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Remodeling Terms and
Home Improvement Terms and
It's very difficult to follow home improvement books, or "how to" manuals, if you don't
know the terms used.
Construction Terms and Definitions
A B S - A black plastic pipe, used for both water and drain lines. Parts assembled with
Solvent based cement.
Aggregate - Crushed rock or stone. Used in concrete, or as a base material under slabs,
and as a top layer in some flat-roof applications.
AMPS: A unit of electrical current or volume- known as amperage. Most often used to refer
to the motor power, the main electric service for a house, or even the size of a circuit.
Anchor Bolts - 'L' shaped bolts which are inserted into the concrete foundation during
the pour, or into filled cells of cinder block walls, used to attach the framing of the structure to the
Asphalt - A bituminous material, used in roofing materials and foundation waterproofing
products, due to its waterproofing ability.
Asphalt plastic cement - An asphalt-based cement used to bond and seal roofing materials.
Also called flashing cement.
Avaition Shears - Commonly referred to as snips, or tin snips. A metal cutting shear,
available in left, right, and straight. Used to cut metal studs and sheet metal for ductwork.
Backfill - The replacement of excavated earth into a trench or pit.
Backflow - A reverse flow of water into the water supply pipes.
Ball cock - A plumbing term. The device that controls the flow of water into a toilet
tank. It is also used to control the water level in the tank. Often referred to as a float valve.
Ballast - A transformer used to step up the voltage in a florescent light.
Batt - A piece of fiberglass insulation.
Beam - Any horizontal support member designed to carry a load. Can be wood or steel,
depending on the application.
Bearing wall - A supporting wall holding up any vertical load in addition to its own
Bidet - A plumbing fixture, installed in bathrooms, and used for personal hygiene.
Bird’s-mouth cut — A cutout in a rafter, permitting it to sit on the top plate of the
wall, providing a bearing surface for nailing.
Bird’s-mouth cut - A cutout in a rafter where it crosses the top plate of the wall providing a
bearing surface for nailing. Also called a heel cut.
Blind Nailing - A method of nailing that hides the nail head.
Blocking - Small pieces to brace framing members or to provide a nailing base for covering
Blue Prints - Used to describe the architectural drawings and specifications of a
structure. Prepared by an architect, engineer or designer, it provides all design and construction details,
enabling the estimating, securing of the permits and the actual construction.
Board and batten - A siding method, in which the joints between vertically placed boards or
plywood are covered by narrow strips of wood, called battens.
Bottom chord - The bottom horizontal member of a truss.
Bowl - Usually a plumbing fixture term, referring to a toilet or a sink.
Brick tie - Metal wires or strips that are fastened to the wall behind the brick
veneer, and inserted into the motar joints.
Brick veneer - A brick facing used to clad a building. Applied in front of the
bearing wall. The brick veneer is not load-bearing.
Bridging - Wood or metal pieces that are placed diagonally between floor joists. Used to
stiffen the floor.
Building paper - A general term for papers, tar paper and similar sheet
materials used in buildings. Generally comes in 3 foot wide rolls.
Built-ins - Custom cabinets or bookcases, built into room details, becoming part of the
Built-up roof — A roofing composed of three to five layers of either asphalt felt, or
rubberized roofing material, laminated with coal tar, pitch or asphalt. Used for flat or low-pitched
Butt joint - A connection of two pieces of wood or other materials, meeting in a
square-cut joint. The most basic of joints.
Cant strip - A wood or fiber with angled edges. Used to form an angle at
the junction of a flat roof and a vertical wall. It provides a transition that prevents cracking of the
roofing materials when attempting to bend it up the wall.
Cantilever - A part of a structure that projects beyond its support and is balanced
Cap flashing - a flashing used to cover the top of various building components, such
as parapets or columns.
Casement window - A window with hinges on one of the vertical sides and swings open like a
door. Available in wood, meal and plastics.
Ceiling joist - A framing member used to support ceiling loads.
Cement - A generic term for adhesive. Also the shortened name for
Certificate of Occupancy - Or C.O. The Certificate issued by
the local municipality, required before anyone can make use of, or live in the building. Issued after the
local municipality has made all inspections and all fees have been paid.
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. Used for
exhaust fans and duct sizing.
Chase - A framed enclosed space around a flue pipe or a channel in a wall, or ceiling
for something to lie in or pass through. Also used for piping and other mechanical pathways.
Checking - Cracks that appear with drying in many wood framing members. The cracks
run parallel to the grain of the wood. At first superficial, but may penetrate entirely through the member
compromising its integrity.
Circular Saw - Hand held power saw used for cutting plywood and other wood framing
materials. Available in many configurations and power levels. Specialty blades are available for cutting various
Cleanout - An opening providing access to a drain line or flue pipe. Closed with a cap or
Closed-cut valley - A method of shingling a roof across a roof valley. The shingles from
one side of the valley extend across the valley. The shingles from the other side are usually trimmed
around 2 inches from the valley centerline.
Collar tie - Framing members connecting opposite roof rafters. Used to stiffen the roof
structure, and help with the vertical load.
Collar - A roof flashing, used in conjunction with vent pipes or stacks typically located
several inches above the plane of the roof, for the purpose of sealing out water.
Column - A vertical member. Sometimes structural, sometimes decrative.
Combustion air - The ductwork or piping installed to bring fresh, outside air to the
furnace or boiler room.
Compressor - A compressor is the main component of conventional heat pumps and air
conditioners. In an air conditioning system, the compressor normally sits outside.
Concrete board or cement board - A panel made out of concrete and fiberglass, usually used
as a tile backing material.
Condensate drain line - The drain line that runs from the air conditioning cooling coil to
the exterior or internal building drain, or to a condensate pump, to drain away condensation.
Condensation - The change of water from vapor to liquid when warm, moisture-laden air
comes in contact with a cold surface.
Condensing unit - The outdoor component of a cooling system. It includes the
compressor and condenser.
Conduit - A pipe, made of metal or P.V.C. plastic, in which wire is
installed. The pipe serves to protect the wire.
Control joint - Tooled, straight grooves made on concrete floors or walls to
“control” where the concrete should crack due to expansion and contraction.
Cordless Power Tool - Hand Held Power tools operated by rechargable batteries. Usually
ranginging from 2 - 24 volts.
Drywall - Another name for sheetrock. A gypsum sheet product used for interior walls and
ceilings. Available in 1/4" - 5/8" thicknesses. Most commonly used is 1/2" on walls, and 5/8" on ceilings. Sheet
sizes are 4' wide, and 8', 10' and 12' lengths.
Drywall Screws - Specialty screws, designed to hold sheetrock to both wood and metal
framing members. Head designed to counter sink, to allow for spackling. Available in 7/8" - 4 1/2" long.
Drywall Square - A square with a 24" leg with a flange, and a 48" flat leg. Designed to
guide the knife used to cut sheets of drywall across the 4" width.
Framing Member - Referes to any wood or metal framing part.
Gypsum Wall Board - Another name for sheetrock. A gypsum sheet product used for interior
walls and ceilings. Available in 1/4" - 5/8" thicknesses. Most commonly used is 1/2" on walls, and 5/8" on
ceilings. Sheet sizes are 4' wide, and 8', 10' and 12' lengths.
Joint Compound - The material used to tape or spackle drywall.This can be bought either
pre mixed or in powder form, ready to be mixed with water. The powder form can be purchased in various drying
times. 30 minute, 45 minute, and 60 minutes are common.
Metal Flashing - Fabricated from sheet metals and used to weatherproof construction
details subject to water leaking into the building.
Metal Stud - The metal counterpart to wood studs. Used for framing of walls and ceilings.
Available in various gauges, from light duty for interior partitions, to heavy gauge for structural support.
Metal Track - Used for the top and bottom plate in metal stud wall framing. The
counterpart for top and bottom plates in wood framing.
Mud Pan - A mud pan is the container used to hold or mix materials in. For drywall taping,
it's the tray used to hold the joint compound. For cement work, it's the pan used to mix the cement in, or to hold
the mixed motor as it's being used.
Plywood - A sheet material made up of an odd number of layers of wood. Each layer has the
grain running perpendicular the the last, giving the sheets great strength. Standard size is 4' by 8', in
thicknesses ranging from 1/4" - 1". Used for everything form roof sheathing to fine furniture.
Reciprocating Saw - Commonly referred to as a Sawzall, due to the popularity of the tool
made by Milwaukee Tool Company. A saw with a blade that is parallel to the body of the tool. The blade moves in and
out, reciprocates, much like a hand saw is used. Has a large variety of blades for cutting almost anything.
Rule - A folding measuring tool, commonly made from wood and usually 6" long.
Sawzall - Generic name for a reciprocating saw. A saw with a blade that is parallel to the
body of the tool. The blade moves in and out, reciprocates, much like a hand saw is used. Has a large variety of
blades for cutting almost anything.
Screw Gun - A tool used to screw to screws and other fasteners in. Commonly used for
attaching drywall, and framing work.
Sheetrock - A gypsum sheet product used for interior walls and ceilings. Available in 1/4"
- 5/8" thicknesses. Most commonly used is 1/2" on walls, and 5/8" on ceilings. Sheet sizes are 4' wide, and 8', 10'
and 12' lengths.
Skillsaw - Tool brand, and also used as a generic name for a circular saw, or a worm drive
Snips - Short for Tin Snips. Proper name of Avaition Shears. A metal cutting shear,
available in left, right, and straight. Used to cut metal studs and sheet metal for ductwork.
Table Saw - A cutting tool with the motor mounted under a table. Used for cutting many
Tape Measure - The measuring tool used to take both inside and outside measurements.
Commonly available from 6' up to 30'.
Taping Knife - The seams on drywall need to be taped and and the
fasteners need to be spackled. THe taping knife is used to accomplish this. They are available in several widths,
from 3" wide, all the way up to 24" wide.
Track Screws - Small sheet metal screws, used for fastening metal studs and track together
in metal framing.