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Difference Between Vaulted and Cathedral Ceiling (Images)

Vaulted ceilings are high ceilings, typically 13’. They vary in shape and design, don’t always follow the roof’s slope, and aren’t always symmetrical. Cathedral ceilings are a kind of vaulted ceiling with a specific design. They’re also typically 13’, but they’re symmetrical and follow the roof’s slope.

Difference Between Vaulted and Cathedral Ceilings: Overview

Cathedral and vaulted ceilings are both highly loved components of a home. Both ceiling types are successful in elevating a room by creating an abundance of height that makes the room appear to go on forever. Cathedral and vaulted ceilings do this by creating vertical space in a room as the ceiling is much higher than normal.

While both these ceilings are known for being extremely high, they are somewhat different. Where a cathedral ceiling is a type of vaulted ceiling, it tends to be symmetrical and follows the natural sloping of the ceiling. Vaulted ceilings are not designed with the same slope of the room, and are not always symmetrical.

What is a Vaulted Ceiling?


Vaulted ceilings make a room appear larger due to their ability to draw the eye upwards. These ceilings can come in a variety of different shapes and you are sure to find one that suits your style and home.

For instance, a vaulted ceiling can be barrel-styled or arched. This is where there is a curved, self-supporting structure.

You can also get a domed vaulted ceiling, which is similar to arched ceilings, where the ceiling narrows as it reaches a center point, forming a dome shape.

Additionally, you can get groin vaulted ceilings created by two barrel vaults meeting at a right angle.

Illustrations of Vaulted Ceilings: Barrel-styled vaulted ceiling, domed vaulted ceiling and groin vaulted ceiling

Some vaulted ceilings can also be asymmetrical where one side might slope towards another. You are really spoilt for choice when it comes to these ceilings.

These ceilings do not necessarily follow the shape of your roof, so may not really notice the vaulted ceiling from the outside.

Minimum Height

While there are opportunities to go as high as your structure will allow, the minimum height that a vaulted ceiling has is at least 9 ft, according to building professionals.

However, a lot of professionals aim to keep the ceiling at a height of around 13 ft to get the fullest effect possible.

If you want to get the most aesthetic impact out of your ceiling, the higher you go the further your eye has to travel and the more elevated the space appears.

Design Purpose and Difficulty

While we know that vaulted ceilings come in a variety of styles and shapes, allowing homeowners to create a sophisticated vision piece in their home, they are not the easiest things to add to a home.

You will need to consult a structural engineer before you even attempt to make vaulted ceilings, as extensive structural research and work have to be done to support the vaulted style. You will also have substantially more painting to do as you need to cover higher walls and a larger surface area of the ceiling.

This can be a long and expensive process as this job cannot be done by your average DIY-er.

When building a new home or adding on to an existing home, then it may be slightly easier to incorporate a vaulted ceiling as you will essentially be starting from scratch and won’t necessarily have to consider existing infrastructure as you would in a renovation.

These types of ceilings definitely pack a powerful visual punch, but you will have to put in the time and money to get it executed.

Where Are They Most Commonly Found/Used?

While vaulted ceilings originated back in Roman times, their popularity has definitely not ceased to exist. Vaulted ceilings are found all over the world as more and more architects incorporate them into residential and commercial properties.

As vaulted ceilings are an architectural design element, you will probably come across many throughout your life. You may find them in outdoor hallways to create a visual masterpiece as you walk along a garden.

You will most commonly find vaulted ceilings in rooms that would benefit the most from the appearance of them. In residential homes, vaulted ceilings can often be found in grand hallways or living rooms, where guests can enjoy the never-ending height.

It is also common to find vaulted ceilings in universities or other public domains, like libraries, where dome and arched vaulted ceilings are used in foyers or lobbies. Large open spaces—think about Grand Central Station—can be made to feel even more extravagant with the addition of a vaulted ceiling.

What is a Cathedral Ceiling?


While a cathedral ceiling can be just as high or even higher than a vaulted ceiling, these ceilings are created differently. The slopes of a cathedral ceiling follow the slope of the roof itself and are symmetrical, meeting at a common point in the ceiling.

Living Room with Cathedral Ceiling

All cathedral ceilings follow this uniform design and shape, so a lot of spaces with these ceilings will appear to have the same design and structure, although the height and additional features may make each space unique.

Minimum Height

Cathedral ceilings often pack a powerful impact due to their considerable height. Most experts say that a cathedral ceiling has to be at least 13 ft off the ground. With most ceilings reaching around 8 ft, a cathedral ceiling is definitely impactful.

Design Purpose and Difficulty

The design of a cathedral ceiling not only allows for the eye to travel upward, but the symmetrical nature allows for the furniture in a home to be aligned. Often, exposed beams are added to the ceiling to further accentuate this.

Cathedral ceilings are not much easier to add to your home than vaulted ceilings as you will still need to consult a structural engineer. However, they do tend to take less time and effort to construct.

Once again, they will only be more affordable projects when part of a building process, such as an addition or construction of a new house.

Adding one to an existing space won’t be cheap; you can expect to pay around $25,000 to get the job done.

You will have to hire qualified professionals for the entire design and installation process to ensure that the project is up to code.

Where Are They Most Commonly Found/Used?

Like the name suggests, these ceilings are often found in religion domains and cathedrals as the style was popularly used hundreds of years ago. You might have seen these ceilings in the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to find these ceilings in residential properties as designers and architects are adding them as pronounced features to any space. Living and dining rooms, as well as hallways are where cathedral ceilings would be the most impactful.

Table of Differences Between Vaulted and Cathedral Ceilings

Vaulted CeilingsCathedral Ceilings
You get a variety of different design options to make your space truly unique.The uniform symmetrical slope design makes variability limited.
You can expect to pay about $21,000 for a vaulted ceiling in a new renovation/additionYou can expect to pay $25,000 to install a cathedral ceiling
You don’t need to follow the slope of the roof as the ceiling is installed under itThe ceiling is installed according to the slope of the roof.
You will need a structural engineer for the difficult and time-consuming projectThe project is easier and takes less time.

Is One Better Than The Other?

When building a new home or adding an addition to the space, then both options may be possible. Deciding on whether to have a vaulted or cathedral ceiling may come down to personal taste, budget, and feasibility.

If you prefer the traditional symmetrical style that brings comfort and calm to a home, then a cathedral ceiling may be for you. However, vaulted ceilings leave a lot to the designer’s imagination as the possibilities to create new styles and designs are tenfold.

Neither will be cheap to install, but cathedral ceilings are a lot easier, so you may not have to pay as many labor or consultation hours with an engineer or contractor.

When it comes to things like ceiling fans, there is also no difference. You can install a ceiling fan on a vaulted or cathedral ceiling, but the effectiveness will depend on several factors, including the height of the ceiling, the length of the downrod, the power of the ceiling fan, and its rotational direction.

Both ceilings are also vulnerable to air stagnation, which can be eliminated by introducing systems to provide air circulation.


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