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What is a Light Pipe?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated May 16, 2024
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A light pipe is a type of tube that is used to disperse or shift light. Light pipes can be used to send natural sunlight into a building, or they can be used to create artificial light within any type of structure. Most light tubes are placed inside of a building in order to capture sunlight from one area, and send that sunlight to a darker area. Light pipes can also be used to evenly distribute sunlight throughout an entire space.

Light pipes can be composed of various materials and substances. Pipes made from reflective material are the most popular sort. Reflective light pipes have been proven effective since the time of the ancient Egyptians, and they still work rather well today. This type of light pipe is composed of reflective material, often in the form of mirrors, that reflects and directs natural sunlight into a darkened area.

Other types of light pipes include optical fiber tubes, transparent tubes, and fluorescent pipes. The main difference between the numerous types of light tubes is in the way that they are used. Some light pipes are able to capture artificial or natural light while also creating a clear reflective image, while others simply act to send light from one area to another.

Recently, solar light pipes have become a viable alternative to traditional skylights. Solar light tubes have the ability to send more sunlight, or moonlight, into a space when compared with skylights. In effect, solar light pipes add more heat to a space when compared with the average skylight.

While a light pipe does not offer as much visual contact with the outside world as a skylight does, this is also one of the main reasons that light pipes are used in high security areas. Since the actual width and length of a light pipe is narrow, security risks are kept to a minimum. Various correctional facilities throughout the world install light tubes in order to add natural light to an area without creating a security risk.

Light tubes can also be used in various electronic items. When a smaller, intricate, light pipe is installed inside of an electronic device, these tubes are referred to as LED lights. While LED lights do not capture natural sunlight, they do act to send light from a circuit board to another section of the device. This type of light pipe is often molded from one piece of plastic making them easy to assemble and create.

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Discussion Comments
By anon292491 — On Sep 20, 2012

Light pipes are formally called TDD's - Tubular Daylighting Devices by NFRC - the National Fenestration Rating Council. They adopted this formal term in 2002 to allow this product category to evolve in testing from traditional skylights. (trivia). Still a really cool idea.

By cardsfan27 — On Jun 21, 2011

I can't believe I haven't heard more about light pipes. It sounds like it could be an awesome idea for office buildings. I know I've seen studies that say natural light helps increase employee productivity.

Companies could use light pipes during the day and have fluorescent tube lights to use when it's cloudy or dark. I wonder how much they cost?

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