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Basement Renovation Ideas that Deal With a Low Ceiling

Nov 1 2012 - Posted by
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Basement Renovation Ideas that Deal With a Low Ceiling

Many basements are designed with a lower ceiling height, making it difficult to create a comfortable living space in this part of your home. Check out this selection of basement renovation ideas that allow for a low ceiling without sacrificing on comfort.

Minimize or Eliminate the Subfloor

Not all types of basement flooring require a subfloor, which maximizes an existing low ceiling by providing an extra inch or two of space. With a level concrete subfloor, several types of flooring can be used to provide a cosy space downstairs. Choose from the following types of flooring that can be installed without a subfloor:

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  • engineered wood — installed over a closed cell underlayment or poly barrier and standard underlayment, this type of floating wood floor offers an upscale finish that also saves space.
  • painted concrete - if your concrete subfloor is in decent condition, apply a few coats of durable paint for high traffic areas. You can place area rugs over the concrete for warmth, but this method of finishing the basement floor maximizes ceiling height.
  • ceramic tile - an attractive, long lasting tiling job requires a level concrete subfloor. With that in place (use concrete leveling products to fix any serious issues), tiles can be laid directly onto the concrete and mortared in place.

In order to maintain an open feeling in your basement with low ceilings, skip the plywood subfloor and opt for a smooth, durable style of flooring. Use solid colors or very subtle patterns to avoid a busy look and stick with the same type of flooring throughout the space.

Optimize Windows

Basements with low ceilings tend to feel dark and gloomy. Dispel the shadows by optimizing your windows and letting in natural light. Design the layout of your basement renovation with windows in mind, ensuring you do not block natural light with walls, furniture or other obstacles.

Keep window treatments to a minimum, and consider using privacy or smoked glass to provide an open appearance without sacrificing on privacy. Talk to your builder or contractor about adjusting recessed windows or adding another pane to bring the window flush with the interior walls. This allows for the greatest distribution of natural light in the space.

Lighting Layouts

Lift the look of your low ceiling with good lighting design. Remember to avoid casting major shadows by covering the area well, using a generous amount of ceiling fixtures. Recessed fixtures work best, but low profile strip or track lighting can also preserve or create an open feeling.

Avoid wall sconces and lamps, if possible. These lights tend to illuminate the upper area and create shadows down below, which often sandwiches the visual scale of the room and makes it appear tighter. Use these fixtures to complement those on the ceiling, but make sure every inch of wall space possible is well lit to eliminate space-crunching shadows.

Take advantage of the natural light from windows and add lighting as needed. Make sure your stairway is well lit, and install a three-way switch for safety and convenience when using this space.

Ceiling Considerations

The very first thing to check when designing a basement renovation is ceiling height. Many municipalities require a minimal height in the basement, ranging from 84-inches to 90-inches. If you are working with an existing low ceiling, be sure to find out whether or not it's possible to finish the basement as is, providing enough room for the proper ceiling.

There are several designs that provide optimum ceiling heights, including:

  • Wood panelling — an inexpensive option that closes off your ceiling without adding bulk, wood panelling can be nailed or stapled directly onto the floor joists for a smooth fit. Think about adding very shallow trim to the seams for added beauty.
  • Drywall ceiling — slightly thicker than most wood panelling, drywall does take more time and energy to complete the mudding, but produces a sleek finish. You can even create a smooth seam in the corners, attaching directly to the drywall on the walls.
  • Exposed duct work and floor joists — instead of closing off the ceiling with a solid material, why not simply give the area of coat of heavy duty paint and leave it open? This industrial style of d cor is a major trend right now, and following that hot trail of home d cor and renovation design is wise. Remember to clean up the area very well and choose good quality paint that will bond well to metal, wood and any plastic.

What you want to avoid when renovating a basement with low ceilings is a drop ceiling. While these are attractive and provide easy to the space above, the grid required for installation is generally located a substantial distance down the wall. That means you may lose a few inches from the room height and make a low ceiling feel even lower.

Whichever type of ceiling you opt for, consider painting it a neutral color like white or off white. This creates more light in the room and helps to brighten the space. Cover bulkheads with minimal boxing, and keep the lines of a bulkhead logical and smooth. Avoid boxing out a random area. Instead, try and redirect or move the duct work or plumbing to better accommodate a new ceiling.

Designing a basement renovation that deals with a low ceiling can be tricky. How can you make this shallow space seem open and comfortable? Pay attention to the types of flooring and ceiling installed, and optimize the natural light as well as the lighting design. All of these things will come together to help make this space more inviting, even with a very low ceiling. Always follow local building code, and talk to your contractor if you're unsure about how to attack this problem.

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