, Diana.

  15. I am so pissed! I could have written this post. I just had the owner of the company over to show him this ghetto sun tunnel light. What? he says, it looks great. Sure, if you like a blue light special. There goes $800 bucks and now I have a hole in both my roof and ceiling and have to pay to have it deinstalled. Oh how I wish I had done my homework! I’m going to try some theater filter thingy but wish i had just spent the cash on some great lights!

  16. Golly…..why do I find these articles….AFTER the FACT! Just installed a long awaited sun tunnel in our windowless kitchen this morning. Couldn’t wait! You know the story….blue light from hell! I’m off to buy cross stitch fabric right now. Can you tell me how you installed the tracing paper and fabric? Need your help….URGENTLY!!!!

  17. Thank you so much! I’ve just returned home to be blinded by the two sun tunnels I had installed this morning while I was at work. I had also thought they’d be around half the size – I’m so surprised the guy quoted me two, and we were discussing whether I’d need a third in the hall. One would be more than enough.

  18. Thank you for your blog and for your readers’ comments as well. I’m just in day 2 with my 5 new VELUX sun tunnels (last night I was in total despair) and am looking for ideas to deal with the “solar eclipses” or “UFO’s” on my ceiling left by the blinding rings left from the VELUX black-out shades (the light hurts my eyes too much to even uncover them). I’m going to try your ideas or Rosco’s “gel” (I guess not really a gel) sheets maybe. I’m also going to look for some kind of UV ray protection. VELUX explained what I could do or couldn’t do so I wouldn’t void the warranty (no spray-painting the tube, for exampe). They’re also going to send me more magnets free of charge so the black-out shades stay put better. VELUX suggested I speak with a local 5 star rated installer found on their web-site. That also gave me the idea to contact other skylight companies as well for their ideas.

  19. Thank you for the advice! The technician convinced me to install a 14′ tube in my windowless kitchen instead of the 10″ tube I wanted. It’s way too much!
    Can tell me what color of cross stitch fabric you used. I’ve found one in ivory and one in natural.
    Also – I’ve read about the stage lighting gels melting in the heat of the tube. Has anyone had that problem?

  20. I recently had four sun tunnels installed (one in my bedroom) and have been trying to find a satisfactory makeshift filter. I just bought window film and am trying different ones to find one that does not dim too much and is comfortable. I’m also getting a blackout shade for the sun tunnel in my bedroom and hope to eventually have this sun tunnel removed. Thank you for this article and all of your comments. It helps to have the support of others’ comments and ideas.

  21. I taped doilies over mine. At first I placed one on the inside & asked the handyman if this could catch on fire being on the inside. He said yes, so for now I have them on the outside. I’m going to try getting the sheets of paper you can put on a window to make it look like it’s stained glass. If I don’t like the way it looks I can peel it off. It’s so much sun & on a slanted ceiling that you can’t look out into the room comfortably. I’ve now gone from too dark to now too light. The doilies for now are helping a lot.

  22. Thanks for this. Could you tell me which color cross stitch fabric you used and what you mean by tracing paper? Do you mean graphite paper, that’s sort of gray?

  23. I saw a sun tube in a grandson’s hallway and since I was embarking on a remodeling program, thought “this is perfect for those dark rooms!” I put one in each bathroom (a real plus, in my book), one in a dark closet (also good), but the two 14 inchers in the vaulted west-facing ceiling of my family room – in the MIDDLE of the ceiling, no less, are AWFUL! I like the light – but let’s face it, enough is enough! I have been back and forth with my installer with my ideas for filters to cut the glare when the sun is setting in the afternoon. Can’t even see the TV or my hubby across the room! I’ve put glare window film filters in there and extra yellow filters…and they all burn and melt (because they’re on the inside). I’ve even had my diffuser crack and fall onto the floor. How that happened, I’ll never know. Anyway, I was desperate because the company has nothing else to offer except remote controlled (talking dollars here, folks) louvers…I think they call them shutters. That might work, I thought – and then I found your idea of cross stitch fabric. Actually, I also kept reading others’ comments and found someone who put up doilies. I have TONS of doilies of all sizes and know how to crochet more if I don’t have the right size. I’m trying cross stitch fabric and a doily tomorrow (one in each of the suntubes. I really love the darker light with the window film, and perhaps that window film could go behind the cross stitch fabric or doily on the OUTSIDE of the diffuser. Your solution was brilliant. Wish I’d thought of putting something on the outside long ago. I’ve been suffering with these for 2 years now – this is my second summer. I have even considered a re-roofing job and closing up the holes. You have given me hope!! Thanks to you and all others who have posted their problems. I now know that I’m not alone in my over-reaction to this stimulus.

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