A ceiling is prepared to be converted to a low ceiling

It’s a well-known fact that homeowners are constantly looking for ways to save energy. There’s just one problem—most of them don’t seem to know if low ceilings save energy or not.

So let’s clear that up today.

Are Low Ceilings More Energy Efficient? 

Low ceilings are more energy efficient. When you have less distance from the floor to ceiling, that also means the air temperature difference at the top and bottom will be minimized. This allows the HVAC to work more efficiently, and can be more comfortable all around.

Let’s look closer at how ‘the stack effect’ works, which is what we’re describing above.

The Stack Effect On Energy Efficiency

When we talk about energy efficiency related to low ceilings, we often refer to the stack effect, or the chimney effect, because it works similarly to how a fireplace draws air.

Here’s how it works:

Hot air rises because it’s less dense than cooler air, creating a low-pressure area at the ceiling. As a result, this low-pressure area sucks in cooler air from the floor. In a room with a high ceiling, the hot air has a longer distance to travel before mixing with the cooler air, which means more energy is needed to heat the room.

In a room with a low ceiling, the hot air mixes with the cooler air more quickly, meaning less energy is needed to heat the room and keep it comfortable.

The Cost of Lowering Your Ceilings

The cost of lowering your ceilings depends on the materials you use and the size of your home. For example, if you’re only lowering it in one room, it will cost less than dropping them in your entire home.

In general, lowering ceilings will set you back between $1 and $2 per square foot. So, decreasing the ceilings’ height in a 200 sq ft (18.58 sq m) room will cost between $200 and $400 for materials.

The most common materials for this job are drywall and wood. 

Drywall is the cheaper option, while an all-wood ceiling is more expensive. Homeowners can also use these materials together to create a midgrade ceiling solution.

You can knock off this job on a weekend if you’re handy. However, if you’re not confident in your ability to work on the ceiling yourself, it’s best to hire a professional. An experienced handyman will cost you between $500 and $1,000.

The Benefits of Lowering Your Ceilings

There are two main benefits of lowering your ceilings: 

  • Improved energy efficiency
  • Increased comfort

As we’ve already mentioned, low ceilings improve the stack effect, which means less energy is needed to heat the room, resulting in significant energy and money savings. In addition, low ceilings can make a room feel more comfortable. 

The hot air is circulated more quickly, making you less likely to feel drafts or experience temperature fluctuations.

We have seen people put foam board insulation on their ceilings to make the room more comfortable, which is a good idea if you live in an area with extreme temperatures.

Sheets of foil-faced EXP installed in an attic with a low ceiling

However, most people get away with just installing drywall, which is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

Myths About Low Ceilings

There are a few myths about the energy efficiency and other factors of low ceilings, which are usually perpetrated by people who don’t understand how the stack effect works. Let’s look at them and why they are ‘myths.’

Low Ceilings Create Mold and Mildew

The first myth is that lowering your ceilings will make your home more prone to mold and mildew. However, it can actually help to prevent mold and mildew because the air will circulate more quickly.

Black mold growing on the corner of a low ceiling

We’ve never had a problem with mold or mildew in homes and have lowered the ceilings in many rooms. And this is coming from a company based in Florida, which has a predominantly humid climate.

Lowered Ceilings Hurt Resale Value

Another myth is that low ceilings will make selling your house harder. However, many potential buyers want homes with low ceilings because they understand the benefits of improved energy efficiency.

If you’re worried about resale value, keep the receipts for the materials you used to lower your ceilings. This way, you can show potential buyers that the work was done professionally and will last for many years.

Your Home Will Be Colder In Winter, So They Are Best For Warm Climates

One weird myth is that low ceilings will make your home colder in the winter, but they can actually help keep your home warm in winter because the hot air will circulate more quickly.

This belief also leads to the myth that low ceilings are only suitable for homes in warm climates. But, again, this is not true. Low ceilings can be used in any environment and provide the same benefits regardless of the climate.

However, if you live in a cold climate, we recommend installing foam board insulation on your ceilings to help keep your home warm in the winter.

Sheets of polyiso foam board insulation for use on a low ceiling
Sheets of foam board insulation

How To Decide If a Low Ceiling Is Right for You

If you’re thinking about lowering your ceilings, there are a few things you need to take into account.

Cost

The first thing to consider is the cost. As we’ve already mentioned, lowering your ceilings can be quite expensive. If you’re not handy, you’ll need to hire a professional, which will add to the cost.

You also need to factor in the cost of materials.

Foam board insulation is quite expensive, and it’s not always necessary. So, if you’re on a tight budget, we recommend installing drywall, which is much cheaper than foam board insulation and still provides some energy savings.

Comfort

You also need to consider your comfort. For example, low ceilings can make a room feel more comfortable, but they can also feel more claustrophobic.

If you’re worried about the claustrophobic feeling, we recommend talking to a professional about a custom ceiling height. This way, you can enjoy the benefits of improved energy efficiency without feeling claustrophobic.

Aesthetics

The last thing to consider is aesthetics. Low ceilings can make a room look smaller and may not suit all home styles. Consider using different materials on the ceiling or painting it a lighter color to avoid ruining the existing style in your home. 

You can also add beautiful lighting to make the room look updated.

If you have a very open floor plan, you may want to consider leaving the ceiling high in certain areas, such as the living room, to create the illusion of more space.

Will There Be Unusable Space Between the Ceiling and Roof?

This is a common concern, but it’s not an issue.

The space between the ceiling and the roof is known as the “attic” and is actually quite helpful. Homeowners can use the attic for storage or convert it into another room. Of course, if you’re worried about the aesthetics, you can always add a false ceiling to the attic.

We use ours (7’ or 2.13 m at the highest point) as an office and server room and have never had any issues with the ceiling height. And this is coming from a 6’2″ (187.96 cm) human. So if we can use the space, anyone can. 

photo of an unfinished attic space--a potential source of air leakage.
Don’t overlook the attic just because you’re under it. Photo by Rob Wingate on Unsplash

The idea is to make a stable, well-insulated, and comfortable environment in your home. 

How Low Can a Ceiling Be?

Most professionals recommend that ceilings be no lower than seven feet (2.13 m) high for both comfort and safety reasons. If you have a ceiling lower than 7′ (2.13 m), you should talk to a professional about raising it. 

This option is not always possible, but it’s worth looking into. Ours is at 8′ (2.43 m), and it works fine. However, we must admit our great room looked smaller after lowering the ceiling. This is something you should consider before making any decisions.

You also have to create user access to the attic space, especially if you want to use it for storage, which means adding a ladder or another way to get into the attic. This usage may not be the best option if you’re uncomfortable with heights.

Can You Coffer a Low Ceiling?

You can coffer a low ceiling, but it’s not always necessary. Coffering is a great way to add interest to a room, but it also adds to the cost. The best thing about coffering is that it can make a relatively high ceiling look lower. 

Most people do not add coffering to their ceilings unless they are looking for an over-the-top look and feel. The only problem is that it’s not always possible to add coffering to an existing ceiling, which is not a DIY job. 

You will need to hire a professional to do it, which will add to the cost.

Conclusion

Low ceilings can be more energy-efficient, but they’re not suitable for everyone. We suggest considering the cost, comfort, and aesthetics before deciding.

And if you opt for low ceilings, we recommend creating a usable attic space whenever possible. You can use it for a spare bedroom, office, or storage area.

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