Solatube International announced last week that it has become the first company to introduce a tubular daylighting device (TDD) that is eligible for energy-efficiency tax credits. As outlined in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), skylights -- TDDs included -- must meet the same criteria as windows and doors to be eligible for a tax credit. Units that have a 0.30 U-factor and a 0.30 solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) are eligible for a tax credit of 30% of the cost of the materials, up to $1,500 (labor is not included). Few skylights on the market meet these criteria.

Raybender and other proprietary technologies allow Solatube's eChoice Tubular Daylighting Devices to deliver increased amounts of light without raising the units' solar heat gain coefficients.
Raybender and other proprietary technologies allow Solatube's eChoice Tubular Daylighting Devices to deliver increased amounts of light without raising the units' solar heat gain coefficients.

Solatube is offering two models with its new energy-efficient eChoice label. Part of the Brighten Up Daylighting System, the models are the 10-inch 160 DSe and 14-inch 290DSe. A range of diffusers and trim options are available for each model. The smaller unit can accommodate a tubing run up to 20 feet. The larger TDD can run a tube as long as 30 feet. Flashing is available for nearly all roof types. The new eChoice products offer a 0.28 U-factor and 0.2 SHGC. The manufacturer says that the units feature adapted designs to meet the strict energy-efficiency criteria.

Anticipating the Market
“Traditional skylights and TDDs are really two different animals,” Solatube president Robert Westfall told REMODELING in an e-mail. “I can’t comment on challenges traditional skylights have in meeting the tax credit requirement. As far as TDDs, we really did have a head start.”

Westfall says that Solatube has stayed close to leaders and associations in the energy code arena, so the company was not surprised to see interest in improving the energy efficiency of fenestration products.

With the company’s research and development teams looking at energy efficiency, Westfall says that Solatube has “generally focused on maximizing the transmission of light. But we are keenly aware of the issues related to increasing solar heat gain coefficient when doing this. I believe that typically when SHGC is improved, there is a sacrifice of visible light transmission.”

The Solar Star Attic Fan is eligble for a 30% tax credit.
The Solar Star Attic Fan is eligble for a 30% tax credit.

Westfall says designers combated this loss of light transmission with Solatube Raybender Technology and another proprietary technology that create a high ratio of visible light transmission to SHGC. “When the (legislation) passed, we were already very close to meeting the requirements for the tax credit,” Westfall says. “We just needed a simple modification. Making this modification became our top priority because we realized that having qualified products would be very important to consumers and building product dealers.”

As it stands, any Solatube eChoice product installed between June 15, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2010 will qualify for the 30% tax credit. These dates differ from those stated in the legislation due to the products’ date of introduction.

Solatube also offers its Solar Star attic fan as a tax credit-eligible product. Because it is solar powered, the fan is eligible for a full 30% tax credit and is not subject to the $1,500 cap. “We are starting to see an increate in interest in the Solar Star line as a result of the tax credit,” Westfall says, anticipating the same for the eChoice TDD products.

Few Skylights Eligible for Tax Credits
As it stands, the fenestration industry saw hefty losses in 2008, but has experienced a recent boost in sales thanks in part to the new tax credits. That boost, however, has not extended to skylights, which account for approximately 2% of the industry.

The ARRA language "deviated from an Energy Star­-rated product to a simpler, single-number qualification, and skylights cannot meet those numbers," Velux president Roger LeBrun said in an article for REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR, a sister publication to REMODELING.

According to the article, most skylights on the market today have U-factors from 0.55 to 0.5, and an SHGC of 0.3 to "any," depending on the climate zone. Most manufacturers believe it is unlikely that more energy-efficient skylights meeting the necessary requirements will come on the market in time for homeowners to take advantage of the tax credits.

Click here to read more about window and door products that qualify for tax credits. --Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING.