The basement is one of the first places people look when they seek to expand living space in the home, and finishing off basement ceilings offers particular challenges, since they are often low-hanging and may have pipes, ductwork or other obstacles to work around. There are elaborate ways to deal with basement ceilings, but it's also possible to create functional and attractive ceilings with inexpensive and readily available materials.

Basement recreation room
credit: Chris and Karen Highland Flickr Creative Commons
A basement can be converted to an exercise room or recreation room simply by boxing in ducts and attaching drywall.

Hide Obstacles

Typical issues with basements include pipes, ductwork, beams, wires and other fixtures that protrude into the room. You don't have to make them disappear — it's fine to disguise them with paint, fabric or plastic. If your basement is used for informal uses, a simple disguise is perfectly appropriate

Paint Everything

Spray everything with flat or matte paint. Rent paint-sprayer equipment to speed up the process. Paint sprayers get into tight spaces you can't reach with a brush. Clean out cobwebs and dust beforehand. Dark colors help to hide obstacles better. Light colors make the room seem larger.

Fabric Ceilings

Heavy-duty fabric is an option when obstacles extend below joists. Use a staple gun to stretch fabric across joists, or allow it to droop for a pillow effect. Roll a dowel around the ends of the fabric to cover the exposed ends. Staple or nail the dowels in place where the ceiling meets the wall. If you're into a utilitarian appearance, use a nylon-reinforced poly fabric, stretched and stapled across joists. Big-box stores use this technique all the time.

Build Soffits

Framed soffit in basement.
credit: Basementdesign.com
A simple wooden framework, called a soffit, can then be covered with drywall or paneling to hide ductwork and other obstacles.

If you've decided that pipes and ducts have got to go, soffits can hide them. Soffits are basically three-sided frameworks built from framing lumber that serve as the anchoring points for wallboard or paneling. Soffits can be used to hide most obstacles, or can even be designed to create the look of a recessed ceiling, in which the mechanicals are all hidden in a dropped portion of the ceiling.

Install Drywall or Paneling

Thin wood paneling — typically 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick — can cover an exposed ceiling, and it's available in a variety of designs. Fir plywood, hardboard, even oriented-strand-board (OSB) are even more affordable. These cheaper options typically require paint or sealant.

Options to paneling include 1/2-inch drywall, which you can purchase with a printed paper finish that looks like wood. You can also use beadboard paneling for a rustic or vintage effect.

Install a Standard Drop Ceiling

Drop ceiling grid.
credit: Armstrong Ceilings
Drop ceiling panels hide pipes and other mechanicals behind a smooth surface.

The drop ceiling is one of the most common ceiling options. Sometimes referred to as a suspended ceiling, it consists of a metal grid hung on joists by a metal frame and wires. Square or rectangular panels are placed inside the openings in the grid. Drop ceilings are a little more difficult — and a little more expensive — than other options, but they offer one of the better solutions if you want a ceiling to look truly finished. Drop ceilings also provide easy access to pipes, wires and ducts, because the panels are removable.

Cost is dependent on what type of panels you choose. White or light-colored tiles brighten the room by reflecting light that's sometimes missing in basements. Ceiling tiles include acoustic materials, carved wood designs or metal tins embossed with antique or vintage patterns.