Construction Terms: How to Talk the Talk

Construction Terms:  How to Talk the Talk

Building a childcare center can be exciting. But even if this isn’t your first rodeo, you will be dealing with mortgages, contracts, building design, change orders, warranties, inspections, escrow accounts… the list goes on. At some point, you will hear and see words you’ve never heard before. What do they all mean?

We’ve compiled an ever growing and evolving glossary of construction terms based on the vocabulary that our clients have asked us about.  Don’t worry; we’re not naming names, just giving answers to commonly asked questions. 

Are there any construction terms we left out that you want clarity on?  Submit a comment below the article, and we’ll add the word and its definition to our list.  This list will be evolving and growing over time.

Abutting Property OwnerYour neighbor who shared your lot line.  Their property edge touches your property edge.

AddAn increase in the scope of work and or cost.

Additional InsuredCovered by another party’s insurance policy.

AggregateGravel or crushed stone added to the concrete mix.

AIAAmerican Institute of Architects.

Air ExchangeThe exchange, switching out, of interior air for fresh exterior air.  Think “out with the old, in with the new.”

AllowanceThe amount of money set aside for the purchase of yet-to-be specified materials.

Alternate PriceThe pre-agreed to price for altering a task or material in the scope of work.

As-BuiltsPlans to reflect the work executed to construct a building and all of its systems.  Field changes sometimes occur that can be significantly different than the original design, an as-built records the changes and documents what was actually built.

Awning WindowA single sash window hinged at the top.  Usually seen in basements.

BackfillTo place and compress soil around a foundation or within an open excavation hole on site.

Back OrderA delay in shipment of a product from the manufacturer.

Ballusters – Vertical supports under a handrail to make a railing system.

Base BidA cost proposed based on the scope of work that is fully determined.

Bearing WallA wall that supports the weight of a portion of the building.

BermA raised shoulder of earth, a small pile of dirt.

Bidding – Requesting proposed prices from more than one contractor.

Bid PackageA package of information necessary for a contractor to produce a bid, includes building plans, specifications, and information about known pre-existing conditions on the site.

Board FootOne square foot of lumber an inch thick.  That is a 2×4 that is 8′ long has 5.3 board feet.  Multiply the height in inches times the width in inches times the length in feet and divide by 12.

Bow WindowA window system that protrudes from the plane of the wall in which it is installed.  Similar to a Bay Window, but curved in shapes like the bow of a bow and arrow.

Box ValanceA three-sided window treatment spanning the top of a window.

Building InspectorCity, County, or State employee who reviews, and approves plans and construction work for compliance with building codes.

Building PermitA written consent for permission to construct work by approved plans.

Built MaterialsMaterials installed, applied, or assembled in or on a structure.

BulkheadA framed out lower portion of the ceiling, typically used to conceal something like piping or to give a sense of separation between rooms.

Butt JointA connection made from square end to square end.

Buy OutTo purchase the bulk of materials needed for a portion of a project.

Carbon FootprintThe amount of impact on the environment.  A large carbon footprint is bad for the environment, a small carbon footprint is a good thing.

CarryTo include or account for something.

Casement WindowA window with a rotating crank-out movement.

Certificate of CompletionA letter from the bank appraiser, usually the Architect of Record, to the lending bank, certifying that the project was completed in accordance with the plans and specifications.

Certificate of InsuranceA document certifying that a contractor is insured.

Certificate of OccupancyWritten permission from the building inspector that a building can be occupied.

ChamferA 45-degree cut into a 90-degree outside corner.  Picture frames have chamfer corners.

Change OrderAn alteration to the terms of a construction contract, resulting in cost and scheduling changes.

Charge Order ProposalA written proposal for cost and time changes to the contract.

Clean-outAn opening in a drain pipe used for cleaning or un-clogging it.

Conditional UsePermission to use land or building space under certain stated conditions, in a way other than ordinarily permitted by zoning regulations.

ConduitHollow tubing used to contain and protect lengths of electrical wire or plumbing pipe.

Construction DocumentsPermit approved plans, specifications, and building contract used for the construction of a project.

Construction ManagementThe management of a construction project.

Construction ScheduleA timed plan for the building construction of a project.

ContingencyMoney set aside to cover the cost of unexpected expenses.

Contract StructuresVarious approaches to the construction contract between the Owner and Contractor.  Examples include Lump Sum, Cost Plus, and Time and Materials.

Cost EstimateAn approximation of the expenses associated with tasks or materials.

CrewA group of workers.

CulvertA concrete pipe that passes underground to direct and drain water.

Cut SheetA written, diagram, or photo representation of a product.

Deduct – A deletion of a task or material that results in a lessening of cost.

Double Dipping – A form of overcharging by unfair and inaccurate miscalculation.

Double-Hung – A window that has two operable sashes installed one over the other.

Drainage Tile – Piping used to collect and transfer water underground.  Today we use PVC piping, but prior to the 1950’s, the piping was made of clay tile.

Draw Schedule – A timed plan for payment, usually monthly.

Drip Line – The imaginary line on the ground under to eave of a building at which water lands from the roof above.  Also the imaginary line on the ground under the outer edge of a tree’s canopy, usually designating the clear area around an existing tree to protect its root ball.

Drywall – Also known as sheetrock, plasterboard, and gypsum board.

Egress – A location where a person can safely exit a building.

Faux Finish – A material application such as paint or concrete applied to surfaces so that it looks like a different material or finish.

FFE – Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment.

Fill – Gravel, soil, or similar material used to reshape or back-fill land.

Finger Jointed – A means of creating longer lengths of wood moldings by joining short pieces of wood together..

Finish – The surface material applied to enhance beauty, function, and comfort.  A wall finish would be paint or wallpaper.  A floor finish would be carpet or wood.

Finish Lumber – Wood used for aesthetic purposes, and not structural.

Finish Weld – The bonding of two pieces of metal by heating and cleaning the joint to create an aesthetically pleasing product.

Fixed Fee A predetermined and committed to price.

Footing – A structural concrete base beneath a wall or column.

Footprint – A perimeter outline of a building.

Form – A mold that concrete is poured into.

Front-Loading – Assigning more costs at the beginning of a series of requests for payment.

General Conditions – Expenses incurred to run a construction project, or rules for contract parties, written within the specifications.

General Contractor – A builder who works under contract and hires and supervises subcontractors.

GMAX – Guaranteed maximum price, or fixed fee.

Header – A horizontal structural support over a door or window.

HVAC – Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning.

I-Beam – A metal joist shaped like a capital “I”.

Impact Fee – A charge to a property owner to offset a municipality’s expenses associated with that property or its use by the owner.

Jamb – A vertical side post support used in the framing of a doorway or window.

Job Meeting – An assembly of the parties associated with a construction project for the purpose of monitoring progress and facilitating administration of the construction contract.

Kept In-House – Not sold to a secondary mortgage institution.

Lead Time – The time it takes between ordering and receiving an item.

LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Lien – A process by which an aggrieved party may make a financial claim against another.

Lien Waiver – A document signed by the recipient of a payment, waiving the right to place a lien on a property.

Lift – Also called cherry picker, a piece of equipment used to elevate workers to perform work some height off the ground.

Liquidated Damages – A predetermined fee charged (usually daily) against a contractor for tardiness in the completion of work by an agreed upon date.

Loss Leader – Item sold for less than its value to encourage the purchase of high-priced related products.

Lot Coverage – The amount of land covered by a building or other site improvements.

Markup – A charge for services associated with handling a material or coordinating a service.

Mechanical – Pertaining to HVAC, or more broadly, pertaining to machinery or an entire operable system.

Mud – Drywall compound.

Muntin – Strips of material molding dividing the glass of doors or windows for the appearance of smaller window panes.

Non-Permeable – Solid, non-porous, cannot be penetrated by water.

Notify – The public posting of information.

Open-Book – Full disclosure of all actual costs.

Penetration – A hole made to permit pipes, wires, conduits, or ductwork to pass through.

Percentage Complete – A tool for assessing value and measurement of work completed.

Performance Specification – An instruction to a contractor or subcontractor to design and price a system to meet certain standards of performance.

Perk Test – A test used to determine the rate at which water will drain through the soil.

Permit Expeditor – A person hired to assist an owner in obtaining a building permit.

Plan Review – The process of reading and critiquing blueprints.

Plumb – Vertically straight.

Point Load – Weight is borne by a single post or column.

Popcorn – Blown on synthetic finish material used to cover drywall imperfections, usually on a ceiling surface.

Positive Grade – Land sloping away from the building.

Punch List – A list of unfinished work items that remain to be completed.

Reface – To apply a new material on the exterior or facade of something.

Reflective Value – A measure of light that bounces off a surface, depending on color and texture.

Reimbursable – An expense incurred for which one seeks payment.

Release the Retainage – Discharge funds held until completion of a project.

Requisition – A request for payment, bill, or invoice.

Resilient Channel – A V-shaped metal strip applied between wall framing and drywall to provide sound insulation.

Restocking Charge – Fee charged by suppliers to accept and handle returned purchases or materials.

Retainage – Money earned but held from payment until the completion of a construction project.

Rise and Run – The height and depth or a step.

Rosin Paper – Soft, absorbent paper used to protect surfaces.

Rough Carpentry – Structural building, framing wood materials.

Rough-In – Installing plumbing or electrical materials in a framed space.

R-Value – A measurement of a material’s or wall assembly’s ability to insulate.

Schematic Design – Initial conceptual design.

Scope of Services – The summary or work to be performed by an architect, contractor, subcontractor, or other service providers.

Scope of Work – The work that is done to execute a plan.

Setback – Distance from property line at which a building or site improvement can be located.

Shopping the Project – Revealing one contractor’s cost estimate to obtain a lower price from another.

SightLine – Live of vision.

Site Plan – A drawing of a property or site improvements, from a bird’s eye view.

Slab – A horizontal surface such as the basement of a floor or stone countertop.

Soffit – A roof overhang.

Solid Surfacing – A synthetic stone material, typically used for countertops.

Specifications – Detailed instructions regarding methods and materials of a construction project.

Staggered Framing – A wall made of two rows of studs with alternating studs supporting opposite faces of the partition.  Used for sound insulation.

Stamped Drawings – Prints created and marked with the seal of a licensed architect or engineer.

Subcontractor – A member of the trades who works under contract for a general contractor.

Subfloor – A supporting floor system between floor framing and the finish floor surface material, usually plywood or poured concrete.

Submittal – A detailed description of the material to be installed or applied offered to the owner and architect for review.

Super – An abbreviated name for the construction project job superintendent.

Supplementary Conditions – Additional contract clauses beyond the standard bundle, specific to the owner and/or project.

Swale – A low areas or depression on land, a ditch.

Take Occupancy – Gain control of and access to built space.

Take-off – Calculation of labor and materials needed based on information in plans and specifications.

Tank Port – The opening of the top of an underground tank.

Title – A legal document detailing right of ownership.

To Code – In compliance with al pertinent building codes.

Toe Kick – The vertical face of the recessed space under lower kitchen cabinets.

To Scale – Proportionately accurate.

Trade Price – The discounted price contractors and subcontractors pay for materials.

Trades – Workers and companies of specified fields in construction including excavation, framing, electrical, plumbing, painting, etc.

Turning Radius – Measurement of length necessary to rotate an object within a space.  The clear width needed for a vehicle to safely make a turn.  The floor area needed for a wheelchair to rotate freely.

Two-party Check – A check that cannot be cashed without the signatures of both parties shown in the “Pay to” section.

Unit Price – Price to do a designated talk on a per-unit basis.

Up-charge – Increase in cost, markup.

Upset Limit – A cap on spending.

Value Added – Enhanced worth.

Value Engineering Cost containment, cost saving, sometimes resulting from creative design.

Variance – Exception to a rule, regulation, or ordinance.

Vernacular – An originating or naturally occurring specific style or era.

Walk-thru – Touring the construction site.

Whole-house Fan – A large fan installed in the attic floor and operated from the story below.  It can exchange the air in a whole house in minutes.

Wick – To draw in or transfer moisture.

Work Triangle – The three-sided work area between a sink, refrigerator, and stove of a kitchen.

Zone – Division of controls of the heating system by area.

Zoning – The restriction of the types of construction and use of a property by designated areas within a municipality.