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Construction Dictionary

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Welcome to our online construction dictionary. The dictionary is in a continual evolution. Since this site is about residential construction the dictionary will reflect this. If you can't find a certain term email us and we will add it to our list.


adobe- building material made of sun baked earth/clay. Adobe is often made into brick shaped units. It is quite durable in arid climates. It continues to be used in the Southwestern U.S. Adobe is sometimes referred to as rammed earth.

aggregate- sand and gravel that is mixed in with cement to create a concrete.

air-dried lumber- lumber which is stacked and left in the open to dry. usually has a higher moisture than kiln-dried lumber.

airway- the space between the attic insulation and the roof decking. This space allows air movement and attic venting.

anchor bolt- a threaded bolt that is embedded in the foundation that is used to secure the sill plate and subsequently the house to the foundation.

architectural shingles- asphalt shingles that are thicker and heavier than normal 3-tab shingles. The shingles thickness creates a depth more characteristic of wood shingles or shakes.

asphalt shingles- shingles made of felt base, with asphalt and coated on the exterior with aggregate (stone) particles. Asphalt shingles are popular because of their low cost and ease of installation. They are sometimes called composition shingles. Asphalt shingles should not be used roofs with a slope less than 3/12.

attic access- an opening in the ceiling which is usually covered by a hatch which gives access to the attic space.

awning window- atype of window that is hinged at the top and swings outward.


back charge- charging a fee or reducing the amount owed to a subcontractor. This is usually done when a contractor has not completed a portion of the work or is unable to complete the work on time. A replacement is hired to complete the remaining portion.

backfill- soil or fill that is used to replace previously excavated earth. For example, the dirt that is placed around a recently constructed foundation.

backhoe- a versatile excavating machine that has a boom mounted bucket on one side used for digging ditches, and a dozer blade on the other for pushing large quantities of earth.

backing- furring placed on the inside corners of framed walls or partitions to support the ends of drywall panels.

balloon framing- a style of wood framing where the outside wall structural members extend from foundation to roof. The floor joists are attached to the inside of the exterior wall using a ledger board.

baluster- a vertical member of a stair rail that supports the handrail.

balustrade- the pieces of a system that form the complete stair rail system. The pieces used are balusters, handrail, post and sometimes a bottom rail.

blind nailing- a method of nailing which allow the nail to be hidden.

board feet- board feet is one method lumber is measured and priced. One board foot is 12" x 12" x 1". For example, an Eight foot long 2 x 12 contains sixteen board feet of lumber.

blueprint- the construction plans which contain the details necessary to construct the home.

brick tie (or masonry tie)-a small corrugated metal strip used to anchor brick veneer to the wood frame walls.

breaker panel (breaker box)- an electrical box from where each circuit in the house is controlled by a safety switch called a circuit breaker. Circuit protect the wiring during overloads.

brick veneer- non-structural brick wall that covers the wood framed house.

bridging- bracing that is installed diagonally between floor joist or wall studs at the mid span which stiffen the structure.

british thermal unit (B.T.U.)- british thermal units the standard measurement unit of heat in residential construction. One BTU is equal to the amount of energy require to raise one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

builder warranty- the written warranty provided by the builder to the homeowner which defines the guarantee of quality. Usually begins at substantial completion.

building code-see code.

building permit- authorization from the local building department to build a structure in accordance with the permit.

building restrictions- rules which may appear in building codes, title documents or covenants which control size, materials used, location of structure, etc


cabinet filler- a vertical slat of wood used to fill gaps between box cabinets or the adjacent walls.

cabinets soffit- The boxed frame work above the upper kitchen cabinets.

camber- a slight convex curvature placed in beams and trusses used to counteract the force placed upon it by the structural load.

cantilever- a element or structure that is unsupported on one end. However, in residential construction the element is usually supported near the end. Cantilever floors are common in residential construction.

casing- molding used as a trim around window and door jambs.

casement window- a window that is hinged on it's side. It is generally opened with a hand crank.

cement- the bonding agent used to bond aggregates and create concrete.

certificate of occupancy (occupancy permit)- a document issued by the local building authority stating that a new residence is suitable for habitation. It is usually issued after the final inspection.

chalk line- a tool that uses a string and chalk dust to create straight lines. It is stretched across a surface and "snapped" with the fingers which leave a straight edge.

cleanout- an access in a plumbing line used to clean out obstructions.

code- legal rules and regulations which govern building construction and occupancy. The regulation of the code is intended to safeguard public health and safety and welfare.

collar tie- a horizontal rafter that connects and supports common rafters which are opposite each other.

column- a load bearing post made of wood or steel or masonry.

concrete- a mixture of Portland cement, water and
aggregate. The strength of concrete is measured in psi. The higher the cement content the stronger the concrete; all else being equal. The aggregate usually contains various sized particle from fine sand to gravel.

condensation- the formation of water droplets which occur when warm moist air meets cold air. It is a common occurrence on interior windows, toilets and sinks, for example.

construction loan- a short-term loan (usually 4-12 months). Draws are taken from the construction loan to pay for the house as it is built. Once the house is near completion long-term financing is procured.

coped joint- a joint where one piece is cut to the contour of the other piece. The contoured piece then butts against the coped piece.

corner bead- a long strip of plastic or metal used to reinforce outside corners in drywall.

cornice- any decorative overhang or molding located at the junction where the roof overhangs the exterior walls.

cost estimating- the process of systematically calculating the projected cost for all building activities in a project, which includes labor, materials, profit, overhead, permits, and fees etc.

cost plus contract- a contract where the owner agrees to pay the contractor the cost of the materials and labor and overhead plus a specified profit, usually 10-15%.

covenants-building restriction that are created and enforced by a neighborhood cooperation.

crawl space- the space located underneath the floor of a single level house. It is usually surrounded by foundation stem walls.

cripple stud- a shorter stud that is found on either side of the door or window header opening.

cubic yard- a measurement used to measure concrete, gravel or earth. It measures 3' x 3' x 3' equivalent to 27cubic feet.

custom builder- a contractor who specializes in building one-of-a-kind specially adapted homes.

cut in brace- a diagonal brace made of wood that cut into the stud wall so that it fits flush with the outside surface.

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