Eliminating a vaulted ceiling?

mrspeteNovember 16, 2012

Things about us: We are almost empty-nesters building a retirement home. We're set on this plan, but we will be flip-flopping the kitchen /dining room, and we will be adding a walk-through pantry/mudroom that'll be a connection to the garage. (The garage that appears in the back of the house will be moved to the side -- more appropriate for our land.)

Question of the day: I'm wondering about the possibility of eliminating the vaulted ceiling from the great room. I like but do not love the vault. I like the look of that little circular window, and I would like a big fireplace towering up to the top, but I would not enjoy a cold room!

I know that vaulted ceilings are expensive to build and expensive to heat. This room isn't huge, and it does have plenty of windows, so I don't think it'd be claustrophobic without the vault.

If we did this, it'd just be storage upstairs, which would open off the bedroom. Note that we don't have an attic. It might just be a monster-sized closet off the bedroom with storage for seasonal decorations, etc.

Would you build the vault or not? Why, or why not?

Clearly, I'm waivering on this topic and am very uncertain.

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Beth Parsons

We just did this with a room exactly the size of yours and are *so* happy with our decision. We ended up with a 9' ceiling in the great room and don't feel closed in at all nor do I miss the 2 story fireplace. I LOVE the resulting attic space though we did pre-wire to eventually turn it into a media room. I love the idea of all my holiday decoration containers staying clean, organized and easily accessable - the complete opposite of how they're currently stored in the garage.

2nd floor plan - the 'open' area is now attic - love it!

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 11:53AM
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You might find this old thread on two-story great rooms helpful:

Here is a link that might be useful: Two-Story Great Room???

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 1:10PM
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I did not vault for the exact reasons you are stating....energy and cost. I find them to be "cold", but that is only my opinion. I am in your "age group" and building in a retirement commmunity also....but why pay for more than we need? I rather spend my money in other areas....or better yet, just keep in the in the bank for traveling etc.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 2:02PM
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Prewiring for a media room sounds interesting. We're planning to add a small office -- this "found" space could be that office, which would certainly be less expensive than adding on that space.

Could I have a door from the upstairs hallway? I mean, walk up the stairs, and turn kind of backwards into a door on the left? I wasn't thinking of this as a separate room at all, but now I'm considering that possibility.

BUT would that make the upstairs hallway dark? If so, so what? It's not all that important.

Thoughts gleaned from the old thread:

Heating. One person said that the only way to really keep a vaulted room warm is to install radiant heat under the floor. Is this moderately expensive, or big-time expensive? Is it true that this is important in a vaulted room?

Another person wrote that noise can be a problem in a vaulted room. We did stay in a cabin once that had a vaulted ceiling, and noise WAS a problem . . . but my husband and I slept in a loft bedroom, so I think it was the lack of a wall rather than the height.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 2:34PM
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parsonse-a secret room - very nice. Fun for the kids when they are younger or nice as an adult to store things that shouldn't be touched by little hands or visitors. Very cool.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 4:32PM
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Beth Parsons

With proper planning during the framing stage, you could easily convert some or all of this space to a future office. Our framer knew of our intentions for this space so he made sure that the support walls and other framing details were situated so we wouldn't need to move them later.

The family room of our first house had a vaulted ceiling AND a huge palladian window taking up one whole wall and I didn't find it particularly hard to heat/cool. Even though we dropped the vault in the great room, our current build still has 2 other vaulted rooms plus a 2 story kitchen so we're definitely not shying away from having space - I just wanted my great room to be more cozy and we wanted the resulting storage/expansion space.

If you were to drop the ceiling and create an attic I would not put its entrance in a bedroom. I would put it where the current balcony/overlook is since that would be eliminated anyway. The hallway might be a bit darker but that little round window wasn't going to let a ton of light in anyway, imo.

Autumn4 - thanks! That's my 9 year old son' room and he is beyond excited about his 'hidey hole!' We bumped the garage out by several feet so this room ended up being somewhere around 14' x 11' and will be where the video games live so I don't have to hear them! :)

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 6:30PM
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I think I'd never see my 10 year old again if he had one of those - great idea for the games... :)

Mrs. Pete-we will be steering clear of a 2 story great room. I really am going for the more cozy feel I guess and then there is the noise issue (and my kiddos are young and LOUD). What would your main reasons be for vaulting? Do you entertain? For looks? Will you have 9 ft. ceilings on the main floor? If you like visual interest you could always do a tray or coffered ceiling instead.

Here is an old thread that someone just resurrected in kitchens and it shows a view from kitchen to great room with 9 foot ceilings and it looks very comfortable to me. It's the 4th picture down.

Here is a link that might be useful: Marmoreus Thread

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 10:05PM
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Interesting to see that the sentiment seems to be largely against the vault -- I had really expected people to say, "No, no, keep it" because I think my thoughts and plans are on the "low side of grand" for this board. I'm thinking, though, that I may be in the majority on this one.

One thought of note: Several people are mentioning 9-10 foot ceilings, decorative ceilings, etc. Our house'll have 8 foot ceilings in all the other rooms, so if we lose the vault, I 'm assuming the living room'll have 8 foot ceilings as well. I think I would like slightly elevated ceilings in this space. I suppose we could do a tray ceiling (or similar) in the living room -- but that would mean that the "found space" on the second floor would definitely be storage only because the ceiling would be low. I might be able to live with that.

WHY did I consider the vault in the first place? A good question. This is the house plan we've liked for about two years now. I'll have a fling with another plan occasionally, but I always come back to this one. I love the charm of the exterior, it's the right size for us, it'll be relatively inexpensive to build, and it just has an "us" feel. I wouldn't have purposefully sought out a plan with a vaulted ceiling, but it was included in this plan . . . now, however, I'm thinking, "Do I want this?" It occurs to me that it's wrong to take the passive route of building this (expensive) item just because it's on the plan. Whether I do or don't keep the vault, I want it to be a carefully considered choice.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 9:32AM
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Beth Parsons

You might check with your builder/contractor about the cost of dropping the vault, too. Our builder estimated an added expense of $6k to $10k in lumber & framing labor and when you deduct the cost of sheetrocking a vault, I think we ended up spending around $3k in all extra, including the prewiring. Lumber is expensive and we had to use 13 more 22' long beams plus floor decking. Drywall is only $26/sheet here and I think that by flattening the ceiling we only eliminated 5 sheets of sheetrock = $130. Of course you have to consider the ongoing cost to heat/cool empty space but you also have to consider how long it would take to make up the difference between HVAC savings and the added cost to drop the ceiling.

I don't think there's anything wrong about 8' ceilings, but if you're concerned about having a bit more height and openess maybe you should just leave the vault in? I know opinions vary but I personally love high ceilings and if our great room had been the only vaulted space I wouldn't have touched it. :)

    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 10:25AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

You could always compromise and go for a tray ceiling to make the space feel more separate from the DR/Kit. You could put in crown molding and indirect lighting to make it a real feature and provide soft lighting for tv viewing....

    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 6:46PM
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We are flip-flopping the kitchen and dining room, and we'll have a wall dividing those areas from the great room; thus, I don't think differentiating those spaces is a big deal.

I do think you're right about the extra materials for the ceiling, etc. costing something. That is PART of my thought process, but -- as you said -- I'm thinking more about how much it'll cost to heat/cool that area.

I think the right answer is to ask the builder for actual costs -- keep it "as is" in the plans, go with a tray ceiling, box it off completely to make it 8' like the rest of the house -- and go from there. I don't see a clear-cut, "this is the right choice" answer.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 7:51PM
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I agree with eliminating the vault, but I would do all of the ceilings in the first floor at 9', not 8'. That extra foot of space doesn't add a whole lot of costs to the build, nor to future HVAC costs, but it does add a HUGE psychological change to how the rooms will feel. An 8' ceiling can feel cozy, if it's in contrast with a higher ceilinged space. If all the ceiling heights are all 8', the home feels much more psychologically compressed and crowded, and SMALL, no matter how much square footage you have. That extra 1' makes a really really big difference.

This has to do with the physical proportions of humans as they developed, and it's hardwired into us. It's the size difference between a sheltering cave, vs. a picnic spot under an overhanging canopy of a tree, vs. being in the middle of an open field. One feels sheltering, but compressed. One feels spacious, but protected. One feels awkward and exposed. And it all has to do with the height of the "ceiling" over our heads, even if the square footage is exactly the same.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 11:12AM
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The issue of raised/vaulted ceilings is always an interesting one. In this case, the "great room" really isn't very great, and it's rather oddly proportioned--long and narrow, and flows directly into the dining-kitchen combined space which is larger than the "great room"!

So eliminating the vaulting is probably an improvement. A higher 9'-0 ceiling in that area would probably be a nice touch. It may also help in the visual transition between great room and dining room, which also looks like it could be somewhat awkward, but I can't tell for sure by comparing the first and second floor plans exactly where the second floor is in relation to the first floor. The dotted line on the first floor plan is confusing matters.

You should look closely and study that transition in order for it to be what you expect.

To me, the biggest concern is that one passes through the front door and immediately is standing in the great room, looking at the stairs and the great room furniture arrangement. I think efficiency has been carried just a bit too far and you would be better served with pushing out the great room wall and porch sufficient to provide a small entry/transition space from the exterior to the great room.

Only a thought. Good luck on your project!

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 12:52PM
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