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My house (built 1972) has a cathedral ceiling with post-and-beam construction in the main room. The ceiling temperature can get as high as 90F, or even greater on a very hot sunny summer day, as measured from the floor with an IR thermometer ("gun"). The roof doesn't look to be very thick, probably less a foot in total? I'm not sure what insulation is in the roof, if any. This room has quite a few floor registers, however, it is still much colder in the winter and hotter in the summer than adjacent bedrooms (~5F). I was wondering if there is anything that can be done to improve the efficiency of heating/cooling this room. Can more insulation be blown in between the pine ceiling and the roof?

I live in sunny eastern Washington, hot dry summers 100F+, sometimes cold but not too bad winters, 10-20F lows.

I don't need a new roof yet, the current asphalt shingles look fine so I don't want to do something as drastic as replace the roof to add more insulation but it would be good to know that is an option for the future.

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  • How high is the peak? I'm guessing it has more to do with heat rising inside the room itself than heat transfer from the exterior. It isn't uncommon even with an 8' ceiling to have a 10 to 20 degree temperature differential from floor to ceiling. – Comintern Jun 25 '15 at 0:39
  • @Comintern roughly 14ft to the peak – s0rce Jun 25 '15 at 1:09
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The tongue-and-groove wood planks conceal insulation above them, probably fiberglass batts between the rafters. As you've observed, they are clearly insufficient, because the room is too hot. There are two safe ways to improve the situation:

  1. Add more insulation underneath the existing ceiling wood, then install a vapor retarder (retarder, not barrier. A smart membrane, not poly sheeting), then cover that up with drywall.

  2. Remove the roofing materials and install 4-8 inches of rigid foam insulation board above the roof decking, then new roof sheathing over that, then new roofing materials.

  3. Build a metal roof (white or bare metal) over the existing shingle roof, using eave-to-ridge 2x4s to build ventilation channels under the new roofing. Such a roof will reject the vast majority of the sun's rays, which is the primary driver of heat gain.

Since you don't want to mess with the roofing, that leaves option 1. If you don't want to ruin the look of the ceiling with the tongue-and-groove boards, you're out of options and will have to live with the situation.

  • Not entirely out of options. The tongue-and-groove look could be replicated under the additional insulation. Of course some headroom will be lost, but the appearance could remain mostly unchanged. – keshlam Oct 29 '15 at 22:46
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Can more insulation be blown in between the pine ceiling and the roof?

Blown? No. Sprayed? Yes.

Most likely, your roof has blocking between the eaves with insect screening, and then fiberglass or rock wool insulation laying on the cedar ceiling and an air gap between the insulation and the roof decking. You can shine a flashlight in through the insect screening or remove a piece of blocking to inspect.

If you're lucky, you have R-11 nominal and R-5 effective in your roof. That's way below modern standards for exactly the reason you specify: the ceiling is blazing hot in the summer. It's also where much of your heat is leaking in the winter. When the temps and humidity drop in the winter, the cedar contracts and even more warm air escapes through the ceiling.

If that were my house, I'd be aiming for an unvented cathedral ceiling for two main reasons:

  1. unvented attics don't suck in embers from nearby fires, lighting your roof on fire
  2. that previous venting space can be used for insulation

In order to get away with an unvented ceiling, you must have an air-impermeable insulation layer directly beneath your roof decking. If you don't, that warm humid indoor air will contact the decking. When the decking temps are below the dew point the moisture will condense. Nothing that can be blown into that space is air-impermeable.

The only code compliant way I know of to insulate that cavity is to retrofit with a minimum 2" depth (Climate Zone 5) of closed cell spray polyurethane foam (ccSPF) in full contact with the roof decking.

Several spray foam vendors (hint: search on Amazon where you can [mostly] trust the reviews) offer a metered dispensing system that lets you fish the dispenser hose into the cavity, withdraw at the prescribed rate, and completely fill the cavity. ccSPF is fairly pricey but so is tearing off a roof or ceiling. If you do it yourself, ccSPF is likely to be the most cost effective long-term solution, since it packs the maximum R value into the space (R-7 per inch).

If I had a home in Eastern Washington, I'd also be budgeting for that steel roof. If you've only got one layer of shingles, you can lay sheets of polyiso directly on the shingles and install the steel roofing over the polyiso. Having prevented embers from getting into the ceiling, and then preventing ones that land on the roof from contacting a flammable material, your house is far better off than most.

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