How to Paint an Exposed Basement Ceiling Black

December 20, 2021

Painting the exposed basement ceiling black 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 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:

To this:

So much better, right?! Today I am going to share all of the details around 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Basement ceiling painted black and a step-by-step tutorial | 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.

Black basement ceiling DIY to update your unfinished basement | 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


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


  • 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

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  • 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.

  • Reply Lori Hancock September 5, 2021 at 10:28 am

    This looks great! We are going to do something similar in our basement. I am curious of what the wall looks like where the drywall meets the exposed ceiling beams. Can you show pictures of that?

    • Reply lindseymahoney September 7, 2021 at 4:42 pm

      Sure! I will try and get a good photo and add it to the blog for you to see. On the TV area side, we installed a small piece of crown molding to give the top of the drywall a more finished look. On the gym side we mudded as best we could and left the raw edge of the drywall since there are different pipes and vents attached below the ceiling joists.

  • Reply Sam P October 18, 2021 at 8:45 am

    You inspired my wife and I to start the same project this past weekend. I’m breaking it up over the next week though (I realized quick I can only spray about a gallon before my shoulders feel like they’re on fire). Have about 1/3 of the space done so far
    Any additional tips for getting up above the ducting and some of the other weird to get to spots? A couple joists that are weirdly close together and the vertical joist surfaces closest to the walls? I’ve tried just about every angle on the sprayer but the size of the sprayer + my awkward body is making it hard to contort the nozzle up in there… Is it bad I might just let the poor lighting hide the not as covered spots in the hard to see anyway dark space?

    • Reply lindseymahoney October 18, 2021 at 9:41 am

      Yay! I know exactly how you feel with the shoulder pain! I saw a chiropractor after the project. After I sprayed the ceiling as best I could, I went back with a paintbrush and small roller to hit some of the awkward areas that the sprayer couldn’t reach. There were definitely some spots that I couldn’t reach but with the can lights shining below the joists, you can’t even tell! I wouldn’t overthink it. If it is really noticeable when the lights are on, then try to hit it with the paintbrush or roller.

  • Reply Cassie November 12, 2021 at 6:20 am

    This is a great idea and I am wanting to try it. I just want to confirm, is it safe to paint all the plumbing and HVAC ducts? It looks like you have done that but I wanted to make sure before I mess something up.

    • Reply lindseymahoney November 12, 2021 at 1:48 pm

      Hey Cassie, yes, it is safe to paint the exterior of the pipes and ducts! If there is a vent in the ceiling, I would cover it up so that paint doesn’t spray into the interior of the ductwork.

  • Reply Jaclyn November 14, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    That looks amazing! How high is it from the floor to the bottom of the ceiling joists? Our basement is low, so I’m wondering if it’s worth it or not. Also did you frame the basement walls yourself? Thanks!!

    • Reply lindseymahoney November 14, 2021 at 3:03 pm

      Some areas in the basement are close to 8 ft ceilings, other areas are lower where the pipes and HVAC ducts hang lower. The areas of the ceiling are probably 7 ft tall. Yes, we framed the two basement walls. We had to make a few adjustments where the pipes and ducts hung lower, but it looks just fine!

  • Reply Dennis December 9, 2021 at 9:30 pm

    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.

    • Reply lindseymahoney December 14, 2021 at 9:59 am

      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.

  • Reply Trevor C January 19, 2022 at 12:05 am

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

    • Reply lindseymahoney January 19, 2022 at 9:15 am

      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!

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