7 Basement Ideas on a Budget

Basement Living Area

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An important part of improving or finishing your basement is staying within budget. Whether it's for the basement flooring, ceiling, walls, or staircase, control the costs with these basement ideas on a budget.

Stain or Paint the Concrete Floor

If the basement floor is concrete, a common approach is to add a floor covering like vinyl, tile, or laminate. But this isn't always necessary. In many ways, leaving the concrete floor exposed is better than covering it up.

In a space that always seems starved for height, a concrete basement floor gives your basement its maximum ceiling height. Concrete is hard, durable, and easy to clean. But most important of all, in the event of flooding or even minor water leaks, concrete flooring quickly dries out and no flooring materials need to be disposed of.

Concrete can be stained or painted. You can even stain concrete to look like wood. One gallon of solid or semi-transparent concrete stain covers about 400 to 500 square feet of floor. Or you can use paint. A latex epoxy paint bonds well to concrete and reduces the likelihood of flaking and chipping.


The concrete floor should first be thoroughly cleaned. It's also necessary to remove oil and rust stains.

Leave the Ceiling Exposed and Paint It a Dark Color

Unfinished basements come with unfinished, exposed ceilings, too. An exposed ceiling is unattractive and distracting, with all of those random pipes, wires, and ducts running through open joists. Most homeowners aren't fond of it. So, a common solution is to cover the ceiling with drywall, just like on the upper floors.

Installing a drywall ceiling isn't all that expensive—about $1 to $1.50 per square foot when you do it yourself. But installing ceiling drywall does require some know-how. An even cheaper way to improve your basement ceiling is to leave it exposed and paint it a dark color, such as matte black.


To improve paint adhesion, prime all surfaces. Use a quality paint sprayer so you'll be able to cover all of the complicated surfaces. After priming, clear out the paint sprayer and switch to the black paint. Several coats may be needed.

Black paint does a remarkable job of disguising all of those wires and pipes. At most, you'll need to tack up a few dangling wires or have a plumber re-route a pipe or two, or even do it yourself. Basement joists are notoriously dirty and cobwebbed, so a thorough cleaning with a shop vacuum is in order.

Improve the Basement Staircase

The staircase is one part of the basement that is often ignored during remodeling. It's also an area that's one of the least expensive to improve. All basements have a staircase. Sometimes it enters the basement at the side, but often it's right in the middle, making it all the more prominent and in need of attention:

Improve Just Part of the Basement

Refurbishing select areas of the basement while leaving other areas unimproved is an idea so simple that often falls by the wayside. With more homeowners creating full-basement accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, for work, playing, or renting, the idea of a partially improved basement might seem unusual.


Carving out select areas to improve is the best way to save money on basement finishing. That's because the most difficult and expensive areas are the very ones that are left untouched in the remodel.

Difficult areas include the furnace, water heater, washing machine and dryer hookups, electric service panel, plumbing manifold, and clusters of permanent or adjustable steel columns. Sequestered behind walls or dividers, these areas can remain as-is.

Open areas with windows, access to the outside, or few or no mechanicals are perfect for creating a basement bedroom, theater, workspace, gym, or kid's playroom. Since you've spent little or no money on difficult areas, more of the basement budget can be devoted to the areas you care most about.

Define Basement Spaces With Dividers

An unfinished basement starts as a large, open area, with no walls to define areas. One trend is to leave basements as giant, open spaces with as few permanent walls as possible. If the basement has a bathroom, that might be the only area that has walls.

It's an approach that's ideal for basements with a design focus on workshops, craft rooms, exercise areas, gyms, game rooms, theaters, or music studios. To define some spaces without the permanent commitment of floor-to-ceiling walls, consider privacy dividers:

  • Hanging solid divider: Solid panels made of acrylic, resin, or thin wood hung from the ceiling joists that slide to open or close.
  • Accordion dividers: Easy to set up, accordion dividers' multiple panels fold open, allowing them to stand upright without additional support.
  • Shoji screen: Rice paper in wood panels provides privacy yet allows filtered light to shine through.
  • Bookcase divider: Bookcases are usually placed against walls. But why not in the middle of the room? A bookcase is a great room divider. The more items placed on the shelf, the better the privacy.

Use Foam Insulation For Subflooring

If you decide to lay down a floor covering in the basement, you'll want a waterproof, insulated subfloor underneath it. Subflooring helps keep the basement floor covering warm and dry.

By far, the least expensive way to add a subfloor in a basement is with rigid foam insulation panels ordinarily used for walls. The big, 4-foot by 8-foot panels quickly cover a basement floor. Its insulating R-value of 5 is excellent. Best of all is its low cost: about $1 per square foot. That's half the cost of traditional OSB-topped subfloor panels or all-foam subfloor panels.


Floor insulating R-values will never be as high as those gained by wall insulation—up to R-21 value for two-by-six (2x6) stud walls. But its R-values, ranging from R-3 to R-5, are always a plus, especially when compared to bare concrete floors.

Rigid foam insulation should be used for basements that are mainly dry. Since rigid foam insulation is flat on the bottom, water trapped under the panels wouldn't be able to travel to the basement floor drain. Both the OSB and the all-foam subfloor panels have raised air gaps on the bottom to allow water to move.

  Foam Insulation Subfloor Panel  Foam Subfloor Panel
Material Foam OSB, high-density plastic, foam Foam
Panel Size 4-foot by 8-foot 2-foot by 2-foot 2-foot by 4-foot
Thickness 1-inch 1-inch 1-inch
R-Value R-5 R-3 R-4.1
Cost Per Square Foot $1.00 $2.00 $2.40

Cover Walls With Storage Units or Shelving

You need more storage. Your basement needs walls. Put the two together for a perfect combination of form and function.

In a fully finished basement, the exterior walls are usually covered by a site-built system of rigid foam insulation and metal studs or by a proprietary system of insulated wall panels. There is another option. If neither is in your budget or if you're still undecided, install storage pieces instead. You'll find a wide range of units such as open shelving or pieces with doors that effectively cover the walls and provide tons of storage space, too.


Two double-door 62-inch armoires will cover more than 10 linear feet of wall, reaching nearly to the ceiling. Fitted with shelves and clothes rods, these units provide lots of storage space, all while covering up the basement wall.

Floor-to-ceiling open bookshelves extend as far along the wall as you want. Not just for books, shelves can also hold artwork, photo frames, storage bins, and baskets. Recruit lower shelves for heavy or bulky items like extra food items, paper towels, or toilet paper.