Building Jargon


We are different....

some common terms used in general house construction.

The terms are arranged alphabetically. They will be expanded and added to on a regular basis.

Adhesives - Household glues fall into four categories: epoxies, cyanoacrylates, hot-melts, and contact adhesives.

Epoxies, consists of two parts: a resin and a hardener. An effective adhesive for many jobs.

Cyanoacrylates, Think Krazy Glue, Super Glue. Think instant adhesive.

Hot Melts, Good for repairs of plastic, wood paper and cardboard. Good on porous surfaces.

Contact Adhesives, Stick on contact. Designed to replace screws, bolts and nails.

Anchor Bolts - Bolts that hold the sill plate to the foundation wall.

Baluster - Any of the small posts that support the upper rail of a railing as on a staircase or balcony.

Balustrade - Any entire railing system, as along the edge of a balcony.

Bay Window - A window of band of windows that projects from the face of a house within a structural bay.

Beam - A horizontal structural member over a span supporting joists or rafters.

Bearing Wall - A wall that supports a load, like a floor or roof. Generally a bearing wall runs at right angles to the joists above.

Berm (Earth)- Placing earth on the sides of your home. 

Brace - A piece of lumber nailed diagonally across framing members.

Capital - The uppermost part, usually decorated, of a column or pilaster.

Corbel - A piece of metal, stone or wood projecting from the side of an exterior or interior wall, used to support a beam or a cornice.

Cripple Studs - Short studs that run from the sole plate to the sill plate under a window opening.

Curtain Drain - A drain located a distance from the building designed to divert ground water from the building. The drain creates a "curtain" to block water from reaching the building.

Dentil Molding - A continuous decorative band that is carved in shapes like teeth applied to a wall.

Dormer - An upright window that projects from a roof.

Drywall - Also called wallboard or sheetrock. Panels made of gypsum plaster sandwiched between construction paper; usually 4 foot by 8 foot. Thickness varies from 1/4" to 5/8" in 1/8" increments. Drywall is used to cover the framing to create a smooth flat wall or ceiling surface.

Earth Sheltered - Placing on the roof of your home.

Earth Bermed- Placing earth on the sides of your home. 

Eave - The lower part of the roof that extends past the wall.

Fanlight - A semicircular or fan shaped window over a door or fan shaped trim over a window.

Firestops - Thick pieces of wood or noncombustible material strategically placed within wall or ceiling cavities. They stop the flue action in these cavities and help keep fires from spreading through a burning building.

Footing - A course of concrete, rectangular in section, place at the bottom of a foundation or pier. It is wider than the foundation wall or pier and helps to support it by distributing the load into the surrounding earth.

Footing Drain - A perimeter drain running around the base of the footing designed to divert ground water from the basement.

Frostline - An imaginary line in the soil that indicated the depth of frost penetration in the soil. As the soil freezes and thaws, it will expand and contract. Footings placed below the frost line will be stable because they will no be affected by the freeze-thaw cycle. The frost line varies throughout the country.

Gable - A triangular decorative feature, such as that over a door or window.

Gambrel Roof - A ridged roof that has two pitches on each side.

Girder - A horizontal structural member over a span supporting joists. Girders are the main supporting members of all the floors above. A girder generally is   located in the basement.

Grade - The ground level around a structure. Natural grade is the original level before construction. Finished grade is the ground level after leveling operations are done.

Hipped Roof - A roof with slopes on all four sides.

Header - In window or door openings, the header is a horizontal member perpendicular to the wall studs. It forms the lintel above the opening. A header joist is a beam placed perpendicular to the joists.

Infiltration - The uncontrolled leakage of air into a building.

Joists - Horizontal beams that support the floor. Joists are parallel to each other and usually spaces 16 inches apart on center. In some cases, where more support is required, the joists may be closer together like 12" on center and in other cases joists can be spaces 19.2 inches or 24 inches on center.

Nails - The average house has 20,000 to 30,000 nails. Nails are made of mild wire. Nails range in in length from 2d or 1 inch, to 60d or 6 inches. The common 16d (the abbreviation for penny is "d" from the first letter of the Roman coin denarius) penny nail is 3.1/2" long and used to nail structural members together.

Newel Post - The post at the top or bottom of a flight of stair supporting the handrail.

On Center - Measurement made from the center of one member to the center of the other member. Studs, joists and rafters are usually spaced 16 inches apart on center.

Palladian Window - Named after Roman architect Palladio. It is a group of three windows, rectangular sidelights flank a large arch center window.

Pediment - A triangular decorative crowning element used over doors, windows and niches.

Passive Solar - A passive solar energy system is one in which thermal energy flow is by natural means. They are distinguished from active systems by the absence of mechanical devices. A passive system is intimately integrated into the architecture of the building. Windows face south. Walls and floors serve as thermal mass. You can not have a successful passive system without incorporating energy conservation construction techniques.

With reasonable solar access, almost any plan or style of house can incorporate passive solar features. An energy efficient home is not necessarily a solar home, but solar energy is very effective at lowering energy consumption and associated costs.

Attached sunspaces and solariums are popular spaces in a passive solar home. Sunspaces and solariums work by admitting solar heat (sunlight) which is absorbed by the materials inside it - concrete or tile floors, masonry walls in sunspaces attached to homes, storage containers of water, wooden plant benches full of dirt - the greater the mass, the more heat the space will be able to absorb.

Passive Solar Direct Gain - The simplest passive solar heating design is the 'Direct Gain' approach. This means that the space within the house or sunroom is heated by direct sunlight. 

Passive Solar Indirect Gain - Indirect Gain is when sunlight strikes a thermal mass which is located between the sun and the space to be heated. The sunlight absorbed by the mass is converted to thermal energy and then transferred into the living space. The most common type of indirect gain system is the thermal storage wall.

Pilaster - A rectangular support or pier projecting partially from a wall and treated architecturally as a column, with a base, shaft and capital.

Pitch/Slope - Pitch describes the degree of slope or incline. Slope describes a surface that is not horizontal or vertical. In the construction industry pitch is generally described as a whole number, as in "the roof has a 6 pitch" meaning for every 12 horizontal inches the roof goes up 6 vertical inches, commonly expressed as 6/12. Slope generally is described as an angle, as in "the stair has a 42 degree slope" A 12/12 pitch is a 45 degree slope, a 6/12 pitch a 26 degree 34 minute slope. Here is a chart showing the relationship between Pitch/Slope.

Pitch         Slope

2/12          9 deg 26 min   

3/12          14 deg 00 min

4/12          18 deg 28 min

5/12          22 deg 27 min

6/12          26 deg 34 min

7/12          30 deg 15 min

8/12          33 deg 41 min

9/12          36 deg 52 min

10/12        39 deg 48 min

11/12        42 deg 30 min   

12/12        45 deg 00 min

Plate - A horizontal structural member that runs across the top of the wall. The joists rest on the top plate. The sole plate runs along the bottom, forming the base for the studs. The vertical studs rise between the two plates.

Porte-cochere - A large covered entrance wide enough for a vehicle to drive through.

Pressure Treated - Plywood and framing lumber is impregnated with preservatives by a pressure process. The resulting penetration of preservatives provides protection against decay and insect attack. Pressure treated wood is used in a variety of applications. 

In contact with sea water, such as wharf's and floats, use minimum preservative treatment of CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate) = 2.50 lbs per cu.ft.

In contact with ground, such as retaining walls and foundations, continuous moisture or high humidity use minimum preservative treatment of CCA = .40 lbs per cu.ft.

And for above ground use, such as decks and exterior siding, use minimum preservative treatment of CCA = .25 lbs per cu.ft.

Quoin - The dressed or finished stones at the corners of a masonry home, sometimes faked in a stucco or wood structure.

Relative Humidity - Relative humidity is the term used to express the amount of water vapor in the air at a given temperature. If the amount of water vapor is increased, the relative humidity of the air will also increase, but there comes a time when the air can no longer hold anymore water vapor. At this point the air is said to have reached its saturation point or 100% relative humidity [100% RH]. Since the air is now holding all the water vapor it can, any increase in water vapor will start to condense on local surfaces cooler then the air temperature. The ability of air to hold water vapor is directly related to the air temperature, as the air's temperature increases so does its capacity to hold water vapor. If you compared two equal volumes of air each at 100% RH, with one much warmer than the other, the warmer one would contain a greater amount of water vapor.

R-Value - Insulation materials are rated according to their ability to resist heat flow. This thermal resistance rating is commonly known as "R-value". The higher the R-value of a material, the better it's ability to resist heat flow. Common fiberglass batt insulation has an R-value of 3.1 to 3.5 per inch thickness.

Rafter - The primary structural members of the roof. The rafters rise at an angle from the walls to the ridge board at the peak. The angle of the rafter or pitch is expressed as vertical inches per horizontal foot (12 inches), for example a 6/12 pitch means the roof angle risers 6 vertical inches for each 12 horizontal inches. The steeper the pitch the steeper the angel of the roof.

Scupper - An opening in a wall or roof of a building for water to run off from it's floor or roof.

Soffits - The underside of the eaves.

Sheathing - Material that covers the framing. Modern houses usually have sheathing of plywood, particle board or outdoor drywall panels.

Sill - A horizontal piece of lumber fastened to the top of the foundation wall with anchor bolts. It transfers the weight of the house to the foundation. The term sill may also refer to the horizontal member that forms the bottom piece of the window frame.

Slope - Refer to Pitch/Slope above.

Span - The distance between columns, posts or walls.

Subfloor - Boards or panels laid directly on the floor joists. the subfloor serves as the base or substrate for finished flooring.

Studs - The vertical framing members that support a wall. Studs are generally made of 2 by 4's spaced 16 inches on center.  In northern climates where more insulation is required wall studs are generally made of 2 x 6's spaced 24 inches on center.

Transom - The horizontal divider between a large lower window and a smaller window above it.

Transom Window - A window or a light above a door or a window.

Tray Ceiling - A ceiling having the appearance of an inverted tray.

Toe Nailing - Driving a nail at an angle so that it penetrates through one piece into another, This technique differs from direct, or face, nailing where the nail is driven perpendicular to the surface of the top board so it penetrates into the board behind.

Vapor Barrier - Is any membrane or material which can resist the diffusion (movement) of water vapor. The vapor barrier is installed to protect all wall, floor and ceiling surfaces from water vapor diffusion. Vapor barriers must be installed on the warm side (interior) of the wall, floor and ceiling surfaces.

Vault - An arched or domed structure.

Veranda - An open porch or portico, usually with a roof, along the outside of a home.