Owning a home with soaring ceilings is something many people dream about. There is no doubt that high ceilings can make a home look and feel much bigger. When combined with features like skylights, chandeliers, and exposed beams, high ceilings can also greatly increase the aesthetic appeal of a home.
However, one aspect of owning a home with high ceilings that many people don’t automatically think about is the way that they can impact the home’s heating and cooling systems. For this reason, here is a guide to help you understand the pros and cons of having high ceilings in terms of your HVAC system.
The Effects of High Ceilings in Summer and Winter
You probably learned in elementary school about how heat always rises, and this is an important thing to think about when considering how high ceilings impact your HVAC system’s ability to keep the home warm in winter and cool in summer. The fact that heat rises means that the higher your ceilings are, the more difficult it will be to keep your home heated on those freezing cold winter days.
Luckily, this usually isn’t that big of an issue in Southern California since the weather very rarely gets cold enough that you’ll need to use your heating system much. Nonetheless, on those days when you do need to use your heating, the system will need to work much harder to keep your home warm.
If a building has vaulted or cathedral ceilings, all that hot air coming from your heating system will immediately rise to the top of the room. This results in the system needing to run for much longer and more frequently in order to fully heat the space. High ceilings also greatly increase the area that needs to be heated, which means you’ll need to have a much larger furnace or other heating system than you would for a similar-sized building with standard-height ceilings.
In one way, the fact that heat rises is actually a benefit when it comes to cooling your home. All the hot air will stay up near the ceiling, so the room will feel cooler than it would if it only had 8- or 9-foot ceilings. In that case, you would constantly be exposed to the hot air as you walked through the house. While this is definitely one good thing about having high ceilings, they will still make it more difficult to properly cool the home, just as they would to heat it.
The cold air coming from your AC will push the hot air inside the room up to the ceiling. However, your AC system will still have to cool a much greater volume of air than if you had standard-height ceilings. As with heating, this means your air conditioner will need to run for much longer and more often, especially on days when the temperature is in the 90s or above. In addition, you will need a much larger AC unit than you would otherwise.
How High Ceilings Affect Your Energy Bills
If you move from a home with normal ceilings to one with high ceilings, you shouldn’t be surprised when your energy costs are suddenly much higher. The fact that your AC or furnace will need to work much harder to properly cool or heat your home means that it will also use more energy. This is compounded by the fact that your HVAC equipment will need to be larger, which means greater energy consumption.
Let’s say your home has 12-foot ceilings. Compared to operating with standard 8- or 9-foot ceilings, your system will need to cool or heat between 33% and 50% more air volume. This means that you should also expect to pay somewhere around that much more for heating and cooling. That being said, the differences are usually much greater for heating costs than they are for air conditioning.
Important Maintenance and Repair Considerations
Another area where high ceilings can affect your HVAC system is in terms of maintenance and repairs. Since high ceilings will increase the workload for your heating and cooling systems, they will also result in greater wear and tear on your HVAC equipment. This means your system may suffer from more problems and need more frequent repairs than it would if you had standard-height ceilings. This same factor also means that your HVAC equipment may not last as long before it needs to be replaced. Still, most of these issues can be overcome by making sure to have your heating and cooling systems professionally maintained every year.
Overcoming Heating and Cooling Issues Caused by High Ceilings
It is nearly impossible to gauge exactly how much of a difference high ceilings will make in terms of energy costs since this depends on a number of different factors. They include the layout and design of the home and the type, size, and efficiency of your HVAC equipment. How well your home is insulated and how much air circulation you have are also important.
If your home is well-insulated and you opt for higher-efficiency equipment, you probably won’t notice much of a difference. If your home isn’t well-insulated, it is worth the expense to add insulation to the attic, basement, walls, or wherever else it is needed, as this can dramatically reduce heat loss and gain, thus lessening energy usage. Using ceiling fans during the winter is another great way to reduce your heating costs, as the fans will draw much of the heat down from your ceilings and circulate it throughout the room. Most ceiling fans can be adjusted to reverse direction, so you can feel more comfortable all year round.
Another option is to install dual-return air registers in any room with higher ceilings. This type of system uses one register high up on the wall and another register down near the ground. The benefit of this is that you can open or close each register to improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems. During the winter, you would leave the lower register open so that the system draws heat downward. This also works during the summer, except in reverse. In this case, you’d want the upper register open and the lower register closed so that your AC system is constantly drawing the cool air upward.
Installing attic fans or vents is another good option. This helps to prevent hot air from getting trapped inside the attic and heating up the rest of the house. Considering that attic temperatures can soar well above 150 degrees in the summer, this can provide a huge benefit in helping to keep your home cooler.
Expert Heating and Cooling Services
If you are concerned about the impact that your high ceilings might have on your HVAC system, our expert team at We Care Plumbing, Heating, & Air is here to help. We can work to ensure that your heating and cooling equipment is adequately sized to meet your home’s heating and cooling needs as efficiently as possible. Our certified HVAC technicians can also repair and service cooling equipment from almost any brand. Other areas we specialize in include plumbing, water heaters, and indoor air quality. We have locations in Temecula, Orange, and Murrieta and serve customers throughout most of Southern California. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment or get answers to your HVAC questions.