In December 2020 we bought our future retirement home. It was built in 2017 to the latest Ontario building code which means it’s very well insulated and includes a heat recovery ventilator (HRV). The excellent insulation and HRV are creating their own set of problems – to be discussed in another post.

As with most new homes built by developers, it came with an unfinished basement which the homeowners can opt to have finished or do it themselves. Ours came with a rushed finishing job that didn’t suit our needs.

The basement lighting was dim and sparse, the wood panelling was a salute to the 70s and there was absolutely no insulation between the basement and the first floor. The sound carried in both directions making it difficult to have a Zoom call or phone conversation without disturbing the person on the other floor. This is the time of CoVid, after all.

We knew we wanted to upgrade the basement ceiling to reflect the rest of the quality of the house, so we renovated it in December 2021.

pre-renovation basement
I am a particular fan of the industrial metal wall

As soon as we made the decision to redo the ceiling, I started tracking down the building materials. This was a very straightforward ceiling replacement and given that the house was only 5 years old, there were no surprises so collecting all the materials was fairly easy. Time was of the essence as we rent our place for the ski season and the tenants’ lease started mid-December.

We used 2x4s for the framing, LED lighting, and drywall which were all available at local building supply stores. The hemp insulation I wanted to use was available through Great Northern Insulation (GNI) with the nearest location in Barrie.

I have sung the praises of hemp as a building material before, but our renovation offered me the chance to literally put my money where my mouth is. One of the reasons (of many) I wanted to use hemp insulation was because of its being a net carbon-sequestering material. Another reason was because of its sound insulation properties. Naturally, I used NaturHemp, manufactured by Naturefibres as I had written about it previously and it is a Quebec-based company (now partially owned by a French company).

We hired the great team of the van Ryn Brothers who had done our patio extension in the summer (they are landscapers by trade). They were also willing to work with me regarding using the hemp insulation.

Naturhemp Installation

I spoke with Rick Bartel at GNI about whether he had any tips regarding the insulation. It cuts best width-wise with a sliding miter saw and length-wise with a table saw. Fortunately, the van Ryn Brothers, being landscapers, had both saws on hand.

While it was easy to install, the one thing the van Ryns commented on was that it is heavy – especially in comparison to fiberglass. And, because it doesn’t compress the way fiberglass or rock wool batts do, they barely had enough room in their pick-up truck when they picked it up in Barrie. I ordered 300 square feet of 3.5″ batts.

Price: In comparison to the Rockwool Safe ‘n Sound insulation, it was approximately 1/3 more expensive.

Other materials:

Lighting

I haven’t done a renovation in 8 years and the last time I did, using LED lighting was a bit more of a process. I had to wait 3 weeks to get the 4″ Halo pot lights with a 2700K light temperature. This time around, however, 4″ LED pot lights are not only readily available in any building store but you have the ability to select the colour temperature you want right on the light. How cool is that?

Halo 4″ LED pot lights – I’ll bet we won’t have to change them for 15 years.

The only other thing I would recommend is that LED lighting is really powerful at full force so do follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for spacing during installation.

Drywall – I wanted to use CertainTeed drywall manufactured in the west end of Toronto as I had in 2010. it had a very high recycled synthetic gypsum content. However, the Georgian Triangle is flooded with drywall from CGC. After looking at CertainTeed’s website, it’s also possible that they no longer make this drywall as I couldn’t find it listed.

The Finished Ceiling – almost blindingly bright

One half of the renovated basement ceiling
TV area
Workspace and mini ping pong area

In this day and age of serious supply chain issues, especially around home improvement, we felt fortunate that we were able to get the basement ceiling renovated with no hassle or unexpected consequences. Our objective was to soundproof the basement and improve the lighting using low-impact embodied carbon materials. Finding out which products were low impact was too much of a challenge for me to tackle when I did this renovation. However, in the past 2 months a new tool was introduced by Builders for Climate Action. It is now possible to select materials based on their embodied carbon – ie., the amount of energy used to manufacture the building materials in the first place.

In my next post, I’ll be doing a post-renovation analysis of the building materials I used versus the ones I could have used to measure global warming potential of my project. Stay tuned!

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