Should You Add Drywall or a Drop Ceiling to a Basement?

If you’re finishing a basement or just redoing your current basement, you may be wondering what type of ceiling to add. The two most popular options are drywall or a drop ceiling.

Both have some pros and cons. Which one is right for you will largely depend on what you are using your basement for and cost. Below, we discuss each basement ceiling option and the factors to consider when deciding between the two types of ceilings.

Drop Ceiling

drop ceiling

A drop ceiling is also commonly referred to as a suspended ceiling. Both terms refer to the same type of ceiling. These ceilings have panels that separate them from a higher ceiling, which is used for the structure.

The panels or tiles create a grid on the ceiling. The panels and tiles cover ductwork, writing, plumbing, and exposed beams.

The benefit of this is that things like electrical are not exposed on a day-to-day basis, making your ceiling more attractive looking but still easily accessible if you need to get to them. If there is an issue, you can simply pop out a few panels and have easy access to the electrical system.

This makes drop ceilings a better option in some older homes where you may have more repairs to do. And in the event of an issue like a leak, you may only need to take out and repair or even replace a few tiles instead of an entire ceiling.

The cost will vary depending on the size of your space but for a 400-square-foot drop ceiling, plan on spending somewhere between $2,000 and $11,200. This number includes labor. Obviously, installing the ceiling yourself will cut down on the costs significantly.

Once installed, drop ceilings usually last around ten years. At this point, the tiles often become brittle. They can also be discolored or take on other damage in that time period as well.

The negative of drop ceilings is that they will make your basement look, well, like a basement. They do not offer the polish of a drywall ceiling. If you want your basement to become a warm, inviting living space, a drop ceiling may not be the way to go.

Drywall Ceiling

workers installing drywall ceiling

Drywall is a great option for basement ceilings or any ceiling for that matter. Drywall has a nice, clean, finished, polished look. It is also easy to paint. It can make your basement feel more like an additional living space and less like a basement.

Generally, 1/2″ drywall is required in single-family residences. 5/8″ drywall was previously the standard and is still recommended in some areas.

Drywall can be attached directly to basement ceiling joists, although this is not necessarily an easy thing to do. One of the issues is that the joists may not be spaced out in an ideal way to install the drywall.

Moisture-and-mold resistant drywall is an excellent option for a basement, particularly if your basement is prone to dampness or runs a bit cold. The boards have moisture-resistant cores that prevent water from seeping its way into the board, which can damage it and lead to mold in the long run.

A basement board is another good option. It is not as effective as standard mold and moisture-resistant drywall but is less expensive and still somewhat mold-resistant.

Contrary to popular belief, glue is not actually needed when installing drywall to your basement ceiling. It is often used, however, because it reduces the number of screw pops on the ceiling. Nails or screws, though, are a necessity.

Nails are more flexible and hold up better against force. Screws, on the other hand, have better grip and tensile strength. This helps keep things in place and not pull away from the walls.

Drywall screws are more secure. Drywall nails, on the other hand, are cheaper and a bit easier to put in.

If you go with the screws, they are generally placed at least a foot apart.

The negative associated with having a drywall ceiling in a basement is that it is harder to access things like plumbing and electrical wires, which can sometimes be necessary, especially if you are in an older home.

Ceiling or Walls First?

If you are adding drywall to both the ceiling and the walls of your basement, you may be wondering which one to do first. Most professionals will tell you to do the ceiling before the walls. This will help you create tight and fitted corners, which will make the room look larger and classier.

This also helps the drywall last a long time. It is also easier to work from the top down, making it the preferred method by builders. It takes less time to install this way, and if you are paying for help by the hour, this also means cost savings for you.

Hanging drywall on the wall first will also increase ceiling support as the wall pieces will then also work to support it.

Which Is a Cheaper Option?

There is some disagreement about what is a cheaper option, but most people agree that the initial costs of a dropped ceiling are less than the initial cost of a drywall ceiling.

If you are having someone install the ceiling for you, the cost savings are unlikely to be high, but a drop ceiling is something you may be able to do yourself, while a drywall ceiling will likely require the use of professionals, which always costs more. Drop ceilings also do not require a lot of tools.

If, however, you have a drywall crew out already to do the walls in your basement, having them do the ceiling as well will not cost as much. Drywall ceiling also has a longer lifespan than a drop ceiling which could result in long-term cost savings.

Heavy Items

If you are planning to have heavy items hanging from your ceiling, drywall is the way to go. Drop ceilings generally can not hold more than 15 pounds. Putting too much weight on the ceilings can warp the grid itself, which can be difficult to replace and affect the structure of the entire ceiling.

Do You Need to Insulate the Ceiling?

If you are finishing a basement, you may be wondering about insulation. It is recommended to add insulation to basement ceilings just like you would any other ceiling. This will help with climate control in your basement and make it a more comfortable, appealing living space.

What About Exposed Ceilings?

exposed ceiling in room under construction

You may also be wondering about having an exposed ceiling in your basement. These types of ceilings have gained popularity in recent years as the industrial chic look has grown in popularity.

With these ceilings, as their name suggests, everything will be exposed, such as ductwork and beams. As a result, exposed ceilings are also called open ceilings.

Things like beams can be painted to add some interest and beauty to the ceiling.

One benefit to these types of ceiling is that it gives more height to your ceiling. In other words, since you are not adding drywall or a drop ceiling, you will have more headroom. Tall ceilings can also make a room feel larger, making this a great option for a tighter space.

The negative, however, is that these rooms can look unfinished if not done well. If you do not have any other industrial, modern touches in your home, an exposed ceiling may just look unfinished or sloppy.

Make sure to also consider noise when deciding if an exposed ceiling is right for you. These types of ceilings do not have the same sound-absorbing properties as other ceiling types.

If you will be using your basement for band practice, for example, you will need to add an acoustical treatment. Without it, there may be a bad echo. If the primary use for your basement will be playing music, this is not a good option for you.

Exposed ceilings are also not very energy efficient. They do not offer great insulation and can actually drive up HVAC costs in the summer and winter.

Another major expense can be cleaning and painting what is exposed. Since the ducts, for example, will be exposed, they need to be kept looking their best at all times.

Other Rooms

drop ceiling panels and light

Outside of the basement, the drop ceiling vs. drywall ceiling debate may have a different answer. Again, you need to decide what is best for you after weighing all the relative factors, including cost, look, and longevity.

Both options work well in a living room. If you are going the drop ceiling route in a living room, however, add one with more pizzazz and flair than the basic drop ceiling seen in years past.

One option is to use the drop ceiling to create a pattern or even a coffered look. This will take the ceiling from drab to fab, making it a real show-stopping piece sure to spark discussion and envy among your guests.

Drop ceilings can be a great option for a garage. Garages often have unfinished ceilings, but if you want a more finished look, a drop ceiling can be a great option depending on your price point.

It is also a good option because it can give you easy access to pipes and electricity, offering the same benefit as adding a drop ceiling to the basement does. Drywall is definitely a viable option as well. If you are planning to use your garage as an actual living space and not a garage, drywall will help it feel more complete.

If you are hoping to hang things like bikes from the ceiling, you will need to go the drywall route. As previously mentioned, drop ceilings can not hold a lot of weight and are not a good option if you will be storing things like bikes by hanging them from the ceiling.

Most people prefer to use drywall ceilings in bedrooms. These ceilings can be more common as they have less going on than drop ceilings. You can, however, install a drop ceiling if you prefer, it’s just not what is usually done.


Drywall and drop ceilings are both great options for finishing your basement. Before deciding which one is the best option for you, your family, and your home, consider all the necessary factors. These include price, caring for the ceiling, and how you are using your basement.

If your basement is being turned into an in-law suite or a rental property, drywall is probably your best bet. A drywall basement ceiling will make the basement feel less like a basement and more like a home and will fit these purposes well.

If you have an older home, you may want to go the drop ceiling route. Drop ceilings allow easy access to things like pipes, duct work, and electrical wires, which you may need to be able to get to quickly and easily. A drop ceiling will allow you to do just this without having to tear down your ceiling to get to it.

You should also consider ceiling height. If you have only a very short ceiling, a drop ceiling may be a bad option as it will take up more space and eliminate some of the little headroom you do have.

If you plan on hanging a lot of things from the ceiling, a drop ceiling is also not a good bet as it can not withstand much weight. A drywall ceiling would then become a much better bet for you and your desired uses of the space.

There are a few factors contributing to the costs of drop and drywall ceilings, but generally speaking a drop ceiling is cheaper. That makes it a better short-term option if you have a tight budget, even though there can be some associated costs later on, especially because it will likely only give you a decade of use before it needs to be replaced, which will cost money in the long run.