Vaulted Ceilings 101: History, Pros & Cons, and Inspirational Examples

Vaulted ceilings are known, formally and informally, by many names in modern design (such as cathedral ceilings, raised ceilings, high ceilings, to name a few). The concept behind vaulted ceilings, stems back thousands of years.

Vaulted Ceilings

Let’s take a closer look at vaulted ceilings – their definition, history, pros and cons, and some inspiring design implementations.

Definition of Vaulted Ceiling

Vault = an arched form extruded into the third dimension used to provide a space with a ceiling or roof. This article refers to vaulted ceilings as any ceiling that is higher than the standard 8’-10’ ceiling height.

Vaulted Ceiling History

Vaulted ceilings were used in many types of buildings before becoming the architectural choice in cathedrals and basilicas centuries ago because of their capacity to visually and intangibly make a space bigger. They could be considered an optical illusion, of sorts…but one with profound effect throughout architectural history (architectural development and considerations of the vaulted ceiling located at Columbia University).

Domes were the first popular vaulted ceiling option

Domes were the first popular vaulted ceiling option – imagine a hollow sphere cut in half. Built at times before history was even history, domes have been constructed out of mud, stone, wood, brick, concrete, metal, glass, and even plastic. The barrel vault (aka wagon vault and tunnel vault) stemmed from the dome and is the simplest kind of vault – a semicircle stretched into a continuous arch. Next came the groin vault, formed by two barrel vaults crossing one another creating a true ellipse intersection known as a groin.

Vaulted ceilings comes from medieval times

The rib vault came about in medieval times. Builders set up diagonal ribs first and then built the vaulted ceilings on these. And the fan vault is a fancy, filled-out version of the rib vault, in which the lower portion of the arch forms the smallest part of an open fan and the upper part extends outward like an open fan.

What Are Vaulted Ceilings in a House?

From an architectural point of view, a vaulted ceiling is characterized by an arch with self-support that’s located underneath the ceiling and above the walls. Some of the earliest vaulted ceilings date all the way back to a Neolithic hamlet in Crete that is about 7000 years old. They have been used throughout history in such diverse construction as the Egyptian Pyramids, Gothic Cathedrals, and Rome’s Pantheon.

Almost any house with a slanted roof can support a vaulted ceiling, if adequate attic space exists to allow for construction of the vault. High vaults require steeper roof pitches. Shallower vaults can be accommodated by lower-pitched roofs. While any space can be vaulted, most people choose to have vaulted ceilings in rooms where they can be appreciated to the maximum, like the family room.

Are Vaulted Ceilings Bad?

Vaulted ceilings are a contentious subject. They have a rather antique vibe, elegance, and magnificent appeal that enhances the impact of any room. On the other hand, they may appear to be out of date and a waste of space and energy.

A significant disadvantage of vaulted ceilings, particularly in colder climates, is their inefficiency in terms of energy use. Heating and cooling all of the additional air in a vaulted ceiling consumes more energy. Depending on the season, this will significantly increase monthly expenditures.

Is a Vaulted Ceiling More Expensive?

For a variety of reasons, vaulted ceilings increase the square foot costs of home construction. When a worker is required to utilize a scaffolding or ladder to construct, trim, or paint, production is slowed, which results in increased labor expenses.

Even more labor is necessary for vaults with domed and arched sides, as the construction materials, which are generally flat and straight, must be modified to curved surfaces.

A vaulted ceiling can add between five and 20 percent to the total cost, but the end price will vary depending on the height, style, and trim. If an elaborately constructed dome is wanted, the additional cost may be substantially more.

Do Vaulted Ceilings Add Value?

Vaulted ceilings can significantly increase the value of your property. Rooms with vaulted ceilings typically have larger windows, which allows more natural light to enter the room.

They offer greater space, which helps them feel less claustrophobic. During the summer months, wide tall windows combined with increased daylight hours result in lower energy use because artificial lighting is not as necessary.

In warm regions, houses that have vaulted ceilings and huge windows heat up faster than rooms with smaller windows, requiring you to run your air conditioner more frequently. Regardless of the cost of electricity, vaulted ceilings typically increase the value of a home.

Does a Vaulted Ceiling Need to Be Vented?

A vaulted ceiling heightens and beautifies a room by creating the illusion of a greater space. While a vaulted ceiling is attractive when finished in wood, it can create issues with air circulation inside your home.

Hot air rises. It becomes trapped near the vaulted ceiling. Not only does a vaulted ceiling capture air, but it also confines cooking scents, pet odors, and other scents that rise with the warm air. Numerous easy adjustments can improve circulation in a vaulted ceiling home.

Attic fans

Attic fans Vaulted ceiling

Add the necessary roof and attic vents to assist in the removal of hot air from the home. As heated air rises, it travels into the attic and settles there, adding to the trapped air near the vaulted ceiling.

Many vaulted ceilings do not have an attic above them. The ceiling and roof are two sides of the same construction. One or two small wall extractor fans installed near the peaks will remove warm air.

Ceiling fans

You have the possibility to install a ceiling fan a few feet below the ceiling. Choose a fan with adjustable speed settings in many directions. During summer months, turn the fan counter clockwise and set a higher fan speed.

Consider installing a remote-controlled fan in high ceilinged vaults for ease of operation.

Circulating fans

Install ceiling fans close to the top corners of doors to assist with air circulation throughout the property. Direct the fans to exhaust air from the vaulted ceiling room through the property’s halls. This also aids in the circulation of warm air throughout the home during the winter.

If you are unable to install a ceiling fan in the area with the vaulted ceiling, add independent circulating fans. To circulate the air, position the fan so that it faces the ceiling.

Whole-house fans

A whole-house fan is installed in an attic ceiling with vents and attic space. Install the whole-house fan in a section of the home that links to the vaulted-ceiling room if there is insufficient attic space in the vaulted-ceiling room.

The square footage of your home will determine the size of the whole house fan you have to install. Consider the cubic feet of air contained in the house and the CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute) capacity of the fan.

This particular type of system requires an open window to draw air in from the outside. Additionally, it contributes to the infiltration of fresh air into the dwelling.

Are Vaulted Ceilings out of Style?

Vaulted ceilings bring drama to otherwise conventional rooms by drawing the attention upward and creating a sense of volume and openness. As is the case with most architectural design components, use and appreciation of vaulted ceilings come and go. However, as floor designs become compact, ceilings rise to create the illusion of a greater living space.

Vaulted Ceilings Pros and Cons


  • Due to the greater surface area created by vaulted ceilings on opposing walls, they provide additional space for large windows, particularly floor-to-ceiling or transom windows. A transom window is generally installed above that beam for ornamental purposes. Additionally, because many vaulted ceilings match the roof pitch, homeowners can include skylights right into the ceiling.
  • Vaulted ceilings attract the eye to the upper areas of the room–, emphasizing an abundance of open space that appears airier and more spacious. This visual space is advantageous for smaller floor plans, since this ceiling can create the impression of a larger room even though the floor area is modest.
  • Vaulted ceilings complement any kind of interior design. For example, vaulted ceilings with exposed beams might complement a farmhouse design. Certain vaulted ceilings can also have crown molding that can lend an antique gothic cathedral appearance to a home.


  • As we’ve mentioned before, vaulted ceilings are not inexpensive to construct. Due to additional labor costs, a vaulted ceiling can increase the cost of a home-building project by a considerable amount.Vaulting can be much more expensive if it is performed as part of a remodeling project rather than a bespoke house construction project. The laborious work that such a project requires is also going to up the costs quite a lot.
  • Vaulted ceilings add volume to a room. Heating and cooling will be significantly more expensive. Warm air rising into the vault can create a drafty or frigid-feeling room—even when the heat is turned up.


Larger, Airier, and Grander Look & Feel.

Vaulted ceilings also known as cathedral ceilings

Vaulted ceilings (also known as cathedral ceilings) are beneficial in their ability to create an airy feel in the space and make it actually look and feel bigger than it physically is. If you live in a smaller home or apartment, they are one of the best features you can incorporate. They’ll make even the smallest room feel much bigger.

More Natural Light.

More Natural Light with vaulted ceilings

Raised ceilings are often accompanied by more or taller windows…which of course leads to an influx of natural light in the space. Natural light is typically the end-all of great lighting, having more of it is a definite perk attributed to vaulted ceilings.

If you have a vaulted ceiling that doesn’t have windows installed, it’s well worth considering this addition to your home. These windows bring so much more natural light to a space and can completely transform the look and feel of your home.

Exposed Rafter Beams add Character.

Exposed beams add characted to the room

Ceiling beams are hot right now (and have appealed to many for a long time), and vaulted ceilings are a great way to expose and emphasize those beams. This adds character and charm to the space…without a hint of claustrophobia.

Practical Use of Attic “Dead” Space.

Practical for attic spaces

Don’t get me wrong – attics can be useful and practical storage spaces. They can also be dead space, though, where nothing ever goes in and nothing ever comes out. For the latter, vaulted ceilings capitalize on this otherwise wasted space and make it much more beautiful for the residents. That’s an incredible bonus.

Increased Visual Interest.

Increased Visual Interest

Let’s face it, white builder-grade 8’ ceilings just aren’t all that interesting. A vaulted ceiling is different, unique, and possibly the best feature of the entire space. (Or, if not the best feature, it’s a critical background player.)

Vaulted ceilings add oomph to the room’s design and appeal. Regardless of what rooms in your home have a vaulted ceiling, you’ll likely find your family gravitates towards these spaces due to their light and airy appearance. 

Exit Place for Hot Air.

Master bathroom with vaulted ceiling and skylight

When designed strategically, vaulted ceilings can provide a much-needed venting area for unwanted hot air. This is particularly beneficial in a bathroom, where drying out as quickly as possible to prevent mold growth is a must. 

High Potential for Rustic Appeal.

High Potential of A rustic design

Vaulted ceilings covered in wood planks provide a space with major rustic charm. Due to their positioning (up high), the ceiling is one of the first things an eye notices. Capitalize on this fact by covering your vaulted ceilings in natural wooden warmth for the ultimate in contemporary rustic design.


Less Cozy.

Stuning living room with vaulted ceiling

With their inherent ability to make a space feel airy and more expansive, vaulted ceilings aren’t, great at inducing a cozy, intimate feeling.

In a bedroom, for example, a vaulted ceiling might not be the best choice if you’re looking for something cozier in the room’s architectural design.

While we feel a vaulted ceiling is a great advantage in kitchens and living rooms, in more intimate spaces, it’s not so beneficial. Of course, there are ways to minimize the impact of a vaulted ceiling, and by using strategic home décor ideas, you can soon overcome this issue.

Increased Energy Usage.

Vaulted ceilings Increased Energy Usage

On days that are cold (or hot, in summertime), the larger spaces created by vaulted ceilings require more energy to heat (or cool down). This decrease in energy efficiency can be considered a waste and unnecessarily expensive, because no one really “uses” that extra air up there.

Difficult, Maybe Impossible, to Retrofit.

White kitchen with vaulted ceiling
Delightful Vaulted Ceilings

One disadvantage of wanting vaulted ceilings when your house wasn’t built with them is that it can be very challenging, invasive, or maybe even impossible, to retrofit them to your space.

It’s one of the rare architectural features that generally is best to design and integrate in the early stages of building. For anyone who enjoys regularly decorating and refurbishing their home, this may be a massive disadvantage of this type of ceiling.

Especially when it comes to modern home design ideas, it can be difficult to incorporate a traditional vaulted ceiling into new plans for a room.