How to Vault a Ceiling

Building a Vaulted Ceiling

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 wks
  • Total Time: 3 - 4 wks
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Estimated Cost: $15,000 to $30,000

A vaulted ceiling creates a sense of openness and space in a home. Even though the footprint of the home remains the same, by expanding upwards the house feels larger and airier. When combined with skylights, a vaulted ceiling introduces more natural light to the home.

Ceilings in the 8-foot-high range that are built on a conventional truss system can be expanded upwards. While nearly always an expensive contractor-driven project, vaulting a ceiling can add major resale value to your home.

  • Trusses: Unified triangle-shaped elements above the ceiling that hold up the roof. Joists and rafters are parts of the truss.
  • Joists: Horizontal studs, usually two-by-fours, that run from side to side of the house. The ceiling drywall hangs from the joists.
  • Rafters: Sloped studs that form the top of the truss triangle.

Basics of Creating a Vaulted Ceiling From a Flat Ceiling

Whenever a home’s structural element is removed, another element must replace its function. Every part of a roof truss is crucial to the structural integrity of your home. Creating a vaulted ceiling means removing parts of the roof trusses. So, these removed pieces must be replaced in other ways.

One method is to remove all pieces of the roof truss except for the rafters. To compensate for the missing pieces, the rafters are supported along their sides by two-by-ten boards that are nailed to the rafters—a process known as sistering.

A benefit of these added two-by-tens is that they provide more space between the roof and ceiling so that insulation and lights can be installed. 

Because sistering the rafters isn’t enough, collar ties or collar beams are added. Collar ties are short studs that run horizontally from rafter to rafter, yet much higher and closer to the roof ridge than the ceiling joists. Essentially, the collar ties perform the same function as the removed joists, but on a smaller scale. 

Alternative Construction

For the highest possible vaulted ceiling, joists can be cut to allow for a long continuous laminated wood beam to be placed in the attic area. The beam is jacked into place below the roof ridge. Each end of the beam is supported by vertical posts. The ceiling terminates in a peaked V-shape rather than a flat ceiling. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Pneumatic nailer
  • Cordless drill
  • Circular saw
  • Electric miter saw
  • Reciprocating saw

Materials

  • Two-by-tens
  • Two-by-fours
  • Drywall
  • Insulation

Instructions

  1. Clear the Attic

    Clear the attic by removing attic insulation, HVAC vents, lighting, and anything else resting on the ceiling joists.

  2. Demolish the Ceiling Drywall

    Remove the floor covering or leave in place if this is part of a whole-house remodel. Or lay down 1/4-inch plywood to protect the floors. Remove all of the ceiling drywall.

  3. Support the Roof

    Build a vertical support system that supports the roof while the work is being done. Usually, this is done by making a temporary wall out of two-by-fours that rests on floor. This wall runs the length of the roof ridge. If the floor is above a basement or crawlspace, additional support below the floor may be needed.

  4. Remove the Joists and Webs

    The joists and webs (smaller parts of the truss) are pulled out. In some cases, the joists are not removed entirely. Instead, they are cut away to leave a remaining 2 or 3 feet for the perimeter ceiling.

  5. Sister the Rafters

    The rafters are sistered with two-by-tens that are nailed to the sides of the rafters.

  6. Install the Collar Ties

    Collar ties are added to the tops of the rafters. The temporary support system can now be removed.

  7. Build the Perimeter Ceiling

    Create a perimeter ceiling for lights and to blend the vaulted ceiling in with the walls. This perimeter ceiling can be built from the ends of the cut joists or can be constructed from scratch.

  8. Run Wiring and Add Lights

    Electrical wiring for lights, such as gimbal recessed lights, is added to the ceiling. The lights are installed.

  9. Insulate the Ceiling

    Rigid foam, sprayed foam, or fiberglass insulation is added between the rafters. 

    Tip

    Consult local building codes for insulation requirements.

  10. Install and Finish the Drywall

    Drywall technicians install drywall on the vaulted ceiling. After the drywall is hung, drywall compound (also known as mud) is applied and left to dry. The fully cured mud is sanded down smooth.

  11. Paint the Drywall

    A paint crew will paint the vaulted ceiling. They may construct a scaffold and move the scaffold around, as needed. Or they may paint the ceiling with paint rollers attached to long extension poles.

When to Hire a Professional

Vaulting the ceiling is nearly always a project for a general contractor. The contractor can coordinate with the architect and structural engineer, along with all of the tradespeople who contribute to building a vaulted ceiling. 

The contractor can also work with your local permitting agency and help see the permits through to successful completion.

Tips

If you are planning to do this work yourself or hire your own subcontractors, make a checklist of these items before starting the project:


  • Consult local building codes and be familiar with how they will affect your project.
  • Visit your city's website to familiarize yourself with the construction permitting process.
  • Plan on hiring an architect and/or structural engineer to assist with plans. Your city may require the involvement of either of these professionals to obtain a permit.