Basement Walls

Estimate the cost to finish a basement, get info about basement waterproofing, and learn how to finish a basement wall.

Finished basements boost home value and can add hundreds of usable square footage to your home. They’re perfect for creating rooms you might not have had the space for otherwise. A few finished basement ideas: a workout room, game room, kids’ playroom, craft room, or the home theater of your dreams. It’s easy to feel uninspired when staring at the plain concrete expanse that is most unfinished basements, but that blank space has the most potential for customization of anywhere in the house. You can add any furniture and decor you want, but to take your basement from bare bones to finished, you need to start with the walls, floor, and ceiling.

The Basics of Basement Walls

First, you should understand basement wall materials. Foundation walls are usually made of poured concrete or stacked concrete blocks—not the most attractive surfaces. Fortunately, you can cover basement foundation walls quickly and inexpensively. Attach wood furring strips, Z-shape channels, or 2x4 studs to flat, dry masonry walls, then add insulation and cover the strips or studs with drywall. Such treatments give basement walls a smooth, even surface that accepts finish materials such as paint, wallpaper, or paneling. This type of wall system makes it easy to install electrical wiring, television cable, speaker wire, and phone lines.

If basement walls are bowed or out-of-plum, build a stud wall in front of them to ensure a flat, plumb, finished wall surface. In this case, the stud wall is not attached to the masonry wall. Just like a partition wall, the top plate is attached to overhead joists and the bottom plate is nailed to the concrete slab.

Most basements have some sort of pillars or support columns. Never modify these without consulting a professional. They are usually load-bearing and a vital part of your home’s structural support. Although they are a little trickier to work around, you can make them less of an eyesore by framing and putting up drywall, then painting or otherwise finishing them to match the rest of your walls.

To make your basement walls more energy-efficient, fill the spaces between the furring strips with rigid insulation. Or fill spaces between 2x4 studs with fiberglass batt insulation. In cold climates, you may want to include a vapor barrier during the basement insulation process. The vapor barrier, typically either separate plastic sheeting or treated paper attached to one side of the fiberglass batt, is designed to prevent warm air from condensing inside the cooler insulation. You should not install a vapor barrier in warmer climates because moisture moves both into and out of the house for significant portions of the year.

Cost of a Finished Basement

The cost to finish a basement will vary widely depending on the size of your basement, the cost of labor in your area, whether you DIY or hire a contractor, the types of materials you choose, and more. The national average cost to remodel a basement runs about $20,000. A general estimate is $10,000 to $35,000 for 1,000 square feet. Expect to pay more if you plan to install a bathroom. If you’re confident in your do-it-yourself skills, an experienced DIYer can save a lot of money on labor and contractor fees. Know that you’ll have to obtain the necessary permits for installing new electric and plumbing.

Partition Walls

Because partition walls don't have to support the weight of the house, they are easy to construct and install in virtually any basement location to create separate rooms. This versatility also makes them ideal for camouflaging posts and other obstructions that can't be moved.

Typical stud-wall construction is sufficient for partition walls, but don't stifle your creative instincts. Try one of these basement wall ideas: Curved walls or walls made of glass blocks are simple ways to enhance the space. Also, you can open a windowless room to other areas of the basement by adding a window to an interior partition wall.

Be sure to insulate partition stud walls that define noisy spaces, such as a laundry room, home theater, or private spaces, such as an office or bedroom. The following soundproofing guidelines can help.

Basement Soundproofing

Building materials are getting lighter, but that makes them more prone to transmitting noise rather than blocking it. To control sound, try these 6 strategies:

  1. For partition walls, apply a bead of silicone caulk to the front edge of 2x4 studs and top with a sheet of drywall. Secure the drywall to the stud using nails or screws. To this drywall sheet, apply additional beads of caulk that align with each stud. Apply a second sheet of drywall. This second sheet, along with the caulk, helps dampen sound.
  2. In lieu of two layers of drywall, install acoustical fiberglass batt insulation within interior walls and ceilings, especially around noise sources, such as laundry rooms, bathrooms, and media centers.
  3. Caulk floor, wall, and ceiling edges. Noise can escape through joints where walls meet the floor and ceiling.
  4. Other noise-reduction building products are also available, such as acoustical wall framing, floor mats, and acoustical caulk.
  5. Adding textiles to your rooms can help absorb sound. Carpeting, tapestries, curtains, and even upholstered furniture diminish noise transmission. They also help your basement feel cozier and warmer!
  6. Run your pipes and listen to them throughout the basement before encasing them in drywall. Note any particularly noisy areas. Pipes can be soundproofed with foam wraps or by filling in the area around the pipes with soundproofing basement insulation. The rattling of metal pipes in older homes is often caused by the vibration as they move. Barring any actual plumbing problems, this can usually be remedied by better securing them to the walls.

Basement Waterproofing

If you live in an area that is at high risk for flooding or have problems with dampness in your basement, waterproofing can help. Any gaps or cracks in your concrete floor and walls need to be sealed with cement. Special concrete coatings or a polyethylene membrane can also be applied as a barrier. If you have frequent flooding problems, more extensive waterproofing may be needed, such as installing a sump pump and drainage systems to remove water. Minor basement waterproofing runs from $250-$600. If you need major repairs or professional installation, however, the cost can be anywhere from $2,000 to upwards of $10,000.

Basement Flooring Ideas

Moisture and flooding are the biggest concerns for a basement floor, which unfortunately makes hardwood a poor choice. Almost any other type of flooring you desire can be installed in a basement. If you love the look of wood, vinyl flooring, wood-look tiles, laminate, and engineered wood flooring that has been treated for moisture resistance can give you the design you want. Ceramic tile is a good option for basements for the same reason that it’s a good option for bathrooms—it dries out easily and resists moisture. It can also be installed directly over concrete. If you need budget basement ideas, your concrete floor itself can be made more attractive with paint or stain.

Of course, concrete or tile is cold to the touch. If you prefer carpet, you’ll need to install a sleeper floor. This system of wood planks raises carpet off the concrete to prevent moisture buildup. A sleeper floor frame can help make the space warmer, since your flooring won’t be touching the concrete directly. Interlocking rubber tiles are an easy DIY project and are also soft underfoot. These come in a variety of colors and work well as a cushioned floor for playrooms.

Basement Ceiling Options

The biggest decision to make when finishing your ceiling is whether you want to have access to the pipes and ductwork. Here are three common basement ceiling types:

Suspended Ceiling: Also called a drop ceiling, this is one of the most common basement ceilings. It consists of a hanging metal frame with ceiling tiles laid on top of it. Suspended ceilings are easy to install, inexpensive, and allow access to wires and ducts behind the tiles. They can also help muffle sound.

Drywall Ceiling: Of course, you can always drywall your basement ceiling like any other wall. This is the most “finished” looking option, but you won’t be able to access the area behind it for repairs without cutting out a section of drywall.

Sheet Paneling: If you don’t mind the look of ceiling seams, simple sheet paneling is an extremely affordable option. To prevent the panels from bending, you’ll need a wood frame for them to sit on. You can also paint the panels to make them look nicer.

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