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Vaulted Ceiling

The Ceiling that Homeowners Love to Hate

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Vaulted Ceiling - Cathedral Ceiling

Vaulted Ceiling or Cathedral Ceiling

Copyright/Courtesy Armstrong
Revered at one time as the ultimate in home luxury, the vaulted ceiling has had its major ups and downs in terms of the love or hatred directed at it by homeowners, builders, architects, and designers. Sometimes known as a cathedral ceiling, one of its major pitfalls that it is a notorious energy-waster. On the good side, these types of ceilings look good and provide a lot of light inside a house.

Vaulted ceilings are usually built as “new-construction,” rather than remodeled into a house with conventional flat ceilings.

Vaulted Ceiling Questions and Answers

  • Q: “What is the purpose of a vaulted ceiling?”
    A: Aesthetics. Vaulted ceilings give rooms a light and airy feeling. For one, vaulted ceilings allow for skylights, which are more difficult to install in a conventional flat ceiling. Also, vaulted ceilings can make a small room feel like it has more floor space, even though it does not.
  • Q: “Why do some people hate vaulted ceilings?”
    A: Well, that’s a difficult question. Many people hate vaulted ceilings because they view them as a vestige of the 1980s, a time when it seemed that every other house had these ceilings. So, they are viewed as a relic—like Miami Vice, skinny ties, and heavy-metal hair bands!

    But on the practical side, vaulted ceilings waste enormous amounts of energy. Warm air collected in the cavity created by the vault. This warm air could be better-used if it were eight feet lower—where humans congregate. Not only that, but recessed (or can) lights in vaulted ceilings are hard to change, and cob-webs are difficult to clear.

    Finally, if you have a two-story house, the vault is occupying space that could otherwise be used as floor space. Since floor space equates to property value, your house has a lower value due to vaulted ceilings. To be sure, vaulted ceilings from an aesthetic viewpoint can raise your property value, but not nearly as much as would floor space.

  • Q: “Can I retroactively build a vaulted ceiling by cutting out attic floor joists?”
    A: No, not really. It seems like a good idea, right? Knock out the ground-floor ceiling’s drywall. Go up in the attic and with your trusty Sawzall start cutting away attic floor joists. Voila—vaulted ceiling.

    Not so fast. Oddly enough, this arrangement may even hold up for a period of time. But before long, your roof will start to sag, which will then cause your exterior walls to push out. Extremely bad stuff there. So, yes, you can retroactively build a vaulted ceiling, but not without the help of a contractor and/or structural engineer. This is a project to approach with the utmost of care.

    Vaulted Ceiling Hints, Tips, and Things You May Not Have Known

    1. Tray Ceiling is an Alternative
      If you can’t stomach the thought (or cost) of a vaulted ceiling, a tray ceiling is a good alternative. A tray ceiling looks like a conventional, 8 foot, flat ceiling—but with a center flat portion that is raised about a foot or so. Tray ceilings give the added feeling of airiness, yet allow for maximum insulating value.
    2. Scissors Trusses Mostly Built Off-Site
      For the most part, scissors trusses (and trusses in general nowadays) are built off-site by specialized truss companies. This gives the home builder more time to concentrate on other aspects of the house. One general contractor says that he uses off-site built trusses for peace of mind. He knows that all of his workers can “swing and set” trusses, but fewer can build a good, solid on-site truss.

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