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.
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 the other one was left out in the open. Originally, it had a frame built around it which was covered with paneling. Once the paneling was removed, a cylindrical post was revealed, 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 would have bought a wood column kit at the local building supply store.
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. The method I chose was one that had been featured on the home improvement show, Hometime:
- I measured from the ceiling to the lowest point of the ducts to determine the width of the sides of the box. I cut the side panels from oriented strand board.
- I nailed a 2×2 strip to the bottom edge of the side panel.
- I screwed a 2×2 strip to the ceiling joists, running parallel with the ducts.
- I nailed the top of side panel to the nailing strip attached to the ceiling joists.
- I repeated the same for the other side. Great care was taken to keep the side panels parallel to each other.
- OSB was screwed to the bottom strips to form the bottom of the box.
- I then attached 1/8 inch hardboard to the OSB, spanning joints for added strength.
- The finished box was first primed with an oil-based primer and then covered with FibreDecor. Alternatively, ceiling tiles or bead board could have been stapled to the OSB. The most elegant 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. In the office, I built a frame of 2 x 2’s and 1 x 2’s around the return duct. One foot square ceiling tile was glued and stapled to the frame. To allow access to the central air conditioning wire and hose which run beside the duct, one row of tiles was screwed into place and the screws were covered with plastic screw caps to allow for easier removal later.
The finished bulkhead is even with the top of the door frame allowing the most minimal clearance possible for the door.
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, 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. A door allows for easy access to the fixture and the entire structure was primed and covered with FibreDecor. 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.
The Electrical Panel
The electrical panel was also in a fairly prominent location. It too needed to be concealed yet remain easily accessible. This simple cabinet is made from 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 installed using “L” brackets to attach it to the ceiling joists. It is held to the wall with “L” brackets screwed into plastic anchors. The anchors are used only to hold as a reinforcement to hold the unit to the wall. The weight of the unit is supported from the ceiling joists.
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.