Will my heating bills go up if I rip out my lowered ceilings — acoustictile Ask MetaFilter

Will my heating bills go up if I rip out my lowered ceilings?

The previous owner of my house lowered the ceilings to save energy. I hate them. If I take the new ceilings down, will my energy bills go up that much?

At some point the previous owners of my house stopped using the old heating vents near the ceilings and put in new vents near the floor. At that time they also put new, lower ceilings in the bedrooms and hallway with the idea that lower ceilings would keep the warm air down and lower heating bills.

I hate these ceilings. They’re acoustic tile with fluorescent lights. My husband and I poked up a tile and were surprised to find the house’s original ceiling, intact and in great shape, a mere eight inches or so above the new ceiling. I’d love to rip out the new ceiling and expose the old, nicer ceiling. However, I’m reluctant to do this for fear that my heating bills will go up. I don’t think they would, but I’m not sure.

Could lowering the ceiling eight inches really lower your heating bills? Or will I not see a difference if I take the lower ceilings out?


You won’t see a difference. Almost all the time when you heat your house, you don’t heat a volume of space, you replace heat as it escapes. Heat is lost through the walls and ceilings and it will make little difference to your heating bill if you have a small air cavity in the ceiling. This would really only make sense if there were insulation between the two ceilings.

posted by ssg at 8:05 PM on August 9, 2009

I would say go ahead and take down the ceiling, but install a ceiling fan. Be sure to get one that can be operated in reverse motion.

Read the uses paragraph here .

If they are drop ceilings like I think they are (I think my parents have this in their basement) can you just take the tiles out for a while once the weather gets cold and just leave the tracks in? The tiles should just pop out and be able to be lifted out and set aside, exposing the cavity above.

It would be hard to know exactly how much your heat bill would go up since if you did November versus December with and without the tiles, the temperature would be different between the months and you may be running the furnace more or less just due to the weather. If you have last year’s data, you may have a more straightforward comparison. I guess you can just leave the tiles out for a few months and see how manageable the heating bill is and then go forward with removing the tracks & fluorescent lighting.

I can’t really think of a more clever way to test how much heat you need and get a statistically significant result of drop ceiling versus old ceiling.

If these are ceilings between conditioned space and conditioned space (i.e. first floor and second floor) you should not notice any difference since the temperature on both sides of the air space is the same. If they are between conditioned and unconditioned space (upper floor and attic, or first floor of a ranch) you might, but any loss should easily be reversed by additional insulation in the attic — which you should probably do anyway.

If there are unused air vents in the space you’re exposing you should be sure to close them off from the inside and/or cover them with magnetic vent covers. Assuming that this is an older house you’re going to lose the majority of your heated air through active drafts (around windows, vents, etc) rather than through a temperature differential with the outside.

posted by true at 8:35 PM on August 9, 2009

Also check out the old heating vents, if they are disconnected they may possibly vent the ceiling out somewhere else.

Putting a drop ceiling in for 8 of space seems awfully drastic. Makes me think that there is something else going on besides just decreasing the volume of space.

Keeping more space heated / cooled costs more money, proportional to the size of the space and the rate of dissipation of heat from the space. The smaller and better insulated a space, the cheaper to heat. Even if you insulate the true ceiling, you could expect your heating bills to increase as follows:

new_cost = old_cost(volume(without false ceilings) volume(below false ceilings))

For example, in the unlikely case that the false ceilings were halfway between the real ceiling and the floor, the cost to heat the false ceilinged area would approximately double.

Of course, this is approximate, and if the false ceilings were poorly insulated the increase would be smaller etc. etc. etc.

Also, a false ceiling is an excellent way to avoid noise from an upstairs neighbor, and reduce noise spread to adjacent rooms. There is a reason they are called acoustic tiles, after all. You can use a orange peel texturing substance on the ceiling under the paint to emulate this, but it is not as effective, and quite expensive.

I agree with those suggesting the difference in your heating bill will be fairly infinitesimal. The story might be different if they’d lowered the ceiling height by several feet, but a difference of 8 is almost nothing.

new_cost = old_cost×(volume(without false ceilings) ÷ volume(below false ceilings))

For example, in the unlikely case that the false ceilings were halfway between the real ceiling and the floor, the cost to heat the false ceilinged area would approximately double.

This is wrong. When you heat your house, you’re buying heat to replace the heat that escapes through the walls and ceilings. It would be far more accurate to base such a calculation on increased wall surface area than on the change in volume.

Also Nthing, that removing these tiles will not increase heating bills. For an air gap to have real efficacy it should be sealed (as in double glazed windows). I am not familiar with how air conditioning systems effect your houses efficiency, however if you do find that your bills need to be lowered the low hanging fruit of home efficiency are loft insulation and cavity wall insulation. Assuming you start from nothing which includes the set-up you have described these pay off in 2-3 years — after that = profit!

If one of the dropped ceilings is below an uninsulated or under insulated space, then yes your heating costs will rise. Add insulation to the attic, and remove the dropped ceilings and enjoy. Also add a few ceiling fans for better circulation.

ps. even though the old ceilings look fine you will have a nice grid of holes left over when you remove the hanging straps. Spackle, sand and paint.

posted by Gungho at 5:37 AM on August 10, 2009

Do you have two accurate thermometers? Put one just below the current drop ceiling. Put the other above the drop ceiling. Compare the readings after about an hour. Are they significantly different? My guess would be no.

Our house had a drop acoustical ceiling that we removed to expose the original ceiling which was about 3 feet above that. (In our case, I’m pretty sure that the drop ceiling was to protect the occupants from dirt occasionally falling from a mud coat above the vigas and latillas. But that hasn’t been much of a problem.) If our heating and cooling bills went up I never noticed, but then again southern New Mexico isn’t Milwaukee. We put in a ceiling fan that reverses, as marsha56 suggests. That might be trickier if your ceiling isn’t high enough to keep your heads clear of the blades.

Even if your heating bills went up, it would be worth it to get rid of that horrible drop ceiling. Those things are the worst.

posted by orme at 10:55 AM on August 10, 2009

christinethesip, tear down those tiles! We had something similar in our kitchen and it was hideously ugly, with inset spotlights that were painfully unpleasant to stand under. It was worth making a mess to get rid of all that nonsense.

Especially since the old ceiling looks fine underneath — I’d say go for it, since you won’t have to do a lot of work on that.

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