Last Updated on February 23, 2019 by Dave Farquhar
Painting a basement is a cheap way to really improve its appearance. It also takes a fraction of the time it takes to finish it. But it’s not a zero-maintenance option. So, should I paint my basement? Only after you weigh all of the factors.
Painting a basement isn’t a one-time effort that you can just do and forget about. Over time the paint will degrade and you will have to paint it again. It can take years or decades. But as long as you don’t look at it as something you do once and forget about, painting a basement can improve its appearance and make it less humid, making it a more pleasant and useful place.
Best paint for basement walls
The best paint for basement walls, by far, is Drylock. Drylock is more than a paint, because it also controls moisture. If your basement wall is leaking, don’t expect Drylock on its own to put an end to it. But it can reduce seepage, and it will do a great job of controlling humidity. If you paint your walls with Drylock, you may not need a dehumidifier in the basement anymore. At the very least, your dehumidifier won’t have to work as hard, which reduces the noise level in the basement and saves you money.
Drylock comes in white. Some stores will tint it for you. Since it’s more than a paint, don’t expect the color to match exactly like it would if you bought a conventional paint. White will look better than plain concrete, but you can tint it a more pleasing gray or tan to get a less sterile look.
Making repairs stand out less
If a basement foundation has had issues in the past and had repairs done, painting the walls will make those repairs less noticeable. A qualified home inspector will still know the repairs were done, but painting it will stop the basement from screaming that it’s damaged goods. I once bought a house that had big metal pieces to stop the walls from settling, and large, visible epoxy crack repairs. All of the repairs were done properly, but people automatically assume visible repairs mean it will need more repairs in the future.
Just painting those repairs to make them stand out less removes the objection from some buyers’ minds. Some potential buyers will still notice them and ask questions, but all it takes to increase the value of a house is to remove the question from one or two prospects’ minds.
Painting cinder block walls in a basement
Painting cinder block walls in a basement isn’t that different from painting a poured concrete basement, but it’s a bit more important to use the right paint. The paint also won’t last as long, since cinder blocks do tend to bleed in more moisture than poured concrete. I don’t like cinder block basements, but in some areas, you don’t get much of a choice.
Painting cinder block walls with Drylock will definitely make a cinder block basement more comfortable and pleasant. Just keep in mind you will be touching up the paint every few years, or even repainting it entirely. I once bought a house with a painted cinder block basement that the previous owner had neglected, and most of the paint flaked off over the years. In this case, the painted basement decreased the house’s value by turning away buyers, rather than the intended effect.
Should I paint my basement concrete floor?
Painting a basement concrete floor is definitely faster and easier than putting down vinyl tile. And while you’ll probably have to repaint it from time to time, touching up or even repainting the floor is less work than tile. Gray porch paint also doesn’t go out of style, which is more than I can say for many of the vinyl tile patterns I’ve seen. Gray porch paint doesn’t win awards, but it’s a quick, cheap improvement. 1-2 gallons of paint will cover a typical basement floor and you can get it done in a couple of hours, plus drying time.
If you’re not going to finish a basement, painting the concrete floor with porch paint is a very prudent investment.
Painting a basement ceiling
My home inspector and realtor recommend one more thing that I thought sounded crazy at first. They recommend painting the basement ceiling too. Yes, the plywood, the joists, the ductwork, and the plumbing. I didn’t like the idea at first, but the next time you go shopping in a big-box store, take a look at the ceiling. Most big-box stores don’t bother putting a ceiling in. They leave the ductwork and all the structural elements exposed, and just paint it all a single color. It makes it not look objectionable, and it’s much cheaper than putting in a ceiling. It also looks better than a drop ceiling with leak marks on it.
So if you’re going to paint a basement, you might as well paint the ceiling too.
How to paint a basement fast
Get a paint sprayer and some ceiling paint, then paint the ceiling first. If the basement is empty, you won’t have to mask or mess around with dropcloths.
Then paint your walls with Drylock. Drylock is too thick to use in most sprayers, but it will roll on fairly quickly. I would use an edger along the ceiling, then roll the rest of the wall. If you’re careful you can skip the edger, but I find it faster to edge before rolling. I can edge faster than I can roll carefully.
If you edge both the floor and the ceiling, you’ll leave a gap. If you roll along the floor, you’ll probably leave a gap. So I would paint along the edge between the floor and the ceiling with a brush, and I would do that before rolling the wall, so it’ll be dry by the time you get to the floor.
Once the wall is dry, or at least the edge between the wall and the floor is dry, paint the floor. Edge the part between the floor and the wall first. Then, as long as you cleaned the paint gun thoroughly, you can spray the floor and get it done very quickly.
Once you’re done, your basement will probably look like a Costco. Your average living space looks better than a Costco, but a Costco looks better and more inviting than your average unfinished basement.
Why painting a basement increases property value
Painting a basement and maintaining it increases property value because it removes one thing a potential buyer might object to. Houses sit on the market due to an avalanche of objections. It’s silly, but one bedroom painted in a loud color will turn off potential buyers. The combination of one or more bedrooms painted in what I call a public nuisance color, plus outdated fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms and an unpleasant basement can easily turn off enough potential buyers to reduce the value of a house by $10,000 or more.
I once bought a house that had been completely rehabbed upstairs. It had a new kitchen with fresh paint and new carpet throughout the upstairs. But it sat on the market for 18 months for two reasons: The basement was dark and dingy and the exterior was a faded, dated green that looked bad in the 60s and looks worse today. Painting the basement and the exterior transformed the house.
If I had to sell a house fast, I would paint the basement, paint the living area a neutral color, replace any dated light fixtures and faucets with the second- or third-cheapest option at the nearest home center, and replace any worn out floors. Doing all of that would probably cost a couple thousand dollars. But since so many buyers want a house that’s move-in ready and needs exactly no work, the house will be good enough to attract some percentage of that market. The house will sell faster, reducing my carrying costs, and it may increase the asking price by more than I spend.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.