Painting ceilings can be tricky. I’ve already covered how to paint textured ceilings on DIY Painting Tips, but today, I want to go over how to paint high ceilings.
Over the years, high ceilings have become more and more popular. According to this New York Times article, around 2000, 9-foot ceilings became more common in new homes than 8 foot and more recently, 10-foot ceilings have become the most common. With a standard of 9-10 feet, and lots of open living rooms and vaults, high ceilings are very common these days.
As with everything in painting, if you know a few tricks, have the right equipment and take your time, you can safely do any project and get professional results.
The fist thing we have to discuss when talking about painting high ceilings is how are we going to define “high”? Obviously, 8 foot ceilings are normal height and I don’t consider 9 foot ceilings high.
For this post, I am going to be referring to high ceilings as any ceilings 10 feet up to 18 feet high. Personally, I haven’t run into any ceilings higher than 18′ in a residential home, so I won’t be covering that here.
- Tools Required For Painting High Ceilings
- Painting with extension poles
- Painting with a-frame ladders
- Painting with work planks
- Painting high ceilings without painting walls
Tools Required To Paint High Ceilings
There are some basic tools you’re going to need for painting high ceilings. Most of these tools are handy to have around the house for other projects, so I consider them a good investment for most homeowners.
Little Giant Ladder
The Little Giant Ladder is simply one of the most versatile ladders on the market today. This one ladder will replace your entire collection of ladders.
You can use it as an a-frame ladder, a basic extension ladder and even split it apart into two smaller ladders when needed.
With its lifetime warranty, there really isn’t a better more versatile ladder on the market.
Airless Paint Sprayer
An airless paint sprayer is an incredibly versatile sprayer that can be used to paint ceilings, walls, prime drywall, enamel cabinets, paint exteriors and stain fences.
Airless sprayers are perfect for your average homeowner, handyman or painter.
Personally, I love Graco sprayers since they have models perfect the DIYer and the professional alike. The Graco Magnum X5 is the perfect entry level around sprayer that I recommend most.
Sprayer Extension Tip
A sprayer extension tip is long skinny metal pole that attaches to the tip of your spray gun and will give you an extension of typically 12-30 inches.
When you are spraying high ceilings, these extension tips are worth their weight in gold as they will allow you to reach higher, move your ladder far less and ultimately paint much faster.
If you don’t plan on spraying your ceilings and/or don’t want to invest in a sprayer, then an extension pole is going to be what you need to get your high ceilings painted.
You can attach roller frame to the end of an extension pole and reach heights otherwise unreachable.
You can get poles in any size but for high ceilings, a 4-8 foot pole or a 6-12 foot pole would be ideal.
Ryan’s Note: Painting a high ceiling with an extension pole is going to be slow and physically exhausting, just a word of warning.
A work plank is a flat plank that is typically 12″ wide and different models will telescope between 6′ – 15′.
Personally, I don’t love working on planks unless they are low to the ground. They are nice for doing projects in the 8-12 foot range, but any higher and I don’t feel particularly stable on them.
Little Giant makes my favorite work plank for its durability and lifetime warranty..
Basic Painting Supplies
Your Different Options For Painting High Ceilings
You actually have a lot of different options to choose from when painting high ceilings. Which option is best is going to depend on what type of ceilings you’re going to be painting, how big your room is, the equipment you already own, and what your budget is.
I am going to cover each different strategy for painting ceilings and when that strategy is your best option.
Paint High Ceilings Using An Roller and an Extension Pole
Perfect For: 10-foot ceilings. Any texture as long as the texture is not coming loose.
Painting your high ceilings with an extension pole and roller is a good option as long as your ceilings aren’t too high. I like to roll out ceilings if they aren’t too big and the ceiling is 10′ high or less.
This method is slow and can be very slow and tiring on the body if you are trying to paint ceilings higher than 10 feet.
Painting High Ceilings Using a Sprayer, Extension Wand and A-Frame Ladder
Perfect For: 10-18 foot ceilings.
Ryan’s Note: This is the method that I use on almost every high ceiling that I paint. Spraying is easier and faster, I can quickly move my a-frame ladder around the room, and the extension tip allows me to spray a much larger area in every position so I don’t have to move my ladder nearly as often.
Ideally, you are going to want to spray your ceilings if at all possible. A small airless paint sprayer and a 30″ extension tip should allow most people to paint ceilings with a height up to 12 feet.
Spraying your ceilings is drastically faster than rolling, gives a better looking finish, won’t damage textured ceilings, and is easier on the body.
Combine this method with an A-Frame ladder like the Little Giant Quantum, which has a standing height of 9 feet 1 inch when in the A-Frame position, and you should be able to paint ceilings up to 18 feet high without a problem.
If you take the reach of the average male, which is 7.5 feet, add in the 3 foot extension tip onto your spray gun, while standing on a 9 foot a-frame ladder, and you’ve got an easy reach of 19 feet.
Painting High Ceilings With Ladders and Planks
Perfect for: 10-18′ ceilings
Another option for painting your ceilings is to set up ladders and planks. This method works for any size room.
Simply position two ladders, typically a-frame, across from each other and place a work plank crossing from one ladder to the next.
This method is still going to work best with a sprayer and an extension tip, which will allow you to paint higher without having to stand higher and it will allow you to paint a larger area.
Personally, this method doesn’t offer me enough of a benefit over just moving an a-frame ladder around the room more often.
Painting High Ceilings Without Painting Walls
Sometimes the occasion can arise where you’d like to get your ceilings painted but not your walls. Typically, I’d recommend against this as painting your ceilings but not your walls are difficult and inefficient, but sometimes it just needs to be done.
Simply put, if you want to paint your ceilings but not your walls, you are going to need to run a strip of tape around the top of your walls perfectly in the corner between the wall and the ceiling.
Once you have a strip of tape on the top of the wall around the entirety of the room, you’ll want to attach a sheet of plastic to that tape that is the same height as your walls. If you have 9 foot ceilings, you want 9 foot plastic and so on.
You may also need to use additional tape to get larger sheets of plastic to adhere without falling.
Painting high ceilings isn’t really all that difficult. With the right tools and a little bit of knowledge, all painting projects can be easy DIY projects that anyone can do.
Did you do this project? How did it turn out? Let me know in the comments below!
Check out these other posts on painting your ceilings:
Saturday 3rd of December 2022
Recently I had to paint a ceiling that was 20 ft high on one side and sloped down to 12 ft high on the other side. The customer decided they wanted it painted AFTER I already painted the walls. I used my 20 ft. extension laddar for cutting in and dragged in a 16 ft A frame laddar for cutting around high hats and 2 skylight windows. The ceiling was light pink and took 3 coats to cover white. It was really hard on my neck and shoulders rolling out the sloped ceiling with an 18 in. roller and an extension pole. The room size was 50×30. Is there a n easier way to paint this type of ceiling?
Tuesday 20th of September 2022
We have double high ceilings (meaning a vaulted room of 2 stories. We need the ceiling AND the walls painted- Id like the walls in eggshell (more durable/easy to clean - 8 kids over here) is it too much of a faux pax to do the ceiling in the same finish? (I want everything white). Is it best to paint ceiling first and then walls? If using a sprayer for the ceiling, what are the necessary prep to protect the rest of the room? Thanks for any advice!!
Saturday 14th of August 2021
Hi Ryan, what kind of roller/tools would I need to paint a vaulted ceiling that is planked? I'm moving to a new home, and what was once wood planks was (at some point, by a previous owner) painted a yellow-ish white. I would prefer pure white ceilings, but I know this won't be an easy job, and I'm sure I'll need a special roller of some kind to get in between the planks. What would you recommend? This will hopefully be the only time I have to do this so I would prefer not to invest in a sprayer.
Saturday 14th of August 2021
I know that you don't want to invest in a sprayer, but I promise you that a sprayer is the EXACT right tool for your job. If you choose to roll the ceiling, you will have to brush the gaps in between every plank, then roll out the ceiling. At least 2 coats. Your neck and arms will hate you and you will need a ladder and/or scaffolding. Plus it will take a very long time.
With spraying or rolling, you need to prep off your floors and windows, so that is a wash.
With a sprayer, the job will quite literally go 10x quicker. It still may need two coats (but maybe not). A sprayer will get into the groves better as well. You can rent a sprayer for less than $100 or buy a cheap sprayer for roughly $100.
Sorry I don't have a better solution!