How to Paint a Vaulted Ceiling - Pro Construction Guide
How to paint a vaulted ceiling

How to Paint a Vaulted Ceiling

Understanding the surfaces, dynamics and accessibility are key to painting a vaulted ceiling.

By Chris Haught

Staining or painting a vaulted ceiling presents painters with a set of unique challenges, beginning with access to the job. Since a vaulted ceiling often can be more than 20 feet high, the best approach to painting a vaulted ceiling is to use scaffolding. Once up there, you may face another complication: Vaulted ceilings are not always paint grade.

Drywalled vaulted ceilings

The easiest vaulted ceilings to finish are drywalled. The primer and ceiling paint typically can be airless sprayed and back rolled, using staging towers for access.

If spraying is not an option, cutting and rolling paint-grade drywall is a relatively straightforward process, using a good 2-inch cutting brush and either a 9- or 18-inch roller setup. While setting up staging is time consuming, paint-grade, drywalled, coffered ceilings require the least amount of labor to paint.

Vaulted ceiling with wood features

In a custom home, it is not unusual to find natural or stain-grade finishes on wood plank or even a coffered vaulted ceiling. These types of ceilings have interesting visual appeal, because they feature the grain of the wood.

The setup to paint a vaulted ceiling is often the same as for a simple drywall vaulted ceiling, in terms of the staging and planks needed. However, the amount of time spent doing the job will likely be considerably more for a natural finish on wood.

The complicating factor is that the prep is more complex. On a drywall ceiling, a duster and pole sander handle the prep. Wood ceilings often need to be hand-sanded or power-sanded. It is important to discuss customer expectations for the ceiling. Options range from a fresh coat of clear finish to a full conversion from clear to paint grade.

This type of vaulted ceiling can be brushed or sprayed, and the finish used will depend on the species of wood and the desired look. Popular choices are penetrating oils or satin polyurethane to encourage the tone of the wood and achieve a warm depth over time.

How to paint a vaulted ceiling

The ability to access a vaulted ceiling can be challenging.

Hybrid vaulted ceiling

The highest degree of difficulty for finishers occurs when a vaulted ceiling features both painted and natural finishes, such as one with a panelized timber structure. The ceiling panels can be either drywall or wood plank, surrounded by natural timbers.

This situation is more complex, because it involves significantly more surface protection. The masking must be precise to protect the timber structure from the painting activities happening around it. Further, a great deal of cutting will occur in between the two types of finish to get the lines right. This is not an easy task, when the planks are straight, but the timber edges hewn.

What makes this style particularly labor intensive is the fact that it generally require large amounts of brush work. Spraying can be impractical, and rolling can leave undesirable stipple texture.


While using scaffolding is the ideal way to work safely at the heights involved in painting and finishing vaulted ceilings, it is not always practical to set it up. This is particularly true when the home is occupied. In that case, ladders are your next option.

When it comes to paint a vaulted ceiling, a common method is to use an extension ladder to brush cut the ceiling perimeter, and then roll the body of the ceiling from the floor with a telescoping roller extension poll. Eighteen-inch rollers are desirable for this type of rolling, because they cover so much surface at once. However, they can be heavy, particularly when fully extended on a pole and loaded with paint.

When laddering onto walls at a vaulted ceiling, be sure to use rubber ladder mitts to cover the aluminum rails where the ladder rests on the wall. Also, it is best to have another person “foot” your ladder (stand on the bottom rung), while you are on the ladder. Interior floors can be slippery, so the weight of a person footing your ladder can help prevent the ladder from slipping.

If it is not possible to use scaffolding or an extension ladder to paint a vaulted ceiling, a telescoping roller extension pole is the best alternative.

A panelized timber structure is an example of a vaulted ceiling that features both painted and natural surfaces.

Using scaffolding – sometimes known as “staging” – is the ideal way to work safely at the heights encountered when painting and finishing vaulted ceilings.

Tools you’ll need:

  • 2-inch brush
  • 9- or 18-inch rollers
  • Masking tape
  • Ladders
  • Ladder mitts
  • Staging

Rules of Ladder Safety

Falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). Following are a few guidelines to help you stay safe, regardless of the ladder you are using for the job.

  • Be sure all locks on an extension ladder are properly engaged.
  • Always maintain a three-point (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) contact on the ladder when climbing. Keep your body near the middle of the step, and always face the ladder while climbing.
  • An extension or straight ladder used to access an elevated surface must extend at least three feet above the point of support. Do not stand on the three top rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder.
  • Always inspect the ladder prior to using it. If the ladder is damaged, it must be removed from service and tagged until repaired or discarded.
  • Do not exceed the maximum load rating of a ladder. Be aware of the ladder’s load rating and of the weight it is supporting, including the weight of any tools or equipment.
  • Ladders must be free of any slippery material on the rungs, steps or feet. Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface, unless it has been secured (top or bottom) to prevent displacement.
  • Do not use the top step/rung of a ladder as a step/rung, unless it was designed for that purpose.

View the entire set of OSHA guidelines for portable ladder safety at

Chris Haught is the editor of Blogging Painters, a website she developed for painting contractors while working as a paint contractor in southern Utah.

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