How to Frame a Basement Wall [A Detailed Guide]

Average home ownership today is a mere eight year. That’s actually up, as in the decade from 2000 to 2009, it was only four years. At this time, only 37 percent of homeowners have lived in their homes for more than 10 years, according to the US Census Bureau.

One of the leading causes of short home ownership is the growth of young families. Couples starting out usually can’t afford to buy as big a home as they will need five years down the road. So they buy what they can and then when the little ones come along, realize they need more space. This often causes them to move, losing their equity in their home, assuming they can afford it.

One option to this loss is to remodel the home, adding living space. The question then becomes how to remodel it. That depends largely on what space is available. If the house has an unfinished basement in it, one of the most cost effective ways of adding space is to finish the basement. A basic finish can be done for $5,000 to $10,000, although adding bathrooms or more complexity will tend to raise the price of the finish.

This is not just an expense, as finish a basement, especially finishing it well, will add to the value of the home. Typically, 75% of the cost of the basement finish can be recouped in the form of a higher sell price, when the home is sold. However, that figure is based upon paying a contractor to do the work. In the case where the homeowner does the work themselves, they can expect to recoup roughly double their material investment, assuming the work is done as well as a contractor would do it.

Of course, finishing a basement yourself is considerably cheaper than having a contractor do it. Even so, some certain precautions must be taken, because finishing a basement isn’t the same as building above ground. Certain precautions must be taken for dealing with moisture, as well as properly insulating the basement.

A Word About Concrete Basements

While concrete basements are common and are supposedly built to the same sorts of tolerances that the rest of the house is built to, a lot depends on the contractor who built the home. Building inspectors will be checking to see that the concrete floor and walls of the basement were made to the minimum requirements of the building code. They will not be checking the quality of the finish.

What this means is that the floor may not be level, may have humps and low spots and that the walls may not be even. Walls can have spots which stick out excessively or where they are indented. All this needs to be taken into account and corrected when framing the basement.

To check if the floor is level and find any low spots, the easiest thing to do is roll some marbles across the floor. They will naturally seek out the low spots and congregate there. If the low high and low spots are a problem, then it would be advisable to level the floor before finish the basement.

Moisture & Insulation

One of the big concerns about finish any basement is the potential for moist to get into the basement. Before even starting the project, it’s important to have a good understanding of how much of an issue that is for the home being remodeled. If the home was built properly, that shouldn’t be an issue, as the building code requires a moisture barrier on the outside of the basement walls.

If that moisture barrier is not in place and the walls weep moisture, it is not a good idea to try and moisture-proof the basement from the inside. Installing plastic film or a vapor barrier on the inside of the basement wall, in order to moisture-proof it is a mistake, as that will provide a place to trap moisture, which will encourage the growth of mold and fungi in the basement walls.

In cases where the walls seep water, a moist barrier should be installed on the outside of the wall. There are foundation repair companies who specialize in doing this sort of work and it would probably be best to contract one of them to do so, rather than attempt it as a DIY project.

However, it’s not a bad idea to paint the inside of the walls with a roll-on waterproofing compound. This will help deal with the condensation that sometimes seeps through the masonry, especially if the basement is made of cement block, rather than poured concrete. These products should only be painted onto a clean, dry surface. So before painting it on, clean off the walls and allow them to dry. If necessary put an area heater in the basement, of the kind that contractors use on jobsites, to dry the walls.

Fiberglass batts should not be utilized to insulate a basement, as they provide a great place for moisture to be trapped. Rather, closed-cell foam insulation should be used. Extruded polystyrene XPS foam board should be used, as it is moisture resistant. Not all foam boards are made to be moisture resistant. Since this board has an R-value of 5 per inch, a two inch thick foam board will provide an insulation value of R-10. That’s fairly typical for basements, as the ground around the basement provides insulation as well.

To install the foam board, first measure and cut the panels to fit. A snug fit, that slides right in is ideal. If the board has to be pounded into place, it’s been cut too long. Using a construction adhesive that is rated specifically for foam insulation, place vertical lines of adhesive on the wall, every 12” apart. Do not use any horizontal lines, as those provide a place to trap moisture. Press the panel into place and allow it to set to dry. The adhesive is viscous enough that no clamp should be required.

Run a continuous bead of caulking all the way around the insulation, as well as in any seams between insulation panels. There is also a special tape that can be purchased for sealing the seams between boards, rather than using caulking.

Spray-in Insulation

Another option for insulation is to use spray-in polyurethane foam. This is considerably harder to work with, but should be used in cases where the home has stone and mortar foundation walls.

In that case, the project is considerably different, as the walls should be framed with any plumbing and wiring installed, before the foam insulation is in place. Leave the foundation wall framing 1-1/2” to 2” away from the basement walls when setting it in place, to leave adequate room for the insulation.

The spray foam insulation is sprayed onto the walls, using a special spray tool. It takes some practice to get used to how much liquid insulation should be applied, as it expands while it is curing and will expand more than the novice might expect. For those who have used an airless paint sprayer for painting their home, spray foam insulation goes on a little bit faster than that.

Ideally, the foam should expand to the point just below the level of the 2”x 4” wall framing, without sticking out above the edges of the studs. If it does, the excess will have to be cut off, before drywall can be installed; so careful application to avoid that is recommended.

Framing Basement Walls

Basement Wall Framing

Before starting to frame a basement, inspect the joists overhead. Where the joists run parallel to the wall that is to be framed, it will be necessary to add blocking between the outermost joist and the sill plate for the perimeter wall. This will provide something for the top plate of the basement wall to be attached to. The joist end of those blocks can be nailed through the joist into the end of the block, but the sill end will need to be toe nailed into place. That may require a pneumatic nailer, as it will be a difficult angle to toe nail.

Partition Walls

The same problem may exist for partition walls, if the placement of the joists was not taken into account when making the floor plan. But that’s really not a problem, as all that needs to be done is the addition of 2”x 4” blocks between the joists. Nail through the joist and into the ends of the block, with two nails at each end and ensuring that the block is flush with the bottom edge of the joist.

Snap a Line for the Inner Edge of the Floor Plate

The other thing that should be done before the actual framing of the foundation walls is to snap a line for the inner edge of the floor plate. Measure out 4” from the face of the insulation and snap a line there. That will provide 3-1/2” for the thickness of the framing, plus an extra ½” of space between the basement framing and the insulation. This extra ½” of space helps ensure that the walls end up straight, even if the concrete walls for the basement are not.

Start with the Longest Basement Walls

It’s usually best to start with the longest walls, framing them first, before installing the framing on the shorter sections. This provides the most working space. Always finish framing the perimeter walls, before framing any partition walls.

Framing the Wall on the Floor

Assuming there is some floor space to work with, it is usually easier to assemble the wall section lying down on the floor and then tip it up into place. Build the wall ¼” shorter than the measurement from the floor to the bottom side of the rafters. This will allow the wall to be tipped up into place, accounting for the dimension between opposite corner of the floor and ceiling plates (top and bottom plates) being slightly longer than the height of the wall. studs should be installed every 16”. For your convenience, always measure your spacing from the same end of the wall, either right or left, so that you’ll know where to find the studs later.

Framing the wall on the floor allows nailing through the plates into the studs, rather than having to toe nail two nails into each end of each stud. It’s much faster to nail through the plates, into the ends of the studs, than it is to toe nail.

If there are any windows or doorways to be made into the wall, it’s easier to frame them in, while the wall framing is being assembled on the floor. A double stud should be used on either side of any such opening. In the case of doorways, leave the floor plate in place until the wall is installed, then cut out the plate in the door frame.

Double Studs

Double studs, with blocks in between them, will also need to be used for inside corner, on the wall side that is raised first. The purpose of the framing basement walls is to provide something to nail or screw drywall to. Without the double stud in the corner, only one side of the corner could be nailed in place. The other would be hanging out in the air.

Stand the Assembled Wall

Stand the assembled wall framing up and align the outer edge of the floor plate with the line previously snapped on the floor. Fasten the wall framing to the floor, either with powder-actuated fasteners or Tapcon screw. Using powder-actuated fasteners requires a special tool to drive them, when can be rented, and installing Tapcon screws requires the use of a hammer drill.

Almost Done

Before attaching the top of the wall, use a level to ensure that it is plumb. That’s why a line was not snapped on the bottom of the joists. Use a pair of shims at every third joist, as well as at the joists which are closest to the ends of the wall, to fill the space between the top plate and the joist. Nail through the shims, and then cut off the excess. The remainder of the joists should be nailed as well, but shims are not required. Do not try to pull the top plate up to the joists in these locations; just nail them to stabilize the wall.

Final Steps

Look around the finished framing, trying to find any place where support for the drywall may be missing, especially on inside corner and anywhere that two walls form a “T”. Additional studs or blocking may need to be added and it’s much easier to do that while framing basement walls, than to have to stop hanging drywall to do it.

Special Framing

Another place where some special framing might be necessary is around any existing ductwork or drain pipes. These should fit within the walls and ceiling; but even so, it’s a good idea to check them before continuing with the rest of the project. Use a level to span the studs on either side of a pipe or duct, ensuring that the drywall will be able to make the span, without having a bulge.

basement, framing
Framed basement, David Cedrone

Finishing the Basement Walls

Framing is, of course, only the beginning of the project; but it is a very important step. Once the framing is complete, electrical wiring needs to be installed, including wiring for television, telephone and internet, if it is going to be installed. Be sure to install any ductwork required, so that heating and air conditioning can be provided to the living space in the basement.

Drywall is then installed onto the wall framing. Most people do not bother to install it on the ceiling, but choose to use acoustic tile. This allows the possibility of getting into the space between the rafter at some later point, for additional remodeling jobs or repairs. When installing drywall, always make sure that all edges of each piece are fastened to the framing, so that there are no loose edges. Otherwise, the taping job will eventually crack in those places.

If there are places found, where the drywall does not have adequate support, additional blocking can always be installed, up until the time that the drywall itself is. There is no such thing as “wrong blocking” as long as it does its job.

Frequently Asked Questions about Framing a Basement Wall

How do you build a wall frame in a basement?

  • Building a wall frame in a basement is a relatively simple process, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind:
  • You need to ensure the floor and walls are level before framing. If they’re not level, your frame will be crooked and your finished product will look terrible.
  • You’ll want to use 2x4s or 2x6s for the framing studs, depending on the load requirements of the wall.
  • Use 3-inch (7.6 cm) nails or screws to attach the studs to the plates at the top and bottom of the wall.
  • Properly align and spacing the studs so that your finished wall is straight and level.
  • When attaching the top and bottom plates to the studs, use metal strapping or hurricane ties to reinforce the connection and prevent the wall from collapsing in case of high winds.

How do you frame a finished basement wall?

Framing a basement wall is generally pretty straightforward. You’ll want to start by measuring and marking the location of your first stud on the floor. Then, you can use a level to make sure the top of the stud is square with the floor and mark the other side of the stud. From there, you can measure and mark each subsequent stud.

Once all your marks are in place, it’s time to start framing! Start by nailing a bottom plate onto the floor at each mark. Then, nail a top plate to the top of each stud. Finally, fill in any gaps between the studs with additional lumber (called “blocking”). And that’s it – you’ve successfully framed a basement wall!

How do you frame a floating wall in a basement?

There are a few ways to frame a floating wall in a basement. One is to use metal studs and track, which can be attached directly to the floor or anchored into the concrete. The other option is to use wooden studs and furring strips, which can also be connected directly to the floor or anchored into the concrete. In either case, you’ll need to install furring strips on top of the framing so that you can attach drywall or paneling.

Do you insulate basement walls before framing?

It depends on your climate and the type of insulation you plan to use. In colder climates, it’s essential to insulate the walls before framing to prevent moisture accumulation and frost formation. However, it may be more efficient to frame the walls first and then install the insulation in warmer climates.

Can you frame basement walls with 2×2?

It’s certainly possible to frame basement walls with 2×2 lumber, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, using 2×2 lumber for framing will result in a thinner wall, so make sure your local building codes allow for this. Second, you’ll need to use more framing members than you would with a 2×4 wall, so the project’s overall cost may be higher. Third, because the lumber is smaller in dimension, you’ll need to be careful when attaching electric wiring and outlets – make sure they’re properly secured, so they don’t come loose over time. Finally, keep an eye on moisture levels in your basement; thinner walls make it easier for moisture to penetrate and cause problems down the road.

How do you frame a cinder block basement wall?

A cinder block basement wall is framed similarly to a concrete block wall. The blocks are laid out on the foundation, and the seams between the blocks are filled with mortar. A metal or lumber frame is then built around the outside of the blocks, and the frame is attached to the blocks with screws or nails.

There are several ways to attach drywall to a cinder block wall. One common method is to use furring strips, which are furred out from the face of the blocks by 1-1/2 inches. Another method is to attach metal channels to the blocks and then hang the drywall panels from these channels.

Why is there a gap between the basement wall and the floor?

The gap between your basement wall and the floor is there for a few reasons:

  • It allows for the expansion and contraction of your basement walls. Without this gap, your walls would be subject to cracking and other damage.
  • The gap provides ventilation for your basement, helping to keep mold and mildew at bay.
  • The gap allows you to install utility lines (like electrical wiring) behind your walls more easily.

Do all basement walls need to be floating?

No, not all basement walls need to be floating. If your basement has been constructed properly, the weight of the house will be transferred to the foundation through the floor joists. However, if your basement is unfinished or has poorly insulated walls, it is good to have at least some of the walls floating. This will help to prevent moisture and mold problems.

How much gap does a floating wall need?

Most floating walls need at least a 1/2″ gap between the wall and the floor. This allows the wall to “float” and makes it less likely to bind when opening and closing. If your wall is particularly heavy or has special features, you may need a larger gap.

Should I use treated lumber to frame my basement?

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether to use treated lumber to frame your basement. The most important factor is the moisture level in your basement. If your basement is prone to dampness or flooding, treated lumber is a good choice to help prevent mold and wood rot.

Another thing to consider is the type of insulation you’ll be using. If you’re planning on using fiberglass insulation, treated lumber is not necessary. However, if you’re using spray foam insulation, treated lumber can help prevent moisture from migrating through the walls and damaging the insulation.

Finally, if you’re concerned about chemicals used in the treatment process, there are now options for treated lumber that use environmentally friendly preservatives. If you choose this option, be sure to ask your lumber supplier for more information.

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