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Vaulted ceilings are popular design additions to many homes and businesses. The increased overhead space imparts a sense of roominess and grandeur. But you are wondering, does the look of vaulted ceiling come with additional heating and cooling costs? Well, in this post, we leverage up-to-date research and industry professional knowledge to answer your question.
Vaulted ceilings do cost more to heat and cool than non-vaulted ceilings. That is to say, for the amount of floor square footage, the additional volume vaulted ceilings add require additional heating and cooling capacity. However, there are tricks that help reduce the added cost of heating and cooling vaulted ceilings.
Read the rest of this post to learn more about why vaulted ceilings cost more to heat and to cool. We discuss ways to reduce that added cost. To close, we answer several questions related to the topic of this post.
Why Vaulted Ceilings Are More Expensive To Heat And Cool
Vaulted ceilings are more expensive to heat and cool for three primary reasons. First, the vault increases the total cubic footage of the home, also known as the volume. Second, vaulted construction is more difficult to insulate than flat ceiling construction. And third, hot air rises, which makes the above two effects particularly pronounced during the heating season. We cover each of these reasons in more detail below.
Additional Vaulted Ceiling Volume
Homes are often measured by their square footage. This number only accounts for the actual floor space of a home. This means that the extra area included in a vaulted ceiling does not add to a home’s listed size. However, that vaulted space still needs to be heated.
Take the example of a 50,000 BTU electric furnace. These are generally rated to heat a 2,000 square foot home. However, this rating only accounts for homes with average ceiling height (8-foot ceilings). The square-foot rating for furnaces is developed based on average ceiling height, but furnaces actually are required to heat all the air in a space
All that air is measured in cubic feet, not square feet. A home with vaulted ceilings may have ceiling heights of 10 feet or more. This means that a 2,000 square foot home with vaulted ceilings is likely to require a 60,000 BTU to 70,000 BTU furnace. More powerful furnaces are more expensive to run.
On the other hand, a less powerful furnace will be required to heat a greater volume of air with vaulted ceilings. This means the furnace will cycle on more often. More run time means a higher bill for both heating and cooling.
Vaulted Ceilings Are More Difficult to Insulate Well
This reason is not entirely intuitive. Why, after all, is it more difficult to insulate certain construction strategies. Well, the reason is that vaulted ceiling cut into attic space. Modern homes with attics are often filled with many feet of insulation. This brings the R-value to R-49 or higher.
On the other hand, vaulting a ceiling usually means that the interior ceiling drywall is six or so inches from the exterior home cladding. In this more limited space, the highest R-value possible is closer to R-40 or even lower.
The lower the R-value, or the resistance value, the more temperature moves from one side of the home to the other. This means that vaulted ceilings lose heat faster in the winter and cold faster in the summer.
The final reason that vaulted ceilings increase the cost of home temperature control is mostly related to heating. Heat naturally rises because hot air is lighter than cold air. This means that the air you pay to heat in your furnace will naturally fill your vaulted ceiling first.
This is a problem because while vaulted ceilings certainly look nice, people generally do not spend any time there. Further, the hot air in the vaulted ceiling is up against the lower insulation so it will lose its temperature more quickly.
Because of the above logic, it might seem a good thing that heat rises to the vault in the summer during the cooling season. However, the air conditioner unit pulls air from the whole house and will still have to cool the hot air in the vault.
How to Make Vaulted Ceiling More Energy Efficient
Usually, the small added cost of heating and cooling vaulted ceilings is worth the look of these raised ceilings. So here, we discuss several ways to make vaulted ceilings more energy efficient. The ways include adding insulation, installing ceiling fans, using LED lights, and properly designing your HVAC system.
When designing your vaulted ceilings, it is possible to take steps to increase the R-value of the surface. These include using high-density fiberglass batts, using foam insulation instead of fiberglass, adding insulation to the roof deck under the roofing, and using scissor truss construction.
The first three of these steps are all designed to increase the R-value with the space provided. The scissor truss construction allows you to have vaulted ceilings, although not as high, and still have room in the ceiling cavity for additional R-value of insulation. Make sure your contractor or architect keeps the R-value in mind while they design or build your house. This is especially important with vaulted ceilings.
Ceiling fans function to reduce the heating and cooling costs of vaulted ceilings in two ways. First, they push the hot air down into the living space during the heating season. And second, they create a breeze that will make occupants feel cooler, allowing you to lower your AC set point. These reasons make ceiling fans the most popular and cost-effective way of making vaulted ceilings more energy efficient.
More and more LED lights are becoming the go-to lighting source. For a fraction of the cost, they put out the same amount of illumination as traditional incandescent lights. Further, LED lights do not put out any heat. This means that if you have an old vaulted ceiling with incandescent lights, it is likely a great idea to change those out for LEDs.
The reduced heat added to the system by switching to LED lights means that your air conditioning unit will not have to work nearly as hard in the summers. As an added bonus, LED lights last up to 20 times longer. Be careful; only certain LED lights are dimmable.
Properly Designed HVAC Systems
Ensuring that your HVAC system is designed for the actual volume of your home, vaults included, is the job of an HVAC professional or architect. However, without this consideration, your HVAC system, both heating and cooling, may end up being undersized. This means that it has to work overly hard and will produce results of lower quality.
Do High Ceilings Make A Room Colder?
As described above, high ceilings do not necessarily make a room colder. In fact, in the summer, high ceilings make a room hotter. The poor insulation often installed in old vaulted ceilings has created the false idea that high ceilings always make a room colder.
How Can You Keep Your House Warm With High Ceilings?
Yes, you certainly can. As outlined here, a high ceiling might make it more difficult to warm your house, but they do not make it impossible. Read the above advice on how to improve vaulted ceiling efficiency to learn more about this.
Do High Ceilings Need Fans?
While high ceilings do not need fans, they come highly recommended. Fans are a cheap and easy way to improve the energy efficiency of your vaulted ceilings in both the winter and summer. Read more about this above.
HVAC Seer has many excellent articles on vaulted ceilings. Consider reading these to learn more:
- How To Insulate A Vaulted Ceiling
- Do Cathedral Ceilings Need Ventilation?
- Can You Put A Ceiling Fan On A Vaulted Ceiling?
In this post, we have answered the question of whether or not vaulted ceilings make it more expensive to heat and cool your home. In addition, we provide several tips for how to make vaulted ceilings more energy efficient. To close, we answered a few related questions. Good luck!