Building a house


I'm a layperson and am planning on hiring a contractor, and building a house within the next year. The house will be built in northern Ohio.

My one concern is with the heating of a house with all the tall ceilings. 9' - 13'. Considering a  2000 sq. ft. house with 8' ceilings, what would the difference in costs be, to heat the house with the higher ceilings? I plan on using foam insulation through out the house on the exterior walls. The duct work will be insulated with R8 after sealing and being pressure checked. Would you suggest using ceiling fans in the rooms with ceilings over 9'? Thank you.

Jul 11, 18 12:00 pm
Non Sequitur
  1. N.Ohio still gets cold as balls.  Spray Polyurethane is likely insufficient without exterior CI. 
  2. R8 ducts inside?  Why bother, just get a better FA system and distribution tree
  3. Ceiling fans are nice.  If you can remember to set them to winter mode during the cold months, then they help push whatever warm air that floats to the ceiling down... if any warm air is there to start with.  See point 1.
  4. Hire an architect.

Jul 11, 18 12:07 pm

A 2000 sq ft will need leverage room space in height as high as 12'-0; an ideal 13'-0 ceiling would recycle greater space in air circulation by heat and by cool air during seasonal changes. Stay with the budget for overhead costs within the cost break down analysis. If the temperature at extreme colder areas near the site, I would recommend average of 8 feet tall ceiling to keep heat in closed compartment- wherever warmer during winter!


Contractor's rule of thumb is that each additional foot above 8 feet adds 5% to heating costs, and 11% to cooling costs if you have AC.

That is a very rough estimate, subject to many variables, and could be off in either direction by a factor of 2.  Anything more accurate and specific to your project will a lot more information and analysis - for which you should hire a local professional.

Jul 11, 18 12:12 pm

Hire an architect to design you a Passivhaus or something energetically similar and you don't have to worry about heating, cooling or ducts, because that would be easily solved with renewable alternatives. And by God no foam insulation, there are plenty of sustainable, natural alternatives available out there...think about it for a sec!

Jul 11, 18 12:29 pm

What he said, but consider radiant floor. The taller spaces will naturally draw the heat up to the ceiling level so heating the floor may provide a better level of comfort, closer to your position within the taller room spaces.


@Non Sequitur. Please explain " Spray Polyurethane is likely insufficient without exterior CI." "FA system and distribution tree" "3" so I change rotation. Hire an architect. Give me the pros and cons?

@5839 thank you that helps a lot.

@ randomised What are the pros and cons of foam insulation? Can I get as many R's with another type of insulation?                             


Jul 11, 18 12:43 pm

Spray foam in the cavity is nice and all, but it doesn't deal with the problems of thermal bridging. 

 Consider at 2x6 framed wall. Open cell foam at R3.6/inch, with studs at 16" on center yields an overall R value of 15.39 (19.8 in the cavity). Closed Cell foam at R6.5/inch yields an overall R value of 20.41(35.75 in the cavity). 2" of rigid (R10-CI = Continuous insulation at exterior) + R13 batts in the cavity would yield an overall R value of 22.22. Huber makes an insulated sheathing product that at 2.5" + R13 in the cavity would yield and overall R value of 25. 

In general, insulation only in the cavity is a situation of diminishing returns. 

But, you can't just start insulating with whatever you want, wherever you want.  You have to consider the dew point within the wall.  

That's where the whole "hire an Architect" thing comes into play.  They will have a better idea of how to design for your locality than some anonymous forum poster. (that and we don't really like giving out free design work around here). 

I've been working in this industry for over a decade, and can still get caught up in debates about insulation and vapor barriers.  

Non Sequitur

Jrow, hire an architect. They will help you turn this POS suburban DIY nonsense into a worthy home.


There are no pros regarding foam, just use something environmentally friendly, is that too much to ask?


If your one question is about conventional HVAC costs when using 8' ceilings vs up to 13' ceilings, and you feel confident in providing your own floor plans and working with a HVAC company, skip hiring an architect (we're expensive) and have said HVAC company run manual J estimates on your plans.  Be prepared to talk about exterior elevation exposure to direct/indirect sunlight, eaves, R-value, U-value of windows, volume (cubic feet) of your spaces, etc.  so that the HVAC tech can input all the numbers for the manual J. 

If you get stuck and can't answer their questions, you've now realized one of many reasons why we charge what we charge.  Good luck!

Jul 11, 18 3:59 pm

One concern ... that's it?

Jul 11, 18 4:12 pm



use in floor hydronic heat 

Jul 11, 18 5:24 pm

warmboard is awesome to avoid gypcrete.


joseffischer: I used the "manual J heat load calculation" web site for my research into your thread. I also found on that web site. Manual D - Duct design, and Manual S - Equipment design. I have also read articles on "hard coat" and 'soft coat' Low - E windows. I'm trying to educate myself so I can understand the subjects that may come up in the construction of my forever home.

Thank you for your time it was appreciated. I now have some more heavy reading to do.

senjohnblutarsky : I read you insulation thread. I was unaware of the open cell and closed sell foam insulation. I will be Googling Huber to read about their insulated sheathing product.

Thank you for your time.

Jul 12, 18 9:59 am
Non Sequitur

You're going to make one lucky contractor very rich soon.


Don't just go buying every product someone says is good. If all you do is read about products, you're going to come away convinced that's what you need. Having some knowledge, in advance, is nice (but a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing). But, you should really hire someone who is familiar with the area and familiar with the requirements of the region. Vapor barriers are tricky. The Huber product puts a vapor barrier on the exterior. Closed cell foam is more of a vapor barrier than open cell. Most sheet building products (sheathing, GWB, weather resistive barriers) are vapor barriers, in some form or another.

If you do this wrong, you're asking to have condensation problems in your wall system. That leads to rot and mold. 


Non Sequitur "it does not follow" I would appreciate it if you answered my questions please.

Jul 12, 18 10:40 am
Non Sequitur

What question? You don't value architects enough to pay them for their expertise. Why would we give out advice for free? So, with that said, enjoy paying top-dollar for mediocre work from your GC. As you said earlier, you're a layman. Trust your investment into the hands of professionals (ie. architects) who will work in your best interest as opposed to a GC who care only about their wallets.


I resent that Non. I care about my wallet too!


Non Sequitur: see my first post and your response.

No place did I say that I would not hire an architect! No place did I say I didn't value architects enough to pay them! Your jumping to conclusions.

As any person jumping into a new endeavor that doesn't do his home work stands a good chance of getting burnt. Example: when I buy a new car I will go to three different dealers, including the internet to get the best buy. If they put their offer in writing then I will decide on the best offer.

Are there good architects and are there bad architects?

The education I get from this type of forum helps me decide what to do. I may interview three different architects before choosing one. BUT I need to ask him questions, from the information that I get from this type forum to help make that decision.

Do not be offended because I want to pick your brain. "N.Ohio still gets cold as balls" Very true.

Jul 12, 18 11:27 am
Non Sequitur

You asked for the pros and cons of hiring an architect. One pro is that we know the answers to all those pesky questions and can design the best and most cost-efficient building envelop without your budget... in addition to any other building design items (solar orientation, scale & shape, material pallet, etc). That's the obvious value most DIY ignore because, well, there's google. What is not so obvious is the construction and contract administration portion of the project which, if done by a competent architect, will save you boat loads of cash in unnecessary GC extras and keep the project from turning into a dumpster fire. 

 Architecture is not the same as picking a car from a dealer's lot.


That example was an indication that I would interview at least three architects prior to choosing one.

I'm very particular on how I spend my money.

It's not the pro's and con's of hiring an architect it's is he/she good or not good! Does he/she just want to take your money or do they want to do the job.

In order for me to make that decision I want as much information as I can get in order to filter the answers to the questions I would ask as true on not. The more information I have the more intelligent decision I can make

Non Sequitur

Juste take note that if you show up to an architect's office with the point of view of: "I want this house done with these materials in this way and my guy will do all the site stuff" you're likely not going to get a favorable response. Are you planning from building from stock plans?


I found a set of plans on the internet that my wife and I like. I think it's one of Gardeners. We sent to the plans company and got the cost of building the house in our area. With property its going to be about 500k. I what a cistern put in because my wife and I both like plants, and water would just cost us the price of running the pump. I would also have city water. We are going to try to get gas for heating but LPG if not able to get gas. Forced air furnace.

Non Sequitur

My honest 2cents' worth: That's a bad idea. Stock plans are never that simple and you will end up paying a helluva more once your GC gets their hands on them. If you're looking at spending that kind of money, start with a professional who's design you like, not just a copy-paste generic plan that could be anywhere and serve anyone.


Thought: Could I use the plan I have and have an architect design from that? Not copying from the original architect. Does the architect act as the GC or does he sub contract it?

Non Sequitur

The GC is separate is hired by the homeowner but works under the supervision of the architect. In this situation, the architect becomes a moderator between the site and the owner which is key because they are far more knowledgeable and can prevent unnecessary costs, questions, and delays. As for your stock plan modification idea, I guess you could find one who is willing to make changes but don't expect much cost savings by providing them with pre-made CAD files. A quick view at that Gardeners website tells me a 2000sq.ft house CAD file starts at $2500 ( a meer fraction of total arch fees) but I do not know what their IP rules are with modifications by others.


Well, there are design-builders, which will work on your plan and then build it. also, and I guess this is a shout-out to ricky, for a house you most likely don't need a registered architect, it's not required by code in most places. Though residential designers seem to charge about the same as architects do, so it's not really a financial move. Finally, you can scrap that 500k budget if you're looking into alternative insulation methods, cisterns, better windows, etc. I can promise you that their calcs are based on basic materials and cheap options.


joseffischer: When I requested the estimate I stipulated the highest building cost. Then I added 100k to it, so I got a realistic figure. They spec. things that I wouldn't use, IE carpet in places I would want tile or wood. I tried to consider all those differences when i arrived at my $.


Non Sequitur : Tell me about CAD file versus PDF files. How does the home owner get his copy of the plans from either one of these files?

Non Sequitur

Pdf are complete, non-editible, digital drawing files you send to the GC and city for construction/permit. CAD are the actual drawing files used to generate said PDFs. These are 100% customizable using certain software (like autoCAD). Very few professional give out CAD, specially where the project could be easily reproduced for other sites and or clients.


nevermind PDFs can be opened in illustrator and then exported to CAD.... nothing is non-editable. jrow - stipulating "highest building cost" and then adding a lump sum contingency is a very owner-minded way to handle your budget, not bad, but owner minded. Given your highly specific questions, I would think you would really want better estimates than that. I'm guessing they gave you a square-foot cost for a "high-end" residential house. I'm still not sure whether you're trying to build a technologically advanced "green" home or whether you just want a run of the mill "custom" home that happens to have a bunch of insulation. Go find some contractors who are doing what you want and ask them.

Non Sequitur

correct, but the average joe does not really have the chops to break open a vector pdf in illustrator and export to dwg... and even then, it's messy as fuck.


Example: when I buy a new car I will go to three different dealers, including the internet to get the best buy. If they put their offer in writing then I will decide on the best offer.

Okay maybe a tangent... but this is an unnecessary analogy, since interviewing multiple architects (usually 3) before hiring one is standard client behavior.

Jul 12, 18 2:46 pm

Start interviewing. The more you talk to them the more you'll learn. You're wasting time trying to prep yourself here. 

You want to know how to find a good architect? That's a different matter altogether.

Jul 12, 18 6:59 pm

Miles Jaffe : Yes please tell me how to find a good architect.


Ask contractors... then ask architects about good contractors in the area. At worst you'll end up with an architect/contractor combo that works well together and produces a decent product, even if they aren't "good".


I would not let the cost of heating dictate the height of ceilings. I would not use a ceiling height lower than 8-6 in a living space. A  space with a 13-0 ceiling would be difficult to heat, cool and light.  

To find an architect Google "architect" and your zip code or nearby zip codes.  Then ask for references and call them.  Their websites can be helpful.  If you don't like anything they've done, move on.

I believe you can import a PDF file into AutoCAD 2017.  AutoCAD and Internet drawings won't be cheap or fun to deal with and they represent a design process in reverse by starting with a completed design and editing it like a renovation project.   For a new house it would be unfortunate to not take advantage of a professional collaborative design process that would start with a site analysis and go forward allowing positive opportunities to be discovered.  Your current approach is self-limiting and myopic but a common one without years of expensive guidance and training.  Fortunately, instead of buying it, you can rent it.  It's one of the greatest bargains you will ever find.

Also, don't treat the Internet as the best source of information.  It's full of specious information and self-serving promotions.  Insulation information is mostly from industry organizations dedicated to one kind of insulation or another.  It could take you years of careful study to learn what an architect already knows from painful experience.  Green Builder Advisor is one of the few reliable sites.

If there will be HVAC equipment or ducts in the attic, the attic should be included in the conditioned space of the house.  In other words, insulation should be in the rafters rather than the attic floor.   Then the ducts only need insulation to avoid condensation.  

Jul 21, 18 10:20 am



MACV68: Thank you for all the information. I'm curious about your 8-6 in the living area. Wouldn't that make the wall studs an odd length or do they have precuts that length? Yes you can convert PDF to AutoCAD, my daughter works with it. You can do it through Staples and have it printed also. I plan on 'renting it' when the need arises. Yes I have been on the Green Builder Advisor site several times looking for information, they are a good source. HVAC is something I have been reading. Ill have to go over it enough times so I understand it well. Thanks again.

Non Sequitur

on the subject of converting pdf to CAD, you're admitting to copywrite violation.


If its sold to you how can that be a copywrite violation?


Convert PDF to Autocad through Staples? Brilliant. It is a copy right violation because the drawings are licensed to you in a limited capacity, for use as intended. Most of these shops actually want you to modify the plans, through them, for a large fee. Please Start fresh, save your time. Don't purchase plans, just save screen shots or any images you can get for free and use them to talk to a design professional about what you like and don't like. Empower the people you work with rather than micro manage. MACV68's comment " For a new house it would be unfortunate to not take advantage of a professional collaborative design process that would start with a site analysis and go forward allowing positive opportunities to be discovered. Your current approach is self-limiting and myopic but a common one without years of expensive guidance and training. Fortunately, instead of buying it, you can rent it. It's one of the greatest bargains you will ever find." is sound advice. YOU ARE RENTING THE KNOWLEDGE. Your not going to want to know all this stuff three years from now when you have your house are you?


JonathanLivingston: Staples is an office supply store.I doubt whether they would pay a full time professional to modify house plans. Any modifications I would have would go to an architect. "Your current approach is self-limiting and myopic but a common one without years of expensive guidance and training." Your right, but the more I know and understand the better questions I can ask and hopefully the better decisions. Knowledge is a asset the more you have the better outcome you have.


Yeah man have at it then. I don't waste my time understanding the nuances of my brokerage accounts because I chose to put my priorities towards my passions, family and enjoying life. If learning some really mundane shit you will not use again after you finish this house is where you want to invest your efforts then that's your choice. Alternatively you could be a little braver, jump in, get this thing done, and go on living. Interest rates are going up. inflation is coming. The longer you take to inform yourself the more this is going to cost you. There will always be something that's not perfect.


An architect who will happily steal someone else’s work is not an architect you want to work with.


Don't know how I missed this earlier: I'm an architect in the early stages of planning a house for myself.  

I have a lot of concerns but the relationship between cieling height and utility costs did not make my worry list, there are a hundred far more important decisions to make.

Jul 26, 18 8:20 pm

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