Vaulted Ceilings

Vaulted Ceilings

The history of high ceilings probably started with the cave man. Smile please. Before he had fire he would seek a cave with a low ceiling to hold in his body heat. Once he started using fire for heat he realized that a high ceiling kept the smoke out of his eyes. Between the constant heat of the cave and the radiant heat of the fire, this was fairly comfortable housing.

Once the early emperors had enough slaves to build palaces their wise men realized that high ceilings not only kept the smoke out of their eyes but also kept the building cooler during the hot days. The European rulers liked to party all night so they needed light at night. This light usually consisted of burning animal fat, so they needed high ceilings to keep the smoke of cooking, heating and lighting out of their eyes. Many early civilizations believed there were evil spirits in the smoke, so a high ceiling kept the spirits away from them at night. Even the American Indians needed tall teepees to keep the smoke out of their eyes. Early colonists in America needed high ceilings to keep the smoke from cooking, heating and lighting out of their lungs and eyes. The advent of electric lights, heating systems that vented outside and exhaust fans for cooking brought ceilings down to eight feet.

Today the high cost of land in residential areas combined with the high cost of development because of environmental concerns has caused the lot sizes to shrink. This has forced houses to be built vertically on very small lots. To lose the cramped feeling, builders have introduced vaulted ceilings. The American public has accepted this for three reasons. First, it feels larger and more expansive. Second, it reminds them of royalty ( kings and such). Third, it impresses neighbors and friends. Every one is aware that the design of a house can greatly affect the heat loss of the structure. Nothing affects the heating and cooling requirements of a house as much as vaulted ceilings or glass walls. Many people erroneously believe that the amount of solar gain during the day is going to offset the heat loss of the house at night. It just does not work that way. I do heat loss calculations every day, and see dramatic heat loss problems in many houses, with vaulted ceilings being the greatest problem. Many designers ignore this fact because they are comparing present heat and cooling costs with older structures and older heating or cooling equipment. We are taking advantage of new insulation, heating, cooling and construction methods which are all designed to save energy but are ignoring energy efficient design practices. Fuel costs will continue to rise. As they do, these houses will become difficult to sell. Today older homes must be upgraded to new energy standards before they will sell. But how will we upgrade a vaulted ceiling house once the fuel cost has reached its income related level?

Would it really make any difference if the glass started two feet above the floor instead of at the floor or if the ceiling height was ten feet in the living room instead of twenty six feet.


We do several heating designs each day and most people choose to ignore our warning about excessive glass, high ceilings and propane fuel.

If you will be living on a fixed income you should be aware of the problems your design choices will have.

Six inch walls and double glazed windows do not make an energy efficient house by themselves!

Vaulted Ceilings

The average home pollutes more than the average car in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.

The average home emits approximately 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.

The average car emits approximately 17,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.

Radiant heating systems should be combined with insulated window shades, see Page 100

Leave a Reply