Exposed Ceiling Joists Pros and Cons

A country kitchen with an open beam ceiling

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Stately, attractive, and open: the exposed-beam ceiling look is one that many owners of conventional, flat ceilings would love to have. Exposed beam ceilings conjure up images of past ages; of a slow, simple, and true-to-the-earth time. Country and rustic-styled kitchens tend to have open ceilings.

Some homeowners would love to have this look enough to remove ceiling drywall and expose joists above, with the notion that ceiling joists will automatically create an exposed beam look.  

Before undertaking this major project, it's important to look at its pros and cons. Plus, it helps to understand the nature of joists vs. beams and what the project would look like upon completion.

What Exposed Joists Are

Exposed joists are ceiling structural members that are made visible by removing the ceiling drywall or plaster. Sometimes, ceiling drywall is removed and the ceiling joists are substituted with other structural elements to create a completely open ceiling. Exposed joists are different: the joists stay in place to duplicate the look of beams.

Exposed beams in residential buildings are far less common than one might think. When possible, ceilings are closed up to help hide the unpainted, unfinished wood of the joists, beams, or the floorboards supported by the beams. Ceiling board allows owners to heat homes far more efficiently by shrinking the volume of the home.

How Exposed Ceiling Joists May Look

The post-and-beam, or post-and-lintel, style of construction does not apply to most modern homes. After removing the ceiling drywall, the exposed joists may have any or all of the following:

Small Joists That Don't Duplicate Beams

A joist is sized differently from a beam. You may find joists that are two-by-ten inches or two-by-twelve inches, but not the thick, square six-by-six or greater dimensions that you might expect with the beam style.

Close Spacing

Because they are smaller and thus weaker, joists are spaced more frequently than beams. Joists may be spaced as frequently as 16 inches apart from each other. It's a look that doesn't immediately register to the eye as beams, since beams are thicker and farther apart.

Wires and Vents

You need to contend with the various wires that might be snaking through holes drilled through the joists or nailed to the tops of the joists. This means rerouting wires around the perimeter of the ceiling.

Other wires and vents that are not running through the joists still must be dealt with in some way or another. They can be routed to the side or a false ceiling can be built just below the roof.

No Insulation

If you're dealing with a one-story, with nothing but a roof above, you lose the attic insulation when you remove the ceiling. When building a home with a vaulted ceiling, the ceiling insulation is moved to the space below the roof and just above the vaulted ceiling. So, when exposing joists, the insulation would be tucked away similar to a vaulted ceiling.

All of this amounts to the fact that it is tough going to get that exposed beam style merely by taking down ceiling drywall. Taking down the drywall is the first project. The second project is to clear out and clean up the attic.

Exposed Joists Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Uses existing materials

  • Unique look

  • Greater airflow for warm climates

Cons
  • Issue placing new insulation

  • Exposed joists don't look like beams

  • May have obstructions

Alternatives to Exposed Joists

Make Your Own Faux Beams

If you're intent on having a timber-beam look in your house, you might consider building your own faux beams out of clear, light pine. The beams are very easy to make, simple to attach to your existing ceiling, and can even come down with little effort if you move.

To make faux beams, you create three-sided boxes. These boxes attach to cleats that are themselves attached to the ceiling. Screws driven in from the side attach the faux beams to the cleats.

Purchase Faux Beams

Another option is to purchase fake beams made out of high-density polyurethane. The beams look remarkably like the real thing. And since beams are up on the ceiling and cannot be examined close-up, they usually will pass for the real thing.

Faux beams look very realistic. Plus, they're lightweight and easy to install. The downside is that they tend to be extremely expensive.