Last Updated on May 3, 2023 by Barry Gray
If you’re a British TV fan, you may have noticed that many of the cottage-style homes shown in popular series seem to be very low, with some of the characters “hunchbacking” around the house. Of course, some are sets built for TV, but there are still many homes where ceilings are lower than most Americans consider normal. Is there a reason for this phenomenon of low ceilings in England?
Many homes in England have low ceilings, and this is mainly linked to the climate, the era in which the houses were built, and for whom they were built. Smaller spaces have always been easier and cheaper to heat. This was less important to the rich, whose houses generally had high ceilings.
Although one can’t generalize about the height of British ceilings based on TV series, there are certain types of houses whose ceilings are much lower. Some date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, and some more modern ones fall into this category too. The cold English climate carries the majority of the blame.
Why Are Ceilings So Low In England?
Many of us would probably feel claustrophobic in a room with a seemingly extra-low ceiling, but in certain circumstances, it makes sense.
Low Ceilings Aid Efficient Heating
Though England does have its relatively defined four seasons, it certainly has a cool climate with an average summer’s day reaching temperatures in the early 20s. Consequently, the UK needs to heat their homes more than they need to cool them.
Houses with low ceilings are cheaper to heat. The higher the ceiling, the more circulation space needs to be heated, which takes more energy more time, and in the end, there is a lot of hot air at ceiling height which is useless to the people at ground level. A low-ceiling room will heat up faster, and the warm air circulates in the small space, heating it more efficiently and economically.
Low-ceiling houses can be typical of trends in the past few centuries. The poorer people, i.e., those who weren’t living in English manor homes, mansions, and castles, lived in small cottages with low ceilings, small windows, low doorways, and narrow staircases. These features helped trap the warmth in the one or two rooms where people spent most of their time. Fuel for heating was costly.
Many of the low-ceiling houses we see today are restored historical homes from centuries gone by. Many newer homes have also been built in the same style.
Low Ceilings Help To Keep Building Costs Down In England
Property is very expensive in England, and plots are mostly small. Most houses are double-story, but construction costs are high. Lower ceilings will result in shorter staircases and ultimately slightly smaller houses, reducing the cost of building. Keeping costs down increases profits upon selling.
Low Ceilings Were Part Of The Architectural Trend
Architectural trends also change with the times, and one can clearly see the difference in the houses from different eras.
- Very old cottages from around the 16th century have very low ceilings. The new copycat Tudor houses are built in the same way.
- Victorian residences have ceilings that are approximately 9-10 feet high.
- Ceilings of houses built in the 20th century are mostly around 8 feet high.
Low Ceilings In England Reflect Class Differences
The poorer people in centuries gone by lived in cottages that shared thick walls and had low ceilings and doorways to keep the heat inside. However, in the large Georgian, Edwardian, and Victorian homes and estates, the ceilings were 9 to 10 feet high, which was appropriate for the size of the buildings. The rich could afford the extra heating costs while the poorer classes could not.
People Were Shorter
Research was done on the average height of Englishmen over the past 2000 years, using skeletal remains from various archaeological excavations in different parts of the UK. From the 1400s to around 1650, the average height was about 5 foot 7 inches. This slight increase in height was credited to the introduction of poor laws, contributing to the better health of most people.
After 1650 the mean height dropped to around 5 foot 5 inches, lasting until the early 1800s. This research paper suggests that the manual labor required during the Industrial Revolution took a huge toll on the body. The extra working days and poor working conditions are listed as possible reasons why the average height declined.
Although people may have been shorter when many of these cottages were built, it is not likely that the ceilings were built according to a man’s height, but the fact that the ceilings were lower would have presented less of a problem to the shorter population.
Average Ceiling Heights In England
Currently, there are no legal requirements for ceiling heights in England. There are rules regarding ventilation and lighting, though, and does affect the height of the ceiling.
The minimum ceiling height should be about 6 foot 8 inches. The average doorway is about 6 foot 5 inches. Ceilings are generally 1 ½ to feet higher than the door frames, taking them up to 8 feet.
Ceilings should be practical in their height but also aesthetically pleasing. When ceilings are too low, people may feel claustrophobic and possibly even feel the need to stoop. High ceilings are great for creating impressions of spaciousness, but they can cause problems with lighting and retaining heat.
Fun Facts About Ceiling Heights
Canadian professors Joan Meyers-Levy and Rui Zhu discovered that people developed certain feelings in high-ceiling buildings.
- People had a sense of freedom.
- They are less obsessed with details.
- They have more abstract thought processes.
- Churches, concert halls, and libraries are often high-ceilinged, inspiring, and calming people.
Ceilings in England can be lower because of the cold climate, causing the English to heat their homes more than they need to keep them cool. In previous centuries, people knew that hot air rises and a low ceiling would keep the warmth in. A low ceiling can also help keep building costs down as they build smaller homes. But perhaps the people won’t feel as free and inspired.