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Paint an Exposed Basement Ceiling | How To

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

Our basement ceiling went from looking like this:

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

To this:

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird
How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

So much better, right?! Today I am going to share all of the details about painting our ceiling black and what I would change if I were to do it over.

Check out the basement projects that inspired me while I was planning this budget-friendly DIY and the full basement makeover reveal!


How to Update & Paint an Exposed Basement Ceiling

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For a complete list of items used for this DIY project, scroll to the bottom of the post.

1 | 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.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

Our basement ceiling had old TV cable and alarm system wires 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.

2 | 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 began painting the ceiling.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

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!”

3 | Clean the Basement Ceiling Joists

Removing dirt and dust from ceiling joists 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 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.

4 | Protect the Walls & Floor From 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 followed 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.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

To protect large items that are staying in the basement, move them into the center of the room and cover them with drop cloths and plastic sheeting. If you are not updating your basement floors, I recommend covering those as well. Our floor had black speckled paint all over once the ceiling was finished, but I didn’t mind since the floors would be painted next.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

Personal Protective Gear

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 used a nail brush in the shower on my hands to remove any paint and it worked well but it does make them quite dry.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

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 used 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!

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

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

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

5 | Paint 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.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

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 paint sprayer, and consistently pulling the trigger starts to hurt after a while! I would recommend taking more time if you can.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

I followed the paint sprayer manual recommendations when setting up the machine 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.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

We chose Valspar 2000 flat black ceiling paint and used 6 cans. I decided to go with black paint for the ceiling because I wanted to camouflage the wires and pipes as much as possible. White looks really nice as well, but was not the look I was going for. With the can light placement, there is no light shining on the ceiling joists and it just disappears.

Paint Sprayer Tips

Because I had the sprayer tilted back as I sprayed the ceiling, I angled the intake tube 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.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

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.

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling black | Building Bluebird

6 | 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. Applying 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.

7 | 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.

Unfinished basement makeover | Building Bluebird

Pros and Cons of Painting an Exposed Basement Ceiling

Pros:

  • More affordable than a drop ceiling or drywall
  • It gives the basement a cool, industrial look
  • Easy access to the mechanicals of the house when necessary

Cons:

  • If you DIY this project, it can be time consuming and exhausting
  • There is no sound buffer that a drop ceiling and drywall can add

Exposed Basement Ceiling Reveal

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

Basement ceiling painted black and a step-by-step tutorial | Building Bluebird

Below is the workout area before we painted the floors.

Basement ceiling painted black and a step-by-step tutorial | Building Bluebird

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

Basement ceiling painted black and a step-by-step tutorial | Building Bluebird

Here is another great before shot of the basement:

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling with exposed beams | Building Bluebird 
#diy #painttutorial #paintsprayer #budgetfriendly #basementmakeover

And that same view after!

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling with exposed beams | Building Bluebird 
#diy #painttutorial #paintsprayer #budgetfriendly #basementmakeover
How to paint an exposed basement ceiling with exposed beams | Building Bluebird 
#diy #painttutorial #paintsprayer #budgetfriendly #basementmakeover
How to paint an exposed basement ceiling with exposed beams | Building Bluebird 
#diy #painttutorial #paintsprayer #budgetfriendly #basementmakeover

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This inexpensive DIY will transform your unfinished basement!

How to paint an exposed basement ceiling with exposed beams | Building Bluebird 
#diy #painttutorial #paintsprayer #budgetfriendly #basementmakeover

kris

Monday 2nd of May 2022

I really want to do this too. It doesn't look like you primed anything first. Would that be a problem with the paint sticking to the duck work?

lindseymahoney

Tuesday 3rd of May 2022

I did not prime it first and I only sprayed one coat of paint. I didn't have any problems with the paint sticking to the duct work. Nothing really touches the duct work on the ceiling so all of the paint has stayed intact!

joe

Saturday 19th of February 2022

Hi Lindsey, thank you so much for this detailed post - I plan to do the same in my basement.

Do you have a recommendation on the number of can lights per square foot? The lighting looks great in your pictures - was it only provided by the can lights? I am imagining that the matte black ceiling would require more lights than usual to feel adequately lit.

Thank you!

lindseymahoney

Saturday 19th of February 2022

Hi Joe, thanks for your comment! I believe the average guideline is one light for every 25 square feet. Our can lights were placed about every 4 feet. We installed dimmable can lights (link is at the bottom of the post) and that is the only lighting we use in the basement. It feels very light and bright!

11 Tips on Painting Ceiling in Basement Ideas

Friday 4th of February 2022

[…] the basement ceiling enables the owner to easily identify the entry points to ducts, pipes, and electrical […]

Trevor C

Wednesday 19th of January 2022

Did you paint the galvanized can fixtures also? If so did you use the same paint?

lindseymahoney

Wednesday 19th of January 2022

Yes! We had the electrician install the galvanized fixtures before we painted and sprayed those along with the ceiling joists. Once the ceiling was painted, I installed the can lights with the black trim. I used the same paint!

Dennis

Thursday 9th of December 2021

I did this to our basement ceiling that was about five years old at the time. I strongly suggest people use the protective gear suggested in this post. I did not and all I will say, it was not wise. We bought our house that was 7 years old from the builder. I did not want a drop ceiling and noticed restaurants inn the area did this to the ceilings. I guess I was a trend setter from what the painters who quoted some work for me on the other side of the basement. I like the look and the height, but the sound is noticeable between floors.

lindseymahoney

Tuesday 14th of December 2021

I agree on the sound aspect! We are going to look into potentially adding some panels in between some of the joists to help with the noise control.