Glossary of Common Construction Terms

Above Grade Wall: A wall associated with the building thermal envelope that is more than 15 percent above grade and is on the exterior of the building.

Aggregate: A mixture of sand and stone and a major component of concrete.

Air Space: The area between insulation facing and interior of exterior wall coverings. 

Anchor: A fastener typically used to attach building components, such as wall studs, doorjambs, and other framing members to masonry or masonry materials.

Anchor Bolt: A threaded rod inserted in masonry construction to anchor the sill plate to the foundation.

Arch: A curved structure that will support itself and the weight above its curved opening by mutual pressure.

Architect: One who has completed a course of study in building and design, and is licensed by the state as an architect. One who draws up plans and sometimes supervises the construction of homes.

ASTM: American Society for Testing Materials.

Backfill: The replacement of excavated earth into a trench around and against a basement foundation.

Baseboard: The finish board covering the interior wall where the wall and the floor meet.

Basement Foundation: A basement is a usable foundation that typically has ceiling heights of 8′ and is often finished off as living or storage space.

Batt: a roll or sheet of insulation designed to be installed between members of frame construction.

Batten: Narrow strips of wood used to cover joints or as decorative vertical members over plywood or wide boards.

Batter Board: One of a pair of horizontal boards nailed to posts set at the corners of an excavation, used to indicate the desired level, also as a fastening for stretched strings to indicate outlines of foundation walls.

Bay Window: Any window space projecting outward from the walls of a building, either square or polygonal in plan.

Beam: A structural member transversely supporting a load.

Beam Ceiling: A ceiling in which the ceiling beams are exposed to view.

Bearing Partition: A partition that supports any vertical load in addition to its own weight.

Bearing Wall: A wall that supports any vertical load in addition to its own weight.

Below Grade Wall: Below-grade walls are basement or first-story walls associated with the exterior of the building that are at least 85 percent below grade.

Board Foot: A method of lumber measurements using nominal dimensions of 1 in. thick, 12 in. wide, and 12 in. long, or the equivalent.

Bottom Plate: The lowest horizontal member of a wall, which rests on the rough floor, to which the studding is nailed.

Brick: A solid masonry unit composed of clay or shale. Formed into a rectangular prism while soft and burned or fired in kiln.

Brick Veneer: A facing of brick laid against and fastened to sheathing of a frame wall or tile wall construction.

Building Code: A comprehensive set of laws that controls the construction or remodeling of a home or other structure.

Built-Up Roof: A roofing composed of three to five layers of asphalt felt laminated with coal tar, pitch, or asphalt. The top is finished with crushed slag or gravel. Generally used on flat or low-pitched roofs.

Casement Window: A hinged window, usually metal, that opens out.

Casing: Molding of various widths and thickness used to trim door and window openings at the jambs.

Caulking: A waterproof material used to seal cracks.

Chamfer: A beveled edge on a board formed by removing the sharp corner. Generally used on moldings, edges of drawer fronts, and cabinet doors.

Chase: A slot or continuous groove built in a masonry or frame wall to accommodate ducts, pipes, or conduits.

Chord: The horizontal member of a truss connecting the lower corners.

Clear Title: A title to property that is free of any defects.

Cleat: A piece of wood, normally used in frame construction, fastened to another member to serve as a brace or support.

Collar Beam: Nominal 1 or 2 in. thick members connecting opposite roof rafters. They serve to stiffen the roof structure.

Computer Aided Design (CAD): Using the computer to perform drafting and design functions.

Concrete: A mixture of cement, sand, and gravel with water.

Concrete Block: A hollow concrete ‘brick’ often 8″ x 8″ x 16″ in size. Often used in low rise commercial and some residential construction.

Concrete Form: A temporary structure built to contain concrete during pouring and initial hardening.

Conduit: piping made out of plastic or metal used to protect electrical wire.

Convection: Refers to the transfer of heat by moving fluid (liquids and gases).

Conventional Framing: A method construction using wood framing materials to build a home or structure which supports the plywood, drywall, and other building materials. Also referred to as stick framing.

Crawl Space: The shallow space below the floor of a house built above the ground. Generally it is surrounded with the foundation wall.

Cripple: A structural member that is cut less than full length, such as a studding piece above a window or door.

Cross Bracing: Boards nailed diagonally across studs or other boards to make framework rigid.

Crown Molding: A decorative molding used at the top of cabinets, at ceiling corners, and under a roof overhang.

Curtain Wall: An exterior or interior wall, which provides no structural support.

Door: A sliding or hinged structure, covering an opening to a cupboard, closet, room, building, etc. May be used as an entrance or exit. Usually constructed of wood, glass, or metal, depending on its service.

Doorjamb: Two vertical pieces held together by a head jamb forming the inside lining of a door opening.

Double Glazing: Making a pane of two pieces of glass with air space between and sealed to provide insulation.

Double Header: Two or more timbers or lumber joined for strength.

Double Hung: Refers to a window having top and bottom sashes, each capable of movement up and down.

Dry Wall: Interior covering material, such as gypsum board or plywood, which is applied in large sheets or panels.

Eaves: The lower portion of the roof that overhangs the wall.

Egress: A means of exiting the home. An egress window is required in every bedroom and basement.

Expansion Joint: A bituminous fiber strip used to separate blocks or units of concrete to prevent cracking due to expansion as a result of temperature changes.

Exterior Wall: Any outside wall or vertical enclosure of a structure or building other than a party wall.

Façade: The front elevation or face of a structure.

Face Brick: Brick of better quality used on the face of a wall.

Face Veneer: Veneer selected for exposed surfaces in plywood. Especially selected for fancy paneling.

Faced Insulation: Insulation with an attached vapor retarder (kraft paper or foil-backed paper).

Facing: Any material attached to the outer portion of a wall used as a finished surface.

Fascia: A horizontal board nailed onto the ends of the rafters.

Fiberboard: A building board made with fibrous material and used as an insulating board.

Fiber Glass Insulation: An energy-efficient glass fiber product manufactured by Owens Corning to ensure the best thermal and noise control performance available.

Fill: Sand, gravel, or loose earth used to bring a sub-grade up to a desired level around a house.

Filled Insulation: A loose insulating material poured from bags or blown by machine into walls.

Fire Stop: A solid, tight closure of a concealed space, placed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke through such a space. In a frame wall, this will usually consist of 2 by 4 cross blocking between studs.

Fire Wall: Any wall designed to resist the spread of fire between sections of a house. Firewalls are commonly used between the main structure and an attached garage. Fire resistant materials are designed specifically for this purpose.

Firebrick: A brick that is especially hard and heat-resistant; used in fireplaces.

Flagstone: Flat stone used for floors, steps, walks, or walls.

Flashing: Sheet metal or other material used in roof and wall construction to protect a building from water seepage.

Fly Rafters: End rafters of the gable overhang supported by roof sheathing and lookouts.

Footing: A masonry section, usually concrete, in a rectangular form wider than the bottom of the foundation wall or pier it supports.

Foundation: The supporting portion of a structure below the first-floor construction, or below grade, including the footings.

Framing: The studs, rafters, joists, sole plates, and roof plates that form the skeletal structure of a house.

Frost Line: The depth of frost penetration in soil. This depth varies in different parts of the country. Footings should be placed below this depth to prevent movement.

Furring: The use of wood strips (or other materials) as a method of finishing the interior face of masonry wall. Furring provides a space for insulation, helps prevent moisture transmission, and provides a level surface for paneling or other surface finishing treatment.

Grade: The surface of the ground around a building.

Gravel Stop: A strip of metal with a vertical lip used to retain the gravel around the edge of a built-up roof.

Green Building: A method of constructing a home or another structure using energy efficient or recycled materials and energy efficient construction practices to reduce consumption of energy, water and other resources, protect occupant health, reduce waste, and reduce the building’s impact on the environment.

Gusset: A plywood or metal plate used to strengthen the joints of a truss.

Insulated Concrete Form (ICF): It is steel reinforced poured concrete that allows the forms to stay in place and become a functional part of the house. The walls and floors will be concrete.

Insulating Board: Any board suitable for insulating purposes.

Insulation: Materials for obstructing the passage of sound, heat, or cold from one surface to another.

Interior Trim: General term for all the finish molding, casing, baseboard, and cornice applied within the building by finish carpenters.

Jamb: The side and head lining of a doorway, window, or other opening.

Joist: A horizontal structural member, which supports the floor or ceiling system.

Kick Plate: A metal, wood or plastic strip, placed at the lower edge of a door or on a riser of a step to protect it from damage by accidental kicking.

Knee Wall: A low wall resulting from one-and-one-half-story construction.

Lap Siding: Slightly wedge-shaped boards used as horizontal siding in a lapped pattern over the exterior sheathing. 

Lath: A building material of wood, metal, gypsum, or insulating board that is fastened to the frame of a building to act as a plaster base.

Lattice: A framework of crossed wood or metal strips.

Ledger Strip: A strip of lumber nailed along the bottom of the side of a girder on which the joists rest.

Lintel: A horizontal structural member that supports the load over an opening such as a door or window.

Load-Bearing Wall: Includes all exterior walls and any interior wall that is aligned above a support beam or girder. Normally, any wall that has a double horizontal top plate.

Masonry: Stone, brick, concrete, hollow-tile, concrete-block, gypsum-block, or other similar building units or materials or a combination of the same, bonded together with mortar to form a wall, pier, buttress or similar mass.

Mastic: A flexible adhesive for adhering building materials.

Metal Wall Ties: Strips of corrugated metal used to tie a brick veneer wall to a framework.

Millwork: Lumber that is shaped to a given pattern or molded form. It includes dressing, matching, and machining. Examples include casing, base, panel door parts, and stair rails.

Miter Joint: A joint made with the ends or edges of two pieces of lumber cut at a 45-degree angle and fitted together.

Modular Construction: Construction in which the size of all the building materials is based on a common unit of measure.

Moisture Barrier: A material such as specially treated paper that retards the passage of vapor or moisture into walls, and prevents condensation with the walls.

Monolithic Slab: A slab foundation that is part of the footings.

Mortar: A mixture of cement, sand and water, used by the mason as a bonding agent for bricks and stone.

Muntin: A small member, which divides the glass or openings of sash or doors.

Nominal Size: The size of lumber before dressing, rather than its actual size.

Nonbearing Wall: A wall supporting no load other than its own weight.

On Center (o.c.): The measurement of spacing for studs, rafters, joists, and other framing members from the center of one member to the center of the next.

Overhang: The projecting area of a roof or upper story beyond the wall of the lower part.

Panel: In house construction, a thin flat piece of wood, plywood, or similar material, framed by stiles and rails as in a door or fitted into grooves of thicker material with molded edges for decorative wall treatment.

Parapet: A low wall or railing around the edge of a roof.

Particle Board: A composition board made of wood chips or particles bonded together with an adhesive under high pressure.

Pilaster: A portion of a square column usually set within or against a wall for the purpose of strengthening the wall; also, a decorative column attached to a wall.

Plaster: A mortar-like composition used for covering walls and ceilings, usually made of portland cement mixed with sand and water.

Plate: Sill plate is a horizontal member anchored to a masonry wall. Sole plate is bottom horizontal member of a frame wall. Top plate is top horizontal member of a frame wall supporting ceiling joists, rafters or other members.

Platform Framing: A system of framing a building in which floor joists of each story rest on the top plates of the story below or on the foundation sill for the first story, and the bearing walls and partitions rest on the sub-floor of each.

Plumb: Perfectly vertical, a term often used for the placement of doors and windows.

Plywood: A piece of wood made of three or more layers of veneer joined with glue, and usually laid with the grain of adjoining plies at right angles. Almost always an odd number of plies are used to provide balanced construction.

Polyethylene Vapor Barrier: Plastic film used to prevent moisture from passing through unfaced insulation. Both 4- and 6-mil polyethylene are preferred because they are less likely to be damaged during construction.

Post and Beam Construction: Wall construction consisting of posts rather than studs.

Precast: Concrete shapes which are made before being placed into structure.

Prefabricated Houses: Houses that are built in sections or component parts in a plant, and then assembled at the site.

R-Value: A measurement used to describe the resistance to temperature changes in insulation.

Rafter: One of a series of structural members of a roof designed to support roof loads. The rafters of a flat roof are sometimes called roof joists.

Rebar: Ribbed steel bars installed in foundation concrete walls, footers, and poured in place concrete structures designed to strengthen concrete. Comes in various thickness’ and strength grade.

Reinforced Concrete: Concrete with steel bars or webbing embedded for strength.

Retaining Wall: A wall that holds back an earth embankment.

Reveal: The side of an opening for a window or door, between the frame and the outer surface of the wall.

Rough In: The installation of all parts of the plumbing system that can be completed prior to the installation of fixtures, including drainage, water supply, vent piping, and the necessary fixture supports.

Rough Opening: A framed opening in a structure into which doors, windows, and other finished trim are set.

Shim: Small thin pieces of wood or other material used to fill in gaps or level surfaces.

Siding: The finished covering of the outside wall of a frame building, whether made of horizontal weatherboards, vertical boards with battens, shingles, or other material.

Sill: The lowest member of the frame of a structure, resting on the foundation and supporting the floor joists or the uprights of the wall. The member forming the lower side of an opening, as a doorsill.

Slab Foundation: For a slab foundation, the site is leveled off, and a trench is dug around the perimeter of the home site. Gravel is then spread across the site, and concrete is poured approximately four inches thick over wire mesh and a moisture barrier. In areas of load bearing walls, trenches need to be dug to allow for additional thickness at this location. Slab foundations have no piers or floor joists, and the concrete slab is the floor system.

Sleeper: Usually a wood member embedded in concrete, as in a floor, that serves to support and to fasten sub-floor or flooring.

Soffit: Usually the underside of an overhanging cornice.

Stick Framing: A stick-built home is a property with a wood frame, which supports the plywood, drywall, and other building materials.

Stringer: A long, horizontal member, which connects uprights in a frame or supports a floor or the like. One of the enclosed sides of a stair supporting the treads and risers.

Stucco: a construction material made of aggregates, a binder, and water used to finish building exteriors.

Studs: The vertical-framing members of a wall.

Sub-Floor: Any material, usually plywood, nailed directly to floor joists. The finish floor is attached over the sub-floor.

Sub-Grade Wall: Sub-grade walls are basement or first-story walls associated with the exterior of the building that are at least 50 percent below grade.

Threshold: A strip of wood or metal with beveled edges uses over the finish floor and the sill of exterior doors.

Top Plate: The horizontal member nailed to the top of the studding of a wall.

Transom: A window placed above a door or permanent window, which is hinged for ventilation.

Trim: The finish materials in a building, such as moldings, applied around openings (window trim, door trim) or at the floor and ceiling of rooms (baseboard, cornice).

Trimmer: The longer floor framing member around a rectangular opening into which a header is joined.

Truss: Structural members arranged and fastened in triangular units to form a ridge framework for support of loads over a long span.

Truss Framing: A method of roof framing by which carefully designed framing members (trusses) are composed of multiple triangles and connected to metal fastener plates. Pre-engineered trusses are designed and assembled by the truss manufacturer and shipped to the building site.

Underlayment: A material placed under finish coverings, such as flooring or shingles, to provide a smooth, even surface for applying the finish.

Unfaced Insulation: Insulation with no attached vapor retarder (kraft paper or foil-backed paper).

Vapor Barrier: A waterproof membrane or plastic sheet used in insulation. The sheathing faces the heated area to control dampness.

Veneer: Extremely thin sheets of wood produced by slicing or rotary-cutting a log.

Veneered Construction: Type of wall construction in which frame or masonry walls are faced with other exterior surfacing materials.

Wainscot: Surfacing on the lower part of an interior wall when finished differently from the remainder of the wall.

Wall Tie: A small metal strip or steel wire used to bind tiers of masonry in cavity-wall construction, or to bind brick veneer to the wood-frame wall in veneer construction.

Weather Strip: Strip of metal or fabric fastened along the edges of windows and doors to reduce drafts and heat loss.

Weep Hole: An opening at the bottom of a wall, which allows the drainage of water.

Window: An opening in a wall or roof of a building to provide light, air, view, etc., but containing glass to keep out the weather.

Wood Grade: A designation given to the quality of manufactured lumber.

Yard of Concrete: One cubic yard of concrete is 3′ x 3′ x 3′ in volume, or 27 cubic feet.


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