Should Jen keep the beams in her beamed ceiling?

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. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. Blankmaxine says:

    There are actually some really great fan options out there, and keeping the fans in your climate may be a good thing. I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching for my own house. Try lumens.com. Also Hunter Fans website, and believe it or not, Lowe’s and Home Depot *online* have some great ones too. Good luck!

  4. Amy says:

    I dream of having a home like this one day.

    I can’t proffer technical advice, but the tongue and groove ceiling and beams really “make” the house. Please consider some of the options folks have offered up that wouldn’t mess with the beautiful ceiling.

  5. jkaye says:

    Here is a response from my architecture-trained husband: Wow, what a cool house! In my opinion, the style must remain as is, which means no dropped ceiling, no faux beams. You are not going to fool anybody, they will look like faux beams. Go up on the roof, take it off, do whatever you have to do to get a vapor barrier, insulation and ventilation up on the roof.

    I know this might be more money (although with all that faux beam stuff it might not be, depends on the contractor) but you’ll maintain the style and charm of the house, which is what makes it so cool. No one will go Wow! when they see a dropped ceiling and faux beams.

    Also, as stated earlier, there are three items you need to be concerned with when you insulate — insulation, vapor barrier, and ventilation (and well, of course, a fourth thing, the waterproof roofing barrier above those three). Consult with a local contractor on how to achieve this. It probably will be done quite differently than where we live in Kentucky.

    Yes, houses like this one are wonderful, but, this insulation issue gives a reason why most houses aren’t built like this, but are built with a hardboard level ceiling and an attic. Not as cool to look, but more functional.

  6. Gretchen S. says:

    Please don’t take the MCM out of your MCM home. Keep the beams. Ditch the fans (at least the ones on the beams – maybe you can relocate them).

    We have a very low angled roof line as well — you have to G.I.-Joe-it through the highest pitched part. We chose GreenFiber insulation http://www.greenfiber.com/

    Someone painted our beams white (they were originally walnut veneer). We painted them black for contrast but wish they’d been left alone. http://www.flickr.com/photos/24047957@N06/4806370938/in/set-72157621516784206/

    If you can see the beams and they extend to the exterior, it’s nice to have them the same color inside and out for continuity.

    1. Jen says:

      If we do end up leaving the beams as is, I would like to paint them a darker color for the contrast – I was thinking brown. Your black ones look great, along with the rest of your room! Beautiful…

  7. Jeff says:

    I have a similar issue with my house – great beamed ceilings with practically no insulation.

    Another woman in Phoenix who has the exact same house as I do put an additional layer of paneling between the beams and I’m guessing she installed some insulation and wiring at the same time. The nice thing is she stained the panels and it really makes the beams pop from the ceiling and gives a very rich look to the rooms. This might prove to be more cost efficient than insulating the entire roof.

    Take a look at her pictures on Flickr.


    1. Ted Cleary says:

      I looked at those pics….nice job all throughout the house — not just the ceilings but the whole interior design, and some cool stuff going on outside too!

      That looks like a pretty acceptable solution — I’m guessing she must’ve used the 2″-thick closed-cell-foam pink insulation board from Home Depot (a bit pricey: about $27 per 4′ x 8′ sheet), between the beams and under that grooved panelling. Then the inside edges are retained with a barely-noticeable narrow molding, like quarter-round or something. (They no doubt also used constr. adhesive & small nails up against the ceiling too b/c of those wide spans.) It’s clearly a post & beam house, based on the spacing of those beams…..so the beams, which I assume are 10″ deep, can handle stuff between them and still look substantial, with at least 6″-7″ still exposed.

      In Jen’s case, with her stick-built house, I’m not sure that’d come off as well since those look like 2x6s (actual size 5-1/2″), so by the time you add the insul board & thin panelling, you’ve got maybe just 3″ or so showing. Anyway, at the end of the day it’s all up to what they themselves decide is best.

      I’m envious of you folks in Phoenix w/ all those Ralph Haver designs and so much other cool MCM stuff!

      1. Jen says:

        Ted, exactly. The beams aren’t huge, and if we took up too much of the in between space, we’d be left with dinky looking beams.

  8. Karl T. says:

    My short answer is to keep the roof original. If you want to insulate and keep the roof then replace it completely, rather than try to adapt to original roof inside or out to be something it was never in the first place.

    But why do you need to insulate? To keep warm, cold or both?

    What comes to mind if you adapt to roof for insulation is lack of air flow, trapped moisture with dry rot to follow in the “new insulated roof.

    Like a house that uses radiant heating and cooling in the floor with high ceilings the goal is to keep the air within 6 to 8 feet of the floor comfortable. Hot air rises, cool sinks. You appear to have concrete tile floors and solid brick features that offer thermal mass for cooling and heating. Use them to your advantage, if possible. Also, if those above the front door / wall windows don’t open convert them so that you can take advantage of convection cooling and air flow.

    The Discovery Channel’s Planet Green Channel show “Renovation Nation with Steve Thomas” show’s web site notes as follows:

    “Be Smart Where You Put Your Money and Energy.

    John’s graph from the Florida Solar Energy Center says it all. When the weatherization contractors come to get you to insulate your house, (the most expensive thing you can do to save energy) you can show them that this makes no sense, only 7% of the cooling load is coming through the walls. A couple of hours with a caulking gun to reduce infiltration would do more.

    When they tell you that you need to install expensive new low-e tinted windows, remember that an awning or a shutter is more sophisticated and flexible; you have the choice whether to let the sun in or not.

    Tape up your ducts, turn off your computers and save your money. The simple, low-tech tried and true methods cost less, save more energy and work forever.”

    Link : http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/10-ways-to-keep-cool-without-air-conditioning-a-planet-green-roundup.html

    My 1951 wood framed half set into the hillside house in the San Francisco Bay Area is uninsulated and we freeze in the dead of winter and cook on a summer afternoon. It has a nominal 5 to 7feet below grade basement for one half the perimeter of the homes foot print and a concrete floor that keeps an uninsulated space the same size as the living space upstairs the same cool but comfortable temperature year round.


    Karl T.

  9. midmodms says:

    I love your house! The thought of losing the beams, or any of the height in the ceiling, is very sad. And I love them painted white. If you need a new roof anyway, I would try to add rigid insulation under a new roof. It’s what I’m planning to do when I have the cash.

    Thanks, Kristin, for the info about this.

  10. Lynn-O-Matic says:

    Jen, what a great house!

    I would certainly investigate insulating the roof from the outside myself. But whether you are able to preserve the original ceiling or just reproduce it with a drop ceiling, I would vote for staining the beams a darker color than the rest of the ceiling. If you preserve the ceiling I would consider stripping the beams and staining them. If you are looking for a less-expensive way to finish a drop ceiling then stained or painted beadboard between the new beams might recreate the look you have. The reveal will be narrower but I think it would work and I’m pretty sure it would be cheaper.

    You say you don’t use the fans and probably already know this, but they can make your house much more energy-efficient. In summer they can make the house feel cooler and require less AC, and in winter if you reverse them they’ll recirculate the warm air down from the ceiling and keep you warmer. Google mid-century ceiling fan and I’ll bet you can find some amazing-looking ones that will be as attractive as pendants.

    We have a somewhat elaborate but worthwhile system of free or cheap things to keep our house cooler/warmer. In the summer we have bamboo shades hung on the outside of the windows on the south and west sides of the house. Preventing the hot sun from ever hitting the house is much more energy-efficient than simply blocking it from the inside with blinds or drapes. You can also use that cling film if you don’t want shades, or add awnings, although your house has pretty wide overhangs. We have also planted deciduous trees and shrubs, and I’m planning a lattice with deciduous vines. We open all the windows at night or when it’s cool and close them as soon as it starts to heat up. In winter we reverse this, opening drapes on the sunny side of the house to let the sun warm us up.

    I’d be feeling very sunny if I had a house as cool as yours!

    1. Lynn-O-Matic says:

      Also, I don’t if they would work in your climate, but whole-house fans, attic vent fans, and operable skylights and roof windows are other ways to get the hot air out in summer.

Comments are closed.