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How can I cover my basement walls cheaply?

How can I cover my basement walls cheaply?

Covering basement walls affordably can seem daunting, but with some planning and elbow grease, you can transform your basement on a budget. The basement is often an overlooked and underutilized space in a home, mainly due to its unfinished walls and floors. Covering the walls is the first step in making your basement usable for living space, storage, a workshop or office.

There are several inexpensive options for covering concrete or cinder block basement walls that can completely transform the feel and functionality of the space. In this article, we will explore the most budget-friendly ways to cover basement walls and tips for doing it yourself.

Assess the Walls

Before choosing a wall covering, you need to assess the condition of your basement walls. Look for any cracks, leaks, or moisture problems and repair them before moving forward. Excess moisture can damage any finishing materials over time.

Inspect the walls for nails, wires, pipes or any protrusions that will need to be accounted for with the finished wall surface. Level out any bowing or uneven areas in the concrete or blocks. Clean the walls thoroughly to have a smooth surface for your wall covering to adhere to.

Choose a Cost-Effective Wall Covering

Here are some of the most affordable options for covering basement walls:

1. Paint

Painting the basement walls is the simplest and often cheapest way to freshen up the space. Use a high-quality concrete paint formulated for basements. Make sure to follow all preparation and priming instructions for the best adhesion and protection. Painting can give you endless color options to brighten up the space.

2. Plywood Paneling

Plywood paneling is an inexpensive way to cover basement walls from floor to ceiling. Use 1/4 inch plywood panels secured with construction adhesive and screws to the wall studs. Make sure the plywood grains run vertically for strength. You can prime and paint the plywood panels for a finished look.

3. Rigid Foam Insulation

Foam insulation panels are an affordable way to insulate your basement walls while also covering them. Use expanded polystyrene rigid foam boards secured tightly to the walls with adhesive. Cover with drywall or plywood for protection. This is a great option for cold basements.

4. Drywall

Drywall is an effective way to cover basement walls and achieve a finished look. Use mold and moisture resistant drywall and secure firmly to the studs or masonry fasteners anchored to the concrete. Mud and tape the seams for a seamless appearance. Drywall does require more skill to install properly.

5. Beadboard

Beadboard paneling made of molded plastic or wood provides an attractive, textured covering for basement walls. It is lightweight and easy to secure to walls with construction adhesive and/or nails. Paint it or leave it natural for a cottage style basement.

Covering Material Cost per Sq Ft Installation Difficulty Moisture Resistant
Paint $0.15-$0.25 Easy Yes
Plywood $1.50-$2.50 Moderate Yes
Rigid Foam $0.40-$1.25 Moderate Yes
Drywall $1.00-$2.00 Difficult Yes, with proper installation
Beadboard $3.00-$5.00 Easy No

Prep the Walls Properly

To ensure your covering adheres properly and lasts, take the time to prep the walls. Follow these tips:

– Repair any cracks, holes or uneven surfaces with concrete filler. Allow time to cure.

– Clean walls with TSP or degreaser and water to remove dirt, oil and efflorescence (white powdery deposits). Rinse thoroughly.

– Etch smooth concrete surfaces with muriatic acid so the covering has something to grip.

– Prime walls with appropriate primer, like masonry primer. Allow to fully dry.

Take safety precautions when using chemicals like TSP, acids or primers. Wear gloves, goggles and ventilation masks. Work in a well-ventilated area.

Add Furring Strips if Needed

For a smooth, even surface for drywall or paneling, install furring strips to the walls first. Furring are thin wood or metal strips that create a nailing surface. Measure and layout strips 16” apart around perimeter and across middle of walls. Attach firmly with concrete screws or nails.

Furring lets materials sit off the cold concrete for warmth. It also allows space for insulation between furring and masonry if desired.

Install Insulation for Efficiency

Adding insulation to exterior basement walls increases energy efficiency and comfort. Here are budget-friendly ways to insulate:

– Use unfaced fiberglass batt insulation between furring strips if installed. Secure neatly with wire.

– Adhere rigid foam boards to walls with construction adhesive before installing covering. Seal seams with tape.

– Spray foam around perimeter sill plates and rim joists for seal. Use minimally due to high cost.

Incorporate insulation vapor barriers correctly for moisture control. Do not insulate damp areas until leaks are fixed.

Choose Low-Cost Flooring

Finish off your basement walls and space with an affordable flooring option:

– Painted concrete is cheap and durable. Use an etching solution and concrete paint in a slip-resistant finish.

– Vinyl roll flooring comes in sheet goods to unroll over floors. Many patterns and textures available, including peel-and-stick tiles.

– Rubber rolls or tiles withstand moisture and provide cushioned surface. Can find discounted end-of-rolls.

– Seek carpet remnants or commercial grade samples for an affordable carpet option. Use low-pile styles that withstand moisture.

– Scour Habitat for Humanity and thrift stores for reused laminate flooring, tiles and hardwoods at bargain prices.

Protect floors from moisture with vapor barrier between concrete and flooring. Read flooring installation guides carefully.

Do It Yourself on a Budget

Finishing a basement yourself is the most cost-effective route. Follow these saving strategies:

– Shop discount home improvement stores for budget building supplies. Buy paint and primer on sale.

– Check Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for used tools to borrow or buy affordably. Look for scaffolding too.

– Only rent essential equipment not affordable to purchase, like drywall lifts and trowels. DIY scaffolds with lumber.

– Consider lower cost coverings like paint, paneling and foam boards that require fewer specialty tools.

– Use leftover building supplies from other projects – cut foam boards, extra boxes of floor tiles, partial drywall sheets.

– Swap labor with family and friends for help on installation, mudding and taping. barter services, provide pizza and beer!

Hire Professionals Strategically

While DIY is cheaper, some key parts of a basement build are worth hiring out:

– Electrician to install new circuits, wiring and fixtures safely and to code.

– Plumber to replace old pipes or extend new supply lines.

– HVAC contractor to extend ductwork, registers and returns to condition finished rooms.

– Drywall crew for perfectly smooth seams if DIY is not your forte.

– Flooring installers to properly lay hardwoods, tile and carpet.

Get professional guidance designing lighting, HVAC and insulation needs for an efficient, comfortable space.


Transforming a dark, dingy basement into livable space is an exciting project that adds value and enjoyment to your home. With smart planning, using budget-friendly finishes, and a willingness to DIY, you can cover walls affordably and open up basement possibilities. Use these tips to keep your makeover on a modest budget. Enjoy your fresh blank canvas and make the most of your new favorite space!