Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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Building Higher Ceilings for a Greener Home

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A passive way to create a greener home has one simple step that many buyers do not consider: high ceilings.



Green has become such a buzzword that many home buyers are looking for green homes, but few builders may actually be thinking about making green homes. This is changing. Even if the builder is not focusing on being green, he probably has already begun to add green features to his homes. With the National Association of Home Builders’ green verification program, I feel that most builders will be heading further down this road. However, home buyers want those homes now, and we may not have the inventory to meet that need.

    On my inspections, I try to point out features that can be considered green, or how features can be given an easy green makeover. Creating seals to make a home tight from the elements has become standard in most newly built homes. Energystar appliances are commonplace too. Most homes now come with compact flourescent lights (CFLs) or halogens. Low flow water appliances are making their way into homes on a more frequent basis since the beginning of the WaterSense program has begun.  More expensive modifications, such as solar panels or a complete smart grid system in the home, are still not really being considered though.

    Home design plays a vital role in how green a home can be, and it is often forgotten when evaluating a home.Window placement for light and controlling heat is one concern. Materials being used is another, but when I mention ceiling height, I generally get a “what do you mean” stare. Basic scientific knowledge: heat rises. Keep it high enough, and summer heat will be out of the way. If you live in a cold climate, you will want low ceilings to avoid using the energy to heat a large space. If you live in a hot climate, like my home Houston, you will want high ceilings to move the heat away. Higher ceilings became a design trend in homes to create an open, greater space feeling, not for its green credential.

   
At this point the client will mention that the ceiling fan would defeat my idea.
With many ceiling fans being placed close to the ceiling, they have a point. The fan would push the heat back down. Ceiling fans do not need to be positioned so close to the ceiling. There are extension pipes which allow the ceiling fan to be adjusted down, away from the ceiling. Standard pipes are in multiples of a half foot, so six inches, one foot, etc. Optimal placement can be found by considering the height from the floor rather than the ceiling. You want it to be at a comfortable enough height to walk under. This would mean that the fan body should be at least eight feet above the floor. The more space above the fan that you have will help keep warm air above it. Another aspect to fans that many homeowners forget to employ is that you can run them in reverse. During colder months, this reverse direction will push warm air down.

    The higher the ceiling the better in a warm climate. Fourteen feet or more is great for this passive green design. When looking for a home, stop to think about how high the ceilings are in different rooms. You may live in a home like mine. Built in the sixties when air conditioning was king in this region, a home did not need to be concerned with energy efficiency. How can I benefit from this passive design? If you are home is two stories, you cannot do much for the first floor. A one story house like mine does have an option. Most attic space in a sense is dead space in that it is not being used for anything. The framing above your ceiling would not be weight bearing in most cases. I say most cases because there may be mechanical equipment above a room, such as the heating system or the water heater. The ceiling can be pushed up to the rafters of the roof. This would invovle removing the covering ( ie drywall), the joists (wood framing), re-routing plumbing and wiring features, and insulation. After the demolition has been done, you have to plan out new framing elements that might be needed, how the insulation will be installed, are air passages needed for under the roof system, re-installing wiring and plumbing elements, and installing the ceiling covering.

    If you are in a cold climate, you are able to create a lower ceiling with a drop down system. Most of us know these ceilings from offices, where acoustical tiles are the norm. I have seen acoustical tiles used in a house, but I think that they are not to everyone’s liking (alright to most people’s liking when in a home). Drop-down ceilings have evolved quite a bit, and I have seen them with products which imitate wood or the old tin ceilings. The framing hangs from wires attached to the joists. Tiles sit in the framing of the drop down system.

    Is rebuilding the ceiling feasible?  Drop down ceilings are within the abilities of most homeowners. Creating a higher ceiling general involves the use of a renovation contractor. Adding extensions to a ceiling fan is a task within the abillities of most people as well. It is easier when two people work on it though.

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© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States
713.781.6090

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