Jen’s *new* mid mod home in Florida has a beamed ceiling… she needs to add insulation… and writes in for advice: Does she need to keep the beams?

Jen writes:

Hi Pam,

I just recently found your blog and love it already! You’ve got tons of great info, and I’m desperately hoping that you and/or your readers can help me out with some advice. A few months ago my partner and I purchased a unique, mid-century home in St. Petersburg, FL. It has tons of great features and even more potential, but we’re having difficulty making design decisions. And so far, we haven’t been able to find anyone with an MCM mindset locally (designer, contractor, etc) to help.

Our immediate issue is in our living room, where we have exposed beams on a high angled/sloped ceiling. There is currently no insulation up there, and it is desperately needed, but I hate the thought of losing the look of the exposed beams. Our current plan is to insulate and drywall the ceiling flat, then add faux beams. We also plan to replace 2 ceiling fans with MCM style pendants and remove or replace existing track lighting, possibly adding recessed lighting instead. If we do faux beams, we need to determine how many and what size. If we do less than the exact size and number of beams that we currently have we can save some money, and it would still have the same effect, but they won’t match up with the exposed beam ends visible on the exterior of the house. Is this a big no-no? It wouldn’t be too obvious since there isn’t a contiguous view of the beams inside to out, but there are 3 high windows that could allow the interior beams to be seen from the exterior of the house. Oh gosh, does any of this make sense??

Please let me know what you think. We’re at our wit’s end, paralyzed by indecision! 🙂 I’m happy to provide more pics and more info – anything needed. Thanks! jen

Thanks, Jen for your nice comments about the blog, and for sending in your question. I’ll open it up to readers… But this time, I’ll start with my thoughts:

  1. Great house!
  2. Insulate the ceiling for sure — you must do what you must do, especially when it comes to saving energy.
  3. If you want, I think you can get away without recreating the beams altogether — by painting the ceiling and the back part of the wall that is still white. You seem to have that dusty blue going on below – put that on the ceiling and sort of “L” it to the back wall. Leave the white space on the sides (between the beige of the wall and the blue of the ceiling) and around the front windows alone. It think the whole scheme might be quite dynamic… sort of Mondrian, but not too too, because a sky is blue, too. Keep picking up that orange, too, throughout your decor.
  4. I don’t have a big problem with the ceiling fans — they are appropriate for your climate. Maybe get them in an antiqued brass base with wood blades, though… to add additional texture to the ceiling if you dispense with the beams.
  5. That ledge below the high front windows is perfect for a lighting solution. Is there some kind of uplighting there? For sure should be – would be fabulous!
  6. With a room that large — and a ceiling so high — I am not sure how good cans are going to do you … Those spots – they’re for the entry way, I get that, I think. Gosh, this whole issue of lighting is a big deal. I don’t have cans in my 45 x 15 living room/dining room — I have all task lighting — lamps. I prefer that for living areas. There are cans in my kitchen, though, because you don’t put lamps there.
  7. Paralyzed by indecision: We’ve all been there! Trust your gut. Good luck, the house is happy you found it.

Readers, what do you think Jen and her partner should do? Beams? No beams? ….  ?

  1. Marta says:

    I love the look of this ceiling, but, having lived in FL, can appreciate how many MCM accessories you’d be able to afford if your energy consumption dropped.

    With those deep beams, why couldn’t you install rigid foam insulation against the ceiling between the beams, then follow with faux-plank ceiling tile between the beams against the insulation?

    Yes, it would be a pain to cut the tile so the pattern runs perpendicular to the beams, but that would keep the plank look we’re all admiring. The tile would add to the R-value somewhat, and even using 2″ foam, you’d have a good six inches of beam left exposed. Also, the combined weight of foam and tile would be negligible, eliminating any structural concerns adding a second layer of drywall might bring up. You’d want to caulk all joints between foam and beam (and walls).

    I’d definitely keep some kind of ceiling fans. With higher ceilings, I think you need to move the air around. I’d also add warm-white neon rope lighting around the room’s perimeter or maybe on top of the ledges. Not MCM authentic, but you can hide it behind trim. It costs next to nothing to run, but adds a ton of light. Put it on a dimmer for infinite control. Then, you can have fun picking out great vintage lamps for just the right ‘look’ without worrying how much actual light they put out. I freely admit to hating halogen lighting; they put out way to much heat.

    Great house. I love that grey rug.

  2. Peter Mattei says:

    Easy. 1. Keep the interior. 2. Strip the flat roof, seal exposed field, construct cross-supports and apply rigid structural insulation. 3. Apply top ply sheathing and top with seamless membrane. 4. Reflash and seal perimeter. This should add 6″ max to the roof. Consult a structural engineer; however, your beams should carry the load nicely. In your climate, you might have to apply H-T’s and bring that portion of the roof up to code (tying the roof-proper to the bearing walls with Hurricane Ties).

  3. Peter Mattei says:

    Oh, I forgot: The best membrane for your application is relatively new; however, a competent roofer should know about it (if not, find another roofer). The material is from Grace Industries and is called Tri-Flex. It will outlast all forms of felt and bitumen by leagues.

    Actually, with the roof built-up this way you should consider installing recessed & minimally-invasive LED downlights.

  4. Taia says:

    Hi Jen,
    I say keep the ceilings! I’m looking for a home in the area and I hope I can find one as nice as this! Since you have so much glass, did you give any thought to having tint put on the windows? My mom has that, it lets in plenty of light, and her bill went down quite a bit after she had it done. Also, I would insulate the heck out of the rest of the house to try to offset the a/c loss. Good luck with your amazing house…I’m sure you can work something out!

  5. Genjenn says:

    Do you know what I’d give for a house with a post-and-beam ceiling and clear story windows??!!! My husband and I dream about a house like yours.

    I suggest looking into solar energy before you make any big descsions. It’s much more economically feasible than it used to be. There are lots of rebates and tax incentives available now for green updates. Plus, you sell the energy you don’t use back to the power company.

  6. Chad says:

    If you need to redo the roof, look into structural insulated panels. These are a rigid foam insulation with a layer of chip board on each side. They would make the entire roof structure thicker, but would leave the underside of the roof unchanged. And they’re really well insulated.

  7. Bernie says:

    Keep the beamed ceiling! As Chad indicates above, you can insulate the roof from the outside to prevent solar heat gain inside the living room, as well as the other insulated ceilings in the home. I have a similar vaulted beamed ceiling in my own living room, and when the existing roof shingles need replacement, I plan to insulate the whole exterior of the roof. Insulating the heck out of the rest of your home will not reduce the heat gain in the living room or offset the a/c loss. Tinted windows will not help in this istuation. I have tinted impact resistant windows, but the reduction in solar heat gain is minimal. All the heat is coming through the vaulted ceiling in the living room.

  8. Emily B says:

    Yes, keep the beams! I don’t know the details, but have also heard of roofing materials/techniques that can help with your energy costs – spend the money there, not on recreating the beams. Also, I wonder if there is an original Terrazzo floor under your tile?

  9. Vintage Tikitacky says:

    I am in the slow process of restoring my own 1955 Post and Beam. I too have the roof and ceilings to do.

    Several years of researching the subject has provided the following information gathered from contractor sites discussing mid-century homes that wish to retain their original cathedral ceilings:
    1) You can add a layer of insulation beneath a new roof. Raising your roof’s overall profile 6″-10″ depending on whether you just insulate between the decking alone or also add a sheet metal layer (for those of you in cold climates).
    2) and/or you can retain the interior wood look by using tongue and groove SIP lumber over the existing ceiling wood on the inside. This will result in lowering your ceiling a couple of inches between the beams but it is a small aesthetic price to pay. And indeed wouldn’t be at all discernible to those that aren’t intimately acquainted with post and beam ceilings.

    I have read that this second method has been used to insulate “architecturally significant” mid-century homes in order to retain the original profile but still provide insulation.

    (Once I went off to research this, I began noticing those restored houses where the beams do not appear to drop down quite as far as expected.)

    Lastly: Windows. I am sure we are all happy to know that many window companies now have aluminum framed windows in their product offerings. That is a huge help with heating and air in these MCM houses built with zero energy efficiency in mind. I freely admit that my own house while a mid-century modern, is NOT top-of-the-line by any stretch of the imagination. Inexpensive materials and quick construction mean gaps and less than stellar craftsmanship.

    These aluminum frame mid-century-appropriate insulated windows are especially good news for those of us who want our perfect little nests but need to replace windows that had those vinyl monstrosities inflicted on them in the past, or maybe have single, fixed pane clerestory windows just below those un-insulated PnB ceilings that blast sun in, exacerbating the need for round-the-clock air conditioning in the summer. In my case I also have a 1962 addition with two walls of unrelieved glass facing the heat of the sun. And they’re fixed-pane. They too will have to be replaced.

    Even though it will be an enormous expense to do my ceilings (and selected windows), I can’t imagine it will take more than a few years to pay for itself in far lower bills.

    (PS: Thanks for the link to the tiles, Pam. I kicked my computer in the forced restart and all was well.)

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