Common Building Terms

The renovate glossary covers everything from simple building and carpentry terms, words used in contracts, home automation jargon and design terms.

802.11 (Wi Fi):
a variety of standards used for wireless data transfer.

AAA shower/tap heads:
conserve thousands of litres of water every year.

AC wiring:
regular electrical wiring.

Ant caps:
steel plates affixed to the ends of wooden posts that support a floor. As termites cannot penetrate steel, they are forced into the open and can be detected.

Architect Melbourne:
a licensed building designer with tertiary qualifications.

Architrave:
a moulding used to disguise the gap between joinery and other work.

Art deco:
a geometric style of home furnishings and architecture popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

Backfill:
the replacement of excavated earth into a ditch around a basement or foundation wall.

Bay window:
a window that projects outward from the walls of the building in either a square or polygonal shape.

Beam:
a horizontal structural member that supports a load such as a roof.

Bearer:
a sub-floor timber that supports the floor joists.

Bearing point:
a point where structural weight is concentrated and transferred to the foundation.

Bevel:
cutting or shaping on the edge of a material to form an angle that is not a right angle.

Bi-fold doors:
doors with a hinge in the centre, allowing them to fold into a smaller space than a swing door. Bi-folds are popular as they open up living areas.

Bluetooth:
a short distance, low speed radio frequency technology primarily used to allow a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) or mobile phone to interact with a laptop of desktop computer.

Brace:
blocks of timber used to support framing members.

Brick veneer:
a house where the walls consist of a layer of brick covering timber framework. The bricks have no structural role.

Butt hinge:
a hinge where the pin is inserted into a round barrel. They are commonly used on swinging doors.

Builder’s warranty / indemnity insurance:
compulsory insurance for builders that is supposed to protect homeowners from faulty work in the case that the builder dies, goes missing or becomes insolvent.

Building period:
the time that is allowed for your home to reach practical completion.

Carport:
a car shelter which is generally open at the sides.

Cement:
a grey powder which, when combined with water and other materials, forms concrete.

Certificate of final inspection:
issued by a building surveyor after final inspection of a renovation to show that work is up to scratch.

Circuit:
the path along which an electrical current flows.

Cladding:
a layer of material that protects the structural elements of a building. Metal, brick, timber and cement sheets are all common types of cladding.

Coaxial cable:
used for data transmission, often used in home automation.

Colour wheel:
a simple diagram that shows the relationship between colours.

Column:
a vertical supporting member.

Commencement:
when the builder commences physical work on the site.

Concrete:
a mixture of cement, gravel, sand and water that is often used in construction.

Construction joint:
where two successive placements of concrete meet, allowing for expansion and contraction.

Contractor:
the party engaged to supply goods or services.

Contract price:
the amount payable to your builder for any work. It can be adjusted according to terms set out in the contract.

Conveyancing:
the legal process involved in passing a piece of property from one person to another.

Conveyancer:
a professional who assists in the legal transfer of property.

Cooling-off period:
the period when a person may legally withdraw from a contract without incurring a penalty.

Cornice:
a moulding used at the join of a ceiling and a wall.

Cost-plus contract:
a contract in which the builder determines labour and material costs, then adds a percentage to ensure a profit.

Covenant:
guidelines that require structures in a particular development or area to conform to specific standards.

Dampcourse:
waterproof membrane that protects brickwork or masonry from rising damp.

Default interest:
the amount payable to the builder if you do not pay by the due date.

Defect liability period:
the period of time specified in the contract in which the builder is required to rectify defects (except for minor settlement or minor shrinkage).

Defects:
work that is faulty or not to the level specified in the contract.

Design Team:
Architectual Services and Drawings, Town Planning, Contract Administration done by a company that has specialist in each field dealing with your project rather than a single person. This is a preferred option as it is usually more cost effective, faster service and usually better finished quality of the end product.

Double glass:
also known as insulating glass. Two panes of glass are joined together with a pocket of air between them to reduce heat transfer.

Drywall:
used for interior walls. Drywall usually comes in large panels and is made from gypsum, plywood or a similar material.

Easement:
areas of land located above or around the equipment used for essential services such as pipes and electrical wires. Government authorities control use of this land.

Eaves:
the overhang at the lower edge of the roof that projects over the wall.

Equity:
the amount of your home that you actually own (that is, the actual value of your home minus the amount owing on your mortgage).

Estimate:
the amount that the contractor expects to spend on materials and labour during the course of a project. Depending on the terms of the contract, this cost may change.

Fascia:
a board which runs horizontally along the ends of the roof rafters, creating the ‘edge’ of the roof.

Fibreboard:
A type of wallboard in which wood chips or shavings are bonded together with resin and compressed into rigid sheets.

Fibre optic cable:
a high-end data cable that can handle huge amounts of information.

Finger joint:
a glued timber joint often used in load-bearing structures.

Fittings:
items that can be removed from a property without damage, such as ovens, baths and hot water systems.

Fixed-price contract:
a contract in which the customer and contractor agree on a price that will not change, no matter what the project actually costs the contractor.

Fixed-rate loan:
a loan where the rate of interest is fixed for a certain amount of time.

Fixtures:
anything permanently attached to a house and regarded as part of the real property, such as cabinets and cupboards.

Flashing:
waterproof material that prevents moisture from penetrating a house through the walls or roof.

Footing:
a rectangular masonry section which is usually made wider than the bottom of the foundation wall or pier it supports.

Foundation:
the part of a building where all loads are transferred to the ground.

Full brick:
a building where both the inside and outside walls are brick.

Gable:
the triangular wall that sits between the sloping ends of a gable roof.

Gable roof:
a roof where two sloping planes meet at a peak.

Galley kitchen:
a kitchen where appliances and cabinets sit against a single wall.

Grout:
mortar used to fill the joints and cavities found between pieces of masonry or ceramics.

Hardwood:
wood harvested from broadleaf trees (such oaks, maples, ashes and elms).

Heartwood:
more durable wood from the centre of a tree.

Jamb:
a vertical member that forms the side of a window or door frame.

Joint:
the area where the ends of two surfaces are joined together by some kind of fastener.

Joist:
timbers that provide the main structural support for a ceiling or floor.

Laminated timber:
layers of timber glued together to increase rigidity or create a multi-coloured effect.

Liquidated damages:
the amount of money you are entitled to if your home is not practically completed by the end of the building period.

Lintel:
a horizontal structural member that supports the load over a door, window or other opening.

Load-bearing wall:
a wall that supports weight from a floor or ceiling above it.

Louvre:
a parallel slat in a window (usually adjustable) that allows air and light to enter a building while excluding rain.

Low-emissivity glass:
specially coated glass that prevents the transfer of heat.

Monolithic slab:
when a continuous concrete pour is used to create the floor surface and foundation walls. This makes the foundation very strong and also protects against termite attack.

Niche:
a hollow recess or indent in a wall.

Occupancy permit:
issued by a building surveyor after the final inspection of a new home.

Owner-builder permit:
in some states you must have this permit before you are allowed to carry out building work above a certain value by yourself

Particle board:
a plywood substitute made from coarse sawdust and resin pressed into sheets.

Patch panel:
the central hub in a home automation system. All the cables are plugged in and ‘patched’ together here.

Patio:
a paved backyard area.

Pergola:
An outdoor structure with climbing plants and an open roof. Often refers to an outdoor walkway.

Planning permit:
councils place restrictions on building activities in their jurisdiction. Planning permits are needed for most large projects and many smaller ones.

Plans:
technical drawings completed by an architect or draftsperson and used in the construction of a house.

Plywood:
a piece of wood made from three layers of veneer wood bonded with glue. For strength, the middle layer is usually laid with the grain perpendicular to the layers above and below.

Practical completion:
the stage when the works have been completed in accordance with the contract apart from minor defects and is reasonably suitable for habitation.

Prime cost items:
this allowance is a reasonable estimate for fixtures and fittings that you select after the contract is signed and may include special kitchen and bathroom items.

Progress payments:
payments made to the builder at specified stages during the building process.

Provisional sum items:
amounts your builder has determined as ‘best estimates’ of the cost of certain work.

Rafter:
roof structural members that slope downwards to the eaves.

Render:
cement or plaster applied to brick or masonry walls.

Roof pitch:
the incline or slope of a roof.

R-value:
a measure of how effective a material (glass, for instance) is at resisting heat flow.

Sapwood:
the outer layers of a tree which are still living and contain nutrients.

Sarking:
a reflective foil laminate that is installed inside roofs. It has many benefits including weather proofing, insulation and reduction of dust and sound.

Shingles:
roofing material installed in an overlapping manner. Shingles can be made from wood, cement, tile, asphalt or metal.

Sill:
a window’s lower horizontal framing member.

Skillion:
a sloping roof without a ridge or peak.

Skirting:
a moulding that covers the join between wall and floor.

Soil tests:
tests on the building site that determine the stability of soil and the type of footings required.

Soffit:
the under surface of a beam, arch or stair. Often refers to the underside of the eaves of a roof.

Softwood:
wood harvested from trees that have needles, such as pines, firs and cedars. Does not necessarily refer to how hard the wood is.

Specifications:
A detailed description of work to be undertaken including the type and quantity of materials that will be used.

Stainless steel:
An extremely durable metal alloy that resists corrosion.

Stamp duty:
A state government tax paid on the value of property.

Strata title:
grants ownership over a section of a larger building.

Subcontractor:
a person, partnership or company who contracts with the builder to carry out part of the building works.

Subfloor:
A floor that will serve as the base for another floor; for example, a concrete floor that is covered over with floating floorboards.

Surveyor:
an engineer who carries out surveys of property elevations and boundaries.

Thermal mass:
a concept in architecture that relates to the amount of time it takes for a material to gain or lose heat. Materials with a high thermal mass are energy efficient.

Timber:
wood that has been refined into a form suitable for use in carpentry or joinery.

Tongue and groove timber:
boards that have a groove on one side and a tongue on the other so they can be joined together.

Truss:
a structural support unit of three or more members, usually arranged in a triangular shape. Trusses are often used to support roofs and floors.

Unshielded twisted pair (UTP):
telephone-type cables. The industry standard UTP cable for home automation is CAT-5e, which can transmit very large amounts of data.

Variable rate loan:
the amount of interest owing on the loan changes according to the rates set by the reserve bank.

Variation:
is an omission, addition or change to the works, or a change in the manner of carrying out the works and should be outlined in the contract. A variation can be made at your request or at the request of the builder.

Vendor:
a person who offers a property for sale.

Veneer:
a thin layer of high-quality wood that is glued on top of other wood for aesthetic purposes.

Warranty:
a statement that guarantees the material and workmanship of a product is defect-free and will remain so for a specified period of time.

Weatherboard:
overlapping boards for external surfaces that keep out rain.

Weepholes:
small holes in brickwork that allow for expulsion of moisture from beneath the house.

Wiring closet:
a special room set aside in a home automation system where all the wires terminate.

Works:
means the work to be carried out, completed and handed over to you in accordance with what is set out in your contract documents including the variations.

Work triangle:
A concept used to design functional kitchens.

X10:
a simple home automation system that operates using your regular power lines.

Zoning:
council rules regarding the uses that an area of land may be put to.

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