My basement ceiling joists are exactly 7 feet above the concrete slab. The requirement for finished living space is 7 ft from the finished floor to the finished ceiling. Since I'll loose a couple of inches with the flooring (I'll have Delta-FL drainboard + laminate) and the ceiling (drywall), essentially I won't have enough height to meet the requirement.

I'm quoting from what I think is my local code (pdf):

R305.1 (Amended). Habitable space, hallways, corridors, bathrooms, toilet rooms, laundry rooms and portions of basements containing these spaces shall have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet. The required height shall be measured from the finished floor to the lowest projection of the ceiling. Not more than 50% of the floor area of a room or space is permitted to have a sloped ceiling less than 7 feet in height.

Question: what can I do about this? One idea I had was to put the drywall between the joists rather than below them perhaps just a few inches above the lower end to compensate for this. Would this fly? Has anyone done anything like that? I realize that this is going to be a lot more work but I may be willing to do it. Any other ideas?

  • 3
    Ask your local building inspector - he'll give to a definitive answer.
    – ChrisF
    Commented May 9, 2011 at 15:11
  • 1
    What is your concern if you don't meet the requirement? Are you planning to sell or rent this soon?
    – BMitch
    Commented May 9, 2011 at 16:15
  • I'm not planning but what I learned is that life doesn't always go according to the plan so I'd like to have both options available to me. That said, I haven't sold or rented a property before and I don't know from personal experience what the issues might be. I imagine that in both cases I shouldn't be misrepresenting so I should disclose that this isn't livable space.
    – Peter Q
    Commented May 9, 2011 at 19:25
  • 2
    I am a home inspector and if I were to find this, it would be a reportable item in my report. This opens the gates to a potential buyer asking for the history of the building permit...etc etc. Do it right now, variance or face the consequences later. Could be a very expensive mistake. Commented May 9, 2011 at 22:28

4 Answers 4


Per the wording of that code, you can't be adding anything to the floor or the ceiling as you'll be under the 7' minimum. You could consider a super-thin flooring (stain the concrete? Linoleum?) and then, as you suggest, put the sheetrock between the joists (though that sounds like a finishing nightmare).

Alternatively, raise the foundation (likely cost prohibitive).

All that said, I echo B Mitch...what is the concern of not meeting the code? The main drawback would be that you couldn't advertise it as finished square footage when you sell.

The first thing I'd do, though, is have an inspector come out and ask what the odds would be in getting a 1" variance or so. They may count it as 'close enough' and let you get by.

  • 6
    i got exactly this same variance for my basement. just make sure to get it in WRITING because if the inspector just signs off on he inspection but doesn't document the variance, then when it comes time to sell/rent, another inspector (or even the same one) doesn't have to believe you.
    – longneck
    Commented May 9, 2011 at 19:15
  • @longneck, you got a variance? was it hard?
    – Peter Q
    Commented May 9, 2011 at 19:28
  • 1
    Getting a variance for 1 inch from your local building inspector should be easy. Use 1/2 rock, a very thin floor as mentioned above and definitely pull a permit with the variance documented. Unless your local inspector is a complete hardass, they will give it to you. Good luck. Commented May 9, 2011 at 22:33
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    it was very easy. i called the inspector and asked when he would be in my area, then made myself available. i showed him my problem, and he wrote a letter for me that said i was allowed a 2 in variance. the same inspector came back when i was done.
    – longneck
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 5:03
  • Ceilings have to be done in 5/8ths in most locations; going between the joists definitely doesn't meet fire code. You either get a variance because it's close enough, or you need to dig out your basement and possibly underpin the foundation. Find out if it's 'close enough', +1. Otherwise it's like $20 grand.
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 0:36

Just paint the ceiling and add pot lights. I have finished a few basements like this and it looks great. Actually the only negative is the sound barrier a ceiling would give you and this can still be done with rigid foam sheets.


Not more than 50% "CAN" be less than 7' ... this give the opportunity to put finished ceiling in half of the area you would like to finish. The other 50% is up to you to figure out!

I am dealing with figuring out 2 egress windows while trying to plan 2 BR's for my finished basement. The rules seem rigid, yet #1, I can meet all the rules with a built in step to attain the 44" sill, but then not the 7' ceiling, and yet #2, why the basement has rules for egress, while my 2nd floor BR's require me to jump 20' down in a freefall to escape?

My inspector is a friendly guy, but sticks to the rules 100%. I am not trying to cheat the system, but a little common sense should be allowed.

  • 1
    There are rules for 2nd floor bedroom windows, but they are less complicated. Typically they just need to be large enough to fit through. From the 2nd floor window you are never truly trapped. (worst case you jump) With a basement, if you cannot reach the window, or the window is not large enough, you are.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 15:25
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    You can also put a ladder up to a window as long as you can fit through the window. If you don't have an egress window in the basement you can't get out. I'd rather jump 20' than die burning. Commented May 3, 2019 at 17:08

You didn't mention the type of home you have, but assuming it's a colonial style home, it wouldn't matter if your "basement" had 10' or 6" ceilings, as it would never be considered living space.

It would simply be viewed, and calculated as "finished" space, but never included as part of your "living space" calculation.

  • 1
    What does the style of the home have to do with it?
    – Niall C.
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 1:53

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