Does It Cost More to Have Vaulted Ceilings in a House?

What is a cathedral ceiling?

You may have guessed that cathedral ceilings originated from their namesake – cathedrals. A cathedral ceiling is defined architecturally as a ceiling which slopes upward from the walls, following the slope of the underside of the roof. The symmetry and the fact that it mirrors the pitch of the roof is the distinguishing difference between a cathedral ceiling and a vaulted ceiling. Vaulted ceilings can have curved or straight sides and symmetrical or asymmetrical lines. While these two architectural terms are often interchanged now, it’s important to know the difference.

Cathedral ceilings are popular for their ability to transform a bedroom, living room or any open space in your house. They create a grand and airy feel as well as the illusion of more space. Additional space allows for larger windows and therefore – more natural light. Win, win, win! The only downside is they tend to be less energy efficient, which means higher energy costs. 

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Pros and Cons of Vaulted Ceilings

What’s not to love about these dramatically high ceilings? Often a step up from even an 11-foot-tall walls, the extra height afforded by the pitched ceiling makes even the average-sized room feel grand and airy. Plus, the extra wall space created means more room for extended windows, transom windows, and even skylights—hello, natural light.

And, while these features can mimic the grandeur of architecture from centuries past, vaulted ceilings blend with nearly any style: exposed wood beams can look cottage-like or fit for a log cabin, depending on the decor below, while arches and groin vaults can skew either traditional or uniquely modern.

For all of its beauty, spaciousness, and value that vaulted ceilings add to a home, it comes with some drawbacks that would make homeowners who are looking to build one into their home think twice.

For starters, building a vaulted ceiling increases the square foot price of home construction for a number of reasons. Anytime a worker has to use a ladder or scaffolding to build, trim, or paint, work slows down, which translates into added labor costs. In the case of vaults with arched and domed sides, even more labor is required because construction materials—which are typically straight and flat—must be adapted to fit the curved surfaces. Depending on the height, design, and trim, a vaulted ceiling could add five to 20 percent to the total cost. In cases where an elaborately designed dome is desired, the added cost could be even higher.

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Still, vaulted ceilings were all the rage in mid-to-high-end custom and tract-built homes constructed in the 1980s and early 1990s, not to say that the styles aren’t still desirable today. As utility costs skyrocketed, though, homeowners began to consider the pros and cons of having such high ceilings. It costs more to heat and cool rooms with high ceilings using typical forced air systems, as heat will quickly rise out of the living area and into the unused airy space above. To counteract this, homeowners have considered radiant floor heating to warm objects within the room and/or ceiling fans installed into the top of the dome or vault, which can then help circulate the hot air that rises back down into the room where it’s much appreciated during cold winter months. Alternately, installing operable skylights with automatic temperature sensors can rid your home of the hot air that tends to collect in the vault during the heat of summer.

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Edgartown, MA

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Edgartown, MA

Can you turn a normal ceiling into a vaulted ceiling?

If your home is a modest one-story home with standard eight-foot ceilings, you are the perfect candidate for a vaulted ceiling. Depending on how steep the roof slope is, the vault of a 20 by 20 foot room creates a new 3 to 12 foot tall ceiling on top. However, the price is not low.

Vaulted Ceiling Cost by Type of Construction

Vaulted ceilings can be built with the house or structure, or they can be added later. Costs vary tremendously depending on when the ceiling is vaulted and the vault type. The most common type is the cathedral style, which opens the ceiling to the roof deck. In new construction, this means modifying the roof to accommodate it, so you have the costs to frame the roof plus 5% to 20% for the modifications. In conversions, you need to open the existing ceiling to expose the space above and make necessary modifications, depending on whether you have trusses 2 or rafters.

Below are the average costs to create a cathedral-style vaulted ceiling in an average home for new construction and conversion, taking into account the cost of the framing, conversion, and both roof types.

Type of ConstructionAverage Costs (Labor Included)

Type of ConstructionAverage Costs (Labor Included)
New Construction$16,000 – $21,000
Convert a Flat Ceiling to Vaulted$18,000 – $35,000

Cost of a Vaulted Ceiling in New Construction

The cost to create a vaulted ceiling in new construction ranges from $16,000 to $21,000. These costs include the average cost of framing a roof of $13,500 to $16,500. They also include modifying the frame and finishing costs. Finishing costs for vaulted ceilings are higher than flat ceilings. This is because you need more drywall 3 to cover the higher walls and ceiling. You also pay a higher rate for the work, including the painting, because of the height.

Convert a Flat Ceiling to Vaulted Cost

Converting a flat ceiling to a vaulted ceiling costs $18,000 to $35,000. This includes removing the existing ceiling, modifying rafters or trusses, relocating pipes, ducts, and electrical wires, and the finish work. Your costs are influenced by how many utilities run through the space above, if this is an open “attic” space above the area, and how your roof is built. In some cases, people leave existing rafters and have them remain visible in the room, while they may need to be removed and modified for a more open appearance in other instances. In general, your costs are $40 higher if you have trusses rather than rafters.

Roof ConstructionAverage Modification Costs (Labor

Roof ConstructionAverage Modification Costs (Labor Included)
Rafters$18,000 – $25,000
Trusses$25,200 – $35,000

Additional Considerations and Costs

  • Electrical wiring. You need to reroute electrical wiring if you extend a standard ceiling to a vaulted ceiling. This may include lengthening existing cables to go around the area.
  • HVAC ducts. You may also need to reroute ductwork located above the ceiling. There is not enough room above the vaulted ceiling for the ducts.
  • Value. Vaulted ceilings increase the cost of building a new home or addition. They do not add value to a home, however. They look attractive and may be a selling feature of some properties.
  • Planning permission. You need a permit before undertaking this project. However, you do not need planning permissions before modifying the ceiling because the home’s exterior is unaffected.
  • Space. Vaulted ceilings increase the cubic feet of the room but not the home’s square footage.
  • Ventilation. Vaulted ceilings do not require the same ventilation as attics because they are not enclosed spaces. However, this can be a problem in damp areas like bathrooms.
  • Condensation. Damp areas, such as bathrooms, can develop issues with condensation. This is mostly from the lack of ventilation because you cannot run ducts outdoors.
  • Ceiling fans. You can hang a ceiling fan at the peak of a vaulted ceiling. This can cool the area and push heat down from the vaulted area in the winter.

Is a vaulted ceiling worth it?

Retrofitting a vaulted ceiling is a more difficult prospect than including one in a new home, although you should also be aware that although it may be easier to fit them into new builds, it does increase construction costs. 

‘When retro fitting a vault into an existing home, the existing ceiling framing will have to be removed,’ explains Jeremy Hume, president & CEO of Phoenix CR Pro (opens in new tab). ‘While this may seem like no big deal, that means drywall, insulation, roof bracing, and any electrical in the ceiling has to be removed as well. This can be a major chore.

‘You will be limited to vaulting the ceiling to the existing roof line; meaning, if your roof is a low pitch, and you want a high vault, you would then have to alter the roof framing as well,’ he continues.

There may be other consequences when a vaulted ceiling is retrofitted. ‘HVAC systems are designed to service a specific cubic footage in the home, and adding additional cubic footage by raising the ceiling could cause issues with heating and cooling the space,’ says Jeremy. ‘An upgrade in HVAC equipment may be necessary.’

Vaulted Ceiling Disadvantages

Cost

A vaulted ceiling in new construction is typically no more complicated than standard framing, though it does require special roof trusses that are usually built off-site and are more expensive than standard trusses. The basic framing construction cost can increase by 5 percent to 20 percent to add a vaulted ceiling to a 20-by-20-foot great room.

When it comes to finishing a home with a vaulted ceiling, there can be modest cost savings because it means a smaller second story. So the home will require less in flooring, trim, etc., to finish the second floor. But on the flip side, the vaulted ceiling does cost you some usable living space on your second story, and that might in turn lower your home value. For instance, you might have to trade an additional bedroom in your home for the vaulted ceiling, but the bedroom often would add more value when it comes time to sell.

Furthermore, if you want to create a vaulted ceiling in an existing home, it can be a very expensive remodeling project. Such a conversion requires input from a structural engineer and an architect to identify the load-bearing walls and determine whether (and how) portions of the ceiling can be removed to open the space to the roofline. This is conceivably possible, but it can cost as much as $18,000 to $25,000.

Difficult to Install in Existing Build

Creating a vaulted ceiling is far beyond the skill level of most DIYers. This is a project that requires you to bring in the pros. It is very difficult to retroactively create a vaulted ceiling in an existing structure. The process requires knocking out the ground-floor ceiling and then cutting away floor joists, which almost always requires the installation of new support beams and vertical posts—a major engineering modification. Many homes use trusses to support the roof, and vaulted ceiling conversions require that the attic framing be altered to properly support the roofline.

Maintenance and Repair Considerations

The single biggest drawback of a vaulted ceiling becomes evident when you ask yourself how you will clean or paint the ceiling (and clean or repair any windows in the ceiling). You’ll also have to consider how you will change lightbulbs or repair light fixtures that soar 20 or 30 feet over your head. Many homeowners must bring in professionals for tasks they could typically do with a standard ceiling height.

Energy Inefficient

Vaulted ceilings are notorious energy wasters because room heat naturally rises into the empty space where it offers no benefit to the occupants. Energy loss can be more pronounced with vaulted ceilings that are fitted with skylights or other windows. Moreover, rooms with vaulted ceilings tend to be draftier simply because of the natural convection patterns caused by warm air rising and cool air falling. Some of this can be mitigated by installing extra insulation in the ceiling or installing ceiling fans to force warm air down into living spaces. But the reality is these spaces will often feel chilly and drafty in winter, especially for homes built in colder climates.

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