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Painting Exposed Beams

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The one task that made the largest aesthetic improvement in the basement was painting the ceiling. Our basement room started as a cave with 4’ meringue ceiling sludge hanging painted in high gloss white. The utility side of the basement was exposed beams with a ton of huge old ducting slug across and to a commercial sized furnace. 

Painting exposed ceiling beams is pretty messy but it’s fun and very rewarding.


We started fixing up the basement room first and it was my first experience using a paint sprayer above my head. That was not fun. I’d remember to put on my goggles but they’d get so steamy I couldn’t see so I’d take them off to readjust and forget and spray my face. It’s very challenging to use PPE that is not designed for you. We made do and tried to do the best possible job with the least amount of mess but to be honest, we probably got some fumes. 

Paint Selection

My paint of choice for this job was Olympic satin paint from Lowe’s. At the time it was the paint on the shelf with the highest amount of enamel which meant it would give a candy coat finish that we really like on painted surfaces. Especially ceilings because it makes them easier to knock off dust and webs. I was really happy with the finish. 

I wanted this ceiling to disappear. The meringue ceiling was very bat cave and enclosed and now it felt like a cool spa area. Charcoal was my color choice for this room. I knew we were going to choose a light gray tile for the floor so this would match wonderfully. I has also researched and saw many examples on pinterest I really loved.

Supplies to paint a ceiling

  • Paint – 25% more than you think the job will take
  • Paint brush to cover all the missed spots from the sprayer
  • Masking tape and paper to cover the floor and mask off areas not getting painted
  • Protective Plastic
  • Paint suit / shoe covers
  • PPE  – Respirator, Gloves, Goggles or Glasses
  • Piece of cardboard to prevent paint on the wall
  • Extension Cord
  • Graco Paint Sprayer

Graco Paint Sprayer

I also purchased a larger Graco paint sprayer for this project. It was a big job and I was ready to upgrade from the wagoner hobby sprayer that had a paint can attached. I really like parts about the graco sprayer like not having a hose to the paint supply instead of in an attached pale. The filters don’t seem to be worth trying to reuse. Plan on buying new consumables like filters for each project. Also plan on straining your paint before sending it through the machine. I failed at this and seem to waste a lot of paint. 

It definitely takes some patience and practice and diligently following the winterizing and storing stages to keep the sprayer in tip top condition.

Preparing the Ceiling to Paint

I recommend dusting the surface to remove any loose debris. We had quite a bit of rubble from smashing the ceiling down so I used a shop vac in some spots. Do what you need to do to tidy it up. I also used an angle grinder to remove some of the long nails poking down from the subfloor upstairs. 

The beams towards the edges of the room above the foundation ran into the crawl space and we sealed off all of these areas to make the ceiling closed up to exterior elements, smells, and bugs. After insulating those areas we caulked up seams as a final polish to make this room keep heat and cool more effectively.

Preparing the Area For Painting

Taking the proper steps in preparation saves a lot of work when you start painting. I recommend getting it all done BEFORE painting. It’s not fun to interrupt a good work flow with pauses just to tape or adjust something. In these cases it does help to have a friend or helper present. They can grab some tape and hit areas you may have missed. 

Be intentional and thorough on taping and masking off areas that should not be painted. You have some control with the sprayer and it’s adjustments but if you’re new to the tool it will take some practice. 

Add a drop cloth or masking paper on the floor as overspray paint will fall. 

If you cannot remove things in the room, plastic wrap them. We had utilities like the water heater to work around, be careful not to disturb or damage anything while applying tape. 

How to Paint the Ceiling

When painting exposed beams consider the different facets that need to be painted and try to move your body in a smooth wave motion to hit all of the areas without recoating areas you already painted.

Try to keep the coverage even but don’t beat yourself up if you go over an area more than once to get to another area. It happens. If drips occur from too thick of paint, touch up with a paint brush! 

I found it helpful to work in 4ft sections down one side, back across the middle, down the other side, back across the top, down one side. Fanning the paint in smooth arm movements as wide as comfortable for your wing span. Move the step stool and repeat. 

Cleaning Up

Be strategic and plan out your spray pattern so you can end up at the entrance of the room. This will help prevent tracking paint into other areas of your house and getting stuck walking on wet paint. We’re not painting the floor but we have gravity. So the paint will fall down. This is where the drop cloth or paper roll on the floor is really helpful. 

Check the can of paint for clean up directions but in most cases it’s clean up with soap and water. 

Give the paint adequate time to dry before removing the tape but try not to leave the tape on for an extended period of time.

What are some of your favorite tricks for painting a ceiling? Do you love or hate it?

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