If you’re a current or aspiring homeowner, you’ve probably asked yourself, “What is a standard ceiling height?” Well, I have exactly the answer you’re looking for—plus more!
Here, I will give you a rundown of ceiling-related topics, like the average ceiling height, how ceiling height is determined, and even what’s considered low ceiling height.
Why ceiling height is important
Ceiling height is essential for several reasons. First of all, high ceilings are known to add to a home’s aesthetic appeal. However, low ceilings provide a sense of warmth and coziness for some people. As you can see, it’s all a matter of preference.
There’s also the fact that ceiling height affects air circulation. Generally, higher ceilings mean more spaciousness and better airflow, creating an overall grander and more airy feeling, and they also allow more natural light to enter.
Also, we can’t ignore the whole psychological aspect of ceiling heights. While lower ceilings may support productivity, higher ceilings are associated with better abstract thinking and creativity.
Standard ceiling height
The standard ceiling of newer houses is 9 feet.
For second-story houses, you might find 9-foot ceilings on the first floor and 8-foot ceilings on the second floor, resulting in a total height of 17 feet.
Changes in ceiling height
As you’ll see, ceiling heights haven’t always been the same. From the pre-Victorian times to the present, ceiling heights have significantly changed.
While some periods have seen an average ceiling height of 8 feet, others have seen averages as high as 10 feet.
Ceiling heights certainly have oscillated over the centuries, but it appears that we’ve settled on a standard ceiling height of 9 feet—at least for now.
How is ceiling height determined?
Many factors determine ceiling height. For example, the height of your ceiling depends on factors like consumer demand, floor level, and style preferences.
When it comes to ceiling height, consumer demand has primarily driven construction standards.
Over the years, there’s been a growing preference for higher ceilings. But, contrary to popular belief, this increasing affinity has nothing to do with the fact that home buyers have been getting taller. In fact, statistics show that quite the opposite has been taking place.
Statistics collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys showed that men and women in the 40- to 49-year-old range were taller than those in the 20- to 39-year range.
So, human height most likely hasn’t played a significant role in consumers’ preferences.
What these statistics might suggest is that this trend toward higher ceilings isn’t so much about comfort as it is about a desire for luxury and grandeur—at least an impression of these qualities.
Construction companies have changed their ceiling standards to keep up with consumer demands. The standard for 18th- and 19th-century houses was around 8 feet, but today’s homes have about a 1-foot advantage over their older counterparts.
And, for the sake of consistency in quality, construction companies have maintained a standard of 9 feet for American houses.
Second-story ceilings are often lower than first-floor ceilings. For instance, a 2-story home with 12-foot ceilings on the first floor will likely have 11-foot ceilings on the second floor. Thus, the overall height of this house would be 23 feet.
The varying floor heights apply not only to houses and other residential buildings but also to commercial structures.
Although 9 feet is the standard height for ceilings, there are many different types of specialty ceilings, which often depart from the average ceiling height.
Also known as recessed ceilings, these ceilings, designed to create depth and openness, feature an inner portion that’s set higher than the ceiling’s border. So, for example, if the perimeter is 9 feet high and flat, the central section will be about 10 feet high (standard dimensions for a tray ceiling).
You can build coffered ceilings to provide an illusion of depth like tray ceilings. Originating in ancient Greece, this kind of ceiling can be found in large public buildings and large houses. To achieve this impressive look, you need to have a minimum ceiling height of 9 feet, preferably 10 feet. This type of ceiling uses beams (usually faux beams, though sometimes actual beams are used) to make geometric shapes. Most of the time, these shapes are squares or rectangles, adding variation to the room.
Found in houses with pitched roofs (where the roof’s two sides meet at the peak), sloped ceilings allow for cozy nooks on attic levels and improve the airiness of living rooms with the help of vaulted ceilings. When finished, sloped ceilings are covered in drywall. Homeowners who want to create this type of ceiling as part of a renovation project should check the building codes in their jurisdiction, which regulate how low a sloped ceiling can be.
With this type of ceiling, timber beams are visible, resulting in a rustic charm. Beam ceilings aren’t uncommon in chalets, cabins, and other homes made of timber through the post-and-lintel system. However, builders construct today’s houses with steel frames and fiber-cement roof boards, you’ll likely have to pay 10% to 15% more to build an exposed wood beam.
Characterized by rounded edges rather than sharp corners, coved ceilings are known to look “soft” and provide a comforting, relaxing vibe to living rooms, family rooms, and other residential rooms. Sometimes, they’re combined with tray ceilings to achieve a taller and airier appearance.
Commonly found in modern industrial homes, exposed ceilings have an intentionally “unfinished” appearance. Even though exposed ceilings are generally inexpensive, homeowners may encounter noise and insulation issues due to the ceiling construction, increasing heating and cooling costs.
This type of ceiling features a higher central arch, drawing attention upward. The central arch is usually made of wooden scaffolding and finished with various materials, such as tile, drywall, and wood planks. There are five main types of vaulted ceilings you can choose from: cathedral ceilings, barrel vaults, groin vaults, cloister vaults, and domed vaults.
What is the traditional ceiling height?
Nowadays, the typical ceiling height is 9 feet. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Standard ceiling heights have increased and decreased over the centuries.
During the Victorian age, ceilings were shorter than in the years leading up to this era. However, by the time the 20th century rolled around, the ceilings had shrunk once again, with a standard ceiling height of 8 feet.
Since then, ceiling heights have changed from 8 feet to 10 feet to 9 feet, which is today’s standard ceiling height.
Only time will tell whether consumer demand will, once again, change the average ceiling height. But, right now, it appears that contractors, architects, and buyers have found a happy medium of 9 feet.
What is considered low ceiling height?
In residential places, even in low-cost housing, anything below 8 feet is considered low.
The International Building Code (IBC) suggests that ceilings be at least 80 inches (about 200 centimeters) high.
There are a variety of reasons for this, including:
Rooms with higher ceilings can provide better ventilation and cooling systems than rooms with lower ceilings. This is because hot air rises, so as a room gets heated, the heat rises to the ceiling. So rather than being in the midst of the heat, people are below it and can feel more comfortable.
It’s just a lot safer and easier to move things around, like furniture and equipment, when you have higher ceilings. Also, certain buildings require higher ceilings because of their function/utility, e.g., workshops, factories, stadiums, auditoriums, supermarkets, and other public buildings.
More space means more air, which means better quality of life, at least for most people. Although some people do prefer low-ceiling homes, apartments with low ceilings give most people a “boxed” feeling, making them feel cramped and confined. Sociologically speaking, many low ceilings have originated from building low-cost structures.
Since this setup isn’t ideal for most people, ceiling height standards have been implemented.
Average Ceiling Heights
Flat ceiling height
For flat ceilings, homeowners should aim for a minimum of 9 feet, which is probably the most common height for this type of ceiling.
This height is ideal because you get to enjoy a decent ceiling height without losing too much heat.
Because heat rises, it isn’t uncommon for the temperature to be 75°F at 8 feet and 70°F at 2 feet.
Coffered ceiling height
Due to its construction, you should only build coffered ceilings in rooms with high ceilings. 9 feet is just about the minimum height possible, although we recommend 10 feet or more.
You can expect most coffered ceilings to be around 9 or 10 feet in height.
Vaulted ceiling height
Vaulted ceilings can be quite high, ranging from 12 to 25 feet at their highest point.
Bear in mind that there are five types of vaulted ceilings, so the kind you have or build in your home may factor into the ceiling’s height.
Tray ceiling height
This type of ceiling is generally required to be at least 8 feet high.
You’ll probably find that, in the majority of cases, the perimeter of the ceiling is 9 feet high, while the central section is about a foot higher.
Minimum ceiling height for non-habitable spaces
Non-habitable spaces, including some basements, have a minimum ceiling height of 6 feet 8 inches.
On the other hand, Habitable spaces must have a minimum height of 7 feet.
Minimum ceiling height for kitchen
The International Residential Code (IRC) requires a minimum height of 7 feet for kitchens and bathrooms, storage areas, and laundry areas.
Standard Ceiling Height FAQ
Answer the following questions in one to two sentences
Are 8 ft ceilings too low?
For most people, yes. 8-foot ceilings are considered too low.
Even in low-income residential areas, the code requirement for habitable rooms is 8.51 feet, so 8 feet just doesn’t cut it.
What is the best ceiling height for a house?
The ceiling height for your house should depend on factors such as budget, ceiling type, and style preferences.
But, to put it simply, 9 feet or 10 feet is considered standard today, especially for flat ceilings, tray ceilings, and coffered ceilings.
Are high ceilings more expensive to build?
Yes, high ceilings generally mean higher construction costs.
That’s because the building process for high ceilings requires more materials, such as primer and paint.
It also involves a multi-step process that includes installing/adjusting the roof framing, applying drywall and insulation, and, in many cases, modifying plumbing, electrical wiring, and HVAC systems.
What is the minimum ceiling height for Habitable Spaces?
According to the IRC, habitable spaces need a minimum ceiling height of 7 feet.