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Why are the ceilings so high in older houses?


The majority of multi-storey houses built before World War II have ceilings higher than nowadays. Today, the standard is about 2.4m, but in the 19th century or the first half of the 20th century it was commonly about 3m high. Why? It's counter-intuitive: in earlier times, the technology was less capable of building high rises, so rather lower ceilings would have been expected.


Smoke. The high ceilings provided somewhere for it to dissipate above mouth and eye level.

It's rather hard to imagine how prevalent smoke was before mid-20th century. Not only was tobacco smoking widespread, but also the use of candles and oil lamps. Open fires for heating and cooking contributed much less, as almost all smoke went up the chimney.


I have heard a couple of theories, here there are:

  • Because older construction technologies were worse1 than modern ones.

    And this meant that the section of walls that you could remove (for example, to leave space for a window) was more limited. So, the only solution for providing better illumination and ventilation was to make the windows taller, which did require taller walls.

  • Because it was (sometimes) more efficient.

    In warmer climates, with no A/C systems, a high ceiling allowed hot air to rise, leaving a (slightly) colder one at the people level. It was specially useful for the last story of the buildings to provide insulation from the heat radiating from the ceilings. Of course, I would like for examples of these only in warmer countries.

Of course, I am letting out monumental buildings (churchs, cathedrals, palaces) because these were often designed with the idea that the high ceilings would enhance the importance of the building.


1IMHO, not because the knowledge did not exist but because only a handful of buildings were designed by well formed architects; e.g. Gaudi designed exceptional facades because he designed his buildings so the facades would not bear the weight of the building, giving him greater freedom

More mundane buildings with a modest budget would be designed by architects with less formation who would rely in making almost every single wall a load wall.


A high ceiling allowed for better air flow, made rooms feel less crowded, made rooms feel more grand and in the hot summer months the difference in temperature between the ground and the ceiling is about 4 degrees Celsius. Furthermore it reduces noise between floors so its actually ideal for both homes and "high rises".

Also 3 metres isn't very high and 2.4 metres is actually quite a low ceiling, many Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian homes have ceilings around 3-5 metres high.


Aside from smoke ventilation and cooling, the miasma theory of disease was prominent in the 19th century. Higher ceilings allowed for cleaner air, which was seen as desirable for health.


High ceilings in old houses

In my market, there is a lot of inventory of historical manors from the 17th century and up (example). These ask for a lot of renovations in order to increase their lifespan, but it is manageable.

Except for one thing that has left me mesmerized: ceilings. I don't know if it was simply the fashion or whether our ancestors were 10ft tall, but it eats away the heating.

Despite my best efforts, I haven't been able to find a solution to this. Experts told me all they could do is apply like a dozen different insulation methods like special wooden floor heating. But then the owner would have to take a 90% haircut in order for me to meet my numbers.

Does anyone here know what to do with this wasted volume? Any innovation or trick I'm missing? Something has to give because, save for heating suddenly becoming dirt cheap, there isn't much that can make these buildings profitable.

Account Closed

I'm not sure where you are but out here in California most new homes have 9' or 10' ceilings, it's a huge selling point. My own home has a great room with 20' ceilings and the rest of the house has 9' or taller and it was built in 2005.

Thierry Van Roy

I'm in Europe, old cities like Liège. These buildings have ceilings of 12ft and up. The rent is hardly increased by volume (offset by heating in any case), only living space really counts.

A mezzanine would sound attractive, but there are building restrictions and I fear the structure won't support them. Not to mention the ROI , I fear it would cost me about 10,000 USD per unit if it is at all possible.

Bill S. (Moderator) -

It is my understanding that high ceilings were designed that way for the heat in the summer. If you look at the picture that you linked, all the windows and doors have windows above them. Those upper windows could be opened to allow air circulation in the heat of the summer. For the cold they just put on more cloths. Without AC there is nothing you can do to escape the heat so they designed and built the best fix into the homes.

Now we solve the problem with proper HVAC design. The HVAC is designed to move the hot air up high and mix it with the cool air down low no mater what the season. While you are heating and cooling more space if the system is designed properly, the building envelope sealed, and the building properly insulated then the high ceilings are not that much more expensive to heat or cool than the conventional space with 8 ft ceilings.

Old heating systems are designed to fill the room with hot air. As you know hot air rises so in order to make the area occupied by people "warm", the ceiling ends up being hot. The room is filled with layers of heat from cold on the floor to hot on the ceiling. There are some products designed to mix the air in a room without creating the drafts that you experience from ceiling fans. You can retrofit the space with these to improve the situation. Hope that helps.

Tony Gatto

You could try some really slow moving fans. They will push the heated (lighter) air down towards the floor, but must be slow moving or even put on a rheostat.

Cold air is heavier then warm air and pushes the warm air upward creating layers in the home.

Newer furnaces push the air out at greatly reduced temperatures (around 90 Fahrenheit )compared to the older heaters (130+ degress f ) . However if you are in Europe you are more then likely dealing with boilers.

An option that i would look into and develop if i was in Europe would be either outdoor wood boilers. or rocket mass heaters , and i would lean towards the rocket mass heaters. You can google them or pm me and i can get you some more information on those.

We are experimenting with a rocket mass heater under a home right now and seeing positive results as this style heater uses almost 1/8th the wood a normal wood stove would use, and the heat comfort is 10 times a conventional wood burner.

Mike H.

I don't really have any ideas on the ceiling part. But whats it like getting into homes that were built in the 17th century? We've got some areas that have some really nice older homes that I occasionally take a look at. Just too much rehab needed to bring them up to code for my liking.

But the woodwork is amazing. And I love the architecture in them. Although they all have a bunch of small rooms that seem to cut the whole house up.

Still. Those houses were built in the early 1900s. I can only imagine how much more interesting it would be to go into homes built in the 1600's.

Do you ever come across some that you just know you have to have? Even if the numbers don't make sense? That would be my biggest problem.

Not sure what the repercussions would be in terms of the rent factor. But could you do drop ceilings in some of the rooms to help keep the heating costs down? I'm guessing renters there are used to tall ceilings so they may balk. And I don't know if I could lower ceilings like that (I do love the value of them). But if its really an issue, a drop ceiling is super cheap to do. You could do them in a few key rooms. And they should help with heating quite a bit. Again, not sure that is really an option there.

Rob K.

What are you heating the house with? In America, natural gas is plentiful and cheap. In rural areas, people have to heat with propane and fuel oil. Those are very expensive and inefficient.

Thierry Van Roy

Thanks to everyone for the replies! It really helps!

The ones that are up to date are on gas, but most are still using boilers. Only some that don't suffer from the high ceiling syndrome are equiped with HVAC.

It's an interesting niche because there's a lot of inventory, but not many buyers. I expect technology to eventually catch up and allow for some opportunities, but for now you have to make due.

Your problem is the same as mine: they are worth a lot in prestige, but that doesn't get you any more cash flow. Owners aren't willing to take a big enough haircut yet, even if deferred maintenance is an obvious issue. These will generally continue to fall into disarray for at least this decade, I suspect.

I just came across one that looks just sooooo tempting. Just looking at it makes both your eyes and mouth water. You can take a tour here. A thing of beauty and (apart from an additional duplex in the back courtyard) turnkey. It is under consideration, because the deferred maintenance is a lot less of an issue here than in most properties I find. Also, prime location in a market that's poised for tremendous growth.

These buildings are on a list of protected properties (the oldest one I've come across was from 1500!), sometimes just the facade but often the inside as well. This means you need to use special building materials and you can definitely not lower the ceiling (they're decorated with authentic stucco).

Renovations up to 60.000 EUR (and sometimes even 100.000 EUR) on these buildings are tax deductible and even sponsored by the state in Belgium. More or less the same thing in The Netherlands. But what they don't tell you is you have to jump through a ridiculous amount of hoops to get access to these benefits. Like the renovations have to contribute to maintaining its historical authenticity for at least 60% and so on.


How High

Certain features are taken for granted in today’s residential market: granite countertops, glass-walled showers, and, judging from this recent ad for a new Upper West Side condo, very tall ceilings. Not so long ago, 8-foot ceilings were the norm. What changed?

Ceilings in new suburban tract housing got taller more than a decade ago. Instead of 8 feet—a dimension that resulted from two 4-foot-wide drywall sheets laid horizontally—home builders built 9-foot ceilings. At first, taller ceilings were offered as extras, but soon 9 feet became standard, so much so that drywall manufacturers started producing 4½–foot-wide sheets. Not be outdone, the builders of custom homes went to 10 feet.

Something similar happened to office buildings. In 1965, the newest skyscraper in Manhattan was Eero Saarinen’s CBS Building. The stylish interiors, by Florence Knoll Basset, were the best that corporate money could buy, modern art hung next to modern furniture (much of it designed by Saarinen and Bassett), and the ceilings were 8¾-feet high, slightly taller than the norm at that time. By the late 1970s, office ceilings were routinely 9 feet, and 25 years later, the ceilings of the Renzo Piano-designed New York Times Building were 11 feet, which is quickly becoming the standard for Class A office buildings. The new Comcast Center in Philadelphia, for example, has 11-foot ceilings—and 13-foot ceilings on the executive floors.

“Making ceilings taller doesn’t add that much to the overall cost of a building,” says Robert A.M. Stern, the architect of the Comcast Center, “but taller ceilings allow light to penetrate deeper into the building, which is important if you are optimizing daylighting.” Another benefit of taller ceilings in office towers is that they make for higher buildings. At 975 feet, the 58-story Comcast tower is the tallest building in downtown Philadelphia with 8¾-foot ceilings, it would have been more than 150 feet shorter.

Are taller ceilings yet another example of wretched architectural excess? Not necessarily. In fact, it is low ceilings that are the aberration. Throughout the 19 th and early part of the 20 th centuries, ceilings in middle-class homes, offices, and institutional buildings were 10-12 feet or more. They followed the architectural rule of thumb: “The larger the room, the taller the ceiling.” During the postwar era, when buildings started to be mass-produced, builders and architects, considering tall ceilings wasteful and inefficient, saw no reason to make them taller than the legal minimum, which could be as little as 7 feet. Thus, the mailroom and the boardroom got the same low ceiling.

What caused the return of the tall ceiling? The historic preservation movement can take a lion’s share of the credit, as well as the developers of all those converted industrial lofts (which usually had tall ceilings). Living and working in older buildings, people discovered that taller rooms simply felt—and looked—better. Builders were happy to oblige since tall ceilings didn’t cost much more, as Stern points out—but you could charge more for them.

It’s not just a matter of prestige—a tall room looks better proportioned. Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio devoted a chapter of his famous treatise, The Four Books on Architecture, to the subject and included rules to calculate ceiling heights: Add the length and breadth of a room and divide by two or, more simply, make the room as high as it is broad. I once spent a week in his Villa Saraceno, not a particularly large house but with 19-foot ceilings. At first the tall rooms seemed a little overwhelming, but after a few days I got used to the feeling of generous spaciousness. At night, with candles on the table, the ceilings disappeared altogether, and it was like being outside.


What is the ideal height for a bed?

How many inches off the floor is the ideal height for a tv?

Help with an ideal white ceiling color and white trim for bungalow

Can you recommend ideal white color for ceilings from Benjamin Moore?

Virgilcarter

Actually, there is no such thing as an "ideal" ceiling height. Builders use cliches such as a 9' or 10' ceiling as one way, among many, to try to suggest a house is more "up scale" and therefore justify a higher sales price. That's all there is to this cliche and the many others--huge ogee edged granite islands the size of Ohau, 3-6 car garages, mud rooms with storage for a battalion of troops, corner soaking tubs sized for an elephant herd, etc.--we typically find in tract and builder housing that's striving for "upscale" status.

From a design point of view, on the other hand, ceiling height is all about proportion, illumination and what's appropriate for a given use. For example a 4' X 6' half bath is perfectly appropriate to have an 8' ceiling (it could even get by with less), while the Hall of Mirrors or Grande Galerie at the Palace of Versailles measures 239.5' L X 34.4' W X 40.4' H with its 17 windows, 578 mirrors and its arched ceiling decorated to display the many wonderous achievements of Louis XIV. If you've been there, you know the space looks perfectly appropriate given its historical significance.

If one is striving for upscale, this is the building to beat!

The point is that simply having a ceiling of any height is really pointless. It's how the proportions of the room are created, how light (natural and artificial are used) and most importantly, the how the space is to function that should determine ceiling height. That's called design.

Just a thought--not trying to start a war over ceiling heights.

Flgargoyle

Well, it gives you neutral turf in the 9' or 10' debate LOL! Our ceilings are going to be 9'4" as well, due to the way ICF construction works out. It was that, or a little under 8', which we didn't want.

Having lived with 8' ceilings all of my life, I find taller ceilings make a home feel bigger, as long as the rooms aren't too small, leading to an 'elevator shaft' effect. Regional differences can come into play as well, with taller ceilings in the south, and lower ceilings in the north.

Worthy

After you've lived in homes with 10 and 11 foot ceilings in appropriately sized rooms, eight foot feels like you're confined in a chicken coop.

Ceiling heights have a lot to do with the standard sizing of dimensional lumber. Putting in odd heights means a lot of cut-offs for the scrap pile.
**
Ah, if only North Americans could learn to live like Europeans, happily confined, leaving large homes to their natural betters--aristocrats, royalty, movie stars and the uber rich! The nerve of those Mac munchers!

Live_wire_oak

Anything over about 8'6" feels psychologically spacious with your "average" 12x14 room dimensions. When the rooms are larger, the ceilings can be proportionately taller. WHere people get into trouble is the "more is better". It's not. Definately NOT!. 20' ceilings in a "great room" make the space the size of a church. Churches use super tall ceilings first of all because, yes, it's proportionate to the square footage of the room. But the primary reason for the super tall ceilings is the psychological unease that it generates in the human to be in such a tall ceilinged space. It creates dissonance as it mimics the open savannah where we would have been targets of predators in our developmental days. That translates into "the awe before God" that medieval cathedral builders were trying to create in the illiterate masses. And that the uber rich took over to make the serfs tremble before them. And that the robber barons also took to enhance their aura of power. And thus has trickled down to the insurance executive with the McMansion to try to mimic the real thing---but missing all of the other correct proportions and proper scale. It just feels uncomfortable and "off" in most residential projects. And everyone retreats to their "cozy" 9' ceilinged bedrooms and the family dynamics suffer.


RELATED ARTICLES

A Victorian house has compelling features on the outside as well as inside. Striking brickwork, date stones above the door and decorated roof edging with ridge tiles or even ornaments marking the work of Victorian architects.

‘The Victorians were a particularly house proud bunch, and advances in building technology at the time meant the middle classes could afford to build relatively grand houses packed with beautiful features,’ says George Franks, of Douglas & Gordon.

‘They built their homes to last, which is why there’s still so much stock available today,’ he adds.

Victorian homes built in and around cities are also often situated very conveniently.

‘The Victorians built many of the transport links and infrastructures we still use today, and so you will normally find housing of that era in great areas close to shops and stations,’ says Franks.

WATCH OUT FOR.

Victorian homes were often built with Welsh slate roofs. These might be a great feature, but replacing like-for-like can be expensive if the roof needs work.

Many Victorian properties used a slate damp proofing system that, over the decades, may well have cracked and perished. This can lead to damp issues in even the best properties. Getting damp fixed is not a problem as long as it hasn’t caused any major structural damage.

Have a good look at the heating, plumbing and electrics as these may need upgrading. Look behind switches and plugs as they can be easily replaced and hide old wiring.

Sash windows may be easy on the eye, but not on the heating bill. Getting them draught proofed can be costly but effective.

The generous proportions of Victorian homes, such as high ceilings and double reception rooms, are particularly popular with families. These homes also attract buyers because of the ease with which they can be extended and modernised.

Chris Romer-Lee, of Studio Octopi, a firm of architects, says: ‘A side rear extension creates a beautifully open-plan kitchen and living space while a loft conversion allows you to incorporate another bedroom and ensuite bathroom.’

Victorian architects were put through their paces at the time, to keep up with a growing population. Census data reveals that between 1831 and 1901, the population of England and Wales increased from 13.89 million to 32.51million, a dramatic rise of 134 per cent.

As the population increased, builders responded to demand by the middle classes looking to move to larger houses away from cramped, back-to-back terraces.

In the Sixties and Seventies, Victorian properties fell out of favour and many of their much-loved features were removed. Hardboard concealed panelled doors and features were stripped of paint and ceiling roses and cornicing torn down. Fireplaces were thrown out and tiles ripped off the walls.

Romer-Lee says: ‘Victorian properties were ransacked, but thankfully many have been restored sympathetically.’

Not only do these properties provide appealing homes, they are a good investment, says Ahmed.

‘A Victorian house on average will get four or five offers versus properties of a newer era. The resale value for Victorian houses is strong. They always have a wider audience as the majority of people have them on their wish list.’


Older Homes Are Prone to Plumbing Problems

Old homes have unique charms, but they also may be hiding plumbing problems in their walls and floorboards.

Older homes can have a host of problems with the plumbing that you can’t see – it may simply be old and reaching the end of its usable lifespan, piping may have been installed that later proved to be problematic or an amateur plumber may have made repairs.

Old pipes

Plumbing has a lifespan , from the water lines and fixtures to the drains and sewer lines. Copper lines will last the longest, at 60 to 80 years, followed by cast iron drains and sewer lines at 50 to 65 years. Galvanized steel, used for both water and sewer lines, lasts about 40 to 60 years, followed by polyvinyl chloride, or PVC plastic, at 40 to 50 years, then PEX at 40 years.

Fixtures need replacement more often – and they aren’t limited to faucets, although those should be replaced every 15 to 20 years. Water heaters should be replaced more often, at 10 to 20 years, and shut-off valves should be replaced every 20 years, or they may become frozen in the “on” position. Sinks, tubs and toilets are the sturdiest of home plumbing fixtures, needing replacement every 40 to 80 years.

In addition, some of the oldest homes were built before plumbing was common and were retrofitted with plumbing later. In order to update those aged pipes, plumbers may need to drill through floor joists or install drop ceilings so there is room for the appropriate slope for gravity-fed drains.

As pipes age, their joints may begin to loosen and the pipes sag, causing “ bellies ,” as they separate. A belly is where debris, rust or minerals can collect where a pipe sags, causing clogs and stoppages.

Problematic pipes

When the issue of problematic pipes comes up, so does Flint, Michigan , where it was discovered that a combination of lead pipes and cost-cutting resulted in dangerous levels of lead in the public water system.

Highly acidic water, hot water, highly chlorinated water or water that has remained stationary in a pipe for a long time can leach lead from pipes or lead solder used on brass pipe fittings. It’s estimated that 10 million homes have water service lines that are at least partially lead – and many residents don’t realize they are responsible for the maintenance and replacement of those service lines. In many cases, there is simply no record of whether a water service line is lead or not, although it is more prevalent in older homes, since lead water service lines were popular before 1950.

Lead lines aren’t the only plumbing homeowners should be on the lookout for – polybutylene pipe, or “poly,” was popular, because it was inexpensive, from its introduction in the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s and is found in another 10 million American homes. However, poly piping fails at an abnormally high rate under normal conditions. Poly pipes react poorly to oxidants in water, flaking away from the inside out, so a poly pipe may appear in good shape during a visual inspection. It, too, is prone to faster degradation when exposed to high levels of chlorine and hot water.

In addition, use of galvanized steel piping also has been discontinued, except for repairs of existing systems. It was introduced as an alternative to lead lines , often used for water lines prior to the 1960s, until it was discovered in the early 1970’s that it, like poly, was corroding within. Unlike poly pipe, galvanized steel would corrode and rust would build up within the pipe, narrowing the diameter of the pipe and causing water pressure issues.

Some home insurance companies will refuse to insure homes with poly or galvanized steel piping or require high deductibles before a home with known problematic plumbing can be insured. Those purchasing a home with poly or galvanized pipes may be required to have a licensed plumber to certify the system before it can be insured. It also will lower a home’s resale value and make it more difficult to find a buyer.

Then there’s Orangeburg sewer lines – pipes made of pressed wood fiber and coal tar, now scorned as “ coal tar-impregnated toilet paper tubes. ” It was most popular in the 1950s and 1960s, because, once again, it was inexpensive . Since it was widely used, homes dating from that time are at risk – Orangeburg pipes have higher failure rates than any other sewer line material. Because they are paper-based, they are more prone to chemical deterioration. Orangeburg also is vulnerable to crushing during ground settling and tree-root intrusion, because it deforms under pressure , since it isn’t as rigid as other materials.

Amateur Plumbers

Some people try to save money by having someone other than a licensed and insured plumber repair their plumbing. In doing so, they deprive themselves of a professional plumber’s expertise and training , and potentially void appliance warranties. Additionally, non-licensed plumbers often will not warranty their work and they may not carry the appropriate liability or workers compensation insurance.

In addition, amateurs often make mistakes that professionals wouldn’t, such as using accordion pipes , which makes connecting two different pipes easy, but also is more prone to buildups of grime and debris . An amateur also may not know how to prevent corrosion when pipes made of two different types of metal are joined, a process known as dielectric coupling – they might not even know it’s a problem.

A professional plumber will be familiar with local building codes and be sure to have repairs done “up to code.” It may cost more, but a failure to have repairs done to code may result in fines or worse. Plumbing repairs also may require going into walls, ceilings and floors or even require trenching. In addition, if an amateur botches a repair and there is damage to the home as a result, the homeowners insurance may not cover the now much-larger repair bill. Amateur repairs can put residents at risk for a host of disasters , from electrocution to gas leaks .

It’s simply safer and less expensive in the long run to hire a properly licensed plumber for repairs, whether a home is older or a more recent build, and having a plumbing inspection done before purchasing a new home also is advisable.

For service line repairs, there’s the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program , administered by Utility Service Partners , a HomeServe company. The program offers repair service plans to cover water and sewer lines and interior plumbing emergencies. The program’s award-winning call centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, are available around the clock to handle claims, along with a network of fully licensed, insured and vetted local plumbing professionals.

The Service Line Warranty Program offers an educational program and a turn-key solution. There is no cost to municipalities or utilities to participate and the program offers a revenue share. To learn how your municipality or utility can become one of more than 550 program partners, contact us.


Developers and Architects Face a Tall Order From Buyers

IN the 1990's, J. S. Hovnanian & Sons, a home builder in the Philadelphia area, made nine-foot ceilings standard in its houses. The goal was to distinguish itself from the competition, said Garo Hovnanian, the company's marketing manager. "And for a time it worked."

But now, Mr. Hovnanian said, "everyone is doing nine-foot ceilings." So last year the company began offering "sunken" kitchens and family rooms. Lowering the floors gives those rooms a height of 10 feet.

When it comes to higher ceilings, Mr. Hovnanian is right: everyone is doing it. After decades in which eight-foot ceilings were ubiquitous, nine feet has become the new standard, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, the director of research for the National Association of Home Builders.

Sometime between 1995 and 2004, nine feet replaced eight feet as the most common ceiling height for single-story houses and the first floors of multistory houses, according to data gathered by the association. And even on upper floors, ceilings nine feet or higher are nearly twice as common as they were 10 years ago, Mr. Ahluwalia said.

The move to higher ceilings is consumer driven. In the association's latest survey, when buyers were asked to choose which extras they most wanted in a house, "one of the things that came out loud and clear was higher ceilings," Mr. Ahluwalia said.

The survey showed that younger buyers, in their 20's and 30's, are even more likely than older buyers to want high ceilings.

But it is not because younger buyers are taller. Statistics gathered by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys in 1999 to 2002 showed that both men and women 40 to 49 were slightly taller than those 20 to 39. And it is not because people are becoming much taller on average (although they are heavier). Over all, a typical American has "grown" less than two-tenths of an inch in the last decade, according to Sandra Smith, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That suggests that the move toward higher ceilings is not so much about physical comfort as about a desire for everyday grandeur. "You get a very warm feeling when you walk into a home with a higher ceiling," Mr. Hovnanian said. "Buyers always see the value."

In Boston, Doug Dolezal, an architect who has designed several condominium buildings, insists on ceilings of at least 10 feet. "Personally, Iɽ take a smaller unit with 12-foot ceilings over a larger unit with eight-foot ceilings any day of the week," he said.

Mr. Dolezal said that eight-foot ceilings are acceptable for secondary living spaces like bathrooms and vestibules but not for living spaces. "A high ceiling improves the proportion of a room," he said, "and architecture is all about proportions."

But architecture is also about details. Mr. Dolezal said he spends much time working out the placement of the mechanical systems (sprinkler pipes, ductwork and so forth) so he can avoid lowering ceilings.

As luxuries go, ceiling height is relatively affordable. Adding height costs less than adding breadth, a number of experts explained, because it does not require more foundation or more roofing.

It does add to costs, however, because it requires more materials and custom features like extra-tall doors and oversized windows meant to take advantage of the extra height, Mr. Hovnanian said.

Nevertheless, the move to nine-foot ceilings may mean fewer really tall spaces are built in houses and apartments. With higher ceilings over all, people do not feel the same need for double-height spaces that marked so many McMansions, Mr. Ahluwalia said.

As a result, "the two-story family room is going out of style," he said. Mr. Ahluwalia based his prediction on interviews with 60 architects about "the house of the future" -- what they think houses will look like in 2015.

Higher ceilings generally mean higher heating bills. But, in an era of rising fuel prices, the elimination of double-height spaces may offset some of the extra expense.

In their desire for more headroom, buyers have been influenced by pictures in home design magazines of downtown lofts, some built as factories with ceilings of 12 feet or more. And they may be reacting to the low ceilings of the houses they grew up in.

While Victorian houses routinely featured ceilings of at least nine feet, the 20th century brought experiments in low-height living. The Prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright was an exploration of horizontality. The houses had extravagant overhangs, but ceilings, in some cases, were less than seven feet high.

Mass production also led to a standard for low ceilings. The architect Le Corbusier saw houses as machines for living, with all the stripped-down functionality that this implied.

After World War II, developers looked to create the most housing for the least cost, with Levittown, N.Y., on Long Island, leading the way. If ceilings felt too low, decorators advised the use of dark floors, to make that plane recede, and vertical accessories, like floor-to-ceiling drapes, to maximize the appearance of height.

But now consumers seem to be saying they want real height. Mr. Ahluwalia said that higher ceilings are appearing not just in single family homes, but also in apartments.

Chad Oppenheim, a Miami architect who is working on about 20 condominium projects, said he rarely designs a building with ceilings lower than 10 feet.

Part of the reason, he said, is that with rooms getting bigger and more open, low ceilings seem too confining. "You need the higher ceilings to maintain the right proportions," Mr. Oppenheim said.

In addition, while people may not be getting bigger, contemporary art certainly is.

"More and more, people are telling me they need 12-foot ceilings, not for themselves, but for their collections," Mr. Oppenheim said.


Asbestos In Your Home

If your house was built between the 1930s and 1990s, and you have a popcorn ceiling that has not been tested for asbestos, make sure to consult with a pro before doing any repair work. Inspections may be costly, but it is dangerous to start any ceiling projects if there are traces of asbestos floating around. Even though Canada phased out asbestos popcorn ceilings in the 1990s, the government is only now in the process of fully banning this mineral throughout the country. It is best to leave it in the hands of a specialist if you are unsure, and HomeStars can help connect you with the right person. That being said, you are not at risk as long as your ceiling remains undisturbed!

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what to do when scoping options to update your basement, bedroom, or hallway ceilings. If saving some money in the short-term is more important, and you like the aesthetic, popcorn ceilings are a cost-effective choice. However, a smooth ceiling will be a better investment down the road when you are ready to sell your house, as this type of ceiling can give off an old-fashioned impression to potential buyers. You can actually increase your home’s value by getting rid of your popcorn ceilings. You can still enjoy popcorn in your home if you choose to restyle your ceilings, but serve it as a snack, instead.


Why High Ceilings Make Cold Rooms

Do you have a vaulted or cathedral ceiling in your bedroom or family room, or a two story foyer in your home? My bet is, they’re not the most comfortable places to be in your house. The reason is simple, and I just felt an example en route to a speed meet.

My wife is a speed skater, and also plays roller derby, so we end up driving all over the place carting roller skates around. On the way to Hagerstown, Maryland, one of the big speed skating centers in the region, we stopped at a service plaza on the PA turnpike, here’s what the ceiling looked like:

It was a mild winter day, about 40 degrees out, yet my wife and I froze in there. This particular building had all sorts of things working against it:

The problems are simple, physics-wise:

Since the hot air rises to the ceiling and the ducts are close to the ceiling, the heat doesn’t do a very good job of getting to the floor (it should work ok for air conditioning, though.)

This building had a HUGE amount of windows as well. I forgot about the windows in the gable end until I looked at the picture (that’s the triangle shaped area.) There is also a dormer you can just begin to see on the right with windows in it. Plus most of the lower walls are windows.

While windows are great for light, they’re crappy for comfort.

I’ll delve further into the topic in another post, but windows cause problems for mean radiant temperature. Radiant energy is really comfortable to us. The sun delivers radiant energy. Fires deliver radiant energy. More importantly, our bodies make a lot of radiant energy. (See Allison Bailes’ ‘Naked People Need Building Science.’)

When radiant energy is pulled out of our bodies by an uninsulated wall or a window, it makes us feel very cold. Have you ever eaten at a restaurant on a cold winter night and been seated near the window, then noticed how cold you were? That was because the window was literally sucking the warmth out of your body, in the form of radiant energy.

For a room to be comfortable, the radiant temperature of the exterior walls, floors, ceiling, and interior walls need to be similar, or else it creates imbalances we can feel.

Such was the case in this building. Not only was the heat not doing a good job of getting down to the table we were eating at, but those windows were robbing our bodies of radiant energy, making us cold.

Basically, from a Building Performance perspective, this building kind of sucks. (That’s the technical terminology, you know…)

So does this make you think of your master bedroom cathedral ceiling or the vaulted ceiling in your family room or the two story foyer in your home? Or the floor of your bonus room over the garage? The exact same principles apply.*

Homes have an additional complicating factor that the insulation over these areas is often crushed, of low R-value, or generally of subpar performance – if it is a true cathedral ceiling where the drywall is screwed directing into the roof joists. Other homes have space above the ceiling that you can crawl into, I call this a vaulted ceiling. Those are usually much easier to fix.

So how can you fix a room with a cathedral or vaulted ceiling area, or a two story room? Frankly, it’s tricky. The air needs to be well mixed and the building shell (insulation and air sealing) needs to be as good as we can make it. How that is accomplished varies from circumstance to circumstance and really needs a closer look and diagnosis to give a good answer as to the best measures to make it better. A word of caution, this is a design problem, and design problems are difficult to fix really well. So keep reasonable expectations of the amount of improvement you’ll feel. Improvement is possible, but ‘completely’ fixed may be too far fetched.

In the case of this building, I don’t see any cheap and easy fixes, the ceiling probably needs more insulation, the ducts need to be lower, the gable ends and high windows should probably be covered and insulated – it’s a tough nut to crack. Most rooms I see in homes have much better potential for improvement.

Trying to solve a comfort problem in your home?

The Home Comfort Book will help you avoid wasting thousands chasing symptoms by teaching you what root causes to problems are. The first chapter, Home Comfort 101, is available free here:

Once you read Home Comfort 101, the next step is to get an initial consultation. Whether you are near us in the Cleveland area or elsewhere in the US or Canada, we can help. Click here to fill out our form and get started.

* In the case of the cold floor, conduction, or heat transfer through solids, is also happening as your feet transfer their heat into the floor. If it’s a skating rink, there’s not much to do because there is no space below the floor, but in a home this is usually caused by air leakage, or even thermostat setback, and can usually be addressed. Also, if the furnace or AC runs longer cycles, it will do a better job of heating or cooling that space, but that’s another article…

Bonus: As one last little ‘awww’, here is baby Felicity asleep at the speed meet under the black lights. Roller rinks are NOT afraid of wild carpet patterns…

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Director, Head of Fulham Office

Victorian homes are always popular among house-hunters. They offer a home with period features, a good layout and are often well-built. And while we always recommend people get a full building survey completed before buying a home, when you’re shopping around it’s good to know what to look for before putting in an offer.

Here are few areas you should be paying attention to when searching for your dream Victorian home…

Firstly, check that it fits in with the surroundings. The majority of Victorian properties are terraced homes, so have a look to see that the whole terrace is still intact.

If not, what has happened to it? Has it been replaced by a high-quality development that complements the older properties or by bulk, poorly-made flats?

Original features

Strutt & Parker’s Housing Futures report found that the top interior design style home buyers look for is ‘traditional’. Original features can add to this look, but keep an eye on them as many were removed from Victorian properties in 60s and 70s.

Ceiling roses are one of the more popular, so check it’s the original. Many modern reproductions are as good as the originals so it shouldn’t be an issue if they’ve been replaced, but make sure you get a close look. Remember, these properties will have high ceilings so it might not be easy to spot a poorly made fake right away. Any other replaced original features should be fitting with the period.

Roofing and ceilings

Victorian homes were often built with Welsh slate roofs. These are a great feature but you need to get a full survey of the home to check they’re in good condition as replacing like-for-like can be expensive.

It’s also worth checking the interior ceilings to see whether they have been updated. The original lathe and plaster ceilings are one period feature you could do without.

Many Victorian properties used a slate damp proofing system that, over the decades, may well have cracked and perished. This can lead to damp issues in even the best properties. But in this day and age, getting damp fixed is not a problem as long as it hasn’t caused any major structural damage.

As with any old property, especially Victorian ones that weren’t built with the best foundations, it’s worth seeing if they have any subsidence. While some hairline cracks inside are par for the course, large cracks that you can fit your fingers into and that run the height of the building are worth paying attention to. Other signs of subsidence include doors not shutting properly, sagging window sills and windows that won’t open.

If the property is mid-terrace (which it likely is) then subsidence shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But it’s worth having a look at your potential neighbours’ properties to see if they have any cracks on the outside brickwork.

Have a good look the heating, plumbing and electrics as these may need upgrading. You’ll need to look behind switches and plugs as they can be easily replaced and hide old wiring. Ask your estate agent if they know when these were last updated and for certification that it was carried out to the required standard. And if you still don’t feel happy, bring along a plumber or electrician to check out the house for you.

Wall insulation is also worth asking about, as older homes might not have double glazing so you’ll need other ways to keep warm. Again, this can be added easily after the purchase if needs be.

Rooms and layout

Victorian properties tend to be laid out in a fairly standard format with two reception rooms at the front of the house and a kitchen at the back. They are adaptable to modern living with many people opting to knock through the reception rooms into one, remove the front corridor and extend the kitchen out the back.

If this has already been done, check the work was carried out to a high standard and that it has a fire certificate. The original layout would have helped prevent the spread of fire, while open plan living with stairs open to the reception rooms can be a fire hazard. These sorts of homes should have a sprinkler system or fire curtain.

If the loft has been converted, check its head height. You might be able to stand up straight in the middle but find that actual useful space is limited by the eaves of the roof.


Watch the video: TimeTravel GR - Παλιά Λουτρόπολη των Καμένων Βούρλων (December 2021).