One particular problem with typical New England architecture is that the ceilings are ordinarily low because of cold temperatures and cost of heating. If a ceiling is high, the hot air from radiators rises and collects at the top of the room, so a temperature differential arises. Essentially the homeowner is paying to keep the top of the room at 80F so the living space below is 72F.

Using low ceilings is not a problem in a small house, but the larger the room, the more disproportionate a low ceiling becomes. For example, in a room 24x14, an 8-foot ceiling makes the room seem like a basement, having a cramped feeling.

Is there a strategy for reconciling these conflicting needs, energy efficiency and high ceilings?

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    In a modern home with a high level of insulation, the fact that the air is warmer near the ceiling isn't really a concern. The heat energy lost at 80 degrees is negligibly more than that lost at 72 degrees. That said... ceiling fans. – isherwood Jun 20 '18 at 18:08

Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans are most often installed to help keep cool in the summer but they can also help circulate the hot air in the winter. Some have adjustable blades to make them more effective for this use.

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    Note that the correct direction of flow is downward in summer (to create cooling effect on the skin) and upward in winter (to distribute heat without creating a drafty feel). – isherwood Jun 20 '18 at 17:25

Spray Foam!

I've used spray foam directly on the underside of roofing sheathing where an A frame necessitated it. With only 3.5" inches of blown in cellulose the interior wall was noticeably hot/cold depending on the season. After spray foam the same surface is at room temperature and the amount of air conditioning/heat we've had to do has dropped significantly. When a situation leaves you with little room to insulate (A frames, vaulted ceilings) spray foam will outperform a much larger layer of conventional insulation in every aspect (temperature, noise reduction, structural stability). Losing heat to the outside is a MUCH bigger loss than losing heat to the upper reaches of your interior.

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