Home Improvement

Can anyone suggest basic floor and wall improvements to our grimy, unfinished basement?

By May 27, 2019 38 Comments
Can anyone suggest basic floor and wall improvements to our grimy, unfinished basement? [View of front](https://i.imgur.com/FVOQdAK.jpg)

[View of rear](https://i.imgur.com/uMyekER.jpg)


Approximately 500 sq ft

I live in a 100+ year old brick rowhouse. The basement is completely unfinished and untouched since at least the 1950s. The cement (?) floor is unlevel and we’re pretty confident the black tiles are asbestos tiles. The walls look like they were previously painted, but we have a lot of peeling paint and efflorescence.

I would like to DIY something to cover up the tiles (self-leveling concrete?) and to just keep the walls from creating so much dust and debris. I’m not sure if drylok is an option, or if it’s even good for the wall. In the distant future, I would like to partially finish at least the laundry area, but is there anything I can do in the short term just with the floors and walls?

Bonus cat in every picture.

View Reddit by ilikecoconutwaterView Source


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  • Gordo774 says:

    Had the same thought as you. We went with a coat of dry lock when we moved in (10 years ago) and then bought foam tile floors off of amazon and put it down in a day.


  • beachparty42 says:

    Get the floor tested that is your first step. If it is asbestos get it removed professionally yes it’s going to be expensive but once it is gone it is gone covering it up is only putting a Band-Aid over something that can kill you and your family. After this is done you can put up steel studs and spray foam. Then you can apply any kind of finish you want for Walls I would pour 4 inches of floor leveler or break out the existing concrete and replace it. Do the job right to the job once and it will be done. Good luck

  • SafetyMan35 says:

    Dry Lok on the walls after cleaning the efflorescence off the walls with a wire brush. Tough stains might need muriatic acid.


    As for the flooring, if you don’t want to mess with the tiles (I wouldn’t either), some indoor/outdoor carpeting or some carpet squares, engineered wood flooring (suitable for use in basements) or click together tiles.

  • allonsyyy says:

    Are your walls concrete? Mine are, I drylocked them when we moved in 8 years ago. I did the whole basement, from the asbestos tile floor on up to above grade. It was on my dad’s advice, he did the same to his house over 20 years ago. Ours are both still looking good, I’d say go for it. I framed and drywalled over the walls in most spots, but what’s still exposed looks fine.

    If your foundation is 100 year old brick and that’s some kind of funky mortar or something, absolutely do not dry lock it. I’m not sure what you should do, but I know you don’t try to seal old brick. It’s bad news for the brick.

  • FourDM says:

    Paint it bright colors (prep work required depends on the conditions in your basement) and install a fuckton of those ~4ft $15-$20 LEDs.

    The $30 Harbor Freight 1.5gal spray gun is your friend.

  • HierEncore says:

    I’d use white primer paint on the walls and leave the floor and ceiling alone.

  • goodelephantpottery says:

    I installed [G-Floor](https://gfloor.com/collections/flooring) in a very similar basement. G-Floor is a heavy vinyl flooring that was designed for garages. It’s ok for it to get wet, such as if your basement leaks. I also had asbestos tiles, and covering them up like this is a prescribed way to deal with them. I did this is 2013, and it has held up beautifully with heavy use (it’s a pottery studio).

    I also had my walls painted with white DryLok, and that also made a huge difference in visual appearance, and has held up very well.

    And I replaced the ceiling light fixtures with high-output flourescents. Though now that it’s 6 years later, there are probably LED fixtures that will be just as bright and more energy efficient. Good lighting makes a huge difference too.

    [Here are some photos.](https://www.goodelephant.com/blog/studio-of-my-dreams)

  • waltersclan says:

    Upvotes for carpet squares. Very easy to install. I’ve put a commercial grade berber style in an office, and a padded shag-type in a closet. Both were easy and look good.

  • redgirl329 says:

    After taking care of floor and walls per the other suggestions, you can get some cheap, sheer curtain panels from Ikea and hang them around the furnace and hot water heater to make sort of temporary walls for a “utility closet” (leaving proper space between equipment and panels). Hiding that area will make it feel more like living space.

    And you can buy light fixture shades or modify lamp shades to cover the bare light bulbs and give it a homier feel.

  • caribou16 says:

    After your done doing whatever you do, get a good dehumidifier as well.

  • beachparty42 says:

    Like lead paint , years ago it was encapsulated, now it’s removal . So yeah OP live with a covered up killer , it’s all good NOT !!

  • japaneseknotweed says:

    Get the walls and lighting done and then re-evaluate. Once you can see what you have you may change your mind about some things.

    For right now, indoor/outdoor “carpet” around the washer/dryer will give you a place to set things down on that doesn’t feel “ew”. Area light in that spot will help too.

    Create an island of “niceness” around where you’re trying to clean things and the rest of the basement won’t bother you near so much.

  • fniner says:

    How un-level is the floor? There are a couple cheap floor options. The first I’d recommend is epoxy coating. It comes in different colors and patterns, but ends up looking really clean and is easy to keep tidy. You’d need to pre-level with self leveling compound if you have more than ~1/8” change over 1ft spans any where.

    Another option is vinyl tiles. They can be made to look like wood or brick or whatever and are very tough and waterproof.

    For the walls, I would think a mortar skim coat plus paint would be effective (and really cheap).

  • varskavalov says:

    Spray ceiling flat black. Dry-Lock walls. Install Dri_core panels on floor and then floor covering of your choice on top of that.

  • Mictilacante says:

    If you’re staying there longer than 5 years, fix it up right and spend some time and money if that’s in the budget.

    Considering the age, before you do the floor check anything beneath it. Floor drain, water lines, etc… Have them visually scoped by camera and look for any potential issues that would cause you to have to cut the floor and repair.

    Then take on the floor. Pour to level or remove tiles and sand to level.

    Decide what level of “finished” you want down there and remodel appropriately. If you’re leaving ceiling open, no worries. If you’re covering, maybe give a hard long look to plumbing, electrical, etc… Before you cover.

    Add lighting. Lots of lighting.

    Walls, prep them and seal them, frame with 2×2 PT, run utilities and closed cell spray foam it or foam board it, cover with drywall or whatever.

    Ceiling, soffit utilities, leave access hatches frequently, finish normally.

  • turkeyman4 says:

    You could leave the ceiling exposed for a cool industrial look. Paint it flat black.

  • appropriateinside says:

    Oh man, you think that’s completely unfinished?

    The floor and walls of mine are dirt/mud :/

  • skigny85 says:

    Before you paint the walls with anything you should fix the grading/drainage issue you have that is causing the efflorescence on your walls, otherwise the paint you put up will just peel. Could be as simple as moving some dirt around by your foundation.

  • beingdaddysgirl says:

    It took me a bit to find the kitty in the first picture! Great I-Spy! 10/10! Would play again!

  • hotinhawaii says:

    Your ceiling looks pretty low so painting it dark or even leaving it as it is makes it feel too close to the head. Spray everything up there white. I would use a KILZ water based primer and see how it looks after one coat. You could just leave it if it looks even. I would add some 4’ led light strips throughout. Drylok the walls. It won’t last forever if there is moisture but you will get years of pleasure out of it. You can always spot patch if some sections break off in the future. Vinyl flooring is the way to go. Great for basements that might get occasional moisture and very easy to keep clean. It’s also easy to DIY.

  • Bumpercloud says:

    Drylock the walls and put in a vinyl plank floor.

  • kschindler says:

    a simple EPOXY RESIN floor is great for basements, nothingto fancy just simple epoxy with some black or colored dye.

    My basement had a sump pup and would flood a bit during heavy rains but nice thing is you could easily spray it all off to the drain and Voilà

    For the walls just some simple JOISTS and nice horizontal reclaimed wood walls will do some justice at a cheap cost

  • Thefear1984 says:

    For the walls you have a roll on coating that’s pretty cheap per gallon. you can now move two by fours to the wall and frame it up using sheetrock. And it’s just a matter of painting. Then you can just add outlets and do whatever you want.

    For the floor you can use LifeLock laminate flooring. They’re pretty much self-leveling to a degree. Or you can use garage epoxy flooring.

  • CodyClay1 says:

    I think epoxy floors would be cool. Might help level them out too. I don’t know if it’s pricey or not, but I’ve seen some really neat designs on YouTube.

  • mikeybkats says:

    Paint it all white

  • hawley088 says:

    We have the vinyl flooring that looks like wood, it’s really nice. Doesn’t scratch, easy to clean, doesn’t really matter if it gets wet, perfect for a basement

  • arboretumind says:

    That looks very similar to how my basement used to look.

    I leveled a couple of patches and put down some laminate flooring that was on sale. Rolled out plastic subfloor under that. The washing area I put down vinyl. $1600 CAD and my basement looks incredible. Plan what you need and then wait for sales.


    The walls I think are addressed by other folks on here.

  • ZippyTheChicken says:

    no you can’t put concrete over those tiles

    yes there is a possibility that material has a small amount of asbestos but its in asphalt so its not fryable .. its not going to get air borne even if you scrape it up.. they have machines to get that off of floors.. once you get to concrete then you can consider leveling the floor if necessary.

    for the walls I can’t tell if that is years of paint or if that is cement damage


    if its paint then just scrape the loose paint and then paint over it with garage floor paint. walmart sells it cheap by the gallon.. if its bare concrete then go to lowes and get a few bags of mortar. wet the wall down really really good with a hose or sprayer or a bucket and a big sponge and then mix up the mortar with water so its really loose but not quite soup.. more like oatmeal.. and then use a trawl to apply it to the wall.. its not magic you just got to get it on the wall and trawl it flat but the wall has to be really wet so the mortar will stick. if the wall is in good condition you can use a concrete paint brush and just mix up a bag of portland cement .. its white and gives a decent finish but you probably still will want to paint.

  • paperstconsultant says:

    anyone else looking for the cat in the pictures?

  • kath_or_kate says:

    Looks like my old basement…used luxury vinyl tile (plank) and it made such a difference. Waterproof, etc

  • aimless_ly says:

    If the walls don’t leak and stay dry, I found that painting them with 2 coats of Behr concrete waterproofing paint (their take on Dry Lok) and then topping with 2 coats of white Behr exterior gloss enamel makes a huge difference. The base layer bonds well to the concrete and seals it up, and the top layer dries to a really hard and bright finish that cleans easily and makes the space look sharp. It makes so much difference I didn’t need to add as many light fixtures as I had planned.

  • beachparty42 says:

    Exactly 15 years later it’s time to revisit it .

  • galacticprincess says:

    Great ideas here! If you want more, search for “unfinished basement” on Pinterest. There are tons of ideas and pictures.

  • erj79 says:

    We had our basement floor done in a epoxy/stain coating, looks glossy like a marble floor.

  • zeropanik says:

    Drylok walls, paint ceiling black, epoxy floors if you have the budget

  • CursedSun says:

    >The cement (?) floor is unlevel and we’re pretty confident the black tiles are asbestos tiles. The walls look like they were previously painted, but we have a lot of peeling paint and efflorescence.

    Efflorescence usually means a high presence of moisture. What’s the water table like around your house? Is your guttering and spouts in good condition and draining far away from the house? What’s the grading like around the house?

    I’d suggest looking into these steps first and foremost, with the nuclear option being digging a trench around foundations to exterior waterproof.

    The reason for that is as another poster has alluded to, negative hydrostatic pressure is a very real thing. I’ve had to grind 100+kgs of leveling compound off floors before because rH tests weren’t done or weren’t done correctly. Also, interior waterproofing in the presence of negative hydrostatic pressure will almost certainly fail, and if it doesn’t then you’re looking at potential problems with erosion with your basement walls and foundations. The peeling paint around the lower parts of the wall shows how the bond can fail quite easily in situations of high moisture presence.

    Further, most self leveling compounds (c =/= concrete in this instance) don’t allow the moisture to breathe through, so application over a basement foundations can be problematic in that aspect. Contrary to another poster, there are variants of self leveling compounds that can go over VCT, but your stock standard one doesn’t typically work. I believe CustomBuildingProducts LevelQuik is rated for going over it iirc, and will likely be your cheapest option there if negative hydrostatic pressure isn’t an issue.

    Look into the 24″x24″ plastic sheet test (test multiple spots, ideally no more than 10′ apart as concrete pours can set with some variance between different sections within even the same pour). If damp, get a real rH test done. Then look at dealing with things (gutters/spouts, grading) from exterior. Then re-test. If that’s failing, you’ll need to advance to the nuclear option of exterior waterproofing.

  • Dramatic_______Pause says:

    Whatever you do, don’t use [this wood paneling and peel and stick vinyl tiles](https://i.imgur.com/LRNKdD8.jpg)…

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