Updated: Jul 9, 2019
You don't need more space... you need more light!!!
Vaulted ceilings and skylights are like medicine for the soul.
For years we debated putting a second story on our small house. And when I say we, I mean me. I would draw plans over and over and over again. When we bought our home it was all of 960 square feet and we had one young child and another on the way! I had always thought that we would either build up or move on. We did a small mudroom addition at one time, bringing us up to a whopping 1020 s.f. Eventually though, one more child later (that makes 3!), we decided "moving on" made most sense and planned to make a move within 2 years.
I had put off ever re-doing our kitchen because I had always thought that if we did build up, the kitchen would likely change location in the house. Now that we had committed to moving, we decided to finally redo our kitchen in its current spot. We figured that not only would a new kitchen make the house easier to sell down the road, but in the meantime we could we enjoy the benefit of the improvements. Because we were no longer contemplating a second story, I considered vaulting the ceilings and adding skylights as a part of the renovation.
I decided to make this small space the best that it could be without adding square footage. And I wanted light and airy. We bit the bullet, raised the ceilings, added skylights and installed a new well-designed kitchen... and in the process we fell in love with our little house all over again!!!
Ours was a basic, small ranch built in the 50's. It was a cozy but dark space with 7-8 ft ceilings, (a 7 ft beam and shelf cut the room in half) and decorative dark wood beams ran front to back. Because we were on a lake, there was a wall of windows along the back wall to capture the views. However, since the windows faced north... we received very little natural light from them.
Although there was a lots to love about our little house, I HATED how dark it was. Some days, I would pull in our driveway and just not feel like going in. I resented how my eyes would have to adjust after walking inside. Whenever I would debate about putting a second story on our little home, I had also realized that a second story would never solve how dark the house felt. It would add square feet... but I CRAVED light.
After we ruled out the second story as an option, vaulting the ceilings and adding skylights became a viable option. I remember being unsure about the decision. Re-doing the kitchen was a no-brainer. The cabinets were old and falling apart and the layout was beyond frustrating. But, the added expense of raising the ceiling and adding skylights was debatable. What about the loss of attic space? Will they take away from the charm of the house? Won't it cost more to heat/cool? Would it really make a worthwhile difference? Read on for my answers:
What about the loss of attic space?
In the interest of full disclosure, when I vaulted our space the loss of attic was not an immediate concern for me since the space above was not yet used for storage (it had no attic flooring). That said... this was also before my life-changing shift to living with less stuff and we were in desperate need (so I thought) of more storage space. The attic space I did have was already bursting at the seams! It was filled with items that "I might want", "I might need", "I hope to fit again", as well as items "that belonged to someone I loved" and schoolwork and artwork through the ages "that will surely be interesting someday", blah, blah, blah. Had I decided to not raise the ceilings in favor of more attic storage I would have made a HUGE mistake. The fact is, there is nothing in that attic space you will enjoy more than the light your soul craves every day.
Will skylights take away from the charm of the house?
I have a friend who is a traditionalist snob. He painstakingly restored an antique home to its previous (plus some) glory and the result was beautiful. I remember he once said he would never have a skylight in his home, and this statement hung with me for years because I valued his taste and aesthetic. That said, time passed and I observed. I observed other people's skylights from the outside, inside, on home tours and in decorating magazines. As a real estate agent I have been able to view thousands of houses up close and see what works and what doesn't. The fact is, a thoughtfully located skylight (or two! or three!) is simply gorgeous!!! Installed properly, skylights not only looks attractive inside and out, but create an interior effect that cannot be matched by any other means. Forget antiquated attitudes ... some improvements just make life better and a skylight is one of them!
Won't it cost more to heat/cool?
Vaulting ceilings obviously adds volume to your interior space that you have to both heat and cool. That said, when you do the work you will have the opportunity to choose high performance insulation and quality skylights (we chose Velux and love them!). Additionally, skylights lets sunlight in during the cooler months for passive heat, and can be opened in the warmer months to let warm air escape. As a result, we saw no increase in our heating/ cooling costs.
Would it Really Make a Worthwhile Difference?
The fact is, the benefits literally transformed the space!!! I literally LOVE this space more than I ever thought I could. I've been through homes 3, 4 or 5x bigger than mine, and rarely have seen a room I would love 1/2 as much. You can only ever be in one room at a time, in any size house... wouldn't you always choose the lightest and airiest room in the house?Sunny days, gray days, or rainy days... I never need to turn a light. There is always so much light that the house practically glows. In the evenings, we even enjoy watching the moon overhead. The space that I used to resent walking into because it was so dark and cramped feeling was literally transformed to my favorites space to be. At this very moment I am typing as the sun steams over my fingertips, and I LOVE it!!!