Do you ever
feel as if your contractor is selling you polyisocyanurate
foam when what you really needed was a setback thermostat?
Here is a handy guide to the common (and not so common construction
terms). Scroll through the glossary below, or click on the
letter that starts the word you're looking for. For example,
to find polyisocyanurate foam, click "P".
A type of black plastic pipe commonly used for waste water
- A sum of money set aside in the construction contract
for items which have not been selected and specified in the
construction contract. Best kept to a minimum number and used
for items who's choice will not impact earlier stages of the
construction. For example, selection of tile as flooring may
require an alternative framing or underlayment material.
- These are new electrical safety devices and are
becoming part of the electrical codes. AFIs are designed to
prevent electrical fires and should not be confused with GFIs.
AFIs are recommended for bedroom areas. The CPSC has some
good information about AFIs.
A unit of electrical current or
volume--see "Voltage." Most homes have an electrical
service 'entrance' package of 125 or 200 amps. Some older
homes have 60 or 100 amp 'entrances'. See the consult Q &
A's on Amps, Volts, and Watts.
'L' shaped bolts which are set in
the concrete foundation and used to attach the framing of
the house to the foundation (see diagram). See the consult
Q & A's on Framing.
One who has completed a course of study
in building and design, served an internship and passed a
test and is licensed by the state as an architect. See the
consult Q & A's on Do We Need An Architect?
A common form of magnesium silicate
which was used in various construction products due
to it's stability and resistance to fire. Asbestos exposure,
by inhaling loose asbestos fibers, is associated with
various forms of lung disease.
A horizontal framing member designed to carry a load from
a set of joists or a roof and spanning an open space. Usually
6" x 6" or 4" x 10" or larger. article
on Asbestos in the Home. See also the consult Q & A's
A type of copying method often used for
architectural drawings. Usually used to describe the drawing
of a structure which is prepared by an architect or designer
for the purpose of design and planning, estimating, securing
permits and actual construction.
An amount of money (usually $2,000-$6,000)
which must be on deposit with the governmental agency in order
to secure a contractor's license. The bond may be used to
pay for the unpaid bills or disputed work of the contractor.
Not to be confused with a 'performance bond'. Such bonds are
rarely used in residential construction.
A white chalky
material which is very often found on concrete basement walls
and other concrete surfaces where water has leached some of
the chemicals out of the concrete. Usually a sign of past
or present moisture penetrations.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) - A toxic colorless and odorless gas
and common combustion by-product. CO testing must be a regular
part of the annual gas furnace service. Combustion appliances
including: furnaces, fireplaces, grills, generators, gas water
heaters etc. require proper installation and service in order
to prevent CO exposure.
A toxic colorless and
odorless gas and common combustion by-product. CO testing
must be a regular part of the annual gas furnace service.
Combustion appliances including: furnaces, fireplaces, grills,
generators, gas water heaters etc. require proper installation
and service in order to prevent CO exposure.
A window with hinges on one of the vertical sides and
swings open like a normal door (see diagram). See the
consult topic index on Windows and Skylights.
A flexible material used to seal a gap between
two surfaces e.g. between pieces of siding or the corners
in tub walls. See the consult topic index on Bathrooms.
Caulking and roof patching materials are wonderful products
but they can also cause problems. For example: most roofing
and siding systems are designed to shed water from one surface
to another. Ridge caps drain onto shingles, one shingle drains
onto a lower shingle, metal flashing moves water from the
chimney onto the roof, etc. When caulking is used to "repair"
a defect, it must be used in conjunction with the system in
place. In most cases, the defective part needs to be repaired
or replaced, only then can caulking be used as a secondary
level of protection.
If caulking or roof patching products are
used incorrectly, they can nullify the original design and
cause leaks and other problem. Such incorrect usage often
results in preventing water from properly shedding from one
surface to another. It can result in the water being wicked
sideways or even up and under surfaces.
A written document which modifies the plans and specifications
and/or the price of the construction Contract. See the topic
page on A Building and Remodeling Checklist.
See, "Oriented Strand Board."
See the consult Q & A's on Framing and OSB vs. Plywood.
A device which looks like a switch
and is usually located inside the electrical panel or circuit
breaker box. It is designed to (1) shut of the power to portions
or all of the house and (2) to limit the amount of power flowing
through a circuit (measured in amperes.
'110' volt household circuits require a fuse
or circuit breaker with a rating of 15 or a maximum of 20
amps. '220' volt circuits may be designed for higher amperage
loads e.g. a hot water heater may be designed for a 30 amp
load and would therefore need a 30 amp fuse or breaker. also
A common construction material often used
for foundations, ground level floors, and sidewalks. Most
concrete is made out of (1) Portland cement, (2) sand, and
(3) gravel or aggregate. It is commonly reinforced with steel
rods (rebar) or wire screening (mesh).
A hollow concrete 'brick' often 8"
x 8" x 16" in size. Often used in low rise commercial
and some residential construction.
Concrete Board or Wonderboard (tm) - A panel
made out of concrete and fiberglass usually used as a tile
A company licensed to perform certain types
of construction activities. In most states, the generals contractor's
license and some specialty contractor's licenses don't require
of compliance with bonding, workmen's compensation and similar
regulations. Some of the specialty contractor licenses involve
extensive training, testing and/or insurance requirements.
There are various types of contractors:
Responsible for the execution, supervision and overall coordination
of a project and may also perform some of the individual construction
tasks. Most general contractors are not licensed to perform
all specialty trades and must hire specialty contractors for
such tasks, e.g. electrical, plumbing.
A general contractor who specializes
in remodeling work.
Licensed to perform a specialty
task e.g. electrical, side sewer, asbestos abatement.
A general or specialty contractor who works
for another general contractor.
See the topic page on A Building and Remodeling
Checklist and the topic page on A Field Guide to Bad Home
Repair and Remodeling Contracts.
A legal document which specifies
the what-when-where-how-how much and by whom in a construction
project. A good construction contract will include:
The contractors registration number.
A statement of work quality such as 'Standard Practices of
the Trades' or 'according to Manufacturers Specifications'.
A set of Blue Prints or Plans
A set of Specifications
A construction timetable including starting and completion
A Fixed Price for the work , or a Time and Materials formula.
A Payment Schedule.
A written Warrantee
A clause which outlines how any disputes will be resolved.
All contracts should be reviewed by an attorney.
Some Lending Institution has developed some forms to help
develop a good project budget. Both can be downloaded in a
PDF format and used to develop your project budget:
The Specification and Description of Building Materials form
can be used on most construction projects and includes the
most common elements in a residential construction.
The FHA 203K Cost Breakdown form was developed
specifically for the FHA "203K" financing program.
This program allows for a single loan that includes the purchase
and renovation of a home.
as "Time and Materials Contract."
A ditch sometimes filled with gravel
and a drain tile which diverts storm and drain water away
from a structure. See the consult Q & A's on Yard Drainage.
A deed is a document used to transfer title
to real estate. For further explanation, see Deeds.
A control mechanism used to operate a mechanical
ventilation system based upon the relative humidity in the
One who designs houses, interiors,
landscaping or other objects. When used it the context
of residential construction it usually suggests that
a designer is not a licensed architect. Most jurisdictions
don't require an architectural license for most single
A roof gable which is usually located at
right angles to the main roof structure. Used to increase
head room or as an architectural detail.
A window with two vertically
sliding sashes. This common older window design was usually
made out of wood and tends to require frequent repairs.
See, "Fungal wood rot."
A wall finish consisting of a manufactured panel made out
of gypsum plaster and encased in a thin cardboard. Usually
1/2" thick and 4' x 8' or 4' x 12' in size. The panels
are nailed or screwed onto the framing and the joints are
taped and covered with a 'joint compound'. 'Green board' type
drywall has a greater resistance to moisture than regular
(white) plasterboard. See the topic page on Tub and Shower
An earnest money agreement
is a contract between a buyer and a seller of real estate.
It is also called a real estate purchase and sale agreement.
For further explanation, see What is an Earnest Money Agreement?
A metal strap used to secure gas hot
water heaters to the framing or foundation of a house. Intended
to reduce the chances of having the water heater fall over
in an earthquake and thus causing a gas leak.
A formal contract which allows a party to
use another party's property for a specific purpose. e.g.
A sewer easement might allow one party to run a sewer line
through a neighbors property.
See, "Calcium Carbonate." See
the consult topic index on Basements and Crawl Spaces.
The entry point of the
electrical power including: (1) the 'strike' or location where
the overhead electrical lines connect to the house, (2) the
meter which measures how much power is used and (3) the 'panel',
'circuit breaker box 'or 'fuse box' where the power can be
shut off, and overload devices such as fuses or circuit breakers
A pit or ditch sometimes
filled with gravel which is used to collect storm water. Water
in the ditch soaks into the ground slowly, thus preventing
soil eroding runoff and flooding. See the topic page on Downspout
Drain Systems and see the consult Q & A's on Yard Drainage.
--Atlanta --Baltimore --Boston --Buffalo,
NY --Chicago --Cincinnati --Cleveland --Columbus, Ohio --Dallas
--Denver --Detroit --Houston --Indianapolis --Kansas City
--Los Angeles --Los Angeles: Metro --Miami --Milwaukee --Minneapolis
--Nassau-Suffolk, NY --New Haven-Fairfield --New Orleans --New
York: Metro --Norfolk, VA --Oakland, CA --Orange Cty., Calif
--Orlando, FL --Passaic, NJ --Philadelphia --Phoenix --Pittsburgh
--Portland, OR --Providence, RI --Richmond, VA --Sacramento,
CA --Salt Lake City --San Antonio --San Diego --Seattle --St.
Louis --Tampa, FL --Washington DC --Washington: Metro
The process of calculating the cost of a
project. This can be a formal and exact process or a quick
and imprecise process.
A method of finishing concrete
which washes the cement/sand mixture of the top layer of the
aggregate - usually gravel. Often used in driveways, patios
and other exterior surfaces.
The Exterior Envelope of a building consists
of all of the elements protecting the building from the elements:
roofing, siding, windows, exterior doors, porches, flashing,
trim, caulking, waterproof decks, venting systems, chimneys
and other elements which relate to the exterior surfaces of
A vertical wood member, such as a cedar
1" x 6", which is nailed to the ends of the rafters
and is often the backing of the gutter. See the consult Q
& A's on Roofs.
A contract with a set price for
the work. See, "Time and Materials Contract
The building component used to connect portions
of a roof, deck, or siding material to another surface such
as a chimney, wall, or vent pipe. Often made out of various
metals, rubber or tar and is mostly intended to prevent water
entry. See the topic page on Roofs. See also the consult Q
& A's on Roofs, and the consult Q & A's on Construction
Details For A Deck.
A common form of heating with
natural gas, propane, oil or electricity as a fuel. Air is
heated in the furnace and distributed through a set of metal
plastic ducts to various areas of the house.
The structural wood and/or metal
elements of most homes. The floor and ceiling framing is called
the joist work. Wall framing is usually made out of 2"
x 4" or 2" x 6" studs. See - "rafters,"
"posts," and "beams." See also the consult
question and answers on Framing.
A common wood destroying organism
which develops when wood containing material is exposed to
moisture and poor air circulation for a longer (6 month +)
period of time. Often and incorrectly referred to as "dry
A device often found in older homes designed to prevent overloads
in electrical lines. See, "circuit breakers."
A electrical device used to prevent injury from contact with
faulty electrical appliances and faulty wiring - electrical
shocks. GFIs should not be confused with AFIs, the later are
designed to prevent electrical fires. GFIs are required in
new home bathrooms, kitchen, garage, out of doors and in other
locations where one might be in contact with a grounded surface
and an electrical appliance. Most GFI's are located in the
receptacle itself and can be identified by the presence of
a 'test' and a 'reset' button.
A device which uses compression and decompression
of gas to heat and/or cool a house. See the topic page on
Heating Your Home.
See, "Hydronic Heating
Hydronic Heating - A heating system which
uses various types of fuel to heat water which is then distributed
through pipes to radiators located in various portions of
A condition which can occur with
snow and freezing conditions. When snow or ice melts
on a roof over a heated or partially heated attic space,
the melting water may refreeze over an unheated areas
such as a roof overhang. This re-frozen water may create
a "dam" and allow a
dditional melt water
to back up under shingles and cause leaks.(See:Illustration
proper roof venting and insulation
(See: illustration "B"), membrane roofing
or roofing underlayment, and heat tapes.
Once an ice dam
occurs, remedies are difficult and or dangerous. Working
on a frozen roof should be avoided, as should the use
of any open flames. The use of hot water to melt the
ice may help, it may also increase the amount of leakage.
A framing member, often a 2" x 10"
piece of lumber, which is usually spaced every 16" to
24" and supports the sub-floor and flooring. The joist
usually 'sits' on a load bearing wall or beam. See the consult
Q & A's on Framing.
The most common wall finish
prior to the introduction of drywall. Thin wood strips
(lath) were nailed onto the framing as a base for the
sand/lime plaster (see diagram). See also the topic
page on Restoring and Painting Plaster and Lath Walls.
A lien is a claim for money owed against another
person's real estate. Deeds of Trust and mortgages are examples
of liens. For further explanation, see Lien Priorities.
A wall which is supporting its own
weight and some other structural elements of the house such
as the joists. See the topic page on Common Construction Wisdom.
See also the consult Q & A's on Framing.
A wood product such as a truss, beam,
Glue Lam TM or joist which is manufactured out of smaller
wood pieces and glued or mechanically fastened to form a larger
piece. Often used to create a stronger member which may use
The written installation
and/or maintenance instructions which are developed by the
manufacturer of a product and which may have to be followed
in order to maintain the product's warrantee.
Take a look...
A good example of a manufacturer's specification
comes from our sponsor, Champion Metal of Washington. Their
guide for the Snap-Loc roofing system can be used to specify
how the material is to be installed.
These specification are well illustrated, clear and easy
See, "Torch Down
Roof," and the topic page entitled The Sound Roof.
wood panel made out of 1"- 2" wood chips and glue.
Often used as a substitute for plywood in the exterior wall
and roof sheathing.
A type of
white plastic pipe sometimes used for water supply lines.
See the consult Q & A's on Copper vs. CPVC Piping. Polyvinyl
Chloride has some potentially serious toxicity problems during
manufacture and disposal. I don't recommend the use of PVC
containing materials such as: pipes, vinyl siding and some
A pre-agreed upon schedule of payments
to a contractor usually based upon the amount of work completed.
Such a schedule may include a deposit prior to the start of
work. Payments are often scheduled for the beginning of the
month to allow the contractor to distribute to the subcontractors
and suppliers by the 10th of the month. There may also be
a temporary 'holdout' at the end of the contract for any small
items which have not been completed. See the topic page on
A Building and Remodeling Checklist and see the topic page
on A Field Guide to Bad Home Repair and Remodeling Contracts.
A test to determine if the
soil on a proposed building lot is capable of absorbing the
liquid affluent from a septic system. For further explanation,
see Light, Heat, Telephone, etc.
A governmental authorization to perform a building process
authorization to use a property for a specific use e.g. a
factory, a single family residence etc.
Grading permit - authorization to change the contour of the
Septic permit - a health dept. authorization to build or modify
a septic system.
Building permit - authorization to build or modify a structure.
Electrical permit - a separate permit required for most electrical
Plumbing permit - a separate permit required for new plumbing
and larger modifications of existing plumbing systems.
See the topic page on A Field Guide to Bad Home Repair and
type of plastic pipe (often gray in color) sometimes used
in domestic water supply systems. Some polybutylene plumbing
systems are been recalled due to a history of leaks and failure.
A rigid foam board insulation
often used in locations where there is not enough room
for standard batt insulation. A nice word which can
be used to impress or confuse someone. Programmed to
various temperature settings. One of the least expensive
ways to reduce energy consumption. See the consult Q
& A's on Insulation and Energy.
A vertical framing member usually designed to carry a beam.
Often a 4" x 4", a 6" x 6", or a metal
pipe with a flat plate on top and bottom (see diagram).
A device mounted on a hot water heater or
boiler which is designed to release any high steam pressure
in the tank and thus prevent tank explosions.
A heating system which uses hot water or steam pipes, or electric
resistance coils to heat the floors, walls or the ceiling
of a room
A naturally-occurring radio active
gas common in many parts of the country e.g. very high
levels are found in portions of Pennsylvania and New
Jersey and very low levels are found in most portions
of western Washington. Radon gas exposure is associated
with lung cancer. Mitigation measures may involve crawl
space and basement venting and various forms of vapor
The framing member which directly supports
the roof sheathing. A rafter usually follows the angle of
the roof, and may be a part of a roof truss (see diagram).
See the topic page on Roofs
The amount of moisture in a volume
of air as a percentage of the maximum amount of moisture which
can be held in that air at a certain temperature - cold air
can't hold as much moisture as warm air.
upright section of a stair. The board between one stair tread
and the next.
A measure of insulation. For example, typical
new home's walls are usually insulated with 6" of batt
insulation with an R value of R-19, and a ceiling insulation
of R-28. See the consult Q & A's on Leveling and Insulating
A Basement Floor and Insulation and Energy.
A written opinion by a roofing professional
(contractor or inspector) regarding the expected remaining
useful life of a roof system (roofing, venting, flashing...).
Under certain circumstances a financial institution may request
a "roof cert" for a property prior to the issuance
of a mortgage. Not to be confused with a roofing material
or workmanship guarantee, or warrantee.
A sewer system designed for the collection
of waste water from the bathroom, kitchen and laundry drains,
and is usually not designed to handle storm water. See the
consult Q & A's on Plumbing.
The frame that holds the glass in a window,
often the movable part of the window. See double hung windows,
and casement windows. See the consult Q & A's on Framing
The drain in a downspout or flat roof, usually
connected to the downspout. See the topic page on Roofs.
An on site waste water treatment
system. It usually has a septic tank which promotes the biological
digestion of the waste, and a drain field which is designed
to let the left over liquid soak into the ground. Septic systems
and permits are usually sized by the number of bedrooms in
a house. See the consult Q & A's on Plumbing.
A pump used to 'lift' waste water
to a gravity sanitary sewer line. Usually used in basements
and other locations which are situated below the level of
the side sewer.
A thermostat with a clock which
can be programmed to various temperatures at different times
of the day/week. Usually used as the heating or cooling system
wood, usually cedar, roofing product which is produced by
splitting a block of the wood along the grain line. Modern
shakes are sometimes machine sawn on one side. See also "shingle,"
and the topic page entitled The Sound Roof.
plywood, board, OSB or other material used as the base for
machine sawn wood, usually cedar, roofing and siding product.
See also "shake."
The portion of the sanitary sewer which
connects the interior waste water lines to the main sewer
lines. The side sewer is usually buried in several feet of
soil and runs from the house to the sewer line. It may be
'owned' by property owner or by the sewer utility, but it
usually must be maintained by the owner and may only be serviced
by utility approved "side sewer" contractors.
See, "Torch Down Roof." See the topic page entitled
The Sound Roof.
The normal base for shake,
shingle and some tile roofs. 1" x 4" or similar
sized boards are nailed at 90 degrees to the rafters
leaving a space of about 4" between each row and
allowing for better ventilation. See the topic page
entitled The Sound Roof
type of foundation with a concrete floor which is placed directly
on the soil. The edge of the slab is usually thicker and acts
as the footing for the walls. Concrete block homes were common
in California in the 1940's and 50's (see diagram). See also
the consult Q & A's on Foundation.
A small ceiling-like space, often out of doors, such as the
underside of a roof overhang.
A narrative list of materials,
methods, model numbers, colors, allowances, and other details
which supplement the information contained in the blue prints.
Field Guide to Bad Home Repair and Remodeling Contracts and
a suggested list of roofing specifications.
A pad which is placed under the lower
end of a downspout and diverts the water from the downspout
away from the house. Usually made out of concrete or fiberglass.
See the topic page on Gutters, Downspouts and Drains.
toxic black colored mold sometimes found in wet or flooded
One of the more
common, basic, and minimum construction standards. This is
another way of saying that the work should be done in the
way it is normally done by an average professional in the
Among the many other "standards of construction",
the following terms are used in an attempt to define a quality
of work (listed here in a rough order of quality, lowest first):
"minimum standards of the trades" or "builder
"standards of the trades"
"standards of the industry"
"first class" or "top quality"
The specific application of the "standards"
can't be found in any one book or list, they are just one
more attempt to define expectations for a specific job.
A sewer system designed to collect storm water and is separated
from the waste water system
A construction contract
which specifies a price for different elements of the work
such as, cost per hour of labor, overhead, profit, etc. Such
a contract may not have a maximum price or may state a 'price
not to exceed...'
Title Insurance is a title company's guarantee
that the title to a parcel of real estate is affected only
by matters shown on a written report. For further explanation,
see What is Title Insurance?
A newer roofing
material mostly used on flat roofs. This material usually
comes in rolls and is applied to the roof with an open flame
or 'torch'. See the topic page on The Sound Roof.
A wood product which has been impregnated
with chemicals to reduce damage from wood rot or insects.
Often used for the portions of a structure which is likely
to be in ongoing contact with soil and water. Wood may also
be treated with a fire retardant. See the topic page on Decks.
A manufactured wood member often in the form
of a large triangle which is used to form the ceiling joists
and rafters on the top floor of a home.
A common form of electrical
wiring used before W.W.II. When in good condition, it may
still be functional for low amperage use, such as smaller
An unused underground residential heating
oil tank. Usually found in homes which were once heated with
oil. See the topic page on Underground Oil Tanks.
A measure of electrical potential. If we
think of electrical measurements in terms of waterfalls then--
Multnoma Fall has high voltage and low amperage (very fast
water and low volume). The Columbia River would have low voltage
and very high amperage (low speed and very high volume).
Most homes are wired with '110' and '220'
volt lines. The '110' volt power is used for lighting and
most of the other circuits. The '220' volt power is usually
used for the kitchen stove, water heater and dryer. (The terms
'110' and '220' volts are a short hand, e.g. a '110' volt
line is usually rated at 117 volts plus or minus 10%).
See, "Oriented Strand Board."
In construction there are two general types
of warrantees. One is provided by the manufacturer of a product
such as roofing material or an appliance. The second is a
warrantee for the labor. For example, a roofing contract may
include a 30 year material warrantee and a 5 year labor warrantee.
Many (but not all) new homes come with a
one year warrantee. Any major issues found during the first
year should be communicated to the builder at once. Small
items can be saved up and presented to the builder in a letter
on the 11 month anniversary of the closing. This gives the
builder one month to make the necessary corrections.
See the topic page on A Building and Remodeling Checklist.
measure of the electrical requirement of an appliance calculated
by multiplying voltage x amperage. For example; a 1600 watt
hair dryer which uses '110' volt power needs about 15 amps.
A governmental process and specification
which limits the use of a property e.g. single family use,
high rise residential use, etc. See the topic page on A Building
and Remodeling Checklist and the topic page on Purchasing