Construction Terminology Cheat Sheet

construction terminology cheat sheet

Does construction lingo sound like a foreign language & make you feel overwhelmed at times? You’re not alone! Whether you’re new to construction or an old pro, we’ve put together a refresher on some of the most common terms you will come across during the construction process!

Clear communication is crucial for a successful renovation. This guide will help you know what to expect and will give you the confidence to navigate this sometimes daunting process!

Abatement- A process where asbestos or contaminated material is removed from an area by setting up containment facilities to remove it safely without contaminating the surrounding areas.

Acoustic ceiling tile- A common ceiling system that is typically installed in a grid. The grid is typically a metal grid and hung from hangers from the structure above.

AFF (Above finished floor)- Used on construction plans and contract documents to indicate an elevation above the finished floor.

Apron-  A piece of driveway between sidewalk and curb.

Asbestos- There are several minerals commonly known as asbestos. These minerals can be used to make products strong, long-lasting and fire-resistant. The problem with asbestos is the small strands that make it up can stick to key parts of the body and can cause cancer when inhaled. Many regulations have been introduced in order to properly dispose of the material.

Back fill- The replacement of dirt in holes, trenches and around foundations.

Back water valve- A backflow prevention device used to prevent outbound water through a dwelling’s drain pipes from re-entering into a home.

Barrier free- Accessible, universal, and inclusive designs that create a built environment usable by everyone.

Baseboards- Usually wooden or vinyl board covering the lowest part of an interior wall. Its purpose is to cover the joint between the wall surface and the floor.

Board foot- The equivalent of a board 1’ square and 1” thick

Building envelope- The physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building including the resistance to air, water, heat, light, and noise transfer.

Butt joint- These are just two pieces of wood attached perpendicularly to each other, often with nails or screws. They can be perfectly good joints but will have no structural integrity on their own.

Cantilevered-  Extending horizontally beyond support.

Casing- A type of molding, typically used to trim the perimeter of windows and doors.

Cement- The gray powder that is the “glue” in concrete

Chamfer- A transitional edge between two faces of an object. Often created at a 45° angle between two adjoining right-angled faces.

Change directive- A document typically issued by the consultant or owner to the contractor in order to instruct them to carry out work. This puts the contractor in a position where they must carry out the work and provide pricing.

Change order (CO)- A change order is work that is added to or deleted from the original scope of work of a contract. It may or may not alter the original contract amount and/or completion date.

Chase- A framed, enclosed space or channel in a wall, or through a ceiling for something (usually duct work or plumbing) to pass through.

Clean out-  A capped opening providing access to a drain line, used to clear blockages.

Concrete- A mixture of cement, sand, gravel, and water

Contingency- Additional time or money allocated to a construction project in order to mitigate risk related to specific items.

Control joint- Tooled, straight grooves made in concrete flatwork to “control” where the concrete should crack.

Corner bead- Trim that you apply to an outside corner or reveal on drywall to protect an exposed corner and create a clean edge.

Course- 1. A row of shingles or roll roofing running the length of the roof. 2. A row of block or


Cripple- Short vertical framing member installed above or below an opening.

Critical path- A sequence of stages where you figure out what the least amount of time is necessary to complete a task with the least amount of slack.

Curtainwall-  An exterior surface mounted to the outside of the building which is designed to withstand force, but not take any of the buildings dead load. Typically made of a metal frame with glass inserts.

Cut sheet- A set of data on a product or material that is pre-manufactured, like washroom accessories and light fixtures.

Demising wall- A wall that separates two adjacent tenants or a tenant from one of the building’s common areas. It divides two separate real estate entities from each other.

Drywall return- U-shaped molding applied to a window to accept drywall.

Ductwork- Sheet metal or plastic tube structures that carry air throughout a complex for distribution in heating and air conditioning systems (HVAC).

Easement- A formal contract which allows a party to use another party’s property for a specific purpose.

Egress- A means of exiting the home. An egress window is required in every bedroom.

Elbow- A plumbing or electrical fitting that lets you change directions in runs of pipe or conduit.

Elevation sheet- The page on the blue prints that depicts the house as if a person is

looking straight at each of the sides (there is no perspective in this drawing).

Fan coil unit- A simple device consisting of a heating and/or cooling heat exchanger or ‘coil’ and fan. It is part of an HVAC system found in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings.

Fascia- Lumber (usually 2×6) attached to rafter/truss ends at the eaves and outriggers at the gables.

Finger joint- A manufacturing process of interlocking two shorter pieces of wood end to end to

create a longer piece of dimensional lumber or molding.

Fire stop- (1) A solid, tight closure of a concealed space, placed to prevent the spread of fire

and smoke through such a space. (2) All work performed to slow the spread of fire and smoke

in the walls and ceiling (behind the drywall).

Fish tape- A long strip of spring steel used for pulling wires and cables through conduit or enclosed wall, ceiling or floor cavities.

Flashing-  Sheet metal or other material used in roof and wall construction to protect a building

from water seepage.

Flatwork- Common word for concrete floors, driveways, basements, and sidewalks.

Footing- Continuous thick concrete pad installed before and supporting the stem

(foundation) wall or a post.

Formwork- Acts as walls or retaining barriers for when concrete is installed. Similar concept to the walls of a pool, keeping the concrete in until it sets and solidifies.

Foundation- The lowest point in a building which typically carries the load of the upper structure. The most common foundation type is concrete and or concrete block.

Gable- The end, upper, triangular area of a home, beneath the roof

Galvanize- A method of preventing rust on steel and making it more durable to the elements.

Gantt chart- The default display for most schedules and scheduling software. Project activities are listed along the Y-Axis. Along the X-Axis is the project timeline (by day, month, quarter, year etc). The bars that are displayed represent the duration of a given activity.

Glazing- The act of installing glass in windows, doors or fixed openings.

Grade- Ground level, or the elevation at any given point.

Grain- The direction, size, arrangement, appearance, or quality of the fibers in wood.

Header- The horizontal structural member over an opening (e.g. over a door or window).

Hip roof-  A roof that rises by inclined planes from all four sides of a building

Hollow steel section (HSS)- A square like piece of steel that is hollow on the interior. Typically used in structural supports.

HVAC- An abbreviation for Heat, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning.

I beam- A beam with a cross section resembling the letter I.

Jamb- The side and head lining of a doorway

Joint- The location between the touching surfaces of two members or components joined and

held together by nails, glue, cement, mortar, or other means.

Joist- A length of timber or steel supporting part of the structure of a building, typically arranged in parallel series to support a floor or ceiling and perpendicular to a beam.

Laminate- May be any material, but typically they are made of veneers, which are thin sheets of wood. The advantage to a laminate is that they help to lower the overall construction cost.

Lath- A building material of metal wire that is fastened to the frame of a building to act as a base for stucco or plaster.

Ledger- A structural member attached to the face of a wall which supports a joist or truss.

Load bearing wall- Any wall that carries structural load

LVL (laminated veneered lumber)- A structural material composed of multiple layers of thin wood veneer.

Masonry- Stone, brick, concrete, hollow-tile, concrete block, or other similar building units or

materials. Normally bonded together with mortar to form a wall.

Mdf (medium density fiber board)- A manufactured wood product made of fine saw dust

and resin.

Melamine- Melamine laminate is a hard resin commonly used as an overlay for building materials like MDF or plywood.

Millwork- Generally all building materials made of finished wood and manufactured in millwork plants.

Miter joint- The joint of two pieces at an angle that bisects the joining angle.

Modular construction- The act of building off site in a separate facility. Some of the benefits are improved quality control, reduced costs and rework.

Mortar- Mortar or grout is a cement-like product installed between the joints of bricks in order to keep them together.

Muntin- A small member which divides the glass or openings of sash or doors.

Nosing- The projecting front edge of a stair tread.

On center (OC)- The measurement of spacing for studs, rafters, joists and trusses in a building from the center of one member to the center of the next.

Osb (oriented strand board)- A manufactured 4′ X 8′ wood panel made out of 1″- 2″

wood chips and glue. Often used as a substitute for plywood.

Particle board-  Plywood substitute made of course sawdust that is mixed with resin and

pressed into sheets.

Pigtail- The electrical cord installed on an appliance, or another name for an electrical splitter.

Pilot hole- A small diameter pre-drilled hole to guide a nail or screw.

Plot plan– An overhead view plan that shows the location of the home on the lot and includes

all easements, property lines, set backs, and legal descriptions of the home.

Post tension- The act of making a concrete reinforced slab stronger by adding rods. They are then tightened and put in tension after the concrete has cured.

Primer- A base layer of paint typically used as a first coat.

Q-deck- The term “Q-Deck” has become synonymous with many different types of decking much like the term ‘Kleenex’ has come to be known for any type of tissue paper. Metal floor and roof deck is available in many types, heights, and thicknesses but builders that use the term “Q-Deck” often are not sure what type of deck they are talking about.  The truth is – there is no such thing as Q-Deck!  Our research has determined that the term “Q-Deck” most likely refers to the Robertson “Q” decking series manufactured as far back as the 1960’s.  Unfortunately though, this description has now come to be a generic description of any type of metal deck

Quarter cut/quarter sawn- A method of cutting wood whereby the logs are sawn into lumber. Have greater stability of form and size with less cupping, shrinkage across the width, shake and splitting.

Radiant panels- Wall and ceiling-mounted radiant panels typically made of aluminum and can be heated with either electricity or with tubing that carries hot water.

Rated wall- These walls range from fire walls, fire barriers, fire partitions, smoke barriers, to smoke partitions. Each wall and opening protective have different test standards that they need to pass.

Rebar- Long metal rods added to concrete in order to increase the strength of it in tension.

Reflected ceiling plan- Shows any objects that are located in or on the ceiling. It is a mirror image (reflected) view of the floor plan.

Rim joist- A joist that runs around the perimeter of the floor joists

Riser- Each of the vertical boards closing the spaces between the treads of stairways.

RTU- A piece of mechanical equipment that is designed to heat, cool, ventilate by providing air flow for any combination of the three. The RTU is located on the roof, and is therefore a roof top unit.

Running bond- A method of laying tile, stone or brick where stones are staggered on top of each other in halves in order to create an offset pattern.

Scaffold- A temporary structure typically installed in order to provide access to elevated spaces.

Scratch coat- The first coat of stucco, which is scratched to form a bond for a second coat.

Screed- To level off concrete to the correct elevation during a concrete pour.

Scribing- Cutting and fitting woodwork to an irregular surface.

Sheathing/sheeting- The structural wood diaphragm covering, usually OSB, used over studs,

floor joists or rafters/trusses of a structure.

Shoring- The act of reinforcing something with a structure in order to maintain the stability.

Sill- (1) The 2X wood plate framing member that lays flat against and bolted to the foundation

Wall. (2) The member forming the lower side of an opening, as a door sill or window sill.

Site plan- A plan provided that reflects existing and proposed conditions on a site that is intended for construction.

Spandrel span- The area between the clear vision glass of two floors that spans the floor slab. Typically done to keep people from seeing the concrete structure behind.

Stacked bond- A method of laying brick or tile where all of the joints are in line and bricks/tile are stacked directly on top of one another.

Stops- Moldings along the inner edges of a door or window frame.

Stringer- The supporting member for stair treads. Usually a LVL member notched to receive

the treads and risers.

Supplemental instruction (SI)- Commonly used to resolve minor issues in construction documents as long as the change does not affect contract time or money.

T-bar/suspended ceiling- A ceiling system supported by hanging it from the overhead structural framing.

Toe-nailing- To drive a nail in at an angle to connect two members.

Transfer grill (jump duct)- The grill covered opening through a wall or ceiling used for

air pressure balancing.

Truss- An engineered and manufactured roof or floor support member with internal “zig-zag”


VAV box- Variable air volume is a type of HVAC system that varies the airflow at a constant temperature.

Veneer- (1) Extremely thin sheets of wood. (2) A thin slice of wood, brick or stone covering a

framed wall.

Water closet- Fancy name for a bathroom containing a flush toilet.

Weld- The act of heating two members of steel up to a very high temperature in order to fuse them together.

Window return- Used on windows where no trim will be installed.

Witches hat (roof jack)- Sleeves that fit around roof penetrations at the roof sheeting to prevent water leaks.

 If you’ve made it this far, congratulations- you are now an expert in construction terminology! You’re bound to hear these throughout the construction process, and now you can start using them yourself. If there are any others we’ve missed or that you’d like further clarification on, please reach out to us at [email protected]!