exposing roof trusses to open up ceiling?

kayhudJune 3, 2007

I'm wondering whether anyone has any experience w/ removing their ceiling drywall to expose their roof trusses?

I live in a 70's ranch that has 8' high ceilings. My roof is constructed w/ trusses which currently serve as an attic space full of blown in insulation. The main space in the house is currently very dark and oppressive and I'd like to find a way to bring in more light and a feeling of spaciousness.

I have seen photos in home books of spaces where the roof trusses are fully exposed (no drywall boxing them in to create an attic space). The trusses are painted white and the look seems to lend itself well to an informal space.

Anyone ever heard of someone taking a flat ceiling and turning it into this kind of space? I'm not sure what all it would involve other than tearing out the ceiling drywall and removing the blown-in insulation. My roof is sheathed w/ plywood and has nails sticking through it from the shingles, so I guess I would have to staple up some of those plastic vents in the cavities in between the trusses and then insulate and drywall over it somehow? This is the part I'm unsure of. Does anybody have a clue? Thanks!

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A lot of folks have done that in their '70's homes and it tends to look great if you take care of the details of finishing. If your trusses are in good shape you can leave them exposed and paint or stain them.

Some people box the trusses with drywall to create a more finished look, but this is very much more labor intensive.

You'll need some sort of drywall on the ceiling, along with insulation. If you're that open, you'll probably have to allow enough space for solid core insulation, which costs much more than blown in or battens. Most city codes require at least R-30 or 39 in ceilings, which you can do efficiently and thinly with solid.

You'll also have to relocate all wiring and electrical, and you'll have to decide how you want to light the area, as recessed cans will be impossible.

Not to mention any HVAC venting if your air/heat is from the ceiling.

Removing blown in insulation is not bad...it usually runs around 500-700 plus tax for an area the size of a living room/dining room/kitchen combined. They'll come with a huge truck mounted vacuum and a 4" hose.

Another option, if you have A frame trusses, is to open up to the lower end of the truss. That will create a 10-20 degree sloping ceiling (we have that in our 1978 home). We opened up between trusses to add skylights, and drywalled the opening up to the skylight. Ours were 4 x 4, which meant we opened 2 spaces at a time, and had a truss to drywall around in the middle of each light opening. It's a pretty dramatic look, especially if your dry wall installer can do clean hard sharp edges.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 9:36PM
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I was thinking about doing this to our house. I thought I could find some bracket that could replace the flat medal ties that are hammered to the trusses at the joints to make them looked nice. I may have to sand the wood trusses before painting. I thought of adding 2x4 on the trusses below the roof to create a new ceiling. May want to use pine instead of drywall. Drywall may need more support that every 24 inches which is the spacing between the truss. I could leave enough room to insulate between the ceiling and the roof. Adding a couple of sky lights would be nice.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 12:34PM
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Love these ideas, since we have a rancher that could benefit from this type of remodel. Does anyone have any pics of homes where this was done?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 2:12PM
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Factory built trusses are able to use the smallest lumber sizes by using configurations that put the members in tension and relying on the factory connections to distribute those forces in the plane of the truss. But they are not very strong laterally and need to have lateral braces or "strongbacks" running parallel to the ridge in the lower parts of the trusses.

The existing ceiling described above provides lateral bracing so if you want to remove it you must hire an engineer to review the structural change and tell you how to brace the modified trusses. The existing roof sheathing provides stability but the bottom chord can be susceptible to buckling in a high wind or heavy snow load. Adding skylights wider than 21 inches to bring in more light is usually not possible. The price you pay for the savings from trusses is a more fragile framing system that is difficult to modify.

As for appearance, the truss connections may be made with square galvanized nailing plates which would not give a finished appearance to the trusses.

For the cost and time needed to make the trusses and new insulated ceiling between them look right, you might be able to remove the trusses and add a ridge beam, traditional rafters deep enough to meet the energy code, and a cathedral ceiling.

Of course, to actually bring in more light you would need to add dormers or skylights which would be difficult with the old trusses.

1 Like    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 5:10PM
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Joseph Corlett, LLC

I'd spray the roof cavities with icynene and install the strongbacks.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 8:22PM
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Spray-on plastic foam insulation in a living space must be covered with a thermal barrier like gypsum wall board or a spray-on intumescent coating. The former requires framing for attachment and must have no gaps and the latter would look like the inside of a cave and the over-spray would be difficult if not impossible to remove from of the exposed members.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2015 at 10:42AM
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What kind of fire rating would exposed 2x4 wood trusses give you? Is it suitable for residential construction? Somewhere in my mind I think a bare wood truss has a 15 minute fire rating, but I can't find the cite.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2015 at 1:47PM
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Thanks for the comments, fire may be the major setback. The strongback would have to checked and if their are off to the side, they may not be interfered with.

My wife wants higher ceiling in the living room. Does not have to be much. One suggestion was to 'lift' the roof trusses up 3 feet by adding to the outside walls.

Another idea is to add skylights between the truss (24 inches wide) and flare the box at the ceiling out to may be 2 ft by 6 ft. Do about 6 of those and you would have a lot of open area in the ceiling.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2015 at 3:51PM
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I don't know of any code that requires a fire rating for any element of a single-family house. The separation at an attached garage is at best an unrated smoke partition and many new codes require 1/2" GWB under first floor I-Joists but I believe other ceilings are still optional. Of course, if you are concerned about fire safety you would avoid exposing light wood trusses whether the code required protection or not.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2015 at 3:53PM
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Lifting trusses is obviously difficult and costly. Remember that wall studs must be continuous from floor to the bottom of the trusses; you can't add a 3 ft section of wall on top of an existing wall. No structural wall stud can be spliced. You would have to remove all interior finishes, insulation and wiring, remove the top plates, double up the existing studs and replace the insulation and finishes..

Skylights, as I mentioned earlier, would have a rough opening of about 21" wide at the roof and at the ceiling but the ceiling opening could flare in the other direction. Exposing the trusses or lifting them would not add more light to the room unless skylights or transom windows are added.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2015 at 4:05PM
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If I used the skylight idea, I would not expose the truss. Just drywall up the sides of the truss. All you would see is sheetrock.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2015 at 4:26PM
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