Tips to ensure success when painting basement

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One of the most dreaded home improvement projects has to be painting the basement. After 17 years of living in my home, it was way past time to tackle the "dungeon."

As far as basements go, mine is a utilitarian workhorse. It's dry and through the years has held band rehearsals, musical equipment, files and a laundry area.

Last painted before I moved in, the room's walls were an ugly, almost neon yellow. The paint was starting to peel and chip in places, and the soft orange brick around the chimney stack was crumbling badly due to age. The floor was painted a dark gray and wearing through, showing bare concrete.

There are many products on the market for basements, so painting isn't the only option. The world of specialty floor coatings has grown exponentially, and it now includes one- and two-part epoxy coatings and acrylic latex coatings that are practically impermeable as they harden.

For the walls, there are waterproof coatings, including several with 100 percent styrene acrylic, which I used.

I spent a lot of time researching products. Complicating the situation was the basement's glass block with small vent windows that provided limited air circulation, so a low-odor, low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) product was a must. The floor coating had to adhere to the previous paint and be able to withstand foot traffic.

After a few trips to the Home Depot in East Liberty, I happened upon Greg in the paint department. He was very knowledgeable and questioned me about the existing basement surfaces. He advised me that I definitely needed a primer for the floor and suggested a masonry waterproofer for the walls since they were below-grade. He even opened the cans so that we could make sure we chose one without a strong paint smell.

The final choice was Home Depot's house brand, Behr Premium.

The Basement and Masonry Waterproofer product for the walls cleans up easily with water, provides a flat, mildew-resistant finish and withstands 12 psi of water pressure. It comes in 34 custom colors and can be color-matched. I chose Spanish White (BW-17), a creamy white without the hospital look.

Because the floor had been previously painted and I was only scraping, not sanding, Greg suggested Behr No. 75 Enamel Undercoater Primer and Sealer. For the top coat we chose Behr Porch and Patio floor paint in an low lustre finish. The primer was tinted light gray, and the top coat was Smoked Topaz (BW-75).

As any good painter knows, preparation is everything. Be sure to use the appropriate dust masks and respirators for the job. All paint emits some odor, and it is just better to spend the money and protect yourself. To cut down on dust, be sure to have a shop vac on hand. Lastly, if you think you have lead-based paint, get a test kit and call a professional.

Because there was masonry work to be done and lots of prep, I called my cousin who is in the construction business.

He brought over two helpers who got to work scraping the walls of all loose flakes, cleaning the eaves and prepping the chimney for repairs. It was messy, dusty work, I ran the air cleaner on the furnace and used HEPA filters to keep the things tidy. I sealed the upstairs from the basement and let them have at it.

When the dust had settled, we set about painting the walls. A thick nap roller was used with backbrushing to get into all of the nooks and crannies. The paint dried very quickly.

They left for the evening, and I started washing the floor. I used Simple Green in very hot water, changing it frequently. Then I let the basement dry for a good 24 hours before I started painting the floor.

The floor painting went on as scheduled and pretty fast, and I used a thick nap roller and a 5-foot-long roller handle to reduce bending.

The primer went on very well and had a tacky sort of finish. The roller required lots of reloading to adequately cover, which I expected. I applied two coats, letting each coat dry for a number of hours in-between. I wore only socks while I was applying the second coat.

After 24 hours, I started on the second coat. The floor paint was really thick and also required lots of reloading. It applied and leveled well. The grabby feel of the primer was completely gone, and the paint had the nice low-lustre finish. I will allow it a few weeks to harden before I start putting anything down on it.

My cousin returned to do the mortar work. That repair needs 30 days to cure before it is painted.

Although not expensive compared with some home improvements, I spent about $250 on 7 gallons of paints and other assorted items.

Then there was the expense (with a family discount) of my cousin and his men.

In the end, it is a messy job but gratifyingly low on the expense and difficulty list.


Rosa Colucci: 412-263-1661 or


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