Basement finishing: framing options

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Here in Minnesota, we love our basements! It’s a feature most homes have, although their condition can vary greatly. We usually put our appliances like furnaces, boilers, water heaters, water softeners, and water filtration systems there. Often our laundry appliances are there as well. And storage. Lots of space for storage! A finished basement is even better!

One of the best benefits of having a basement is the potential for added living space, but not every basement is easily finished. Older homes with low basements may not be suitable for finishing unless you lower the floor level. If you have moisture issues, cracked or bowing foundation walls, or a severely cracked concrete slab floor, these are problems that need to be addressed before further finishing work can begin. One St. Louis Park basement we worked in had a hollow slab, meaning the ground under the slab had sunken (close to 30″ in this case!), so we had a lot of extra work to do to finish it well. Assuming you don’t have major structural problems, finishing your basement can be relatively straight-forward.

Older homes likely have low ceilings with limestone, cinder block or cement block walls, while newer homes often have ceilings reaching 8′ and higher with pipes, ducts and other obstructions contained within the ceiling structure. Newer homes typically have cement block or poured concrete foundation walls when they’re underground and 2×6 wood-framed walls where a large portion of the wall is above ground. If your home was built since the 2000s you may have some insulation in your basement, while newer homes usually have their insulation applied to the exterior side of the foundation. While that can do a better job of insulating your basement, it also probably means you have raw concrete walls that will require additional framing.

In an average basement or if there’s very little framing to do, typical wood materials called dimensional lumber (wood that has been milled, kiln-dried, and is substantially smooth like 2x4s, 2x6s, etc.), is likely the best material to use. It’s readily-accessible, though lumber from large home improvement stores is typically inferior to materials sourced from lumber yards. Dimensional lumber is typically the most cost-effective material to use.

Framing in a Shakopee basement

Other types of wood framing materials, including finger-jointed and engineered materials, can be used as well. Finger-jointed 2x material can be used for wall studs and blocking. Because these boards are made from small lengths of dimensional lumber, they stay straighter than standard lumber, are as susceptible to bowing and twisting, and are more than adequate for standard wall sections. Engineered or composite materials can be made of thin strands or chips of wood laminated together with adhesive and high pressure. These materials remain straight and stable while having higher strength than standard dimensional limber. These materials make use of wood waste products so they can be considered more environmentally friendly.

Light steel framing materials are also an option. These materials are completely straight, dimensionally stable (they don’t shrink and expand with temperature and humidity changes much), will not contribute to mold growth, and they’re strong and light. Steel will also not contribute to the risk of fire. In many regards, framing with steel can be faster and easier for professional framers. Ceilings and walls can be framed easily with metal in most cases. Some custom details may be easier to accomplish with wood instead of metal and generally, other trades will charge more to complete their work when metal framing is present due to added difficulty and cost of materials. 

There are also other considerations, such as the function of the room. Safe rooms and storm shelters have their own recommendations that affect wall construction, as do saunas and other spaces. Structural changes that affect exterior walls, support beams and columns, and the structure of the house above can also involve built-up beams, steel beams and columns, etc. It’s important to select the right materials for each situation so your finished basement can perform optimally for many years. 

At Simply Beautiful Remodeling, we use a mixture of these materials based on the needs of the project. Our top priority is achieving a high level of quality while respecting our clients’ budgets. 

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