Tag Archives: Second story space

Vaulted Barndominium Ceilings

I Like Vaulted Barndominium Ceilings

When I built my first personal post frame shop/house, it had a 7/12 exterior roof slope, to match other buildings on the same property. Upper level of this building was designed as an area where we would potentially place a ping pong table. To allow for lobs, I had prefabricated scissor roof trusses built with a 4/12 bottom chord slope. While we never got around to playing ping pong, it did make for a dramatic space.

In barndominium design and construction, new homeowners are faced with a choice of standard room framing on ground level rooms, or opening ceilings up to a sloped roofline. This style of architecture is known as a vaulted or cathedral ceiling.

Many people once considered a vaulted ceiling to be an ultimate in home luxury, but now opinions are strongly divided on this construction style, with many homeowners, builders, architects, real estate professionals, and designers expressing outright hatred for vaulted ceilings, while others continue to champion this style. There is almost no other element of home design earning this kind of strong polarized opinion. So is a vaulted ceiling right for you?

A vaulted ceiling in new construction is no more complicated than standard framing, although it does require special roof trusses, usually built off-site. It is somewhat more expensive, though. 

When it comes to finishing a two story barndominium, there can be some modest cost savings to a vaulted ceiling, since a smaller second-story will require less finish material to complete it. Because your second story has less floor space, it requires less flooring, less trim molding, etc.

Creating a vaulted ceiling is easily within skill levels of most DIYers. 

Single biggest drawback of a vaulted ceiling becomes evident when you ask yourself how you will clean and paint the ceiling, or how you will change lightbulbs or repair light fixtures soaring 20 or 30 feet over your head. My own current shop house has 16 and 20 foot high ceilings. I change can type light bulbs by means of a telescopic bulb changer (roughly a $20 investment).

There certainly are design benefits to a vaulted ceiling. They give a room an illusion of far greater space. Vaulted ceilings do indeed make a room brighter, especially when an endwall is fitted with windows above sidewall heights. By contrast, an open-concept “great room” built with ceilings only eight or nine feet high can feel tight, dark, and airless. Appearance of vaulted ceilings can be greatly improved by adding wood beams spanning across open overhead spaces. Such beams can offer a good place to mount directed light fixtures.

A vaulted ceiling in a one-story ranch rambler can be a very effective style to convert a boring entry level barndominium into a vintage home. 

For some people, a tray ceiling is a good alternative to a vaulted ceiling. A tray ceiling looks like a conventional, 8-foot, flat ceiling, but with a center flat portion raised about a foot or so above surrounding surfaces. Tray ceilings give an added feeling of airiness, yet allow for maximum insulating value.

Vaulted ceilings are notorious energy wasters since room heat naturally rises into empty space where it offers no benefit. Because rooms with vaulted ceilings are often fitted with many windows, energy loss can be more pronounced. Finally, vaulted ceilings tend to be draftier, simply because of natural convection patterns caused by warm air rising and cool air falling. Some of this can be mitigated by installing extra insulation in ceilings or installing ceiling fans to force warm air down into living spaces. In reality these spaces will often feel chilly and drafty in winter, especially for homes built in colder climates.

But vaulted ceilings do make rooms undeniably brighter and airier. Many people find this merit alone is worth the drawbacks of winter chilliness.

From a new barndominium-building viewpoint, a vaulted ceiling is no more complicated than standard construction framed with two full stories but it does raise construction costs. And remember, vaulted ceilings reduce the amount of livable floor space. Depending on the vaulted room size, the amount of total available floor space can be reduced by as much as 20 to 50 percent, since the second story is greatly reduced in size.

A vaulted ceiling may be right for you if your home style is compatible with look, and if you are willing to accept increased energy costs and winter draftiness coming along with those bright, spacious feelings. It’s worth consulting a real estate professional to determine if a vaulted ceiling will be a good selling feature for your barndominium.

Lofty Aspirations Part II: Bonus Room

Bonus Points

Steep roof slopes on many homes of the past decade have brought about a resurgence in designing for a bonus room. With a steep enough roof slope, a “room” can be created in the middle of the attic.  The height must be tall enough to be able to make the minimum ceiling height of 7’6″ which is required by the building codes for a habitable room. Provided the lower floor can stand to have a few posts (similar to my two story building example in yesterday’s blog), the greatest amount of space can be gained by designing the building as pole and raftered rather than with trusses.

In a pole and raftered building, the posts extend through the loft floor all the way to the roof plane where they support rafters which run with the slope of the roof line. The same posts are then utilized to support the floor. For additional cost, “attic” roof trusses can be designed with a “box out” space in the middle. The width of this box is typically 1/2 the span of the truss or less. In most cases, the overall truss height is limited to 12′ as this is the tallest many truss fabricators can manufacture and ship legally down the highway. In spans over 40′, this design is usually not economically feasible.

Build it like a Barn

Gambrel roofs (where the roof has 2 slopes on each side, with the lower portion being fairly steep), can be utilized to gain space for a loft or second floor bonus room. Standard gambrel roof designs have the pitch break of the roof supported by posts which extend to the ground. The steep slope of the roof then utilizes rafters, and roof trusses span the building center from pitch break to pitch break. These posts can then be used to support the second floor and allow for the floor height to be easily adjusted. Also possible, similar to attic roof trusses, a gambrel truss with a “box out” can be designed. The same dimensional rules apply to these trusses.

Not Fibonacci’s Golden Ratio

There is a generally accepted set of proportions to make a gambrel roof look most ideal. The overall height of the roof, above the eave height, should be 1/2 of the width of the gambrel. The pitch break should be located at 1/3 of the distance from the sidewall towards the peak. But which “look” of your Gambrel roof you think looks “good” may be other than what I’d prefer.  Do this simple exercise: take a sheet of paper and draw the dimensions and angles of your gambrel endwall, or ask your building designer to provide a simple sketch of it.

Can You See Me Now?

With either steeply sloped roofs for a bonus room or a gambrel style roof, windows can only be easily and economically placed in the peaked gable endwalls. Dormer windows can be added in the sidewall directions. By placing a gable perpendicular to the main roof ridge or a smaller flatter single slope roof in the steep slope, a window or windows create a room with a view.

Getting there is Half the Fun

Remember to allow adequate space for stairs to your bonus room.

With a beam and joist floor and a straight set of stairs, a hole through the floor the width of the stairs and about 10′ in length is required. A “landing” with clear dimensions equal to the stair width must be at the top and bottom of the stairs.  And if the top of the second floor is over 12′ above the concrete slab below, an intermediate landing must also be added. Every point along the stairs is required to have minimum headroom of at least 6’8″. In mixed use occupancies (garage/apartment as an example), the stairs may have to be exterior, or separated from the non-residential area by a one hour fire wall.

Not to take away all of the fun, but unless building footprint space is a dictate, it is always more economical to build a larger square footage building on a single level than it is to go bigger than multiple floors.

Plus – no stairs to clamber up and down.