How to Paint an Exposed Basement Ceiling

April 23, 2021

Spraying the exposed basement ceiling may have been the most physically taxing DIY I have ever done. Don’t get me wrong, it was totally worth it for the look and the money saved, but it was exhausting! In all, it took me 10-12 hours to paint about 1,500 square feet of our basement ceiling.

Our ceiling went from looking like this:

To this:

So much better, right?! Today I am going to share all of the details around this project including what I would change if I were to do this project over.

Check out the basement projects that inspired me while I was planning this budget-friendly DIY.


How to Paint an Exposed Basement Ceiling

Organize Ceiling Wires

Before painting the ceiling, it is important to organize and remove any old wiring and pin any active wires to the joists using cord staples. This will help conceal the wires once the ceiling is painted.

Affordable DIY - How to paint an exposed basement ceiling | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover

Our ceiling had old TV cable wires and wires from an old alarm system that I easily removed. I used a wire cutter to remove the old wires. Any loose wires that needed to stay, I pinned them to the side of a joist for a clean look.

Add Electrical (if needed)

Our basement lighting consisted of only pull-string lights. I hired an electrician to install can lights that we could turn on and off with a few switches. Because I wanted everything on the ceiling black, I had the boxes installed before I sprayed the paint.

Affordable DIY - How to paint an exposed basement ceiling | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover

Before the electricians got started, I asked that they attach the wires to the joists. If they needed to cross any joists I asked them to try and do it at the edges of the room so it wasn’t noticeable. Never assume that contractors know how you want something to look. You know the saying, “assuming makes an ass out of you and me!”

Remove Dirt & Dust from Joists

Removing dirt and dust can be accomplished in a few different ways. I found that using a broom to brush away any dust and cobwebs was the most effective for me. I also tried a leaf blower which would have been great if I was properly dressed and our basement wasn’t still filled with our furniture. If your basement is empty, throw on some goggles and go to town with the blower. Finally, I utilized our shop vac to remove larger debris found on the support beams or ledges of the wall.

Prep Area for Paint

If you have plans to paint the basement walls and floor, start with the ceiling first! I know this rule, but still got antsy and decided to apply the first coat of paint onto the walls before spraying the ceiling. Because I complete the steps out of order, I spent a whole day taping plastic on the walls only to have all of it blow away as soon as I turned on the paint sprayer! Next time I will follow my own advice and skip painting the walls until the ceiling is completely finished.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover

To protect large items that are staying in the basement, move them into the center of the room and covered them with drop cloths and plastic sheeting. If you are not changing your basement floors, I would recommend covering those as well. Our floor had black speckled paint all over.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover

You also want to get protective gear for yourself. I wore a full body suit, protective eyewear, and an N95 mask. Gloves are not a bad idea either, but I decided not to use them. I use a nail brush in the shower on my hands to remove any paint and it works well but it does make them quite dry.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover

My father-in-law saw my standard mask in the photo above and immediately drove to my house to give me a respirator to use. I the respirator about half of the time but it would slip off of my head after a while. My preferred mask for this task was the disposable N95 mask with the mini respirator. Side note: We could not stop laughing at these pictures with me all geared up!

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover

Even with my protective gear, I still had paint all over my face and hands at the end of the day.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling and what I would do differently | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover

Spray the Exposed Basement Ceiling

For this project, I used my Wagner Flexio 5000 to spray the ceiling. It is really easy to use, but it took a long time. I heard from multiple people after I finished this project that renting an industrial sprayer from Home Depot would have cut my time in half. I’m not sure if this is true, but I would definitely research it if I tackled this project again.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling and what I would do differently | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover #valspar #wagnerspraytech #flexio5000

As I mentioned above, this project took about 10-12 hours! I packed it into 2 days and had to see a chiropractor afterward. Looking up at the ceiling, holding a sprayer, and continue pulling the trigger starts to hurt after a while!I would recommend taking more time if you can.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling and what I would do differently | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover #valspar #wagnerspraytech #flexio5000

I followed the paint sprayer manual recommendations when setting up the sprayer to paint the ceiling. You can change the size of the spray coverage and the air pressure depending on your project. I used the latex paint settings and kept the material flow between 9-11 and the airpower on med-hi.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling and what I would do differently | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover #valspar #wagnerspraytech #flexio5000

We chose Valspar 2000 flat black ceiling paint and used 6 cans.

Because I had the sprayer tilted back as I sprayed the ceiling, I angled the intake tube inside the sprayer towards the back so it would suck up all of the paint. If I was pointing the sprayer downward to spray a cabinet, for example, the intake tube would be angled towards the front of the sprayer.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling and what I would do differently | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover #valspar #wagnerspraytech #flexio5000

It took me a little bit to figure out the best way to use the paint sprayer, but once I got my system down, it was easier to get all of the nooks and crannies in the ceiling. I primarily used the horizontal spray position to cover in between the joists. I switched to the vertical spray option where I moved the sprayer up and down when there was a narrow area to cover.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling and what I would do differently | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover #valspar #wagnerspraytech #flexio5000

Paint Touch-Ups

After spraying the ceiling for two days, I decided that one coat of paint was enough! I touched up any areas that needed some more coverage with a paintbrush and small roller. A second coat of paint is always better than one, but I was not interested in tackling that project. The single coat of paint looks great and unless you are looking to find spots that may need more paint, you do not notice it at all.

Check out my recommended supplies for painting interior spaces.

Install Can Lights

I chose black can lights to match the black paint and it looks so good! We added dimmers to the switches too. I like having the option to dim the lights for a movie or while we are working out. Removing the pull lights with hanging bulbs and adding can lights completely elevated the look of our basement.

Black Exposed Basement Ceiling

I am so happy with how the exposed basement ceiling turned out! It looks completely different from when we first started this project. The black ceiling gives each area a clean and cohesive feel.

Below is the workout area before we painted the floors.

Step-by-Step process for painting an exposed basement ceiling and what I would do differently | Building Bluebird #paintsprayer #basementmakeover #valspar #wagnerspraytech #flexio5000

Here is the basement once the floors and walls had been painted. It is such a great hangout space for our family now!

Here is another great before shot of the basement:

And that same view after!


Purchase List

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How to paint an unfinished basement ceiling with exposed beams | Building Bluebird 
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4 Comments

  • Reply Jennifer Laura April 26, 2021 at 10:40 am

    Bravo! This looked like such a big job, but it looks SO good!!

    • Reply lindseymahoney August 2, 2021 at 5:09 pm

      Thank you so much!!

  • Reply Fred Lead June 6, 2021 at 9:08 pm

    I did this job a few years ago in our 1300 square foot basement and it was the most challenging project I had ever done, and prior to this I rehabbed multiple foreclosed houses. I had a handheld paint sprayer and ended up renting a professional sprayer from Home Depot and it did make the job much easier. I am moving soon to a house with a bigger unfinished basement and after pricing out a painter my first purchase is a stationary paint sprayer. I plan to take 4 days with the sprayer, 2 for Kilz and 2 for black paint, touchup will be with a handheld. If I rent a sprayer it would be about $400 or I can buy the same sprayer I would rent new for less. Now I’m listing all the things I can paint with the sprayer to save time like the majority of walls and furniture.

    • Reply lindseymahoney June 8, 2021 at 10:31 am

      Such a great idea! I have done group purchases on bigger tools like this and it is totally worth it. For example, a few family members all went in on a nice pressure washer that we all pass around and use when needed.

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