High ceilings are sought-after items on numerous real estate wish lists, prized for their ability to add a touch of elegance to any residence or place of business.

They can also make the rooms beneath them devilishly difficult to heat. That’s because as we all learned in grammar school, hot air always rises to the top. In colonial times, settlers intentionally built low-ceilinged rooms to keep the heat from rising too far above their families during the colder seasons. While additional footage overhead appeals to modern tastes, it also results in temperature imbalances that lead to human and pet discomfort as the colder air below literally sucks the heat right out of their bodies.

Inadequate insulation in many such spaces only adds to the problem, particularly when their construction features drywall screwed directly into the roofing joists with no crawl space left in between. To make matters that much worse, many lofty areas feature skylights or windows high on the wall from which heat can all too readily escape.

If your place of business or residence suffers from problems in heating high-ceilinged areas, take heart. There are a few solutions. You can always try:

  • Cranking up the furnace fan. Some people might feel the answer to a cold, high-ceilinged room involves turning up the heat when the real solution might lie in running the furnace fan by itself. The resulting improvement in air circulation can assist in moving that desirable warmer air away from the ceiling and back down to where the people are.
  • Blocking the upper registers. The rooms in most modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning installations, will possess return air vents in both high and low wall locations. In the winter months, it makes sense to block the higher returns to prevent the warm air from escaping. In the summer, on the other hand, your air-conditioned spaces will stay cooler if you do just the opposite and block the lower vents instead.
  • Installing a ceiling fan. By operating this device on slow speed and in reverse, you’ll create an updraft that forces the hot air up to the ceiling, down against the walls and back into the room. This alone can lead to a significant improvement in air circulation with no need to bump up the thermostat, and the use of a remote makes these fans easy to operate in cavernous spaces regardless of how high you mount them.

Sending the Heat Where You Need It

By design, the forced-air heating systems found in many mid-to-late 20th century homes and commercial buildings run in cycles. They blow hot air only intermittently and have a special talent for leaving some areas warmer than others. When people move through the less-heated sections, the cooler air will pull the heat right out of their bodies.

There is a more up-to-date solution: radiant floor heating. Instead of blowing hot air into a space in an on-again, off-again fashion, these systems deliver heat constantly and evenly from underneath the floorboards. Unlike older heating methods, the radiant variety warms the objects in a room as well as its occupants. Once the hard and soft surfaces have reached a comfortable temperature, they will no longer steal body heat from the people who sit on or touch them. Walking barefoot through a room in comfort will now be possible.

Radiant Flooring Heating Specifics

Quiet, efficient and non-allergenic, radiant floor heating is also extremely cost-effective and appealing to everyone who installs it. Before you decide to go this route, however, you’ll need to decide on which configuration is right for you and your space. You have two basic types from which to choose: electric and hydronic.

Electric radiant heating relies on looped resistance wire to carry the heat electronically under the flooring. This type lends itself well to single-room retrofits. Hydronic radiant heating, on the other hand, works by circulating warm water from boiler or hot-water heater through polyethylene tubing. It adapts well to most types of finish flooring. With either type of radiant floor heating, there is just one caveat: If you lay a carpet, you’re sure to cramp its style. The rug or broadloom that cushions the room will act as insulation, trapping the heat inside the floor and thwarting it in its best attempts at reaching the airspace above.

Radiant floor heating systems might be somewhat costlier upfront, but once they become operational, they can cut your energy costs by as much as 30 percent. For heating those troublesome high-ceilinged spaces, there may be no better solution.