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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.


scaffold-a temporary platform structure that workers use to reach high places.

scratch coat- the first coat of stucco plaster that is scratched with a rake which helps subsequent coats to bond.

screeding- The process of leveling concrete especially in concrete flatwork. A straight edge (usually a straight 2 x 4) is drawn back and forth across concrete forms to make the surface flat and level.

sealer- a liquid coating that is applied to an permeable surface such as wood or masonry to seal out moisture.

section view- a view used in architectural plans where a cross-section of a object or structure is shown.

septic system- a system created to facilitate the dispersal of sewage. Usually, the raw sewage flows to a holding tank where it decomposes and then is deposited into a field using perforated pipes.

service entrance- the electrical box on the exterior of the house where the electrical supply enters the house. modern service panels have a meter base, and a shutoff breaker.

service panel (load center, breaker panel)- see breaker panel.

sewer lateral- the pipe that connects the house waste line to the city sewer, or septic tank.

shear wall- a structural wall design to resist lateral forces. Shear walls are designed to resist lateral forces commonly caused by earthquakes.

sheathing- plywood and OSB panels which are used to cover the exterior (roof and exterior walls). The panels are 4' x 8' and 7/16" to 3/4" thick.

siding- finish material that cover the outside of a framed building. Siding can be made from many materials, however, wood, plastic, steel and aluminum are common.

sill plate- the wood member that connects directly to the foundation to which the floor is connected. The sill plate is made of treated lumber or redwood.

slab- a flat piece of concrete such as a driveway or floor.

slump test- a measurement of the fluidity of concrete. A slump test helps to determine the strength of the concrete before it has hardened.

soffit- the under side of the roof that extends past the exterior walls.

soffit vents- vents placed in the soffit which facilitate attic venting.

soil stack- a vertical line of piping that extends through one or more floors which is used to drain water closets, urinals and similar fixtures.

span- the horizontal distance between bearing points. Trusses, beams and joists are used to span between to bearing points (supports).

specs- an abbreviated word which means "specifications".

square- 100 square feet. Sales unit used when referring to shingles and sometimes siding. For example, "the roof requires 20 squares of shingles" (2000 square feet).

square foot- Is the unit that area is measured in residential construction. 12" x 12" equals one square foot.

stack- a generic term which describes a vertical waste line (plumbing).

stack vent- a vertical pipe which extends from a soil or waste stack and usually penetrates the roof. It vents sewer gases and provides air circulation in the plumbing system.

stand pipe- a vertical waste pipe used for the washing machine drain.

starter home- a small inexpensive home market to first-time homebuyers.

stem wall- a short foundation wall used when building a crawlspace foundation. Generally the wall is 24 - 48" tall.

stick framed roof- a roof framed by individual pieces not using manufactured roof trusses. Most roof built before the 1950's were stick built.

stringer-The frame of the stairs which consists of two or three parallel members to which are attached treads and risers.

stud- a structural framing member used to make structural and partition walls.

subfloor- the sheathing or material that is attached to the floor joists on which the finish floor laid. 3/4" plywood or OSB are commonly used for subflooring.

sump- a small cistern used to collect water which collects around the footings or foundation.

sump pump- a pump that is placed in the sump to remove the water.


tempered glass- Glass which is made to resist shattering. Building codes require tempered glass be installed next to doors, in showers and areas near the floor level.

three-way switch- an electrical switch that is used to activated a fixture from two locations.

tile- a thin rectangular unit used to cover floors walls and roofs. Tiles are usually made from cement or fired clay.

timber- lumber that is 5" x 5" or greater in width and thickness.

toenailing- the nailing of boards by driving a nail in at an angle to the surface.

tongue and groove- boards that are milled to have a tongue on one side and a groove or slot on the other, so that pieces will fit together snugly.

track hoe- a powered excavation machine with a large boom mounted bucket. Track hoes are used for medium to large excavation jobs.

transit- an optical instrument used by surveyors to measure and layout horizontal and vertical lines. Contractors us a transit-level to ensure that footings and foundation are perfectly level. See also laser-level.

tread- the horizontal step surface of a staircase.

treated lumber- lumber that has been treated with chemicals to withstand moisture and insects.

trench footing (shovel footing)- a footing which is formed by digging a trench in the soil. The vertical walls of the trench serve as the forms.

trench foundation- a foundation formed by digging a trench. The vertical walls of the trench serve as the foundation wall forms.

trimmer- the short stud located on each side of a door or window opening, which support the header.

trowel pattern finish- a custom hand finish used when texturing drywall plaster, stucco or concrete.

truss- engineered structural component used to form the roof or floor of a structure. The materials are connected in a triangle pattern with metal fasteners called gussets.

two-tone paint- a paint scheme consisting of two complementary colors. An example of a two-tone paint job is where the walls and ceiling are painted in one color and the trim work another.


underlayment- wood panels laid on the floor to provide a smooth surface to attach finish flooring.

union- a fitting designed to connect two pipes without turning either pipe.

u-value- insulation rating. It is the inverse of R-value. The lower the u-value the better insulating capacity. Windows are often rated in U-value.


vapor barrier- waterproof material used to stop the flow of moisture from the ground into the building.

veneer plywood- plywood with a thin veneer laminated to one or both. Used extensively in cabinet construction.

vent stack- a vertical plumbing pipe system designed to vent noxious gases and prevent siphonage from traps.

vibrator- a tool used to consolidate concrete. Vibration consolidates concrete, removing air pockets and dead spaces.


wafer board- sheathing made from wood wafer pieces. Has replaced plywood in many residential applications.

wainscot- a covering on the lower part of the wall that is different than the rest of the wall. The wainscot is typically about three feet high. Tongue and groove wood is a popular wainscot covering.

water lateral (service pipe)- the pipe that runs from the potable water supply to the house. The pipe is usually made of copper, or plastic.

water table- the distance from the earths surface to where water accumulates in the ground.

welded wire mesh- a wire mesh that is used in concrete slabs for reinforcement.

window well- curved wall made of corrugated metal that retains dirt around a basement window.

work triangle- the triangle that if formed by the traffic pattern between the range, refrigerator, and sink.


X brace- a set or pair of cross braces.


Y fitting- a plumbing pipe fitting that is the shape of a "Y". One arm intersects the main fitting usually at a 45° angle.


zone- in heating, an area that is controlled independently from another.

zoning- the process of dividing a community or area by building type and land use. For example, most cities are divided into residential, commercial and industrial zones.


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