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The Basement Renovation: Hiding Stuff

Finishing a basement can be challenging. The basement is usually home to most of the house’s mechanical and utility equipment, such as the furnace, laundry, and electrical service panel, along with duct work and plumbing for the main floor fixtures. And then there is the obvious the support beams and posts that help hold the house up.

Once upon a time, basements were strictly utilitarian. They were used for storage and not much else so aesthetics didn’t matter. However, nobody wants to look at a drain clean-out in the middle of a finished area. If most of the ugly stuff is in one area, it is easiest to leave that part of the basement unfinished. But when that isn’t possible, creativity plays a major role in incorporating obstructions in the design while keeping the important stuff accessible.

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Support Posts

There were two structural support posts in the basement. I could have looked into replacing the main beam with a steel I-beam, thereby enabling either the elimination or relocation of one of the support posts. Instead, I chose to live with them as they were. I was able to incorporate one in the partition wall but left the other one out in the open. Originally, it had a frame built around it which was covered with paneling.

Two support posts enclosed in wood paneling.

I removed the paneling, revealing a cylindrical post rather than an ugly jack-post like I expected. I simply sprayed the post with a stone texture paint to make it an architectural element. Had it been a jack-post, I likely would have bought a wood column kit at the local building supply store.

post painted with stone texture
Support post painted with stone texture.

Covering Duct work

There are a couple of ways to frame around duct work. One way is to frame a bulkhead with 2x4s and then cover it with drywall or some other material. I chose the method featured on the home improvement show, Hometime. Here are the steps I took:

  1. Measured from the ceiling to the lowest point of the ducts to determine the width of the sides of the box. Cut the side panels from oriented strand board (OSB).
  2. Nailed a 2×2 strip to the bottom edge of the side panel.
  3. Screwed a 2×2 strip to the ceiling joists, running parallel with the ducts.
  4. Nailed the top of side panel to the nailing strip attached to the ceiling joists.
  5. Repeated the same for the other side, ensuring the side panels were parallel to each other.
  6. To form the bottom of the box, I screwed OSB to the bottom strips.
  7. I then attached 1/8 inch hardboard to the OSB, spanning joints for added strength.
  8. The finished box was first primed with an oil-based primer and then covered with FibreDecor.  Alternatively, I could have stapled ceiling tiles or bead board to the OSB.  The most elegant and timeless choice would have been to use bead board instead of OSB across the bottom and fastened to the OSB on the sides.  (Ain’t hindsight great?!)

This method allowed me to keep as much headroom as possible under the ducts.  Drywall would have required additional framing across the bottom of the bulkhead as it is much heavier than the OSB.

enclosing ductwork
The duct cover before the bottom panel was installed.
priming duct cover
Duct cover partially primed
finished duct and support beam covers and support post
This is how the covers and the support post looked when finished.

Supply and return ducts in the office

In the office, I built a frame of 2 x 2’s and 1 x 2’s around the return duct. 12 inch by 12 inch ceiling tiles were glued and stapled to the frame.

To allow access to the central air conditioning wire and hose which run beside the supply duct, I fastened one row of tiles with screws into place to allow for easier removal later. Plastic caps conceal the screws.

concealing duct
Framing around the duct in the office

The finished bulkhead is even with the top of the door frame allowing the most minimal clearance possible for the door.

Installing the ceiling tiles
finished bulkhead
Finished bulkhead

Hiding the Drain Clean-out

The drain clean-out at the exit point of the waste line is located at the bottom of the stairs. It’s not exactly a discreet location so it was important to make it somewhat attractive. I built a box around it, using the same technique as I did for the duct work.

drain cover
The frame around the clean-out was built using the same method as the bulkhead around the duct work.
drain cover
The box around the cleanout takes shape.

A door provides easy access to the fixture and the entire structure was primed and covered with FibreDecor.

drain cover closed
The frame around the clean-out with the door installed.
drain cover open
The door of the clean-out cover open for access to drain.

I also used FibreDecor on the sloping wall above the stairs to make the transition to the basement, so the box around the drain became part of that transition.

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The Electrical Panel

The electrical panel was also in a fairly prominent location. It too needed to be concealed yet remain easily accessible. I made a simple cabinet is using plywood. The butt joints are screwed together… nothing fancy here. I used a Forstner bit to countersink the screws and concealed the screws with plugs made using a plug cutting bit. The unit is attached to the ceiling joists using “L” brackets and held to the wall with “L” brackets and anchors. The anchors only serve as a reinforcement to hold the unit to the wall. The ceiling joists support the weight of the unit.

cabinet to cover electrical panel
Cabinet built to conceal electrical panel.

The cabinet should be labeled so that it is easily identified as the access to the electrical panel.  Also, the area in front of the panel must be kept clear for 36 inches in order to comply with the electrical code.


The Basement Renovation

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