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un-do a vaulted ceiling???

dwcasey's picture

Is it possible to 'un-do' a vaulted ceiling? This is the first house we built and thought we would like the open-ness of the vaulted ceilings.

Well, a few years later and we don't like it. But, we like our location and the rest of the house is good.

Our great-room is about 17 x 30 feet. It's shaped sorta like a T on it's side. So the long part is the living area and one handle of the T is the dining and the other is the kitchen.

We like the layout, but would like a more cozy and better defined living space.

So, part of the coziness we figured we could get if we could lower the ceiling and then use firs or drops to define the spaces a little bit better, but leave them connected so the flow still works.

The way our ceiling/roof is designed, it's like a roof in a roof. In other words, there is airspace above the vault and below the roof. Make sense?

And, we are thinking down the road, if would could get back that space in the attic, we could use it for living space in the future. That is as long as the new floor/ceiling were adequate to support living space.

(post #63850, reply #1 of 20)

The way our ceiling/roof is designed, it's like a roof in a roof. In other words, there is airspace above the vault and below the roof. Make sense?

Does this section of the house use a scissors truss?  It sounds like that's what you're describing.

I don't think you'd have any problems at all when it comes to simply installing some new ceiling joists to make a drop ceiling.  If you want to use the space as a second-story area, then there'd be a little more calculation involved.  In either case, I think if you get a knowledgable builder to visit the site, you'd get your answer pretty quick.  Ultimately, it may require some engineering input as well, but I don't see any reason why you couldn't find a technical solution to achieve your objectives.

(post #63850, reply #2 of 20)

Scissor truss? Nope. That's the tricky part. There is a 30-foot long engineered beam (LVL??) that the vault is "hanging" from. Whole house was stick built, no trusses.

More tricky-ness. They had to use a crane to get the truss up there :-)

Probably means they will have to use a crane to get it down.

But, I agree with your comment. I'm sure a solution can be engineered to get the results we would like, but at what cost??

We have a couple of remodeling guys recommended to us. I've seen the work of one of them. Very, very nice work. Well designed and executed. Quality work.

The other guy, haven't seen his work, but the guy that told me about him said he gives a very detailed cost-summary.

We'll begin to talk with these guys after the first of the year. Wanted to get some input from the forum to see if anyone has actually done this.

(post #63850, reply #4 of 20)

Probably means they will have to use a crane to get it down.

Not necessarily--you could just leave it in place.  Since the ceiling is "hanging" from it, removing the ceiling structure just decreases the load.  Sure, it would likely be redundant up in the roof structure--but that's no real problem.

Occupational hazard of my occupation not being around (sorry Bubba)
I may not be able to help you Occupational hazard of my occupation not being around (sorry Bubba)

(post #63850, reply #3 of 20)

My house is L shaped with the kitchen on the short leg of the L. It is all open and 8ft ceilings.

But the kitchen is separated via a support beam and post. And behind the beam is a soffit.

So it clearly separates the kitchen from the rest of the space, but it is still open.

But I need some similar separate between the living and dining area.

You might want to get som of Sarah Susanka's books.

Here are a couple of her articles that discuss these issues.

Without seeing your house I would think about leaving the living area open and if not dropping the ceiling in the other areas using "implied ceilings" like she shows.

. William the Geezer, the sequel to Billy the Kid - Shoe

(post #63850, reply #5 of 20)

Bill, thanks for the reply. Funny thing is I have those books :) At least a couple of them.

The second link you sent...the Visual Weight section with the picture of the Master Bedroom just might work. I'll have to sketch it out and see, the it looks promising.

That would be a big win (cost savings) if we could get by without doing much to the ceiling and put more into the details of the remodel.


(post #63850, reply #6 of 20)

You can either knock holes in the ceiling along the wall edge and work in regular ceiling joists (a little tricky), or you can install a suspended ceiling. (Yes, a suspended ceiling can be drywall.)

So long as you don't cut into any of the existing members, shouldn't require an engineer's eyeballs.

However, if you want to get back the attic space you'll need to have someone with good qualifications help plan it, and it's likely to be a fairly major project (depending on the details of the current construction).

(OTOH, if the upper roof is self-supporting, with its own ridge beam, and no ties to the lower roof, it should be possible to remove the lower roof fairly easily. Any lower roof ridge beam can be cut into sections to remove, so no crane should be required. Messy, though.)

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

(post #63850, reply #7 of 20)

Yes, upper roof is self support and vaulted ceiling is self supporting. I think it is feasable and believe it could be cut out, but oh man, the expense.

If there was a significant difference in cost from no vault vs. modified vault, then we would modify it. If it's close, let the vault be gone!

(post #63850, reply #8 of 20)

Find a good structural engineer, it'll probably cost you a couple of hundred dollars but it will be worth every penny, especially if you want to use the new attic space for "living" space.

(post #63850, reply #9 of 20)

Roger that, MPHARPER. I'm definately of the mindset to use experienced, knowledgeable people in this situation.

That being said, I wish I had used an architect rather than a draftsman to draw up these plans 5 years ago. Live and learn, live and learn...

(post #63850, reply #10 of 20)

chain saw for the beam, or man and chain saw for the beam shoudnt be that expensive.  Take a small chunk of and see how much a piece weighs then you can take larger pieces on a rope like an arborist does with a tree.  Take a wrap, or drop a lag with eyelet up above and lower the chunks.

LVL would be gone in short time... or a circ saw.


(post #63850, reply #11 of 20)

Can't comment much without seeing the situation, but if it were me and I didn't like the high ceiling aestetically, my first two thoughts would be;

1) use a visual trick to make the ceiling feel lower. Ever go into a mall and see what looks like suspended ceiling rails without the panels above your head? In terms of substance, it's almost nothing. But it makes the ceiling feel lower. Obviously, unless you're into the modern look you wouldn't choose those materials, but I could envision a nice stained wood "grid" hanging over the dining room table at one height and another hanging over the main lounging area at another height. The grids needn't cover the entire ceiling, just areas. For added effect, paint the area above those grids a dark color and the eye will ignore it. Add lighting to the grid if you want to.

2) Given enough ceiling height, I would just add a floor and create a new useable room above the old. Doesn't cost that much more, or involve that much more than the "storage" option you mentioned and it gives you the flexibility of having a real extra room and adds value to the house. If you want to just stuff it with boxes, that's your choice.

Bottom line is that I would either solve the perceived problem as simply and inexpensively as possible (#1) or get the most bang for the buck (#2).

good luck

(post #63850, reply #12 of 20)

Nanny, Thanks for the grid tips. I like the sound of that.

Of course, my follow-on to this discussion is about heating the house.

Vaults "trap" a lot of heat at the top. Ceiling fans help somewhat.

If I do a drop ceiling or grid, I might have to run duct into the room??

I might simply put a soffit down a wall, possibly in a corner so the vents in the vault woule be lower?? Yes, we are on a slab.

(post #63850, reply #13 of 20)

Where do the ducts exit now? (Or are you using radiant heat?)

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

(post #63850, reply #14 of 20)

Too little information without seeing it to be really helpful with heating, but with the transparent lowered ceiling tricks, yes a ceiling fan would be great.

If you're worried about how to get heat up to the new room (if you go that route) it's likely not that hard to find a way to get a duct up there without tearing too much up, but there are two other good options;

1) use electric heat in that new room. People shy away from electric heat for good reasons when it involves a whole house. But in a single room that's going to benefit from some heat transfer from the rest of the house anyway (and may rarely get used), electric is not a bad route at all.

2) a popular option in these situations is to make the upper room open just a little to the lower room (like a loft). One I saw had a tall window in the original vaulted room that would have been bisected by the floor of the new upper room, if not for the clever idea of leaving a space of 1-2' open (with a railing, of course) that allowed both rooms to enjoy the light and left the window untouched. That type of design would also transfer a great deal of heat naturally & I doubt you would need to add more.

(post #63850, reply #15 of 20)

Are you trying to get a new room upstairs, or just trying to get a lower ceiling....

(post #63850, reply #16 of 20)

JR, both :)

I would say first is lower the vault to something more traditional. I would prefer that when it's lowered, the new ceiling is done with engineered floor joists (and appropriate wall system) that could, if needed, support a room above.

DanH, the duct work is in the attic. The vents to this room... actually all rooms, comes from above. So, my 16+ foot vaulted ceiling has the ducts waaaay up there.

No joke, we were decorating our Christmas tree so I had to stand up on a chair to hang some ornaments and the air up there was warmer than what I was feeling on the ground.

Anyway...I guess I'm obessing a little over this ceiling, but I would like to get it lowered (which would improve our heating efficiency I believe) and make room above in the attic for future space if needed. We already have access to the attic via a "bonus room" over the garage. Those stairs could be used to access any additional space we might create as a result of lowering the ceiling.

However, I am considering some less expensive ways to create the sense of a lower ceiling as long as I figure out a way to heat the room more efficiently/comfortably.

(post #63850, reply #17 of 20)

I'd say just install a dropped drywall ceiling, install flex ducts to connect the old ductwork to the new ceiling openings, and forget about storage up there.

(BTW, if your heating air is coming out of the ceiling, that's why it's so much warmer up there vs down below. Installing fake pilasters to bring the ducts down to floor level (when heating) would help quite a bit.)

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

(post #63850, reply #18 of 20)

DanH, woudl a dropped drywall ceiling use the rafters in the vault for it's support or would a new ceiling be created at the desired height to attach the sheetrock?

This is the way I'm leaning. I think it would allow for the most options in ceiling "design". Flex duct to extend the ducts? I like that idea.

O.k., thanks. I now have plenty of options.

(post #63850, reply #19 of 20)

It would probably be cheapest to install rails hung by wire from the existing rafters, then attach drywall to the rails. This also would be the least mess.

This is the sort of thing that's done all the time in commercial construction. In the cases I've seen the rails appeared to be heavy-duty steel 2x4, but probably regular wood 2x4 could be used, since you don't need to worry about commercial fire codes.

They did this in the new sanctuary of our church, but unfortunately I didn't pay a lot of attention to the fine details of how they arranged the rails, etc.

More conventionally, one could install regular ceiling joists, knocking holes in the lower ceiling to rest them on the existing top plate. It would be difficult (though not necessarily impossible) to work in full-length joists, so you'd probably have to lap or butt half-length joists in the middle, then support them with some sort of hanger off of the existing ridge beam.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

(post #63850, reply #20 of 20)

DW, sound like you really don't like the high ceilings, but just one thought.  You could throw some open beams across teh space instead.  I feel that beams bring the feel of teh ceiling down, but still gives you and open space.  A 30 foot room can start to feel odd if you have an eight or nine foot ceiling.  Just my opinion.