Framing Around Ductwork When Finishing the Basement

Framing around the ductwork in my basement had me completely and totally stumped. The key to wall framing for your basement is visualization. If you can visualize what the finished wall needs to look like then you are half way there.

It’s a skill that takes some time to develop but then is very easy to repeat. Even though I had already framed a few rooms for my basement I need some help from friends to wrap my brain around how to handle framing around the ductwork.

Be sure to check out my “super tip” at the end of the post for a solution to a noisy pipe problem that must be solved before you close up your ductwork framing with drywall.

framing around ductwork

Wood framing around duct work for a finished basement. Duct work framing is often called a soffit or soffit run.  Which is French for – a type of ceiling that can be a pain in the ass.

What is “Ductwork” and Why do I need to Frame It

Okay, so here’s the deal. The ductwork I’m referring to is the main line (a metal box) that carries the cold and hot air from your basement HVAC area to the rest of your house.

In my house I have 2 main ductwork “lines”. One goes straight up from the HVAC unit and delivers air to one side of  the house. The second travels across the basement to the other side of the house and then up through the ceiling to the upper floors.

It’s this second ductwork line that crosses your basement ceiling that you’ll need to frame. Once it’s framed you can cover it with drywall. In essence it become’s an extension of your ceiling.

Why is Ductwork Framing Difficult ?

Framing around ductwork is difficult to get straight. It’s a long and short expanse of wall that is front and center visually. The biggest mistake people make is that they just throw a wall up there and it ends up looking really wavy and uneven. Sloppy.

You need lumber pieces that are as straight as possible. But that’s only half the battle.

Even with perfectly straight lumber you need to take extra caution in framing the wall straight so that it looks professional once it’s finished. With a regular wall you can get away with a  few mistakes. When framing around ductwork I would be more cautious and deliberate.

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Steps for Framing Around Ductwork

These are the steps that I used. I’m sure there are several different ways.  I can claim honestly that the professional drywall company I used said my ductwork framing was one of the best jobs they’d ever seen. That was good to hear since it took me about 2 weekends to get right!

Step 1 : Build “ladders” on the ground. 

  • The look like mini-ladders (see pic). Build them using 2×2 lumber instead of just 2 x 4. You may have to make your own or have Home Depot cut some for you as the big box stores don’t always carry 2×2.
soffit framing for a finished basement bathroom

Soffits are not just for framing around duct work.

Step 2:  Secure the ladders to the ceiling

  • Use screws not nails.  I promise you, you will be moving and adjusting these ladders to get them as straight as possible.  Nails are difficult to remove.
  • Make sure the tops of the ladders align.  Don’t worry about them not being lined up “in” or “out” that will fix itself when you hook them to the cross beams.

Step 3: Install the horizontal support “railing”

  • The cross beams will attach to the inside of your ladder on one side and this cross railing (as I call it) on the other.
  • If there’s no wall on the other side, like a hallway scenario or an exposed beam, then you just build a second ladder instead of a railing.
  • Again, I recommend screws, you’ll have much more control. An impact driver helps tremendously here, you know I love those.
soffit with air duct extension and framing support for finishing a basement

Soffit with air duct extension and framing support for an air register

Step 4: Install the cross beams

  • Make sure the bowed part of the beam points up into the ceiling cavity and not down.  The cup of the bow can be covered by drywall. If it’s bowing downward your ceiling will look wavy.
  • Be sure to add an extra beam or two around the location of any duct extensions so you have some wood to anchor the screws of your air grill.

4 Keys to a Great Ductwork Framing Job

  1. Spend some time visualizing the final framing before you start. If you were to install the drywall, mentally walk through where it would attach to the wall and the ceiling.
  1. Use the straightest wood pieces possible.
  1. Make sure your ceiling beams are as level as possible and that their intersections with the “ladder” section of the walls is as close to 90 degrees square as you can get. A smidge off is ok, you don’t need perfection, but the closer the better.
  1. CLAMPS!   Use clamps to pull the ladder sections into alignment as you are installing the cross-beams. The clamps will hold pieces perfectly while you secure them with screws. Oh man, I do love me a good set of clamps.

Jason’s SUPER TIP !

loud noises from pvc pipes rubbing wood

Wrap the pipe at these points with some felt contact paper and the noise will go away.

Do your PVC pipes make an annoyingly loud noisewhen they rub against the underside of the ceiling joists as they expand and contract? Mine did and it drove me nuts!

Before you close up the ductwork with framing and drywall, loosen the “J” clamps that secure the pipes to the ceiling joists.

Wrap the pipe with felt contact paper wherever it touches the joists. The noise will be gone!  Oh, you’re welcome.

Finishing your basement on your own is a big project with a lot of challenging hurdles. Framing around ductwork is one of the first true tests of a good framing job.

basement finishing jason

Be patient. Take your time. Enjoy the process and challenge that framing presents. I hope this article from an amateur viewpoint helped you out. Let me know if you get stuck by sharing a comment below.

Cheers – Jason

 

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Comments

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  1. Jason,

    Did you use 16″ spacing on the 2X4′s in your ladder? Great website by the way.

    • Phil – Thanks, hope it’s been helpful. I did, just to stay consistent. But if it was off I didn’t worry about it to much. The vertical only got drywall nails at the top and bottom anyway. The bottom part the 2x4s were laid flat so it was pretty easy for the drywall guys to hit. -jason

  2. Jason,

    Where did you get the register extension? I am running into same issue with register already in place but need to create soffit around it. Went to a couple of large home stores and they did not have it. What is the name of this and where can it be purchased.

    Thanks

  3. Great site! love the pics… quick question, is there a minimum spacing/clearance requirement between the HVAC ducts and the bulkhead encasing material (sheetrock)? Dan

    • Thanks Dan – As far as I know there are no minimums. You may want to ping your local building department but I haven’t heard of a minimum. Anyone else? Feel free to chime in.
      - Jason

  4. Is your book available in a hard copy? Really do not want to carry laptop around while doing construction. Thank you.

    • Sorry Rylan – It’s only available as an e-book right now. It’s not something you’d really carry around with you while working. Yes, it has some step by step, but it’s more about planning, design decisions, permits, things to watch out for, how to save money etc. The videos are step-by-step and are free with the book (as of Mar. 2013) but obviously you would need a laptop to watch those. I’m shooting to get to hardback by the end of the year. If anyone knows of a publisher that wants to pick me up or an inexpensive high quality publish it your-self option – let me know. -Jason

  5. Has anyone attached 2 X 4 directly to steel beam with ramset? I am finishing my basement and was thinking it might be easier just to nail right to steel beam and not have to build a ladder.

  6. how much per linear ft. should it cost to frame and sheetrock hvac pipes in ceiling

  7. what should it cost per linear ft. to build , enclose and sheetrock over my ducts

  8. What if you are going along side of a floor joist and not against it? Do you use blocking to build it out?

    • Yes, if your floor joists (the ceiling above you in the basement) is parallel to what you want to frame then you just need to add some blocking so you have something to nail into. Hope that helps. – Jason

  9. Great website Jason! Question for you, pertaining to ceiling… I have seen some basement ceilings (open joists, ductwork, everything exposed) that are painted straight black or white (I’d lean towards white for the lightening effect). Any thoughts on finishing the ceiling this way, and type of paint/application? I’m assuming a friend with a sprayer would be best? =) I’m not sure how long I’ll be in this current house, and would like to leave my options open for putting new/different lighting in in the future, thus avoiding drywall for now.
    Thanks,
    C

    • What up Chris – Honestly, a small part of me wishes I had left my basement ceiling open and just painted it. I think it looks cool. You can always drywall it later if you change your mind. You can still put in the normal can lights, wiring, everything, there’s really no difference. I have two pictures on my Pinterest board – one with black ceiling and one with white. I prefer white, but the black looks pretty cool too. Check it out.

      You would definately have to spray paint it. So that would add to the cost. I think a normal paint would work fine. – Jason

  10. Hi Jason,
    I need to put a wall with a door crossing under duct work. Do you have any suggestions/concerns?
    Thanks.
    Dave

    • Yo Dave –
      Well, it will be a fairly short basement wall I’m guessing. But, there’s no reason you can’t frame a wall under the ductwork. And yes, that wall could have a door. You just need to frame around the ductwork, which you would have done anyway to attach drywall. So yes, as far as I know you’re good to go there. – Jason

  11. Hey – great advice. Thanks for sharing this! You mentioned using screws instead of nails. What size/type of screws do you recommend?

  12. Hi Jason,
    Is there a required/recommended amount of space to leave between the ductwork and the soffit?
    Thanks,
    April

    • Hi April – There may be, that’s something that would be location specific. My area did not have a prescribed distance. I framed up around the soffit about as close as I could and passed inspection with no problem. – Jason

  13. Hi Jason, great site you have here. As I’ve been looking around the internet trying to figure out what I can/should do myself vs. when to hire a contractor; I did have a question that I have yet to see asked anywhere else-

    If I want to install additional intake/outtake ducts from my furnace (to service the different rooms in my finished basement), should I get this done first? Or should I frame the rooms beforehand to get a better idea of positioning?

    thanks in advance!

    • Hi Chris – You can do the framing first. For me, it was easier to visualize the new register locations once my basement framing was complete. Great question! – Jason

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