Today I want to cover the first and, to newbies, most intimidating step of framing a basement. Buying lumber! If you’ve done this before then just skip right past this article.
But if you’re like I was, this was sort of a stumbling block. I had a lot of questions and the books that I had did not cover this basic but important basement finishing step.
Parking & The (lumber) Cart
When I was just starting to play around with framing a wall I bought all of my lumber at Home Depot. The lumber is usually on the side of the store with the covered area that’s for loading material onto your vehicle. Park near that side so you don’t have to push the lumber across the parking lot. You are probably used to parking near the flowers and yard stuff but now you’re going big time, park near the wood!
You need to get one of the big metal carts that have the side rails. Despite their unlimited supply of WD-40 Home Depot seems to have no desire to fix the extremely loud wheels on these carts. So when you start pushing it around don’t be nervous, just make a crap load of loud noise. BTW, I don’t have a preference really, Home Depot, Lowes, whatever. Price, quality and convenience are key. Home Depot was close to my house so that’s where I went. I really liked our local lumber yard as well but they had really limited hours and were slow. (Sorry Tart Lumber)
Lumber Sizes for Framing a Basement
What you need to buy are 2x4s. You may also hear terms like “dimensional lumber” or “studs“. Technically it’s not quite 2 inches by 4 inches, it’s a little less, so if you brought your measuring tape it will not measure exactly at 2×4.
Most likely you want 8 foot 2x4s, but measure your basement before you go. Measure from the floor to the underside of the ceiling joist. Keep in mind you’ll be putting your studs in between a top and bottom plate so that reduces the length by 3 inches. If your basement ceiling height is only 7 feet you might save a bit by getting 92.6 inch studs if they have them.
Usual they list stud length by the inch so you may not see a sign for “8 feet” . (8 feet is 96 inches) Make sure you check the length because they have slightly shorter ones and sometimes people put them back on the wrong pile and you don’t notice.
I was stuck for awhile thinking that I could buy lumber that fit my ceiling exactly, without cutting. This would make framing my basement much easier. I had an eight foot basement ceiling so couldn’t I just buy 8 foot 2x4s and avoid cutting?
Sounds stupid but when you’re a total basement framing newbie, it’s not! I measured the ceiling at various places and it’s all slightly different. You will have to cut each stud individually, so just get them long enough to reach the ceiling with a bit extra.
For the bottom plate “the piece of wood that will be touching the basement concrete” you will need pressure treated wood, more on that below, but pressure treated wood will be in a different pile and maybe a different isle. It’s like the black sheep of wood.
Make Sure its Straight
Check each piece for straightness and bowing. Pickup each piece and look down the length of it to see if it’s straight. Also check to see that it’s not warped. Ideally you want a perfect rectangle. The ones that are loose on the top of the pile are typically bad, people have been checking theirs and putting the bad ones back on the top, so you may have to move a few first to get to a fresh section of the pile.
It’s very hard to find perfectly straight studs. For basement wall framing though you can get buy with using some that are slightly off but the straighter the better, it’s worth the time to go through them. (I found that the straightest lumber came when they would deliver it, more on that below) Here’s a picture of a bowed stud, do not buy this kind.
Securing Lumber to Your Vehicle
You probably want to buy around 40 pieces, that will get you started with framing a couple of walls for your basement and that’s probably the most you can fit in a SUV or van without really tearing it up.
I actually started with 20, just to make sure they fit on my car. At first I tried to count how many studs I would need in total, don’t bother, wait until you’ve built a few basement walls and get a sense for estimating, just go out and get some.
2×4′s are fairly easy to tie on to the top of a an SUV or mini-van. Home Depot and Lowes have free tie-down string at the store. Look for an orange metal box (blue for Lowes) in the hall-way past the checkout area.
There’s also a little razor thing built into the cart for cutting the string. I didn’t find that cutter right away and looked like a total idiot trying to slice it with my keys. I kid you not, a 5 year old kid showed me where it was. Humbling for sure, but I learned something new.
I wish I had a magic formula for tying lumber to a vehicle but I kind of just winged it. Take your time, make sure it’s tight. The last thing you want is for lumber to fall off and cause an accident. Plan on it taking about 15 minutes to load and tie onto the car. Plan on another 20 minutes or so (especially your first time) to pick out and buy the lumber. Drive slower than normal, especially around turns. Try to take a less traveled road home if possible, really try to avoid major highways.
Pressure Treated Wood
The bottom plate of any basement wall must be framed with pressured treated wood. Pressure treated wood can stand up to some exposure to water. Hopefully you will read my basement waterproofing articles and never have to test that theory, but it’s code almost everywhere to use pressure treated. Remember, this is bottom plate only! It won’t hurt anything if you use pressure treated in other places but it’s more expensive to buy.
When I was finishing my basement it helped a ton to buy 12 or 16 foot lengths of pressure treated lumber, instead of 8. You don’t have to but it’s helpful. 16 feet is usually the longest they sell and from my experience it’s about as long as you can safely secure to the top of a Honda Pilot. The longer length let’s you set the bottom plate of a long wall with have to re-plumb it. (If you have no idea what I just said, don’t worry, I’m working on a post for that topic).
Lumber Delivery for Basement Framing
Once I got the hang of framing basement walls and estimating how much wood I would need for the whole basement I called a few places and got information on lumber delivery. You usually have to pay between $50 and $75 bucks but you also get a little bit better price per board. The best part is that you don’t have to haul it in your car or go pick out boards. The ones I got delivered where all very straight with only a couple of bad ones.
When framing a basement you can also look at sources for free or reduced price lumber. I found a guy in my neighborhood through freecycle.org who was giving away about 30 8′ studs and several pieces of very nice sheet lumber. Craigslist is also an option.
Just be sure to take a friend or at least let someone know where you’re going. You’re very likely going to volunteer to go down into the basement of a complete and total stranger. I don’t want comments on this blog, like, “I used freecycle to get free lumber and now I don’t have a leg.”
Get the lumber inside the basement as soon as you can. Technically it’s fine if gets wet or sits outside covered but it will hold it’s shape better by being in a climate controlled area.
Wow! Epic post about lumber selection and transportation. I guess there was a lot to say. You probably still will have some questions – feel free to ping me or the group via the comments section below.
Take a picture of your lumber pile or your fully loaded car with lumber on it and send it in! Oh, and if think you have the world’s stupidest question, submit it anyway, we were all newbies at one point or another – I promise I won’t laugh.
Cheers – Jason