Are High Ceilings a Waste of Money?

Living in a House With High Ceilings

Livingroom with high ceilingPersonally I enjoy living in a house with high ceilings. They add a sense of spaciousness, at the same time allowing a greater amount of air to circulate around the room. Although of course this means nothing unless there is adequate thermal insulation between the roof and the ceiling to prevent the sun’s heat from making the room unreasonably hot. If you don’t want ceilings, you can leave your beams exposed, in that way creating the impression of added space. But of course you will still have to pay attention to the need for insulation which, in this case, should be installed directly beneath the roof. This now falls under the SANS 10400XA compliance which has to do with regulating the “Energy Usage in buildings for roofing”. SAFINTRA have put out a leaflet with some guidance and can be downloaded from our downloads page here. Look for “TN No1 Compliance with SANS10400XA”


The Building Regulations and their Effect on Ceilings

Essentially ceilings are a finish, and so there is not much about them in the regulations. In fact the only real concern relating to ceilings in the building regulations is their minimum height. This is primarily to ensure that the minimum living conditions for any person in South Africa are, to a degree, safeguarded. It also has something to do with safety, particularly in terms of head room above stairways and open mezzanine floors.

Since the primary factor relating to ceilings is dimensions, there is really not very much that the SABS deemed to satisfy comment can add, other than to point out that these really are minimums!

So what are they?

In terms of Part C: Dimensions, the absolute minimum height for ceilings is 2,1 m. At the same time, under certain circumstances this is not acceptable, and the minimum height is raised to 2,4 m. There is a table in this part of the regulations that shows quite clearly where you can use a 2,1 m-high ceiling and where the ceiling must be higher. For instance:

  • It is quite acceptable to have a minimum height ceiling in any passage or entrance hall, as well as in any area where a person would normally be in a standing position, like a bathroom, shower, loo or laundry area.
  • The minimum height is also acceptable above and below open mezzanine floors, although another rule comes into play here – the mezzanine floor in this case should not have an area that is any more than 25% of the area of floor right below it.
  • A higher ceiling is needed in most habitable rooms and areas of the house, but there are additional issues that come into play…

In a bedroom, the 2,4 m minimum height rule is set for a floor space of at least 6 m². There should also be a clear height of at least 1,8 m at any particular point that is more than 0,75 m from the edge of the floor space.

In any other room of the house 2,4 m is mandatory over at least 70% of the floor area. The height of the other 30% of floor space can be the minimum 2,1 m.

Irrespective, all these requirements translate quite simply to a basic requirement that wherever any structural part of the house is below the level of the ceiling, this should be at least 2,1 m from the ground level of the house. Similarly, when there is no ceiling, the distance between the under-side of the roof and the floor should also be a minimum of 2,1 m.

Not surprisingly, in Part M: Stairways, there is a requirement that the headroom at any point of a stairway should be at least 2,1 m. Additionally, this should  be measured vertically from the pitch line (the slope of the ceiling from high to low, or vice versa).

The Effect of Ceilings on the Building Budget

The type of ceiling you are going to install will determine the cost of your ceiling. Generally a regular gypsum board ceiling which is then skimmed and painted, will be about the cheapest option you can choose. Tongue-in-groove board (usually knotty pine) is another popular option, though it is likely to cost you a bit more. Paint and sealing finishes will affect the final price tag of both.

But the real issue when assessing whether the height of your ceilings will affect your budget, really depends on the number of walls involved … as well as the cost of bricks, mortar, plaster, paint and so on, plus the labour involved. This translates directly to cost per square metre.

So if you are pondering the question, “Are high ceiling a waste of money?”, you’re going to have to take all these issues into account.

My feeling is that unless you build a ludicrously high ceiling, it’s going to be a situation of swings and roundabouts. So take all issues into account before you make a final decision.


About Penny

Penny Swift is a highly regarded journalist and author of books relating to homes and construction.

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  1. Issues have been raised at the local councils here in Cape Town when it was determined that the minimum height required above any opening (door / window / arch) must be 400mm. Thus making the minimum ceiling height 2.5m AFFL (2.1m + 0.4m). The councils now require a 2.5m ceiling height because according to them it was a conflicting regulation within the SANS-10400 which must be corrected.

  2. Basil, Thank you for your comment. The NBR gives minimum dimensions not only for height but also for the area of rooms – and they really are minimal. Ultimately the local authority has the last say! But if their requirements are based on the height above an opening door, and you were to fit a frame that is 1,981 m high (the smallest standard steel frame), this would result in a minimum ceiling height of just less than 2,4 m (2,381 m). Similarly a 2,032 frame would result in a minimum height of 2,432 (which is in accordance with the regs). Standard wooden doors are 2,032 high – plus the frame = about 2,1 m. But I have lived in houses where, when fitting a new door, we have had to cut off a few mm from the bottom. This was probably due to the floor being screeded after the frame was fitted.

  3. edward campbell

    I am planning to build a residential home on my vacant stand. I would like the ceiling height to be 3.3 meters. Would this be accepted by the authorities here in South Africa?

  4. Absolutely, provided the walls are built to support the height. The Building Regulations give minimum dimensions.

  5. Penny’s comment more favorable- However- Please note- the standards for years of 2.100m door heights- were there for a reason- and so the ceiling heights- your most important brickwork on your house,are the foundations and this part above the windows and doors- This is the brickwork that contain the roof-wires- holding your trusses and roof in place in High wind loads- So- please do not try to save a few layers of bricks and see the effect of wind on your roof overhang- with 4 layers of bricks to hold the roof-wires-to lower your ceiling- is really absurd- This part of your brickwork-is where your house crack in corners, if not properly reinforced as well..A 2.4m ceiling height is ridiculous-and so glad I am not the man specifying that minimum warned..stick to past standards..

  6. Are there any rulings on ceiling finishes ie. Could I use tiles in a doorway or under support beams?

  7. No there aren’t.

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