Understanding Vaulted Ceilings: What They Are and How to Construct Them

Understanding Vaulted Ceilings: What They Are and How to Construct Them

Vaulted ceilings are renowned for their impactful architectural appeal, enhancing the perception of space and light within a structure. In this article, we delve into the construction process of these stunning features and weigh up their advantages and drawbacks.

Vaulted ceilings are a stunning addition to any home, lending immense architectural intrigue, allowing an abundance of natural light to pour in, and augmenting the sense of space.

Among the variety of ceiling styles available for self-builders and those looking to extend, vaulted ceilings present a unique opportunity to instil instant character and utilise the frequently underused roof space above.

If you're renovating or converting a structure, such as a barn or disused church, it's possible you may have inherited a vaulted ceiling. In this case, you might be considering how best to enhance it.

In this article, we explain precisely what a vaulted ceiling is, how it's constructed, and the potential advantages and disadvantages to ensure you can make an informed decision regarding your home's 'fifth wall'.

Demystifying Vaulted Ceilings: What Are They?

There are various types of vaulted ceilings. However, generally, the term refers to a ceiling that slopes upwards from a room's walls, thus creating a significantly higher ceiling than the standard flat ceilings common in the UK, which typically measure around eight feet.

Vaulted ceiling designs can be utilised to create double-height spaces, extending from the ground floor to the underside of the first-floor roof, or in upper storey rooms of the house.

What kinds of vaulted ceilings exist?

There are multiple types of vaulted ceilings. While the classic pitched vaulted roof with exposed beams, constructed from a timber frame, might be the most well-known, alternatives like barrel vault ceilings are also available.

Duo-pitched vaulted ceiling: Very popular among self-builders, particularly effective with an oak frame Monopitch vaulted ceiling: Where one side of the roof begins at the usual wall plate height (typically joist level) while the other side rises to create the monopitch Curved vault/Barrel vault: These are relatively straightforward and often constructed using glulam timber portal frames or post and beam frames with curved trusses. barrel vault ceiling in open plan kitchen with red units

How are vaulted ceilings constructed?

There are several methods to construct vaulted ceilings.

A vaulted ceiling includes oak trusses, the principal rafters, and the ridge beam to form the roof structure, trusses can be designed in various ways to become standout features, so we always advise discussing the design with your oak frame designer. For added character, you can include oak ceiling joists which lend a more traditional look to your space.

It's crucial to use a construction technique that can create a high space without obstructing roof structure, there are a few options for this, but the most common are a timber cassette roof or a SIPs roof.

I particularly admire the potential for grand vaulted ceilings in a SIPs home, since the roof panels are structural, traditional roof trusses are not necessary — the panels can easily span 4.8m from eaves to ridge and sit on a boxed-in steel beam or a feature glulam timber beam. This can transform the top floor from a standard 2.4m floor-to-ceiling height, up to a double height of 3.6m.

It's worth noting that vaulted ceilings can be installed in certain sections ofthe house only, such as in the hallway, while maintaining more standard ceiling heights in other rooms.

What are the benefits of a vaulted ceiling?

Vaulted ceilings offer numerous advantages, which explains their frequent presence in architectural designs, with extensions featuring vaulted ceilings being particularly trendy at the moment.

High ceilings can create the illusion of space and enhance our sense of wellbeing at home, take cathedrals as an example: their lofty ceilings create expansive, light-filled spaces that inspire and uplift. Conversely, low ceilings can often feel suffocating.

Recent studies have shown that rooms with higher ceilings promote a sense of freedom and exploration, while rooms with lower ceilings inhibit curiosity and generally constrain thought processes. However, a low ceiling in a cosy nook can evoke calm and relaxation, whereas a significantly higher ceiling in a grand hallway or dining room will provide an emotional lift each time you enter.

Another advantage of constructing a double-height room is the opportunity to reveal the structure.

What are the drawbacks of vaulted ceilings?

Vaulted ceilings can be a contentious topic for some, with critics arguing they are merely a wasteful use of floor and energy space, with their volume making the rooms they occupy more difficult to heat compared to rooms with standard ceiling heights.

Practical issues also exist: cleaning cobwebs and dust in high reaches can be challenging, as can changing a bulb in any incorporated light fixtures.

If you plan to incorporate a vaulted ceiling, storage solutions need to be carefully considered. Without loft space, built-in storage ideas become increasingly vital.

How can you light a vaulted ceiling?

Determining the right lighting solutions for vaulted ceilings can be tricky, but with the correct fittings, you can highlight and enhance the space in spectacular ways.

Your vaulted space's lighting strategy is crucial — how the space looks and feels in the evening can be a key factor since you don't want to sit beneath a dark 'void'. Thought should be given to uplighters and lights with good horizontal spread from a reasonably high position to illuminate the vaulted space.

Consider activity zones and creating independently switchable lighting sequences, like allowing for decorative pendants over a dining area, along with uplighters and spots for general lighting provision.

Lighting can be the crucial factor that makes or breaks a space, so this isn't the area to be skimping on costs.

Don't overlook natural light either. Vaulted ceilings present numerous opportunities for including double-height glazing in your house design.

The gable end of a pitched roof space is an important feature, especially when capturing stunning views of a garden or the surrounding landscape. Framing the view with full-height face-glazing provides a room with a focal point that changes throughout the day and seasons. Even if there's no view, you might wish to create a feature wall made of brick or stone, or use vibrant wallpaper.

Are vaulted ceilings expensive to construct?

Vaulted ceilings are indeed more costly to construct compared to standard, flat ceilings. However, they can also add value and significantly enhance the experience of living in a house.

Expect your build costs to increase by around 5% to 20% if opting for a vaulted ceiling rather than a standard-height flat design.

Retrofitting a vaulted ceiling can be a costly endeavour, involving the removal of a substantial amount of your existing structure, including bracing and any ceiling electrics — you'll also be restricted by your existing roofline.