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Basement Remodeling

How to Hide That Awful Ductwork!

By August 15, 2011January 16th, 2023No Comments

by Mina Fies

Scenario:  You want to finish your existing basement into the perfect lower-level living space, without it feeling like a “basement.”

Creating a homey and inviting space that matches the rest of your home is the goal, but if your lower level is typical, you face an issue here that was never a problem in the rest of the house: ductwork.

When ceilings are low and ductwork is even lower, it can be tricky to finish off a basement with a unified look while keeping the overall design from looking haphazard.  Putting a little thought into the ductwork issue ahead of time is the key.

Building codes differ, but usually the ceilings of a finished basement can be no lower than seven feet (except for small portions of the space).  If the layout of your ductwork allows, framing out a multi-level ceiling in a unified manner or tying the ceiling in with a unique floorplan will add interest and keep the space from feeling cramped.  Consider these ideas:

Create a tray ceiling

Framing a border around all edges of the ceiling creates a tray in the center that will be a focal point for the room.  This treatment looks best when it defines the layout below so make sure to take the furniture placement into account.  For added interest, try painting it a different color than the rest of the ceiling or add lighting inside the cove – it will give the room character and make it pop.

How to Hide That Awful Ductwork in Basement Renovation - Tray Ceiling

Add architectural detail with unique tray ceilings.

Drop the ceiling in one area to create intimacy

In addition to hiding ductwork, soffits are great for defining space.  Dropping a ceiling in a certain area – such as over a bar, dining area, or craft space – can be a less-imposing alternative to putting up a wall, in terms of visually breaking up space.

Create faux rafters

This can be done with or without ductwork.  Create long, sections (as thin as possible), evenly spaced to mimic rafters.  When trimmed with moulding, this technique creates a coffered look which is less formidable than lowering the entire ceiling.

Use unique soffits when framing out ductwork

Rather than building an unexciting soffit (or “bulkhead”) by framing only around the duct, try using unique soffits that appear as well-thought-out architectural details and add character to the space.  Consider arches or other shapes, or finish the bulkhead with a different material, such as wood or brick.

Incorporate ceiling framing with wall framing

Create a layout where the walls correspond with the framing of the ceiling.  This creates a cohesive, intentional-looking appearance and as an added bonus, building out walls creates a great space for closets, built-ins, or feature items such as recessed wine refrigerators.

When you can’t beat ‘em – embrace them!

Depending on your style, the ducting and piping in your basement’s ceiling doesn’t have to be hidden by framing.  Using a paint sprayer to cover all of the ceiling contents with a solid color not only creates a unique, modern feel, but it eliminates the labor associated with framing out the ceiling.  Use very dark or very light colors (think black or white) for this application, and incorporate thoughtful selections and furnishings that compliment this industrial or loft-like feel.

The best thing to remember when finishing the lower-level ceiling is to make it look purposeful and unified.  Avoid trying to hide ductwork in a haphazard way, and instead embrace the occasion to bring interest and architectural detail to your finished space!

Synergy D&C: How to Hide That Awful Ductwork! 2

Thoughtfully planning the ceiling planes so they are varied yet symmetrical will make the space look finished.


© Mina Fies is the Founder and CEO of Synergy Design & Construction, Inc.  To learn more about Mina or request your FREE Kitchen Remodeling Roadmap™ using our contact us page, please visit

This article may be reprinted when the copyright and author bio are included.

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