Basement Design: Basement Ceilings

Basement Ceilings

Finishing the basement ceiling sometimes calls for a little creative thinking as you figure out how to conceal ductwork, pipes, and other obstructions. The three primary options for finishing basement ceilings are hanging drywall or wood (such as beaded board or tongue-and-groove siding), installing a suspended ceiling, or simply painting the joists. Another option is to attach fabric panels to joists.


Drywall creates a smooth, even ceiling and helps give a basement the look of main-floor living areas. However, drywall does inhibit quick access to faulty wiring or a leaking pipe. It's an excellent base for paint and other materials, such as wood panels. For safety, some building codes require that you install drywall under flammable materials, such as wood, because of its fire-retardant quality.

While you can relocate some pipes and wires so they aren't in the way, you'll have to box in large obstructions, such as ducts and drainpipes, with wood framework. Although obstructions are unavoidable, careful planning will ensure that any boxed-in elements become an integral part of your finished basement.

Suspended Ceilings

A low-cost, low-maintenance option is to install a drop or suspended ceiling system. Though these systems have been given a bad name, there are now a number of attractive options available, including styles that mimic materials such as decorative tin or wood. A system includes a framework of metal channels hung on wires attached to the joists; some types of ceiling panels are secured directly to joists. The channels support lightweight acoustical panels that form a uniform finished surface. The suspended ceiling system has several advantages for basement applications. Moving wires, pipes, or ducts is unnecessary, and joists do not have to be straight for the finished ceiling to be flat and level. Accessing heating, cooling, and electrical systems is a simple matter of temporarily removing a panel. You can add lighting by removing an acoustical panel and fitting the opening with a drop-in fixture made specifically for the purpose. Suspended ceilings also insulate unwanted noise from upstairs.


One low-cost finishing option is to leave all the elements in the ceiling exposed but camouflage the overhead tangle with paint. Painting everything a uniform color blends the different elements together and creates a look that evokes industrial style or a fun and funky decor. A paint sprayer will coat everything evenly—including the sides and much of the upper surfaces of various elements. Paint the joists, the underside of the subfloor, wires, pipes, and ducts. Both light and dark colors work well. Dark colors disguise the many elements better, while light colors help make the space brighter.

Ceiling Finishing Tips

Basement ceilings are sometimes difficult to finish because of obstructions-such as pipes, ducts, and wires-attached to the underside of the overhead joists or running between them. You can usually move wires and water-supply pipes, but finding practical new routes for ductwork or drain lines can be tricky. One option is to disguise or box in obstructions with wood framework, then cover the frame with finish materials, such as drywall or paneling.

Place mechanical equipment-such as furnaces, water heaters, and water softeners-in their own room, or let them share space with the laundry and shop. Most appliances require air space above and around the housing; refer to the user's manual or contact the manufacturer. Make sure a mechanical-equipment room has its own light switch near the entrance. Doors to such spaces must be big enough to move the largest piece of equipment in or out and should never measure less than 20 inches wide. Allow for a clear workspace-30 inches wide by 30 inches tall-near the furnace control panel.

Despite the attractive coffered ceiling treatment in this basement game room, ductwork and pipes hang as low as they do in ordinary basements-they're simply worked into the design.

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