Drywall Vs Drop Ceiling for Basements

Ah, a finished basement. What a worthwhile remodeling project. Immediately provides additional, usable living space in the home. And, of course with insulating the exterior walls reduces heat escape and thus conserves energy. It can be thought of as a great home renovation project in the winter when folks tend to cocoon more (i.e. stay at home more) because of the inclement weather.

But, what about the ceiling? Should one install drywall on the ceiling with drywall screws attached the ceiling’s support beams, to which drywall mesh & ‘mud’ (technical jargon of home builders / renovators for what is a white paste) is applied to where the drywall boards meet, followed by sanding (drywall dust, yuk!) followed by priming and painting with ceiling paint?

Or, should one install a ‘drop’ ceiling with metal rods hung with wires attached to the ceiling’s support beams criss-crossing the basement upon which fire-retardant ceiling tiles are placed? In our basement we have both, but the majority of the basement area uses a hung ceiling.

There is more labour required with a drywall ceiling from start to finish, in my opinion. Hard labour. How do they get the 8 feet by 4 feet drywall sheets attached to the ceiling anyway? Yes with screws, but think about the physical effort. Those drywall sheets are heavy.

And then, think about the physical process of applying the mud, and then sanding the mud up on the ceiling. Wow! Painting a ceiling is hard enough.

One could say it depends on the look. Do you want your basement to look like a basement? Or, do you want to look like any floor in the house? If the latter you will likely want a drywall ceiling. So part of this is personal preference, ascetics.

However, after going through our renovations, I will never install a drywall ceiling in any basement that we may have in our futures that does not have a ceiling already.

Why? When you are doing renovations involving wiring and / or plumbing, you will spend countless hours not just running wires and pipe underneath the main floor (which is your basement ceiling), but you will also need to follow along the path of the wires and pipes to figure out what wire goes where and what pipe is used for what. You can’t do that efficiently (and time is the enemy of home renovation projects!) if the ceiling is drywalled unless you break the drywall and then patch it all up again.

Also, with new plumbing you need to have access to the pipes up on the basement ceiling. At least in our house we did. Take for example the plumbing for the existing en suite in our home which we renovated for use by a physically challenged family member. It was completely redone and the bathtub placed in a totally different part of the room.

Our contractors approach is to put shut off valves for each hot / cold line; a very nice approach. If you have a drywall ceiling, you know what that means; yes, you have to break the drywall. If, however, you have a drop ceiling, all you need to do is to remove the ceiling tile, do your plumbing thing and then re-install the ceiling tile (which takes all of 20 seconds).

So, from a renovation / remodeling perspective, my money is on drop ceilings.