If you’re looking to finish your unfinished basement, consider starting with the ceiling. You don’t need drywall to make your ceiling look amazing. With paint and lights, you can create an industrial look in a couple days.
Here’s how to get the look. It’s what I did for an area I was turning into a home gym. First, make sure you’re dressed for the job because you are going to start with painting. You don’t want paint all over your clothes, so invest in some old clothes you don’t mind ruining, or buy plastic unibody style overalls from the home store. Also, tape put up plastic drops on areas you don’t want painted! This is often the most time consuming part of painting, but it makes clean-up much easier.
Paint it black
It was now time to spray paint. I chose to paint mine black. You can choose whatever color you like and you don’t need expensive paint. I painted everything from wires to ducts and plumbing to make it all disappear to the eye. I would suggest buying or renting an air compressor versus using a smaller hand held sprayer.
Also, use 5-gallon buckets of paint, because they are cheaper and more convenient and you will invariably need more paint than you think. Make sure you read the instructions for the sprayer before attempting to use it. Spray the ceiling, using the long wand and keep the tip about a foot from the surface you are spraying, depending on the nozzle. If you are too close, it might cause drips. After the first coat, check for any missed spots and target them during the second coat.
Let there be light
After the paint has dried, it’s time to install ceiling lights instead of big can lights. New LED lights are only about $5 a piece and come in a variety of types and colors. Some can even change light temperature or color with an app or remote.
I decided to install 18 LED lights laid out in a grid pattern. I probably didn’t need that many, but with a dimmer they could easily be controlled and there would be no dark areas with more lights.
The newer LED lights typically clip into a drywall hole in your ceiling, but if you don’t have drywall, you’ll need to get creative. First thing to do is turn off the electricity to the area you’ll be working. It might be necessary to bring in lights from another room on an extension cord, or if you have windows in your basement, do the work during the day.
To install the lights, figure out where you want them then measure the distance between the joists and cut a square of 3/4“ plywood that fits in between. In my case, because the joists were 16 inches on center, the gap between the joists was about 14.5 inches so I cut the wood squares about 14.25 so they fit between the joists.
I was able to cut all 18 squares from just one sheet of builder grade plywood. Keep in mind, not all of your joists may be the same distance apart, so measure between the joists wherever a light will go and cut the square of plywood accordingly.
Once you figure out how many lights and boards you will need to light up the space, use the circular template that comes with the lights to accurately cut a hole in the center of the board. You can also use a jigsaw if you don’t have a hole saw, but it takes longer.
To mount the boards, you’ll need cleats, which you can cut from scrap wood. To attach the LED boards, put the cleats up about ¾ of an inch into the joist bay, one per side. The reason you want them ¾ of an inch up is because when you screw in the ¾ inch plywood squares to the cleats, they will then sit flush with the bottom of the joists.
This is when I spray painted the cleats and square boards all at once for efficiency. You can do this on the ground, but it’s faster to do it after they are all installed between the joists.
Run the wiring
Now it’s time to run the electrical wiring. I only had one 75 watt bulb in that side of my basement to begin with, but I was able to use the same breaker and the wire that came into the middle of the basement because LED lights are much more efficient. The 18 LED lights I installed used less electricity than 2 regular 75 watt bulbs!
One idea that will save you time when wiring new lights is to figure out how much wire you need and buy a spool of it. In my case, it was a 1,000 foot reel. You will use more than you might think, but you should be able to measure it out in advance and get close to the correct amount, plus 10%.
What I did was mount the 1,000 foot reel of wire on a metal rod on the wall studs that had no drywall over them yet. This method allows you to unspool the wire for the amount you need, without it kinking. You are only pulling out the length you need from one light to the next. Only cut it off once you know you’ve pulled enough. Give yourself a little extra so it can be stapled to the joists and eventually make it to the light box on each LED light.
If you don’t know how to wire a series of lights, you are just connecting similar color wires. The lights will have a black, white and ground wire typically. Connect the wires according to the instructions and then put the spring loaded LEDs into their plywood hole and do the same to the next light, until you are done.
Either at the beginning or the end of the “run” you will have to install a switch to control the power to the lights. In my case, it was at the end of the light run and was already where I wanted it on the wall from the builder. I did change out the switch though to a smart switch that dimmed and could also operate by voice with Alexa.
If you are at all unsure, consider hiring an electrician. Now it’s time to turn on the electricity at the breaker after wiring everything in. Then you turn the power back on to the lights themselves.
So, with some effort and some paint, you can transform part of your basement into an industrial oasis in a weekend, if you are efficient. It took me one day to prep and paint, and one day to install the lights.
Whether you’re turning your space into a gym or just a relaxing space, the ceiling lights and paint will help you achieve a unique and maximum look with minimum effort.
I did the other side of my basement ceiling in drywall, which took far more time and effort to make it look perfectly smooth and finished, although I liked doing the living area in drywall and the gym in industrial style.