Dictionary of Construction Terminology

Dictionary of Construction Terminology

Search for glossary terms (regular expression allowed)
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Term Definition
Caisson
A 10" or 12" diameter hole drilled into the earth and embedded into bedrock 3 - 4 feet. The structural support for a type of foundation wall, porch, patio, mono-post, or other structure. Two or more "sticks" of reinforcing bars (rebar) are inserted into and run the full length of the hole and concrete is poured into the caisson hole
Cantilever
An overhang. Where one floor extends beyond and over a foundation wall. For example at a fireplace location or bay window cantilever. Normally, not extending over 2 feet.
Cantilevered void
Foundation void material used in unusually expansive soils conditions. This void is "trapezoid" shaped and has vertical sides of 6" and 4" respectively.
Cap
The upper member of a column, pilaster, door cornice, molding, or fireplace.
Cap flashing
The portion of the flashing attached to a vertical surface to prevent water from migrating behind the base flashing.
Capital
The principal part of a loan, i.e. the original amount borrowed.
Capital and interest
A repayment loan and the most conventional form of home loan. The borrower pays an amount each month to cover the amount borrowed (or capital or principal) plus the interest charged on capital.
Capped rate
The mortgage interest rate will not exceed a specified value during a certain period of time, but it will fluctuate up and down below that level.
Casement
Frames of wood or metal enclosing part (or all) of a window sash. May be opened by means of hinges affixed to the vertical edges.
Casement Window
A window with hinges on one of the vertical sides and swings open like a normal door
Casing
Wood trim molding installed around a door or window opening.
Caulking
(1) A flexible material used to seal a gap between two surfaces e.g. between pieces of siding or the corners in tub walls. (2) To fill a joint with mastic or asphalt plastic cement to prevent leaks.
CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate)
A pesticide that is forced into wood under high pressure to protect it from termites, other wood boring insects, and decay caused by fungus
Ceiling joist
One of a series of parallel framing members used to support ceiling loads and supported in turn by larger beams, girders or bearing walls. Also called roof joists.
Celotex
Black fibrous board that is used as exterior sheathing.
Cement
The gray powder that is the "glue" in concrete. Portland cement. Also, any adhesive.
Ceramic tile-
A man-made or machine-made clay tile used to finish a floor or wall. Generally used in bathtub and shower enclosures and on counter tops.
CFM (cubic feet per minute)-
A rating that expresses the amount of air a blower or fan can move. The volume of air (measured in cubic feet) that can pass through an opening in one minute.
Chair rail
Interior trim material installed about 3-4 feet up the wall, horizontally.
Chalk line
A line made by snapping a taut string or cord dusted with chalk. Used for alignment purposes.
Change order
A written document which modifies the plans and specifications and/or the price of the construction Contract.
Chase
A framed enclosed space around a flue pipe or a channel in a wall, or through a ceiling for something to lie in or pass through.
Chink
To install fiberglass insulation around all exterior door and window frames, wall corners, and small gaps in the exterior wall.
Chip Board
A manufactured wood panel made out of 1"- 2" wood chips and glue. Often used as a substitute for plywood in the exterior wall and roof sheathing. Also called OSB (Oriented Strand Board) or wafer board.
Circuit
The path of electrical flow from a power source through an outlet and back to ground.
Circuit Breaker
A device which looks like a switch and is usually located inside the electrical breaker panel or circuit breaker box. It is designed to (1) shut of the power to portions or the entire house and (2) to limit the amount of power flowing through a circuit (measured in amperes). 110 volt household circuits require a fuse or circuit breaker with a rating of 15 or a maximum of 20 amps. 220 volt circuits may be designed for higher amperage loads e.g. a hot water heater may be designed for a 30 amp load and would therefore need a 30 amp fuse or breaker.
Class "A"
Optimum fire rating issued by Underwriter's Laboratories on roofing. The building codes in some areas require this type of roofing for fire safety.
Class "C"
- Minimum fire rating issued by the Underwriters' Laboratories for roofing materials.
Clean out
An opening providing access to a drain line. Closed with a threaded plug.
Clip ties
Sharp, cut metal wires that protrude out of a concrete foundation wall (that at one time held the foundation form panels in place).
CO
An abbreviation for "Certificate of Occupancy". This certificate is issued by the local municipality and is required before anyone can occupy and live within the home. It is issued only after the local municipality has made all inspections and all monies and fees have been paid.
Cold air return
The ductwork (and related grills) that carries room air back to the furnace for re-heating.
Collar
Preformed flange placed over a vent pipe to seal the roofing above the vent pipe opening. Also called a vent sleeve.
Collar beam
Nominal 1- or 2-inch-thick members connecting opposite roof rafters. They serve to stiffen the roof structure.
Column
A vertical structural compression member which supports loads.
Combustion air
The duct work installed to bring fresh, outside air to the furnace and/or hot water heater. Normally 2 separate supplies of air are brought in: One high and One low.
Combustion chamber
The part of a boiler, furnace or woodstove where the burn occurs; normally lined with firebrick or molded or sprayed insulation.  
Compression web
A member of a truss system which connects the bottom and top chords and  which provides downward support.
Compressor
A mechanical device that pressurizes a gas in order to turn it into a liquid, thereby allowing heat to be removed or added. A compressor is the main component of conventional heat pumps and air conditioners. In an air conditioning system, the compressor normally sits outside and has a large fan (to remove heat).
Concrete
The mixture of Portland cement, sand, gravel, and water. Used to make garage and basement floors, sidewalks, patios, foundation walls, etc. It is commonly reinforced with steel rods (rebar) or wire screening (mesh).
Concrete block
A hollow concrete 'brick' often 8" x 8" x 16" in size.
Concrete board
A panel made out of concrete and fiberglass usually used as a tile backing material.
Condensation
Beads or drops of water (and frequently frost in extremely cold weather) that accumulate on the inside of the exterior covering of a building. Use of louvers or attic ventilators will reduce moisture condensation in attics. A vapor barrier under the gypsum lath or dry wall on exposed walls will reduce condensation.
Condensing unit
The outdoor component of a cooling system. It includes a compressor and condensing coil designed to give off heat.
Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions (CC and R's)
The standards that define how a property may be used and the protections the developer makes for the benefit of all owners in a subdivision.
Conduction
The direct transfer of heat energy through a material.
Conductivity
The rate at which heat is transmitted through a material.
Conduit, electrical
A pipe, usually metal, in which wire is installed.
Construction Contract
- A legal document which specifies the what-when-where-how-how much and by whom in a construction project. A good construction contract will include:
  1. 1. The contractor’s registration number.
  2. 2. A statement of work quality such as 'Standard Practices of the Trades' or 'according to Manufacturers Specifications'.
  3. 3. A set of Blue Prints or Plans
  4. 4. A construction timetable including starting and completion dates.
  5. 6. A set of Specifications
  6. 7. A Fixed Price for the work, or a Time and Materials formula.
  7. 8. A Payment Schedule.
  8. 9. Any Allowances.
  9. 10. A clause which outlines how any disputes will be resolved.
  10. 11. A written Warrantee.
Construction drywall
A type of construction in which the interior wall finish is applied in a dry condition, generally in the form of sheet materials or wood paneling as contrasted to plaster.
Construction, frame
A type of construction in which the structural components are wood or depend upon a wood frame for support.
Continuity tester
A device that tells whether a circuit is capable of carrying electricity.
Contractor
- A company licensed to perform certain types of construction activities. In most states, the general contractor's license and some specialty contractor's licenses don't require of compliance with bonding, workmen's compensation and similar regulations. Some of the specialty contractor licenses involve extensive training, testing and/or insurance requirements. There are various types of contractors:
  • General contractor - responsible for the execution, supervision and overall coordination of a project and may also perform some of the individual construction tasks. Most general contractors are not licensed to perform all specialty trades and must hire specialty contractors for such tasks, e.g. electrical, plumbing.
  • Remodeling contractor - a general contractor who specializes in remodeling work.
  • Specialty contractor - licensed to perform a specialty task e.g. electrical, side sewer, asbestos abatement.
  • Sub contractor - a general or specialty contractor who works for anothergeneral contractor.
Control joint
Tooled, straight grooves made on concrete floors to "control" where the concrete should crack
Convection
Currents created by heating air, which then rises and pulls cooler air behind it. Also see radiation.
Conventional loan
A mortgage loan not insured by a government agency (such as FHA or VA)
Convertibility
The ability to change a loan from an adjustable rate schedule to a fixed rate schedule.
Cooling load
The amount of cooling required to keep a building at a specified temperature during the summer, usually 78° F, regardless of outside temperature.
Coped
Removing the top and bottom flange of the end(s) of a metal I-beam. This is done to permit it to fit within, and bolted to, the web of another I-beam in a "T" arrangement
Coped joint
Cutting and fitting woodwork to an irregular surface.
Corbel
The triangular, decorative and supporting member that holds a mantel or horizontal shelf.
Corner bead
- A strip of formed sheet metal placed on outside corners of drywall before applying drywall 'mud'.
Corner boards
Used as trim for the external corners of a house or other frame structure against which the ends of the siding are finished.
Corner braces
Diagonal braces at the corners of the framed structure designed to stiffen and strengthen the wall.
Cornice
Overhang of a pitched roof , usually consisting of a fascia board, a soffit and appropriate trim moldings.
Counter flashing
A metal flashing usually used on chimneys at the roofline to cover shingle flashing and used to prevent moisture entry.
Counterfort
A foundation wall section that strengthens (and generally perpendicular to) a long section of foundation wall
Course
A row of shingles or roll roofing running the length of the roof. Parallel layers of building materials such as bricks, or siding laid up horizontally.
Cove molding
A molding with a concave face used as trim or to finish interior corners.
Crawl space
A shallow space below the living quarters of a house, normally enclosed by the foundation wall and having a dirt floor.
Credit rating
- A report ordered by a lender from a credit agency to determine a borrower's credit habits.
Cricket
A second roof built on top of the primary roof to increase the slope of the roof or valley. A saddle-shaped, peaked construction connecting a sloping roof with a chimney. Designed to encourage water away from the chimney joint.
Cripple
Short vertical "2 by 4's or 6's" frame lumber installed above a window or door.
Cross bridging
Diagonal bracing between adjacent floor joists, placed near the center of the joist span to prevent joists from twisting.
Cross Tee
Short metal "T" beam used in suspended ceiling systems to bridge the spaces between the main beams.
Crown molding
A molding used on cornice or wherever an interior angle is to be covered, especially at the roof and wall corner.
Culvert
Round, corrugated drain pipe (normally 15" or 18" in diameter) that is installed beneath a driveway and parallel to and near the street.
Cupping
A type of warping that causes boards to curl up at their edges.
Curb
The short elevation of an exterior wall above the deck of a roof. Normally a 2 by 6 box (on the roof) on which a skylight is attached.
Curb stop
Normally a cast iron pipe with a lid (@ 5" in diameter) that is placed vertically into the ground, situated near the water tap in the yard, and where a water cut-off valve to the home is located (underground). A long pole with a special end is inserted into the curb stop to turn off/on the water.

Cut-in brace
Nominal 2-inch-thick members, usually 2 by 4's, cut in between each stud diagonally.