ceiling heights - 9 or 10 feet?

laurensmom21August 20, 2012

Hello all!

I'm trying to convince my hubby to do 10 ft ceilings in our new house and thought I'd turn to you all for some advice :) We don't have a plan yet, but hopefully our new architect will have a preliminary drawing next week (thanks gaonmymind!)

I love the shingle style & also southern vernacular type homes with tons of natural light and transom windows. However, we live in central IL and NO houses here have 10 ft ceilings. Most have basic vaults or 8ft. Hubby thinks it's ridiculous to even contemplate 10 ft ceilings!

I'd be willing to compromise and go with 9ft (but will probably do vaulted in great room) but I'm concerned how transoms will look with 9ft ceilings. Does anyone have any pics to share of their 9 ft ceilings w/transoms?

Dh is concerned about cost but our architect thinks it will only be about $5-6k to go from 9ft to 10ft. To me, that seems reasonable to spend money on something that will dramatically change the look of the whole house.

what do you all think? Thanks in advance!

christy :)

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Do you like tray ceilings, beams or similar ceiling treatments? How about in the main living area you do 10' ceilings with 10' being the height at the center of the tray?

Regarding ceiling height, I think 9' is perfect nearly everywhere, and that if smaller rooms (such as kids bedrooms) are done in 10' they can feel awkward.

Our home is mostly single story, and the kitchen, den, and masterbedroom are all 10', the great room/dining room is 12' (or 15' we are in debates) and the kids rooms are 9'.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 6:10PM
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Woohoo! Crossing my fingers it works out well with him. Regarding ceiling heights around here new construction norms are trending toward 10" on the first level and 9' on the second. Even some basements are 10', but we are doing 9' in the basement to save 6k. So his pricing is accurate, but I am in his local area so he knew our market.

I personally like 10' on a main level, but I think 9' is a good compromise especially if 8' is the norm in your area. Things add up quickly. Everything is just another $XXXX...lol. That is why so many of us are over budget!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 6:25PM
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I think 10' is great, but be sure to think about the ceiling height relative to any given room's footprint. 10' feels great in graciously sized room. It can feel odd in smaller rooms like a powder room or spare bedroom.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 6:58PM
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10' ceilings are definitely the norm for custom homes in my area (near Charlotte) and I really love how they look in our home. I love them with the 8' doors and cased openings, and especially love the fat trim that the high ceilings require. I do think they make our home more airy and bright...and would look stunning with your transoms. I would push hard for the 10' if I were you! :)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 8:46PM
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Can you compromise on the bedrooms or other areas for the 10' in the public spaces. We are doing 10' kitchen/living/dining and 8' in the kids rooms. MB will probably be 9'. We like nini are also near Charlotte but I have seen 12' as the standard in some of the newer home communities. I would try to take it out in trade:)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 9:03PM
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We did 9' on our main level (foyer, kitchen, hall, powder and master suite) with a vault to 15' in the great room with 8' upstairs (hall, 2 bedrooms and one jack/jill bath). It works well and the transition isn't a shock since the stairway is a vaulted-ish design as well. 10' to me would be really tall, but we have standard height windows and doors, so that would make a difference. Our house is new custom Craftsman-inspired build in the mountains in western North Carolina.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 10:07PM
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9 ft should be perfectly fine. If it were me I would save the money and add it elsewhere that you might appreciate more. Not only would you save money or put it elsewhere, but you save in ongoing heating/cooling costs.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 11:12PM
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I have found that the most dramatic and impressive additional ceiling height is the first 6 inches above 8 ft. Every additional 6 inches is less dramatic and less impressive. I find it's really not necessary to go to 10 ft. unless there is some kind of spectacular view that demands extremely tall windows.

If you do go to 10 ft ceilings use the wall height for taller windows and don't worry about aligning the heads of windows and doors; one relates to the floor and the other relates to the sky.

I have found transoms over doors to create sound and privacy issues and they seem at odds with modern HVAC systems; maybe they would work well in a vacation house.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 11:56PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We have 9' ceilings which is great. I've got a barrel vault in the DR and a tray in the study, and I actually bumped it down for a soffit to define the space between the FR and the kitchen. I would think the cost of going another foot on the ceiling would be more than what the architect suggests as you start getting into not just more materials, but add odd lengths/widths which require a lot more labor (sheet rock, 2x4's). Further your ongoing costs of heating and cooling will be higher. And as others have mentioned, it can make small rooms feel like elevator shafts unless you bring the ceiling height down in them.

Dining room

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 7:36AM
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I would go 10 feet. There is a small cost increase from 9 to 10. But since you breached the 8 feet, two standard size sheet rock panels height, most of the incremental cost is already there. So going for 10, when compared to nine is not such a big deal.

Best, Mike.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 12:51PM
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As nini804 mentions, there can be more than just the cost of wall materials to go to 10 foot ceilings. Will standard doors look right, or do you bump up to 8 foot doors? What about trim? In design theory, the baseboard and crown moulding should relate to the ceiling height: higher ceilings mean taller baseboards and deeper crown moulding.

And then there is the ongoing forever costs of heating and cooling a larger volume of space.

Your point, though, about 9 foot ceilings and transoms is valid. Ask your architect to sketch the 9 foot wall with the window sizes you want versus a 10 foot wall to get a sense of proportion. Standard building construction requires a 10-12" header above windows so the transom rough opening is almost a foot from the ceiling. How big do you want the windows? Do you care how close they are to the floor?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 1:02PM
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Thanks for all your advice! I really appreciate all the feedback and suggestions I get here on gw :)

I'm now thinking that maybe 9 ft is the way to go. Dh is really worried about extra costs (and we don't even have a complete plan yet!). Our problem is he is the builder/gc so we don't have anyone to bounce costs off of. So we won't really have a good grasp of anything until we get the actual plans back and send everything out to bid.

I initially wanted vaulted ceilings for our great room, but am now thinking about 10 ft there and 9ft in the rest of the downstairs (our upstairs ceilings will mostly be vaulted as well - I'm loving the attic-type, slanted ceilings with lots of nooks & crannies).

Does anyone know if it would be a cost savings for me to switch from vaulted to 10ft in the great room?

thanks again!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 11:28PM
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Of course costs will vary and a big variable is siding choice - brick vs vinyl is a 3 fold difference in price.

Our builder usually quotes $1000 per foot on a 2000 sqft floor with hardi siding. Someone here quoted $5000 and I think that is crazy high.

Vaulted is more dependent on roof structure. Usually, vaulted is cheaper because there is no extra siding and no extra walls. The ceiling drywall area is bigger but this is really minimal.

The big problem with vaulted is that the insulation is usually less. Depends of course on your climate whether that matters.

To me vaulted speaks of spec house and inexpensive construction but that is just one person's (snobbish) opinion.

Vaulted is also an issue with lighting and particularly fans - you can do them but they look a little weird to me.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 3:43PM
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I thinks there are lot of pros to a ceiling height of 9 ft compared to 10 ft.Bigger and higher is not always better.Think about it.You build a house to be cozy and private.Coziness is lost as the ceiling height gets higher and you get this cave effect with heigher ceilings than 9 ft(truly speaking if you need higher ceilings the best thing to do is sleep under the sky-you don't need a house for that-just kidding)
I am building a 5300 sq ft house and i have done quite extensive reserach on higher ceilings.Here are the cons to it
1.Lighting feels awkward in any ceiling height higher than 9 ft.Recessed lighting beam of light looses its brightness on 10 ft ceiling.Any other forms of lighting on 10 ft ceiling feels awkward by the time the beam of light hits the ground(as there is 10 ft to travel instead of 9 ft)
2.extra costs is just not associated with sheet rock but also with height of building,extra bricks or other material used outside etc..
3.Heating and cooling the bigger space is always going to be tricky and costs are going to go much higher

The only pro i can see is that some people talk about majestic and grandeur presence of higher ceilings.But this is only a misconception.With properly spaced windows and curved walls this can be acheived with 9 ft ceilings too.I think this pro quickly disspaers when you factor in the cons.

Advantages of 9 ft ceiling--
actually all the cons in 10 ft are the advantages.apart from that if you are planning on installing rope lighting with small tray in ceiling it looks very cool(if you don't have tray but want to get rope lighting in the crown molding it still looks pretty awesome)
it is very proportionate when compared to 6 ft man(you don't get dwarfed in the room and room doesn't overwhelm you)
Sound quality dramatically improves.There is some subtle echoing with higher ceilings and it is always tough to get the audio right if you are installing speakers as echoing interferes and there is larger space to re produce good bass and treble
as you can make out i am totally in favor of 9 ft ceilings.Hope this helps

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 1:39AM
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Well - there really isn't a difference between lighting a 9 or 10 foot room. The lights hits the ground about the same.

The extra heating costs are around 5%. That would be based on walls being 50% of the heating loss - in many houses that number would be less. It has a lot to do with windows and how good your walls are - with really good walls and lots of windows, the difference could be 2%.

Temperature stratification - I've never noticed a problem/issue and we have 9 to 11 ft ceilings.

Something to think about. Room size and ceiling height should be proportional - 8 foot was the standard when houses were 1500 sqft. Now that they are 3500 sqft (probably about right when it comes to new custom homes) - shouldn't the ceiling height be higher?

On sound quality ---- I wonder why every music hall I've ever been to has high ceilings?

In sum - I've never noticed the downsides. The upside is in a large room, the windows can be higher and do a better job of getting natural light in. You also aren't tempted to do 2 story rooms which have real downsides.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 5:45AM
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I'm not sure what kind of transoms you are talking about, but I wanted operable transoms inside the house and our architect said that they really don't look right unless you have an 11-12 foot ceiling. He said most people making a side by side comparison between a 7 ft. door and an 8 ft. door with a 10 ft. ceiling really prefer the look of the 8ft. door, and it doesn't really leave much room for a transom. So if those are the type you wanted, that is something to consider. I think we are going to skip the 12 ft. ceiling- we are building a 3500-ish sq. ft. low country style house (no first set of plans but working on them) and think 12 ft. will be far too much.

If you are referring to transoms over exterior facing windows and doors, I'll see if I can get my mother to take a few photos. She has transoms with 9ft. ceilings and I think it looks great.


    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 8:48AM
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Several thoughts:

You and he should visit homes that have 9 and 10 foot ceilings to see for yourself how they feel. This may change his mind or your mind. Also, read The Not So Big House series. The author discusses the dangers of going "too big" and building a house that's oversized for human proportions; such a house doesn't "feel good" to us. She does, however, emphasize the value of a change in ceiling height. It's an interesting read.

Keep in mind that higher ceilings cost more to build (if you're talking about the whole house, I think your architect's estimate of an extra 5-6K sounds rather low). I wonder if that was just materials; if so, remember that higher ceilings mean breaking away from standard sized material, and that increases your labor costs. ALSO it'll cost more to heat . . . forever. Heat rises, so your heat will be way above your head. You might want to consider heating under your floors to compensate; however, that's more money.

I think a compromise between high ceilings in your public rooms and lower ceilings in your bedroom areas is a good idea.

Finally, when you're discussing ceilings it's easy to get caught up in thinking that this is "just a little more" . . . then another day you think about appliances and decide to buy the ones that're "just a little more" . . . another day it's the tiles that're "just a little more" . . . and then you think about bumping up to a larger garage because it's "just a little more". That's how budgets are blown. I suggest that you make a list of your priorities, and when it comes time to make financial decisions, refer to it. You might rate the kitchen as your #1 splurge room, while someone else might rate the master suite more highly, and a third person might be willing to skimp on a number of things in the house so that he can have a great pool and entertainment area in the back yard; the key is to spend with a plan and to spend where you're really going to appreciate it.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 9:24AM
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My iPhone somehow double posted, sorry!

This post was edited by texas_cajun on Thu, Dec 6, 12 at 10:39

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 9:45AM
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Such a simple question, "how high should ceilings be?", right? Wrong--it's not a simple question at all!

It's a much more complicated question and answer than appears on the surface. For example:

--Is the house a multi-story house? If so the higher the ceiling and floor-to-floor height, the longer the required run of stairs and the greater amount of area required for stairs;
--Materials and labor: Higher ceilings require more materials, increased labor and perhaps different work approaches, ie, use of scaffolding. Some dry-wall trades may not even want to bid on vaulted (pitched or curved) ceilings;
--Operations and maintenance: Increased interior volumes mean larger volume heating and cooling equipment; greater operating costs; possible air stratification, layering and drafts; and really mundane questions about how will one get the cobwebs from from the vaulted ceiling and change the burned out light bulbs?

None of these issues, however, is so great that it can't be successfully overcome, but all of these issues point to some of the considerations for increased ceiling heights.

Here's the really important issue, IMO: proportions! Yep, proportions and how pleasing and appealing the space(s) may be for their intended character and use.

For example, is the desire for a very intimate and cozy space? If so, high ceilings may negate that feeling. On the other hand, is the desire for a space capable of hosting a large gathering of people? If so a high ceiling space may be ideal.

In the days before dependable heating and air conditioning systems, it was often the climate that dictated ceiling heights. In cold northeastern U.S., for example, small low-ceiling rooms were the norm in order to effectively heat the house with the fireplace(s) used for the purpose. Conversely, in the hot, humid southeastern U.S., larger rooms, higher ceilings and cross ventilation were the solutions to keep the hottest air as high above the humans as possible.

How does this relate to proportions? The Roman architect Vitruvius, writing in his "Ten Books on Architecture" and the Renissance architect Palladio, writing in his "Four Books of Architecture", each described how important an understanding and rational use of proportion was for architects of their respective times. Each wrote of specific formulas to be used for the most pleasing spaces. These formulas varied, using arithmetic, geometrical and harmonic standards, but all were quite close in their final results.

For example, the simplest arithmetic formula of Palladio was:

H=1/2 the sum of the width + length of the room

For a modern 12' X 14' room, the formula produces a height of 13'! For a 16' X 20' room, the formula produces a height of 16'! Now we don't have to completely agree with these historical proportions, but we can quickly see that ceiling height is a function of the room's width and length.

That's an important point, since modern houses have 4' wide corridors, 8' X 8' baths and laundries, 12' X 12' kitchens, 12' X 14' dining rooms and 16' X 20' living rooms (or some variations on each of these different sizes). Thus, to maximize pleasing proportions in a house, one needs to give thought to room sizes and decide where the optimal best compromise for ceiling height will be--assuming one cares about this subject at all!

Interestingly, I think, Frank Lloyd Wright used to play deliberate spatial tricks with his many of his house designs by making the house entry area with a very low ceiling (perhaps 7' or so), and then, after a twist or two to travel from the entry to the living area, "explode" the ceiting height to 15' or more, creating a great contrast and dramatic sequential effect, caused by traveling from a low-height space to a much greater-height space.

Aren't ceilings really interesting? But there aren't simple!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 11:33AM
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9' Ceilings are common....Sheet Rock and Studs are now pre-cut for 9' ceilings...so going from 9 to 10 is a significant step...We are starting to frame and we are going with 9' Walls with 8' Headers for windows and doors..Windows will be mostly 5'6" tall and doors will be 6'8" with mostly faux transoms...

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 2:18PM
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I'm sure the OP has already made a choice but for the sake of discussion...

I agree that the biggest noticable difference is between 8' and 9'. For a doors with tansoms, I think you need 10' (6'8" door with 18" transom). Why not do 9' for most of the first floor with a few rooms with 11-12' ceilings. I would prefer 11-12' to vaulted. I have never liked vaulted ceilings.We have 10' on the first floor. That is standard for custom homes in our area. I like it- feel plenty cozy to me and I like the bigger windows and light fixture options that are made possible by 10' ceilings. We have 9' ceilings upstairs.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 2:34PM
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jwillis, they also make sheetrock and studs for 10' walls "precut".

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 3:32PM
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When it comes to the header height for doors and windows, there's nothing that says these heights can't be whatever the best design may be, within reason. For example, with an 8'-1" top of plate and ceiling, the window and door heads don't have to automatically be 6'-8". With the proper design and framing during construction, windows and doors can virtually be framed to the ceiling height (within reason for the widths involved. For example, window head height for a single window can be 7'-8", leaving 4" +/- for window trim, using flush framed headers.

With a 9'-1" plate and ceiling, 6'-8" windows and doors with transoms are easily possible.

It's just a matter of design and detailing, so long as the overall window and door width does not become so expansive as to require major structural headers.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 9:03PM
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great info and feedback everyone! We have made our decision and received our final plans from our architect this week. I'll post the plans on another thread if anyone wants to take a look.

We decided to do 9' ceilings on 1st and 2nd floors with the great room, master and bedrooms upstairs all vaulted. I know many people dislike vaults but I love the "attic-ish" look to them and plan to use tongue & groove wood planks in the bedrooms and maybe some type of beams in the great room.

The windows & transoms did throw us off a bit at first. Architect had to spec modified headers so I could get my 16" transoms above the windows (he originally had 12" which is way too squatty looking for my taste). Hopefully it all looks somewhat like I'm envisioning - southern vernacular meets shingle/cottage style :)

thanks again everyone!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 10:35PM
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There is a big difference between 9' and 10' ceilings. It comes down to personal taste. To me - 10' ceilings start to lose the coziness feeling of 'home' and would be more appropriate for a large clubhouse or public meeting space. Though when you put several people in an open space with 10' ceilings with hardwood floors - you amp up the noise factor. And as the other posters have said, the AC/Heating bills are forever bumped up with higher ceilings - plus the extra wear & tear you will be putting on your HVAC systems.

You have to ask how your own family will be using the space inside your home in the next 10-20 years AND what type of buyers will be out there in 10-20 years to buy your house when you are ready to move on. So much of the things builders are doing these days are sales features that will date a home within a couple of years. For example, a group of upscale builders in my area just finished an Italian themed neighborhood. The houses were custom and very expensive - it was 100% built out. And now, a couple of years later - it just looks like a bad, tacky copy of a Disney section. Different isn't always better in the long run.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2014 at 8:10AM
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Having lived with 10 (which I believe really yields about 9'8" when finished) I would say 10! 10! 10! 10!

While it is true that the ceiling height differences from 9 to 10 might not register that much, it allows for higher headers in pass throughs/ archways/etc and THAT makes a huge difference in the way you feel about the house.

It's also good for resale in that very tall people won't buy a house where anything feels remotely close to their heads.

Back in the 1980's my parents nearly sold their house to an NFL wide receiver. He didn't end up buying the house because while the public areas had enormous cathedral ceilings, the master bedroom ceiling was 8'. He couldn't deal.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2014 at 10:21AM
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We had 10' ceilings in our last home, and 9' in the home we just built. Don't miss the 10' ceilings at all. Our current layout provides so much light that this space seems much airier more lovely than our 10' ceiling home ever thought about being. I think you'll be happy with 9'!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2014 at 11:05AM
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The ceiling height of a house, like so many other design decisions, should not be made independent of the overall design of the house. All I can tell you is that I have never found that a ceiling higher than 9 ft was necessary to achieve what I wanted.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2014 at 6:14PM
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