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Read our vaulted ceiling cost guide for detailed information regarding costs and the best contractors to do the job on your ceiling.
The definition of a vaulted ceiling is any ceiling higher than the standard height range of eight to ten feet. Some people think that a vaulted ceiling requires it to be domed but really any contour will give you a vaulted ceiling, it is the height that matters.
Vaulted ceilings started to be chosen as an architectural design many centuries ago. The difficulties in design and construction and the subsequent high cost led them to be used in the construction of palaces, temples and cathedrals. The main purpose of vaulted ceilings was to give an optical illusion of space and volume. With the clever positioning of windows and roof lights it became possible to allow increased daylight into the room and thus increase the illusion of space even further.
Domes were the first attempt at making a vaulted ceiling. This was basically a hollow sphere that had been cut in half. Domes have been constructed since before written history began and are one of the few really stable building designs. Domes have been built from just about any material that can be used in the construction industry:
The dome then evolved into the barrel vault. This is also known as a wagon vault or a tunnel vault. In shape it is basically a semicircle stretched lengthwise into a continuous arch. A popular use of this kind of roof shape was in the ‘covered wagon’ of the early settlers during the expansion of the Old West. This is also a very stable shape as can be noted in the construction of tunnels and mines.
The next vault shape is what is known as a ‘groin vault’. This came about with the necessity of being able to produce a smooth join when two barrel vaults cross each other or meet at an angle. This could be regarded as a mitred intersection cut across the two tunnels.
The ‘rib vault’ was the next innovation and came about in medieval times when the cathedral builders set up diagonal ribs and then constructed their vaulted ceilings around these. A more intricate version of the ‘rib vault’ is the ‘fan vault’ where the lower part of the arch forms the narrowest part of the open fan and the upper portions extend outwards in a shape similar to an open fan.
Modern vaulted ceilings use a hyperbolic paraboloid (look it up!) to provide the effect. Basically this shape is a surface with two different curves and a convex and concave surface on two differing axes. The theory behind the hyperbolic paraboloid is that any point on the surface can be expressed as two straight lines and in fact are constructed using a set of straight roof timbers.
Vaulted ceilings are a good feature to put into a new build house. The loads and timber specifications can be calculated before the house has been built and the ceiling can just be constructed like any other part of the house. It would cost far more to retrofit into an existing house, but if you are planning an addition then it is quite feasible to add one at that stage. If your addition is intended to have a vaulted ceiling then you will find that at the junction between the original ceiling height in the old part and the vaulted part you will have what is known as a bulkhead. You will have a feeling of division between the two sections at the bulkhead so try to design something to unite the two sections, maybe a lighting track straddling the two?
Illumination of a vaulted ceiling is always going to be difficult. You will need lighting that reflects off the side of the roof from below. Having spotlights directing up into the vault at night will produce really unusual effects and make the ceiling shape seem even more interesting. For this style of lighting you will need wall lighters and uplighters, either free standing or permanently fitted to the wall.
Ensure you make full use of the natural light available to you. Glaze the gables but beware that if you are facing south then the sun might be too overpowering. Include fixed louvers or an overhang outside of at least two feet to provide shading.
Roof lights work well in pitched ceilings but try to make sure they are opened by remote control and fitted with automatic blinds as they will be out of reach for manual adjustment.
You will always need structural beams with a vaulted ceiling to prevent the weight of the roof from pushing the walls out from the eaves, but it will be the architect’s job to design these so they are as unobtrusive as possible. One way of doing this is to include a steel rod along the ridge or use metal rods in an inverted T shape to stretch across the roof span and up to the ridge. These steel rods are then properly tensioned to prevent any roof spread and the small diameter is far less noticeable than a normal timber truss.
Let’s say your home is a modest single storey house with standard eight foot high ceilings but you want something more. You want a vaulted ceiling. You have heard that not all houses are suited to them but you also know that anything is possible if you can afford the price. How do you know if it is feasible to convert your existing home into one of those grand and elegant houses you see in all the décor magazines?
The first thing you do is look in the attic or roofspace and see how your house has been built.
Roof timbers. By this, we mean the rafters that support the shingles and slates on the outside and the joists that support the ceiling for the room downstairs. How are they arranged and how are they built? Some roofs are made using what is called ‘cut rafters’ and some are made using ‘trusses’.
‘Cut rafters’ are roof rafters that have been cut and assembled individually on site by a very skilled carpenter from guidance given by an architect’s drawings. Each pair of rafters rests on the top of opposite walls and is joined at the bottom at the level of the top of the wall by means of the joists. So, the joists don’t only support the downstairs ceiling they also hold the rafters together and prevent them from sagging and pushing the walls out. If you decide to cut away the ceiling joists then you will have to provide some other way of tying the rafters together. That is a job for an architect and structural engineer to sort out depending on the size of your roof, what material is covering it and whether your locality is subject to high winds or not.
Roof trusses are made in a factory by precision machines using specially graded wood. Each individual truss is a self-supporting framework and comprises two rafters, a joist and various braces positioned at appropriate places within the truss. They are delivered to site on the back of a truck and hoisted into position using a crane. They can be fitted onto a house by someone who knows how to use a hammer and nail. Because each truss is self-supporting and the dimensions of the rafters and braces have been calculated to support exactly the right load, it is not recommended to cut and alter the components of a truss to accommodate a vaulted ceiling.
Chimney. Over time, chimneys settle and move and are notorious for leaning themselves against any available support. If your chimney is leaning into the space you are planning to open then you will have to think again.
Electrical cables. When the electrician wired your home he should have clipped the cables or fitted trunking and conduit along the top of the joists. It is an easy job to move the cables but it probably involves adding extra lengths of cable so get a licensed electrician to do the job. You can ask your local electrical contractor for a quotation to find out how much it will cost.
Air conditioning ducts. The HVAC technician will probably have routed the ducts through the roofspace to the various rooms. These will have to be moved, preferably into the basement if you have one. If not, then you will either not be able to have air con or forget the vaulted ceiling. There is no harm asking a HVAC technician for a quotation and ideas. There may be something to fix the problem that we didn’t know about.
Plumbing. The plumbing pipes you have in your home may be copper, galvanised steel or plastic. The plastic ones should be quite easy to move but the metal ones will be difficult. Depending on the type of hot water and central heating system you use there may even be water tanks situated in the roofspace to provide water to the heating system by gravity. Speak to a licensed plumber to get a quotation for moving all the plumbing. You might need to upgrade your water heater to one that does not need a water header tank.
There are many advantages and disadvantages of a vaulted ceiling and these must be considered in conjunction with an architect before deciding on whether to choose one or not.
Vaulted ceilings are able to create the illusion of space and make the room look and feel a lot bigger than it actually is.
If your ceiling is raised, as with a vault, you often have more space for taller and more numerous windows. This, in turn, allows more natural light into the room. Be careful if you have a lot of glass in the roof as glass is very prone to heat loss through it. Make sure you double glaze the windows to reduce your household energy requirements.
Vaulted ceilings often have exposed beams and these appeal to many people. Having vaulted ceilings are a great way to show off the beams or rafters, creating a room with character and charm but without claustrophobia.
Vaulted ceilings make good use of roof space. Attics and lofts can be really useful for storage and provide a good way of insulating the house but they can also become a ‘dead space’ where things are deposited and then forgotten about. Making a vaulted ceiling is a good way of using the otherwise wasted space and at the same time making the house more beautiful.
Vaulted ceilings are more interesting. Ordinary eight foot high ceilings can be boring and as a result, are just ignored. A vaulted ceiling, however, is unique and interesting and makes an otherwise boring part of the room into probably the best feature in the entire house.
Vaulted ceilings provide venting space. If the vaulted ceiling is designed properly, they can provide useful venting area for unwanted heat. Although you normally want to keep any heat in the house, it can be very useful in certain rooms such as bathrooms where mold growth due to warm moist air is a problem.
If your vaulted ceiling is covered in wooden boards it can provide a space with a lot of rustic charm. Because a ceiling is high up, it is often the first part of a room that a person notices. Use this fact by giving the area a feeling of warmth from the natural wood.
We have just said that vaulted ceilings give the illusion of space and airiness. Unfortunately, this also means that the rooms lack coziness. Often you will want a certain room, such as a bedroom, for example, to feel snug like a nest. Vaulted ceilings, in this case, are definitely not going to provide that effect.
Although vaulted ceilings provide more space they do not provide any more usable floor space. In fact if you have a vaulted ceiling you are unable to ever build a floor into that space.
Vaulted ceilings are difficult to maintain. Day to day dusting and getting rid of cobwebs suddenly become a major effort, as do ordinary jobs like changing a light bulb. Some vaulted ceilings are so high that you need to get the professionals in to do ordinary maintenance jobs. If you don’t enjoy balancing on the top of a ladder to change a light bulb or bring down a cobweb then vaulted ceilings are not for you and you need to think long and hard about it before committing.
Hot air tends to rise. This obvious fact is one of the main drawbacks to vaulted ceilings. If you need to warm the room during cold days, you will be wasting a lot of heat by warming the space up in the vault first. No-one is up there so all this lovely warm air will be lost. In fact, vaulted ceilings and the spaces they create can significantly decrease the energy efficiency in your home.
Vaulted ceilings are difficult to retrofit. Everything is possible but the price could be way over the top unless you are building from new or planning a major remodel. Most houses weren’t built with vaulted ceilings so it can be difficult or just downright impossible to create a vaulted ceiling. Definitely, this is one of the architectural features that will be easier to design in at the early stages.
We are afraid a vaulted ceiling should only be built by a professional. The average DIY person does not have the specialist knowledge necessary to ensure the roof will not sag and push out the side walls. It is difficult to retrofit an existing house into one with a vaulted ceiling and in fact it is best done when building the house from new or when doing a major remodel or addition.
You cannot just remove the plasterboard ceilings from downstairs then go up into the attic and start cutting away at the cross beams and joists. If you do then the roof is likely to start bowing and push the walls out. Altering the roof timbers are a specialist job too. They are designed to support all the various loads involved with a roof and you just cannot start removing them without serious consequences. The same goes for factory-made roof trusses. These are made in a workshop to very exact measurements and tolerances and cannot be messed around with.
If you really want an unusual ceiling probably the best type to choose is the ‘Tray Ceiling’, they are easier to build and a lot less costly compared to a vaulted ceiling.
All vaulted ceilings are designed with a slope that exceeds the conventional eight-foot height. Vaulted ceilings found in cathedrals slope upwards and meet in the middle while cove ceilings curl upwards in a curve. You may like to look at a vaulted ceiling because of the aesthetics, space, airiness and increased light. You may like them because of the sense of luxury and wealth with their flawless curves and angles. Let’s face it they convey a sense of extravagance.
Vaulted ceilings cost a lot more to build than a conventional ceiling because they take more materials, more labor and a higher level of skilled labor. Vaulted ceilings, because they tend to trap all the warm air rising from below, often lose the warmth through the surfaces.
They thus need far more efficient insulation than an ordinary house. How much you end up paying for your vaulted ceiling will depend on your location as well as the type of contractors you have nearby.
How about if I want to sell my house? Well to be honest you will have less floor space than other more traditional houses of the same size because you won’t have the upstairs floor where your vaulted space is. Also, often the method of building a home with a vaulted ceiling tends to make the footprint of the house larger than a normal house. This means you will have less available space on your land to landscape a garden.
So a combination of less available space in the garden and less floor space indoors may tend to put some prospective purchasers off buying your home. How you get over this problem is by targeting buyers who are specifically looking for a vaulted ceiling and are willing to pay for the privilege. Discuss this with a real estate agency for advice on the appeal of vaulted ceilings.
Rooms with vaulted ceilings need more heating because heat rises. In the colder months, you will find that the heat will warm up the space near the ceiling first before it gets to the lower space. This will mean that your heating system will be running for longer than it would normally. Combine this with the fact that the upper half of the room is not occupied and we have a significant lack of heating efficiency.
Cooling rooms with vaulted ceilings are however less of a problem because the lower parts will cool off first. The amount of heating efficiency and the additional cost required to heat your home will depend on factors such as:
With a normal house (that is one without a vaulted ceiling) it is no problem if you want to paint your home yourself. Painting a room with a vaulted ceiling however will cost more in both materials and labor because the walls are taller and the ceiling surface is larger. Try painting it yourself and you might find difficulty getting to the awkward and difficult to reach areas.
If you pay contractors to do this then they might insist on using access platforms such as scaffold towers to allow them to access the high-up spaces. Contact the painting professionals in your area to ask for quotations.
All aspects of maintenance in rooms with vaulted ceilings will be difficult. Simple things such as changing a light bulb, removing a cobweb or even retrieving a helium balloon after a birthday party suddenly become a major operation. You might need to buy special equipment such as tall stepladders or long-handled cleaning tools to help.
So it looks like the answer to the original question of whether a vaulted ceiling will cost you money is yes. It will cost you money to be built, in heating the space, when it needs redecorating, cleaning and maintenance right up to when you decide to sell up and move on.
Let’s assume that your house is suitable for remodeling and you have the correctly constructed roof framework to allow you to do the job. Now we need to know how long the contractor will take to finish the job, don’t we?
Let’s say the room you want to change is about twenty feet by twenty feet, which makes an area of four hundred square feet.
You need to allow at least one month from the time when the team starts to demolish the existing structure to when it is ready to move in. Remember that difficulties with routing HVAC, delivery of materials and bad weather can cause significant delays on the project.
While your home is in a state of upheaval why not take the opportunity to remodel a bit. You might like to knock down a few walls and be a bit more open plan, add more skylights in the roof; the list could be very long indeed. All these extra jobs will add more time to the final schedule which means more time spent living in that motel room.
Adding a vaulted ceiling to a new build home, an addition or a remodel can turn out to be one of the most expensive extras that a home owner can choose.
The costs involved in converting and remodeling your old home into one with a vaulted ceiling will depend on many factors such as:
The figures below are indicative of the costs charged by construction contractors and the cost of suitable materials. They may vary depending on where you live and the extent of your project.
|Costs to carry out a basic vaulted ceiling project|
|Planning, structural engineer, architect and permits||$1,000 to $5,000|
|Demolition of existing structure and disposal of debris||$4,000|
|Reinforce roof framing and remove ceiling joists||$4,500|
|Electrical work (move and add wiring)||$3,000|
A vaulted ceiling will always be an impressive addition to any house. It gives the feeling of luxuriousness and wealth, as if you have your own castle!
Unfortunately, a vaulted ceiling in a normal home is not always possible or it will cost too much money to adapt your existing house to accommodate it. There are ways around this that a structural engineer and an architect should be able to design, but the cheapest way to incorporate one is to build an addition onto your home and incorporate the vault into that at the time of building.
Yes, vaulted ceilings sure look impressive but if you choose that kind of ceiling they come with some serious flaws.
They give you less floor space for your home’s footprint.
The ceilings are difficult to maintain. Cleaning, painting and even changing a lightbulb end up as major undertakings and you may even need to hire professionals to do the job for you.
They are difficult to heat in the winter and always waste heat because no one is up in the ceiling using all that lovely warmth.
When it comes to selling up and moving on, you might find that the only market you have for your home is with people who are specifically looking for a vaulted ceiling.
If you can get your head around those negatives and still you want one then go ahead, but don’t try it as a DIY project. The specialist knowledge needed to do a good job restricts the work to being designed properly by an architect and a structural engineer and to being constructed by a master builder and a carpenter as well as the other specialist trades such as electrical and plumbing contractors.
We hope we have managed to convey a few new pieces of information in this article and at the very least made you think a bit more before deciding to have a vaulted ceiling built.
Thank you for reading.