Today, I have a basement progress update and DIY learning experience (lol) all in one—we painted our exposed basement ceiling black, and we absolutely love it! I truly can’t believe the difference it made in the space literally right away.
Want to see where we’re headed in the basement? Read all about our plans here.
So, today, I’m going to share a little about how and why you might want to paint your exposed basement ceiling instead of going to all the trouble of sheet rocking it.
Why Paint an Exposed Basement Ceiling?
Normally, when you finish a basement, you drywall the ceiling when you put in the walls. That makes it look like any other room in your house. We decided not to for a few reasons:
First up, we have an old house, which means the ceiling height in the basement is quite low. While it might not seem like much, adding drywall would lower the lowest point of the ceiling about an inch. By leaving it open, we not only have the actual extra height, but it feels even higher because of the up and down of the floor joists (does that make sense?).
Keeping the basement ceiling open means that we have access to a lot of the HVAC ducts, plumbing, and electrical in our house. Especially with all of the projects that we’re doing, having those things easy to access has been such a blessing. In the future, if something breaks or we just want to change something, it’s easier to deal with if everything is accessible.
Finally, it looks cool and industrial to paint the exposed ceiling instead of covering it up. And that’s as good of reason as any, right?
How We Painted the Ceiling
With an exposed ceiling, especially one like ours that has many pipes, wires, nooks and crannies, it’s best to spray the paint to get a good even finish. I can’t even imagine how long it would have taken with a brush, but it only took about 2 hours with our trusty paint sprayer.
(More on why we love it in this post here!)
We used Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black, in a matte finish, and we called and ordered a 5 gallon bucket since it’s a large space. They did contactless pickup and just put it in our trunk for us—so easy!
I only did one coat on this project, because we didn’t feel like anyone was going to be looking super closely to notice any drips, so I wasn’t afraid to go somewhat heavy on it.
For any super noticeable drips, I kept a roller nearby and rolled them out before they dried.
Plus, I knew after getting drywall up and walls painted that I’d have to do touchups anyway.
We did this project before the room had walls (what you see is the spray foam insulation) or floors or anything, which was perfect because it would make a big mess otherwise. We just masked off the windows and the open spots where the light fixtures were going.
If you’re painting a ceiling after those steps, you will really need to prep. I would suggest this for your walls and contractor’s paper all over your floors. I cannot emphasize enough how much the paint got everywhere.
Personal Protection While Painting A Ceiling
Let me start by saying that I am obsessed with my paint sprayer. It’s been the gift that keeps on giving and gives me crazy ideas that I can probably paint the exterior of our house by myself, right??
But with any spraying project, you’re going to deal with a bit of mess and overspray, and given that this one was above my head, I knew it was going to be worse than usual. If you’re going to spray a ceiling, it’s important to protect yourself.
Now, I married a safety engineer, so it’s possible that I overdid it slightly, but the main concerns with spraying paint on a ceiling are your eyes and breathing in particles.
For your eyes, wear some good safety glasses and be sure they have coverage on the sides, because paint particles will 100% sneak in the sides. The paint sock on my head also helped cover the sides of my safety glasses.
I had Dustin nearby with a wet paper towel to wipe my glasses every once in a while. (He couldn’t hear me call him through my mask, so our system was that I would clap really loudly when I needed help, lol!)
For your lungs, paint is actually a big particle, so you’re going to be pretty safe if you just tie a bandana around your nose and mouth. (This does not constitute medical advice, I’m not a doctor!)
The other issue for me, though, is the smell, which can sometimes make me lightheaded. So, I wore this respirator mask, and it honestly completely blocked the paint smell. It was worth the investment because I also wore it while sanding drywall later, which is a smaller particle and more dangerous to breathe.
I also covered my clothes, even though I wore paint clothes, with a paint suit, just to avoid ruining them and/or tracking paint all over the house after. I was glad I did because it had a ton of paint on it in the end. And I wore a hair cover and latex gloves as well.
Finally, I didn’t wear shoes because, again, I didn’t want to track paint around. Instead, I wore a pair of old socks and threw them away as soon as I was done. (This led to the interesting result of having my foot prints in paint all over the concrete floor, lol!)
This has been such an exciting space for us to plug away on, because we’re truly doing everything ourselves and learning so much. Dustin even learned how to do electrical and hang sheet rock, and I mudded and taped all of the walls!
Here’s what the most recent picture of the basement looks like, but I’ve actually primed since then too:
We’re taking a bit of break from this project at the moment, just to focus on the bathroom and outdoors, but we’re getting so close and I can’t wait to see it all come together!
Update March 2022: Frequently Asked Questions About our Basement Ceiling
Thank you so much for reading! After getting a lot of questions, I decided to add an FAQ section to this post so it can be most helpful to you. Of course, if I don’t answer your question below, feel free to comment or email me! I still love to hear from you!
What kind of paint did you use?
We used Sherwin Williams Super Paint Interior Acrylic Latex in Tricorn Black.
Did you use primer?
No, we did not use any primer, and we painted right over the joists, wires, ducts, and pipes. I’m not a professional at any of this, so you can go ahead and prime if a pro tells you to and you want to! I will say, so far we haven’t had issues with peeling or flaking, and it has been almost 2 years. Fingers crossed for the future, of course! But I also feel like touch-ups would be pretty straightforward.
How has the painted ceiling held up? How about on pipes and HVAC?
As I said above, we haven’t had flaking or peeling happen yet, and it has been almost 2 years.
The only issues have been places where we added water lines and HVAC where I had to go in and paint the new things. I didn’t want to cover everything again so I just painted with a brush, and it would’ve looked better sprayed, of course. I will say, the darkness of the black hides those brush marks pretty well, though.
What did you do at the top of the drywall where it meets the ceiling?
This is a great question! We added some flat trim at the spot where the ceiling meets the drywall, almost like crown molding. We painted it black so it would blend in with the ceiling, but you could match the wall or choose a contrasting color if you want to!
Why did you do drywall after painting the ceiling? Did you get drywall dust on the ceiling?
I did drywall after painting the ceiling because it seemed easier than trying to cover the drywall and/or paint over the overspray on the walls. We didn’t get any drywall dust on the painted ceiling—I suspect gravity was our friend here? Drywall dust is surprisingly weighty and mostly drops to the ground in piles. I stand by my order of operations here but you can do whatever you’d like in your home!
What lights did you use?
The ones we used seem to be discontinued, but try searching for “spin lights” for something similar.
Why did you paint your ceiling black? Can I paint mine white?
I chose to paint our exposed basement ceiling black because I felt it would do the best job covering all of the wires and pipes and sort of making them disappear instead of standing out. I think this was effective—it does sort of recess into itself.
Also, our house has a lot of black in it and I’m not afraid of going dark, especially in a place that’s already dark, like a basement. If you’d prefer to paint your ceiling white or another light color, go for it—it’s your house!
Have more questions about how we did it? Let me know in the comments or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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CassidyOctober 18, 2022 at 10:48 am
We are considering doing this with our basement. My question is about the sound carrying to the rest of the house. We will be adding multiple bedrooms, a bathroom and a living space but I am concerned with how the sound will carry not only to the next room but hearing everything upstairs. Do you have issues with hearing everything upstairs with the exposed ceiling or did you find a solution for that with this method?
darcyclarkJanuary 23, 2023 at 9:14 am
Hi Cassidy, it is not sound proof, and during a loud movie for instance, the sound carries. You should look into insulation and soundproofing options if you want to do this!
MelissaAugust 27, 2022 at 8:04 pm
Did you use paint straight from bucket or thin it with water? Depending on your sprayer? Thanks
darcyclarkAugust 31, 2022 at 5:53 pm
It depends on your sprayer, ours you can use right from the bucket.
Erin DavisDecember 31, 2022 at 7:43 pm
What type of floors did you go with ? We are doing white walls and the black ceiling but want carpet on the floor for our kiddos. Unsure of the color to go with though. Any suggestions. Also did you spray paint your can lights?
darcyclarkJanuary 23, 2023 at 9:10 am
We did Luxury Vinyl Plank (the Lifeproof brand from Home Depot) in a grey color. Grey carpet would be great as well. We did not spray paint our can lights. Hope this helps!
GwenMarch 14, 2022 at 2:18 pm
We are just in the process of spray foaming and I can’t decide to paint the ceiling black before or after drywall. I was going to do it after the drywall stage because of the sanding and fine fest but now I’m not sure LOL. Did you find that the drywall dust coated the black ceiling
Or did you protect it somehow.
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:23 pm
We did the drywall after painting the ceiling and had no issues with drywall dust on the ceiling.
Thanks for reading!
Josh HazelFebruary 20, 2022 at 5:46 am
Is there anything that you did NOT paint on the ceiling, because you shouldn’t or it would not look good?
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:23 pm
We painted over everything.
Thanks for reading!
Marcy HendricksonJanuary 15, 2022 at 11:25 pm
Hi Darcy, We have a little house that our daughters live in where they go to college. The ceiling looks a lot like yours did before you painted it. I too would like to paint ours black. My question is now that it’s been a while since you painted; have you had any issues with painting over the water lines? For instance, the paint peeling off of the hot water lines, etc.?
Thank you in advance for your time!
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:25 pm
So far, we haven’t had any issues with the paint peeling off the water lines! Fingers crossed it holds up, but I think it would be a quick touch-up anyway.
Thanks for reading!
ChrisJanuary 13, 2022 at 8:36 am
Great post, lots of good information. Trying to figure out how to trim out the top portion of the Sheetrock where the Sheetrock meets the ceiling. Did you guys use any trim or just get the Sheetrock edges as close to the ceiling as you could? I was thinking maybe crown molding around the top edge painted the same color as the walls, but thought that might look wrong.
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:26 pm
Great question! We put a piece of trim at the top sort of like crown molding, but flat (just our preference) and painted it black to blend in with the ceiling. Totally personal preference, I think crown would work as well!
Thanks for reading!
Dave ClarkNovember 24, 2021 at 4:54 am
Did you turn off your gas furnace and water heater prior to painting?
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:28 pm
Good question, no we did not.
Thanks for reading!
TkNovember 14, 2021 at 4:31 pm
Hi! Fabulous post! I am about to tackle this same project for a 1500 sq ft space. We have no electrical run yet.. so I’m thinking two steps forward.. concerned about the paint flaking off the wiring or duct work? Especially when we are heating. Did you do any type of primer, sanding or set spray? Has any flaking occurred. I’m reading that for duct work to prime first due to heat then oil based rated for heat is best. Did you use latex?
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:29 pm
Hi, thanks for reading! We didn’t use any primer and haven’t seen flaking or peeling issues yet (fingers crossed!). We used Sherwin Williams Super Paint Interior Acrylic Latex.
Mark QuittnerNovember 10, 2021 at 12:01 am
Hi Tiffany, Nicely detailed project. A further question about painting wiring. Older basements do not have metal flex conduit over the actual wiring as per industrial look projects, only the insulated wiring. If the wiring is exposed when previous drywall or ceiling tiles are removed is it necessary to rewire with the metal flex before painting. One photo seems to show a flex conduit. I understand that you have used drywall for the walls therefore that takes care of that part of the wiring, but the ceiling is a different matter.
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:30 pm
Our ceiling has flex conduit, and this is a great question for your electrician. Thanks for reading!
ShellaOctober 18, 2021 at 9:20 pm
I love the look! I really want to do it. My concern is this…. if there are any critters in the basement, doesn’t a dry-walled ceiling help keep them out of the living area? Maybe you don’t have that concern, but most 100 year old houses in south Minneapolis have a mouse or too in the basement.
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:32 pm
We have seen the occasional mouse, but I do think the spray insulation did a lot of work sealing up their little holes. I can’t say whether drywall ceilings keep critters out better, as we don’t have a point of comparison.
Thanks for reading!
Tiffany VincentSeptember 14, 2021 at 9:56 am
Darcey, this has probably been one of the most detailed posts I’ve seen regarding painting an exposed basement, so thanks for sharing and providing all the great tips, tricks, and tools! Quick question – We plan on adding at least 10 -12 more exposed lights to the basement. Would you suggest adding the lights first before painting?
darcyclarkSeptember 14, 2021 at 11:39 am
Hi Tiffany, thanks so much for reading! I would probably add the lights first so that you can paint right over the wiring—just be aware that you may have to cover/tape over the lights which is a bit more work.
websiteAugust 29, 2021 at 8:35 pm
This was very enjoyable to read!
darcyclarkAugust 30, 2021 at 10:04 am
Thank you for reading!
Judith KeeAugust 6, 2021 at 4:24 am
I am also going to paint my basement ceiling to have an exposed look and more space. I am super perplexed with how to handle the top of the drywall after installing it. Did you do anything special?
darcyclarkAugust 6, 2021 at 2:48 pm
We did put a piece of trim at the top of the drywall (sort of like crown but ours is just a straight piece) to cover that edge.
Kheishia ArmesDecember 1, 2021 at 11:34 am
Hi. Your ceiling looks great. So my question is regarding the painting of the wiring and pipes. After painting, did you label any of the exposed pipes & wires? I want to paint our basement ceiling and was just concerned about knowing which wire & pipes go to what after painting everything black.
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:27 pm
This is a great question! We actually had new water lines run to each bathroom with individual shut-offs, and those are labeled. But everything else we can sort of follow from the source. You could definitely label with a little hang tag or label maker if you want to!
Caroline HallApril 16, 2021 at 2:35 pm
I’m super-tempted to paint my exposed basement ceiling. I’d like to paint it white – any particular reason why you did yours in black?
Also, did you just paint all exposed wired and pipes? I’m trying to decide if I should have An electrician come in first to tell me what not to paint.
darcyclarkApril 19, 2021 at 5:43 pm
You could paint it whatever color you like, I guess! I picked black because there are so many wires and things up there I thought it would cover all of that the best. And, yes, I painted right over all of the pipes, wires, and HVAC.
Thanks for reading!
LisaMarch 26, 2021 at 3:09 am
I live in an older home and there is no sub floor, so should I be concerned with paint overspray on the floors above? I love the look, but I don’t want to create another project!
LisaMarch 26, 2021 at 3:35 am
Cancel the previous question, there is a sub floor and all should be good, thanks!! Just have another question as to why you chose black over a lighter color? I have a small basement area that I want to finish and I didn’t know if black would make it too dark!
darcyclarkApril 1, 2021 at 4:48 pm
I painted it dark to cover the wires and pipes better. You could do a lighter color if you want to!
Michael HughesMarch 18, 2021 at 10:40 pm
What is the square footage they the 5 gallon bucket covered? I’m considering doing this myself, but have no idea how much paint we might need.
darcyclarkApril 1, 2021 at 4:57 pm
Thanks for reading! The area we sprayed was about 400 square feet, and we used maybe 3/4 of the 5 gallon bucket. But I knew we’d use black paint in other spots and the ease of just sticking the sprayer tube in the 5 gallon bucket instead of having to switch it every gallon was worth it to me.
KevinMarch 15, 2021 at 5:03 pm
Did you have any issues with paint leaking to the floors above? I would assume that some gaps in the ceiling to the floor above would have some over spray leaking to the floor above.
Thanks, I will be doing this to my new house. I like the idea of an unfinished finished basement
darcyclarkMarch 15, 2021 at 6:04 pm
No, there are no issues with paint overspray on the floors above—this is the subfloor I painted, not the actual floor boards upstairs.
Thanks for reading!
AngelMarch 12, 2021 at 8:15 am
Super helpful! Thank you!!!
BrandonMarch 9, 2021 at 3:02 pm
Hi Darcy! This looks SO GREAT! It’s exactly what we want to do but weren’t sure how to start, really appreciate your time sharing it. Our home was built in 2014 so there’s like 6 years or so of dustbunnies up in the overhead! Did you do anything to clean up there before painting? I had a someone recommend to me to spray a bunch of cleaner up in there… but I’m wondering if that’s overkill and maybe just a good brooming-down would be sufficient. Doesn’t sound like you did any of that, but I just wanted to pick your brain/verify. Thanks again, looks so kewl!
darcyclarkMarch 10, 2021 at 3:51 pm
Thanks so much for reading! We did give the area a sweep and went around with our shop vac (has a long hose) to get any dust bunnies and spider webs out of the corners. If it’s just dusty, that should be enough cleaning, but of course if there’s any sticky or wet messes, you’ll want to give those a better clean before painting.
JasonFebruary 20, 2021 at 2:50 pm
Please explain what you mean when you say you insulated the rim joist with spray foam. I am not sure I understand this step.
darcyclarkFebruary 22, 2021 at 3:48 pm
Hi Jason, Thanks for reading! It’s not a painting step, I was just explaining how we insulated our basement.
AshleyFebruary 12, 2021 at 12:11 pm
Hi! This post was so helpful as we work on our unfinished basement – thank you!
Can you source the black bubble light in the picture? We have exposed bulbs right now and need something simple that’s going to provide more light.
darcyclarkFebruary 12, 2021 at 5:22 pm
Thanks so much for reading! We have this light—ours is silver but I can’t find the exact same color we have. What you’re looking for is a “spin light,” that will allow you to replace the bare bulbs (we had the same situation!).
JJanuary 11, 2021 at 6:09 pm
Hi there! I LOVE this! I’m totally considering doing this in our low basement also. Quick question – what type of floor are you planning to do, bc of height restrictions?
darcyclarkJanuary 11, 2021 at 6:15 pm
Hey there, thanks for reading! We did LifeProof vinyl plank flooring on top of dry barrier subfloor. We live in a wet area so we selected materials with potential moisture in mind.
Bob WJanuary 5, 2021 at 6:27 pm
Hi! Thanks for the write-up. I’m finishing up my wiring and will be painting my ceiling. You mentioned you used 5 gallons. Can you tell me the approximate area that the 5 gallons covered?
darcyclarkJanuary 5, 2021 at 7:56 pm
Hi Bob, I did buy 5 gallons, but didn’t use all of it (it’s hard to tell but maybe 3/4 of it was used on spraying the ceiling) but I knew I had other things I needed black paint for. The area of the rooms I sprayed is around 400 square feet.
ChrisJanuary 4, 2021 at 3:13 pm
Hello! Has the paint adhered to the ducts, wiring, and copper pipes pretty well? Been trying to find a good paint to use that will stick to everything in our basement. But the ducts especially have me worried.
darcyclarkJanuary 5, 2021 at 6:23 pm
So far it has adhered just fine! I found that ducts are the spot most susceptible to drips, so spray lightly and have your roller ready.
Carrieann and DavidJanuary 2, 2021 at 5:09 am
A couple questions we are getting ready to start our basement as we just got finished with studs. After you sprayed your ceiling and started on your drywall, did you have trouble with drywall dust all over the ceiling and if so how did you remove that or did you cover the ceilings before doing your drywall. This is the part we are dreading. thanks in advance Carrieann
darcyclarkJanuary 2, 2021 at 7:44 pm
Hey there, thanks for reading! We didn’t really get any drywall dust on the ceiling (gravity?) except for maybe a bit on the edges where we bumped the ceiling while putting up or sanding the drywall. We planned on needing to touch up the paint anyway so it wasn’t a big deal. Hope that helps!
deeJune 25, 2021 at 4:33 am
Link to sprayer didnt work
darcyclarkJune 25, 2021 at 2:06 pm
Thanks for letting me know! Here’s a new link for you: https://rstyle.me/+mH5CVXwUdKiqM87BWTS30Q
CassieDecember 24, 2020 at 4:39 pm
Thank you for the post. We also have an old house and we’re considering painting our basement ceiling. I think in some areas its just north of six feet so really low! Did you spray all of your wires too? We have exposed copper pipes and wiring and I was not sure how to handle that. Also, which sprayer did you use? Thanks!
darcyclarkDecember 31, 2020 at 8:21 pm
Hi Cassie! We sprayed right over everything, including pipes and wires. This is the sprayer we used: https://amzn.to/3rKEf9q Good luck with your project!
Ryan M PeotJanuary 31, 2021 at 2:19 am
What sort of finish did you use for your paint?
darcyclarkJanuary 23, 2023 at 9:16 am
SeanDecember 23, 2020 at 1:41 am
Looks great!! Would you mind telling me what the floor to ceiling height in your basement is?
darcyclarkDecember 31, 2020 at 8:32 pm
Hey Sean, It’s about 80.5 inches. There is a spot with HVAC where it drops down to about 6 ft, though. Thanks for reading!
JohnDecember 11, 2020 at 1:24 am
Did you all spray foam yourselves as well. I am finished demo and working on putting my basement back together. I am spraying the ceiling and want to spray foam, especially the rim joists. I got a quote but the DIY is tempting me.
darcyclarkDecember 11, 2020 at 4:00 pm
Hi John, no, we hired out the spray foam.
Josh HazelFebruary 20, 2022 at 5:38 am
What kind of contractor would you call for spray foaming? maybe im overthinking it and i just google “spray foam insulation” or something?
darcyclarkMarch 14, 2022 at 3:24 pm
Yes, I think they’re generally specific to spray foam insulation so that Google search should get you pretty far!
Thanks for reading!
Lourdes RochaDecember 9, 2020 at 4:04 pm
Looks great!! Did you prime before painting or use a paint with primer in it?
darcyclarkDecember 10, 2020 at 3:26 pm
Hey there! I didn’t use primer, no. And we used Sherwin Williams Super Paint Interior Acrylic Latex.
IreneNovember 18, 2020 at 3:13 am
How did you insulate the rim joist and cover for painting? Did you just spray paint on insulation foam?
darcyclarkNovember 18, 2020 at 10:10 pm
Hey there! So the rim joists are just insulated with spray foam and I painted right over them.
Olivia MOctober 21, 2020 at 2:00 pm
Which kind SW paint did you use?
darcyclarkOctober 24, 2020 at 7:07 pm
Thanks for reading! We used Sherwin Williams Super Paint Interior Acrylic Latex.