Could you live comfortably with low ceiling?

lilybug46September 7, 2011

Thought I'd throw this out to esteemed Old House experts and others on this forum to get some opinions.

Here's the situation. We've stripped our 1890 'farmhouse' down to the studs to discover that we either will have 7ft. tall ceilings on our main level(living, dining, kitchen) and 8ft. tall on the 2nd floor(bedrooms). We're thinking the former owners did some change up with ceiling heights when they turned the home into 3 apartmnets in the 50's, 70's or 80's. Perhaps they needed to increase height clearance on the 2nd floor.

Anyway, my husband is being pressured to tear out the 2nd floor to increase ceiling height on main level by my builder brother who thinks it would look horrible with only 7ft. tall ceilings. I've actually never given ceiling height much thought(our current home we live in has 8ft.) so I'm wondering if it will become a problem after living with it for awhile.

If we tear out the 2nd floor, it will take extra time and money to re-build and I just don't know if it's worth it. Our main level will have a more open-concept look with few walls between living, kitchen and dining rooms-would low ceilings detract from it somehow?

Just wondering what your thoughts are. My husband and I are pretty accomodating, we're not perfectionists and are not looking for this to be our 'dream' home. Ultimately, we realize we can live with shorter ceilings but are wondering if we're missing the big picture as my brother seems to think.

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Just for scale, you could reach up and touch a 7 foot ceiling. Personally, it would drive me nuts. It is your home though, so it is up to you.

Before you spend too much time thinking about it you should call the local permit authorities and make sure there are no restrictions. I know in my area, they have adopted the minimum height of 7 feet from the finished floor. If you put in a 3/4" wood floor when room is only 7 feet tall to start, you end up with 6'11 1/4" - which would be illegal.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 8:47AM
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I'm tallish, so if I stretch I can touch an 8' ceiling and I would feel like living in a shoebox if my main level were 7'.
My first floor is almost 10 feet while the bedroom floor is 7'9", which makes things cozy. I have to be careful putting on pullovers because I can jam my fingers into the ceilings and bash the light fixtures.
The scene from Fellowship of the Ring with Gandalf in Frodo's house comes to mind...

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 10:35AM
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I would want to know the type of construction you're dealing with: Timber frame (unlikely in 1890), Balloon or Platform (more typical for the age)?

Just tearing out the second story floor to raise it and give more space to the rooms below may raise very expensive-to-accomodate structural issues depending on how the house was contstructed. The supporting members of the second-story floor (joists) may be integrally involved in holding the whole she-bang up, and together.

Before deciding on raising the floor make sure you know what function the floor joist connections play for the structure!


    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 12:27PM
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I come in at a little over 5 feet - so not an issue for me:) I've been in many old farm houses with low ceilings and I don't mind. But I do have tall friends (over 6 feet) and I think it would be very claustrophobic for them.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 12:39PM
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Once you tear it out it will have to be code-conforming on each floor so I would make sure that both floors made it. I believe it is 7'6'' clear in passages, and habitable spaces excluding kitchen, bath, laundry and storage.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 10:35PM
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If you're looking at resale, code violations or potential head injuries, you probably need to find ways to achieve the minimum required height.
If none of those conditions apply, do whatever you are comfortable with.
In the UK, it is not uncommon for older properties to have 6' clearances with even lower doorways, guaranteed to break an unwary drunkard's nose.

If you really must have a taller ceiling and don't want to tear out the second story (ha, who can blame you for that??),
have you considered dropping the first floor instead?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 11:33PM
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Thanks for your opinions.

Yes, I think we'll raise the ceiling. BTW we have balloon frame construction, liriodendron. We've talked it over and think we'd be happier with it raised-it will change the upstairs ceilings to 7ft. which seems reasonable for bedrooms. The main level will be just over 8ft. Our builder thinks it should be relatively easy to do(ya, right!). It will be done to code, as well. More work but we'll probably be more satisfied with the look in the end.

adriennemb, hmmmm, didn't think about lowering the floor-I'll talk to husband about that-will have to look at code heights for basements since our basement currently is about 7ft. tall-it was also an apartment at one time. I think basements aren't required to have high ceilings, correct?

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 8:54AM
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FWIW, My house has standard 8' ceilings on the main floor and not-even-seven-feet on the upper floor. Since it is only our bedrooms and a bath up there we're not looking at it all day long and we really don't think much about it. So it seems to me that you're making a good call pushing the ceilings up on your main level and dealing with the shorter dimensions upstairs.

It sure is easy to paint the ceilings up there! I am 5' 5" and I can do it without so much as a step stool! DH is 6' and surprisingly it does not bother him.

And I'm not sure if this is because of the low ceilings or the overall small room sizes, but it is always cozy and warm as toast up there in the winter.

Good luck with your project! :)

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 2:37PM
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How exactly did this come as a surprise - wasn't it evident from the beginning? I'm confused....

But my first thought was also about lowering the floor, or more specifically raising the whole house. I think if I were you I would at least investigate how much that would cost. Because otherwise you may find yourself in the boat where I now sit, having much of the work on the house done and suddenly thinking "the first thing we should have done is raise this sucker and put in a better foundation and basement" but being utterly unable to get my husband to so much as look into it and somewhat unable, myself, to contemplate just how much work we would have to redo on all floors.

Karin L

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 6:08PM
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karinl, I'll answer your question-this home had several and different drop ceilings(ya, I know) throughout the main level-we knew the ceilings underneath all that mess were low but thought we might gain a little more than 7ft. when they were taken out and replaced but it turns out they'd be just a little over 7ft. finished. As I said in my original post, I hadn't given ceiling height much thought but after more careful consideration, I think we'd be happier with taller ceilings in the long run.

We will not be lowering the floor but removing the 2nd floor and raising the ceiling that way. Fortunately, there is very little 'original' flooring, trim and detail in this house since it's been reno'd 3 times, we won't be getting rid of anything worthy of preserving.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 7:35AM
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Did you wind up raising the ceilings, and if so what was the cost?

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 7:58AM
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We did raise the 2nd floor to allow greater height to the main floor. Our second floor ceiling height is 7ft now & is really not noticeably short. We have 2 bedrooms & a bathroom with this height but as we have created a large open loft space from removing a great portion of the 2nd floor so it obviously feels spacious. A good feature of the lower height is I can easily reach the ceiling to catch pesky spiders, heh, heh!
My husband did the majority of the work himself & since this was just one part of a huge renovation, he can't say exactly just what the removal & re-build of the 2nd floor cost us in materials & labor-sorry!

    Bookmark   December 14, 2013 at 9:29AM
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