Building & Remodeling Glossary


Acanthus – A Stylized leaf motif, one of the primary decorative elements of classical architecture. With its origins in Greece, it was adopted by Romans and transmitted into the general classical tradition.

Allowance – 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.

Amperage – The rate of flow of electricity through wire  –  measured in terms of amperes,

Anticipated Final Account – On-going estimates provided at regular intervals by the main contractor to forecast and compare the expected cost of works at project completion.

Architect – 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.

Architrave -Originally an architrave (also called epistyle) is the lintel or beam that rests on the capitals of the columns. As such, it is the lowest part of the entablature consisting of architrave, frieze and cornice. The word is derived from the Greek and Latin words arche and trabs combined together to mean “main beam”. Subsequently it has come to mean and describe any molded door or window frame.

Art Nouveau – A movement that embraced architecture, design, and visual arts throughout Europe. It was fashionable between 1890 and 1910, and particularly strong in France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria. In Britain, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was an important exponent: in Spain, Antonio Gaudi was the leading figure. It attempted to find what was sometimes called a modern style, using natural, organic forms and decorative motifs rather than historically derived elements. Marked by ornate use of undulation, such as waves, flames, floweer stalks and flowing hair.

Arts and Crafts – Galvanized by William Morris’s disgust at what he perceived as the dehumanizing tendencies of mass production and the factory system, a group os architects and designers attempted to revive the traditions of simple handicraft techniques in 19th century Britain. In architecture they looked at the unselfconscious vernacular tradition of barns, mills, and cottages as an inspiration and at the aesthetics of the medieval period. Known as the Arts and Crafts movement, this design tendency spread across much of Europe to America and Australia.

Art Deco – A popular design of the 1920s and “30s characterized by bold outlines, geometric and zigzag forms.

Asbestos – A fibrous, incombustible material once used in building construction. No longer allowed due to health risk.

Asbestos Shingles – A shingling material made up of a nonconducting, fireproof mineral used in roofing and siding. No longer allowed due to health risk.

Ash dump – A small opening located in the hearth of a fireplace having a cast iron cover, used to dump the ashes down into a cavity below the fire box.

Ashlar – The practice of laying stone in smooth cut – or dressed – blocks in regular courses, seperated by only the thinnest of joints. Originated by the ancient Egyptians and adopted as an important element of classical architecture.

Ashlar Masonry – Masonry construction using a square stone.

Asphalt Shingle – A roofing material made of a brown or black tar like substance mixed with sand or gravel.

Atrium – In the Roman period this was the inner courtyard of a house, left open to the sky, and generally built by the affluent urbam classes. In the 20th century the word has been adopted to describe dramatic enclosed glass-roofed indoor spaces associated with high-rise hotels and office buildings that are treated as substitutes for the public realm.

Authority Having Jurisdiction or AHJ – The final authority who writes the “Certificate of Occupancy Permit” in a municipality. This can be the building code official/inspector or fire inspector. Since each municipality is different, the “authority having jurisdiction” may also be different from town to town. Check with local officials to verify who has final jurisdiction. Industrial facilities and hospitals may have other “jurisdictions.” The “Authority Having Jurisdiction” is the organization, office and/or individual responsible for “approving” equipment, an installation, or a procedure. Note: the phrase “authority having jurisdiction” is used in a broad manner since jurisdictions and “approval” agencies vary as do their responsibilities.

Awning Window – A window hinged along the top edge.

Backfill – (1) filling in any previously excavated area. (2) in carpentry, the process of fastening together two pieces of board by gluing blocks of wood in the interior angle.

Bay Window – Extends beyond the exterior face of the wall.

Beam – A supporting member either of wood or steel.

Bed Board – A thin board (usually thin plywood) nailed to the underside of the return s and spanning the distance from the face board to the frieze. Now often referred to as the soffit.

Book Match: Adjacent pieces of veneer from a flitch or log are opened like a book and spliced to make up the face with matching occurring at the spliced joints. The fibers of the wood, slanting in opposite directions in the adjacent sheets, create a characteristic light and dark effect when the surface is seen from an angle.

Bow Window – Projected window with a curved surface often in the glass itself

Bridging – short, structural members between beams to provide reinforcement and distribution of stress.

BTU – A measure of the capacity of a heating or cooling system. Abbreviation of British Thermal Unit.

Building Envelope – A building envelope is the physical separators between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building including the resistance to air, water, heat, light, and noise transfer. The three basic elements of a building envelope are a weather barrier, air barrier, and thermal barrier. (Wikipedia – Building Envelope)

BX Cable – Armored electrical cable wrapped in galvanized steel outer covering.

Casement Window – A window that opens by swinging inward or outward much like a door. Casement windows are usually vertical in shape but are often grouped in bands.

Casing – The trim bordering the inside or outside of a window or door, commonly referred to as “inside” or “outside” casing.

Castellated – Decorated with battlements (a parapet with alternating indentations and raised portions); also called crenellation. Building with battlements are usually brick or stone.

Cathederal: A grain appearance characterized by a series of stacked and inverted “V” or cathedral type springwood (earlywood) summerwood (latewood) patterns common in plain-sliced veneer.

Cathederal Ceiling: A ceiling that provides a large, vaulted space by eliminating the attic between the living area and the rafters, which may or may not be exposed.

Caulking – Material used to seal exterior cracks and openings such as windows or foundations.

Chair-rail – Molding placed along the loweer part of the wall to prevent chairs, when pused back, from damaging the wall. Also used as decoration.

Circuit Breakers – A protective device which automatically opens an electrical circuit when it is overloaded designed as a replacement system for fuses.

Condensation – Water condensing on wails, ceiling and pipes. Normal in areas of high humidity, usually controlled be ventilation or a dehumidifier.

Conduit – A hollow pipe casing through which electric lines run .

Construction Management – (see also Project Management) The overall management of the processes required to bring the site operations of a project to a satisfactory conclusion, typically carried out either by a private consultant or an employee of the project client. Is a management form of contract synonymous with management contracting except that works contractors are appointed as direct contractors to the client, rather than as subcontractors to the contract manager.

Construction Management Contract – This is a contract in which management is regarded as a separate discipline and responsibility from that of construction. Construction (works) contractors contract with a management contractor, who is therefore their client or employer.

Construction Management Fee – An agreed sum for management services

Core – The inner part of plywood between face and back, usually veneer. Sawn lumber, particleboard. MDF, hardboard, or other material is used as cores.

Coursed Rubble Masonry – Rough stone or rubble bonded or laid into a homogenous integral structure with approximately continuous and horizontal bed joints.

Design/Build – Design & Build or Design & Construction is a form of construction procurement whereby the contractor who constructs the works, also undertakes all of, or a proportion of, the design of the works under one contract.

Double-hung Window – A window which operates by means of two sashes that slide vertically past each other.

Downspout – The pipe that carries water down from the gutter or scupper. Also called a leader.

Eave – The part of the roof which extends beyond the side wall.

Efflorescence – A white powder on the surface of wails due to evaporation of water.

Energy Efficiency Ratio – An air conditioning efficiency rating system which indicates the number of BTU’S delivered per watt of power consumed.

Fascia – A flat, horizontal board enclosing the overhang under the eave.

Fast Track – Fast tracking is a means of reducing project time by the overlapping of design and construction. Each trade’s work commences as its plans and specifications are substantially completed. Or any project where design work and building work can overlap, i.e. construction can begin before the design is finalized.

Feasibility Study – An initial study of a project, or method of operation, in outline form to determine the physical and economic feasibility.

Fixed Price Contract – A fixed price contract may be a lump sum contract or a measurement contract based on fixed prices for units of specific work.

Fiddle Back – A fine, strong, even, ripple figure as frequently seen on the backs of violins. It is found principally in Mahogany and Maple; cut occurs sometimes in other woods.

Figure – The pattern produced in a wood surface by annual growth rings, rays, knots, deviations from natural grain such as interlocked and wavy grain, and irregular coloration. Appears across the grain. Mottle, fiddleback and raindrop are often called cross figure or cross fire.

Fines — The residue resulting from the stone fabrication processes. finish – the final appearance exposed stone slab surfaces are fabricated to meet. finished stone – building stone with one or more mechanically dressed surface(s). fireproof – relatively incombustible.

Flake, Fleck, Figure – Flake figure is developed only in those species which have very heavy medullary ray growth, specifically Oak, Lacewood, and Sycamore. When the saw or knife cut is directly on or near to the radial, it is close to parallel with the medullary ray and therefore develops the “Flake” effect.

Flashing – Material used around any angle in a roof or wall to prevent leakage.

Flat Cut (FC) – Also called Plain Slicing, it is the most common method of veneer manufacturing, producing a grain pattern known as cathedral. Because each leaf in the flitch is similar, a consistent and even matching pattern is possible. Flat cut veneer is ideally suited for wall panels and furniture.

Flexible Veneer Wood – veneer which is joined, processed, sanded and backed with paper or other material to create a fully ready to use dimensional sheet of real wood veneer.

Flitch – A Section of a log made ready for cutting into veneers.
After cutting, all bundles are laid together in sequence as they were sliced.

Flue – A pipe used to exhaust smoke, gas or air.

Flush Valve – The valve separating the water in the tank from the bowl.

Footing – The underground support for a foundation or support post.

Foundation – The lowest part of a wall or series of piers on which a structure is built.

French Drain – A basement floor drain system designed to remove water as it enters on the perimeter of the space.

Galvanized Pipe – Iron pipe with a zinc coating. Formerly used for water lines.

Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) – an agreed figure that any work undertaken can not exceed.

GFCI – Abbreviation for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. A type of protected circuit breaker now required in areas containing water lines.

Girder – A main supporting beam of the house.

Grade – Ground level.

Great Room – A great room is a room space within an abode which combines the specific functions of several of the more traditional room spaces (e.g. the family room, the living room, the study, etc.) into a singular unified space. Great rooms are typically at or near the center of the house, feature raised ceilings, and have been common in American homes since the early 1990s. The New York Times called the great room “the McMansion’s signature space.” (

Grout – A mixture of cement, sand and water used to fill cracks and cavities. Sometimes used under base plates to obtain uniform bearing surfaces. Often it refers to material used around ceramic tile as filler.

Gutter – A trough used at the edge of a roof to collect rain.

Half Bath A room in a residence that contains a toilet and wash basin but no bathing facilities, such as a bathtub or shower stall. Also sometimes refered to as a “Water Closet” or “Powder Room.”

Hardboard: Homogeneous panels manufactured primarily from inter-felted lignocellulosic (wood) fibers consolidated under heat and pressure with a density of 497 kg/m3 or more.

Hardwood: General term used to designate lumber or veneer produced from temperate zone deciduous or tropical broad-leaved trees in contrast to softwood, which is produced from trees which are usually needle bearing or coniferous. The term does not infer hardness in its physical sense.

Header – The structural wood composite and/or steel member above door or window opening.

Hearth – The bottom of a fireplace.

Hopper Window – A bottom hinged typically seen in basements

Indoor Air Quality (IAC) – A term which refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.

Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) – are rigid plastic foam forms that hold concrete in place during curing and remain in place afterwards to serve as thermal insulation for concrete walls. The foam sections are lightweight and result in energy-efficient, durable construction.

Item 4 – A blend of 3/4″ stone and fines and that packs and consolidates very well. When it gets a little frost in it it’s just like asphalt and plows well.

Jalousie Window– A window with glass louvers that overlap one another. Operated with a crank or turn-screw, the glass louvers tilt to open, permitting air flow. The design is similar to a Venetian blind or shutter. Also called a louvered window.

Jamb – The vertical component of an opening, the frame containing a doorway, window, or archway. Different types include the hinge jamb, upon which the hinges are attached, the strike jamb, upon which the strike is installed, and a blank jamb, which is not prepared for either a hinge or a strike plate.

Joists – parallel, horizontal beams laid edgewise from wall to wall to support the boards of a floor or ceiling.

Knob and Tube – An old now antique and obsolete form of wiring.

Lally Column – A round steel cylinder usually filled with concrete to support overhead beams.

Letter of intent -Written proof from client to contractor that they have been appointed to the project.

Loggia – The name given to an architectural feature, originally of Italian design, which is often a gallery or corridor generally on the ground level, or sometimes higher, on the facade of a building and open to the air on one side, where it is supported by columns or pierced openings in the wall.

Lump Sum Contract – With a lump sum contract, the contractor agrees to perform the work for one fixed price, regardless of the ultimate cost. Also sometimes also referred to as a ‘Single Stage Contract ’.

Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF): A panel or core product manufactured from wood fibers combined with a symmetric resin or other bonding system. MDF is manufactured with a minimum density of 497 kg/m3 up to 881 kg/m3 by the application of heat and pressure by a process in which the fiber bond is substantially created by the added adhesive system.

Negotiated Contract – A negotiated contract usually derives from a situation where the client knows which contractor they intend to use, and instead of inviting several contractors to bid on their project, they negotiate a price directly with their preferred contractor.

Oriel Window– A box-like window projecting from the wall of a house.

Palladian – A motif having three openings, the center one being arched and larger than the other two.

Palladian window – A three part window featuring a large ached center and flanking rectangular sidelights. Not to be confused with a solo round top window.

Parge – A coat of cement over block foundation wails.

Particleboard: A panel or core composed of small particles of wood and wood fiber that are bonded together with synthetic resin adhesives in the presence of heat and pressure.

Peristyle – In Greek and Roman architecture a peristyle is a columned porch or open colonnade in a building that surrounds a court that may contain an internal garden.

Picture Window – One single, large window pane that does not open from either side.

Pilaster – A rectangular vertical member projecting only slightly from a wall, with a base and capital as will a column.

Plain-Sliced (Flat-Cut): Veneer sliced parallel to the pith of the log and approximately tangent to the growth rings to achieve flat-cut veneer. Plain-sliced veneer is cut using either a horizontal or vertical slicing machine or by the half-round method using a rotary lathe.

Plancher – Same as a bed board or soffit

Ply: A single set of veneer or several strips laid with adjoining edges that may or may not be glued, which forms one veneer lamina in a glued panel. In some constructions, a ply is used to refer to other wood components such as particleboard or MDF.

Plywood: A panel composed of an assembly of layers or plies of veneer or veneers in combination with lumber core, particleboard core, MDF core, hardboard core, or of a special core material joined with an adhesive. Except constructions, the grain of alternate plies is at right angles.

Portico – A porch that is leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade, with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls. This idea first appeared in ancient Greece and has influenced many cultures, including most Western cultures.

Project Management – (see also Construction Management) Project management is concerned with the overall planning and co-ordination of a project from inception to completion aimed at meeting the client’s requirements and ensuring completion on time, within cost and to required quality standards. Project management is typically carried out either by a private consultant or an employee of the project client.

Project Manager – (see also Construction Manager) The person or firm appointed by the Client responsible for the planning, co-ordination and controlling of a project from inception to completion, meeting the client’s requirements and ensuring completion on time, within cost and to required quality standards.

Quarter-Sliced (Quarter Cut, QC): A straight grain appearance achieved through the process of quarter-slicing or through the use of veneer cut in any fashion that produces a straight grain effect. Cut is radial to the pith to the extent that ray fleck is produced, and the amount of fleck is not limited. This cut requires the largest diameter logs and produces straight grained veneers.

Rafter – A sloping rib member of a roof.

Random Rubble Masonry – Rough stone or rubble bonded or laid into a homogenous integral structure with no apparent coursing but with bed joint that are laid roughly horizontal for stability and appearance. Random rubble walls typically are pointed to emphasize the natural shape of the stones.

Register – An opening through which air travels from the ducts into a room.

Re-pointing – To fill the joints between the brick.

Ridge Board – The horizontal structural member at the top of a roof where the rafters meet.

Rift Cut: A straight grain appearance achieved through the process of cutting at a slight angle to the radial on the half-round stay log or through the use of veneer cut in any fashion that produces a straight grain with minimal ray fleck.

Roof Pitch – The degree of a roof’s slope.

Rotary Cut: Veneer produced by centering the log in a lathe a turning it against a broad cutting knife which is set into the log at a slight angle.

Scope of Work -Used to describe the boundaries of what is and is not involved in a program of work. A statement of the work content of a project required to achieve the project scope. The work content of a project is the sum of all necessary tasks and activities required to complete the project scope in its entirety (i.e. its complete work breakdown structure). The work content of a project or any component of a project, such as a work package

Scuttle – opening to attic.

Sheathing – The covering on roofs or wails below the exterior roof .

Sheetrock – Also called gypsum (GWB), plasterboard or dry wall.

Sill Plate – Framing lumber placed on and around the foundation to support the exterior wall studs, also called a mud sill.

Sill Cock – Exterior water hose pipe connection.

Single Stage Contract – Single stage contract is used to describe a situation where a contractor’s proposal for a job includes an overall cost for all work. This is also referred to as a ‘lump sum contract’.

Slag – The gravel sometimes found on a built-up roof.

Soffit – The underside of a cornice at the eaves.

Softwood: General term used to describe lumber or veneer produced from needle and/or cone bearing trees. SM#: Sequenced, matched, numbered. Veneer taken from same log – cut in sequence. Numbered in order for matched panels.

Stucco – An exterior plaster wall surface.

Stud – A vertical, framing member in a wall or partition.

Subcontractor – A subcontractor is a specialist company employed by the general contractor or project manager to perform specialty trade work as needed.

Substantial completion – Substantial completion generally means that construction or substantial renovation of a complex is at a stage where you can reasonably inhabit the premises. Minor repairs, adjustments, or outstanding upgrades are not considered to impair the use and enjoyment of the housing unit as a place of residence.

Sump – A pit in the basement floor into which water drains to be pumped out with a sump pump.

Swale – A wide, depression in the ground.

Trap – A bend in a water pipe to hold water and prevent gases from escaping into the house.

Two-stage Contracting – In a two-stage tender the first amount proposed by the tendering contractors will reflect their fee for the project only. The contractor will be appointed on this basis and the next round of tendering will include sub-contractor prices for work.

Vent Pipe – A pipe allowing gas to escape from plumbing stacks.

Veneer: A thin sheet of wood, rotary cut, sliced, or sawed from a log, bolt, or flitch.

Verandah (or veranda): A roofed opened gallery or porch. It is also described as an open pillared gallery, generally roofed, built around a central structure.

Voltage – The pressure behind the flow of electricity, measured in terms of volts.

Water Table – A piece of trim similar to a drip cap in function, sometimes found around the perimeter of a house near the ground line.

Water Closet– A room which contains a flush toilet, usually accompanied by a washbowl or sink. The term may also be used to refer specifically to a flush toilet. Colloquially a water closte may also mean the same thing as a half bath.

Wattage – The amount of electricity flowing through a line, measured in terms of wafts. (Voltage times amperage equals watts.)

Weather Stripping – Material used around door and window openings to prevent rain, wind, and cold from entering the house.

Weep Hole – Drain hole to allow moisture to escape.

Woven Valley – Method of valley construction in which shingles from both sides of the valley extend across the valley and are woven together by overlapping alternate courses as they are applied. The valley flashing is not exposed.

Wreath Turn: A transition or turning section of railing or stair carriage/stringer which is curved in both plan and elevation views.

Z Flashing: Flashing, shaped in the form of a Z, which is used along a horizontal edge between abutting vertical exterior wall panels. Any water that seeps into the joint is then directed outward by gravity to the outside of the wall.

Zero Clearance: The lack of a need for a specified distance between a well-insulated heating unit or metal wood burning fireplace and a combustible surface.

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