How to Apply Vapor Barriers When Framing Basement Walls

I have a partially underground basement which has concrete walls painted with waterproof paint. I’m building 2×4 walls inside the basement that will be covered with drywall. What kind of insulation should I use, and do I need a vapor barrier? -Mike

Hi Mike,

Building codes usually require a vapor barrier (4 mil plastic sheeting) on exterior basement walls if the framing is attached to masonry or concrete surfaces, or if the wood framing butts up against the outer basement walls. You should then use fiberglass insulation that has a vapor barrier between the studs, with the vapor barrier facing in toward the living space. This will give you two vapor barriers, one before and one after the stud wall framing.

The other option is to set the 2×4 wall framing in 4” from the masonry or concrete basement walls, and use just the vapor barrier on the insulation facing toward the living space.

Also, be sure to use treated lumber for the bottom plate on the wall framing.

Good luck with your project,


Further Information


  1. I am framing below grade basement wall with 2×2’s and using 1″ 1/2″ styrofoam insulation. Does the vapor barrier go on the cement wall and then the studs with insulation between the studs?

  2. I am confused because the 2015 International Residential Code says:

    R702.7 Vapor Retarders
    Class I or II vapor retarders are required on the interior side of frame walls in Climate Zones 5, 6, 7, 8 and Marine 4.

    1. Basement walls.
    2. Below-grade portion of any wall.
    3. Construction where moisture or its freezing will not damage
    the materials.

    To me, this sounds like you should not install a vapor barrier in a basement? any thoughts?

  3. Our local code is to use ridgid foam insulation or closed cell sprayfoam (min 1″ thick) on the concrete/exterior wall. Then you frame out the wall, fill the stud cavity with insulation (as normal for exterior walls), then vapor barrier over the top of the framing, sealed around the edges.

    Could be totally different in your area but we are in a 4 season climate and traditionally you only put vapor barrier or house wrap down 4 feet from the ceiling (frost line) and the bottom half of the wall was not covered.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here