Wall to Wall Trends: Finishing Your Basement
When renovating your home and looking ways to improve both its value and usefulness, consider every space from top to bottom. For homes that have one, the basement is often one of the most neglected parts of the house, only short of the attic. For many people, it ends up nothing more than a place to store miscellaneous junk. But the basement has tremendous potential – it’s essentially a whole other floor or room for your house that’s going largely unused. A finished basement can make for an excellent den, media room, home gym, children’s playroom, extra bedroom, or entertainment room. A large enough basement can often be transformed into multiple areas, suitable as an extended entertainment area (including a lounge, television area, and a kitchenette or bar) or a small suite for guests (including a bedroom, a kitchenette, and a bathroom), or even a full in-law suite. Depending upon local zoning and your ability to add or use a door to the outside, you might even be able to transform your basement into a space to rent out, bringing added income into your home.
However, basements do present more challenges than other rooms of the house. Their location and function as the foundation of your home can create issues in deciding how you’ll be able to renovate that space. This article will give trendy solutions to the typical problems.
Since most basement ceilings are crisscrossed by rather unsightly ductwork and pipes, what to do with the ceiling can become quite a head-scratcher. This is complicated by the fact that obstructions like pipes sometimes extend below the joists, which are the beams (usually wood or steel) that support the ceiling. There’s a number of solutions, though.
A fabric ceiling: This is the easiest and quickest solution. Simply nail or staple fabric to the joists, letting the fabric hang down in the middle to hide any obstructions. Depending on the style and the fabric you choose, this can give a room a fun and playful or even elegant air.
Paint: Painting your ceiling all the same color can hide imperfections and make ductwork and pipes less obvious. It’s also fairly simple, and it’s easy to later add another type of ceiling. Matte paint in black or another dark color will work best. Cover metal surfaces with a primer before painting, to inhibit rust and make the paint adhere better. Don’t forget to clean the ceiling of dust and cobwebs, too, so that they don’t get stuck in the paint.
For applying the paint, paint sprayers work best. A good paint sprayer will allow you to coat the pipes and ductwork from every visible angle. You should be able to rent one for $100/day, not including the cost of paint. You can also hire a professional for only a slightly higher fee.
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Painting your ceiling can go well with an industrial theme. If you want to take the industrial design to its full extent, you can paint the ceiling itself black, but leave the ductwork, pipes, and other fixtures visible.
A drop ceiling: Also called a suspended ceiling, a drop ceiling is a metal grid that hangs down on wires from the joists, with lightweight acoustical panels slid into the grid to form a continuous ceiling. A drop ceiling will cover any pipes and ductwork, unlike painting. Nowadays, there are numerous options for the drop ceiling patterns, fitting any style. Panels can be made of metal, acrylic, mineral fiber, or several other materials, with designs ranging from pressed metal for an industrial or traditional theme to panels that look like a coffered wooden ceiling for a more traditional or classical theme.
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Drop ceilings have three big advantages, beyond aesthetic – they’re fairly easy to install, the panels muffle sound between floors, and the panels are easily removed, allowing you to access the original ceiling (including pipes, wires, and ductwork) for repairs and maintenance. Drop ceilings can show stains though, depending upon the material used. Another disadvantage is that, depending on where you are, installing a drop ceiling may get pricey. Most drop ceilings cost $2-$3 per square foot if installing the ceiling yourself.
Paneling and drywall: This works best if you don’t have any obstructions hanging down below the joists.
For sheet paneling, you can find decorative sheets of grooved wall paneling in a variety of styles, sizes, and price ranges. The panels are easy to install, but will likely have seams between them. If the seams disrupt the design or bother you, you can hide them with a thin strip of molding, to make the seams look decorative.
Tongue and groove panels are individual boards, usually wooden, that can be easily installed for a clean look. Tongue and groove paneling works extremely well with more rustic designs.
Drywalling your ceiling will likely be cheaper than the other options in this section, but is a more complicated undertaking. You can get a professional to drywall your ceiling usually for about $2 per square foot, although prices will vary depending on where you live.
Working around obstructions: Some basements have a ceiling largely free of obstructions, with pipes, ducts, and wiring falling below the joists in only a few areas. If so, you can generally work around the obstructions with soffits, box beams, or simply moving the obstruction (talk to a plumber or HVAC specialist first if you’re considering this, and always have obstructions moved by a professional).
A soffit is a part of the ceiling that’s lower than the rest. It’s created with framing materials that are then covered with drywall or paneling. Soffits work best along walls, to avoid problems with lowered ceiling heights and to best preserve aesthetics. If you have a large basement, a soffit in the middle can create a natural point to divide the basement into rooms. If the soffit is along the wall, you can extend it around the entire edge of the basement to create a tray ceiling, a ceiling with multiple levels.
A box beam is a hollow, fake beam usually made by nailing three boards together. You can use box beams to create a coffered ceiling for an elegant look, especially if your basement has a high ceiling. Box beams work well if you have multiple obstructions.
Lighting a basement can be tricky, especially since most receive little to no natural light.
Plan out your lighting before you start putting in walls and ceilings. You should also consider adding outlets at this phase, while you’re wiring. Lighting will be hard to difficult or unsafe to do as a DIY project, unless you’re just planning on filling the space with lamps (not really recommended). We strongly recommend contacting an electrician to help with the design and installation. What type of ceiling you’re planning on installing will also impact your lighting choices.
You’ll want to focus on getting ceiling lighting that’s even throughout, so you don’t have some areas overly bright and others in darkness. Recessed lighting fixtures, also called recessed ceiling cans, work best for this, as long as your ceiling’s at least 7’6” high, though 8’ high or higher is prefered. Spacing the cans 8’ to 10’ apart, depending on room size and design, will allow for good light distribution. Use reflector bulbs that have a flood beam for best effect.
Currently, the best bulbs will likely be compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Both use significantly less energy, give off more light, produce less heat, and last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, although they generally have a higher upfront cost. Some styles of CFLs or LEDs are being released that mimic the warm color of an incandescent.
When buying CFLs and LEDs, wattage is less important an indicator of brightness than lumens. Wattage measures power requirements, while lumens are a direct measurement of brightness. For reference, a 100-watt incandescent bulb will usually be about 1,750 lumens. Higher lumens indicate a brighter bulb. The color of a light also matters, ranging from warmer, yellow tones to cooler, blue tones. Light color is typically given in Kelvins, with higher Kelvins indicating cooler colors. Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that light bulb packages be clearly labeled with all of this information, alongside mercury content and estimated yearly energy costs.
In addition to the wide-spread ceiling lights, you’ll want to have smaller lights for tasks, like a reading nook or your countertop for preparing food, and for features, like artwork. Some CFLs are poorly suited for spotlighting, though LEDs generally work wonderfully. Pendants (hanging light fixtures) over a countertop or bar work very well for illuminating work spaces. Wall lights can be used to light up art or architectural elements. LED tape works especially well for illuminating cabinets, countertops, and shadow boxes, as it’s narrow (only one fourth of an inch) and easy to conceal.
Putting your lights on a dimmer will also help with adjusting light levels and controlling moods. Maybe you’re using the basement as an entertainment space, and as such want the light nice and bright when preparing everything, but comfortably dim when actually hosting. A dimmer’s also good for a media room or home theatre, allowing you to reduce light levels without rendering yourself unable to see. Some CFLs can’t be dimmed, so make sure to check the packaging information before buying.
Avoid leaving the concrete bare, since unfinished walls often make for a cold, wet, and unpolished space.
Moisture can be a problem in many basements, so adding a layer of sealant between the unfinished concrete walls and any new additions is important. Most sealants go on and look like ordinary paint.
If your area gets cold in the winter, strongly consider adding insulation to your walls. Foam board insulation will work just fine, and you don’t need much since basements have some natural insulation from the surrounding earth. If your basement is drafty, search for and seal up any leaks – basement windows are a common culprit.
Painted drywall or paneling will likely work best for most spaces. Talk to an electrician about installing any outlets and wiring before finishing the walls. Make sure you have enough outlets for your purposes, and that they’ll be where you need them.
Lightly colored walls are great for opening the space up, especially given low levels of natural light. Keep to a single color for the walls, possibly with a contrasting trim.
Style magazines have been favoring hardwood and other natural floors, to keep the basement flooring continuous with the rest of the house. However, given that basements tend to collect moisture, wooden floors might not be your best best. If continuing the design choices of the other floors is important to you, you can good-quality laminate and vinyl and even tile designed to look almost identical to wooden flooring, while being less prone to water damage and much easier to clean. Some can also be designed to resemble stonework, marble, or other materials.
Avoid wall-to-wall carpets, since they’re hard to clean if they get flooded or too damp. However, rugs can work well, since you can easily clean under them, as well as remove them to dry if they get wet.
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