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.
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.
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 2x2 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 2x2.
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.
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
- 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.
- Use the straightest wood pieces possible.
- 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.
- 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 !
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.
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