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Real Estate Glossary

 Homeowner's Glossary of Building Terms

 
Taking on a home improvement project can open a whole new world of terms you may not know. Here's a quick reference to help you keep up with the language of the trade.
 
 
Acoustical Tile
Special tile for walls and ceilings made of mineral, wood, vegetable fibers, cork, or metal. Its purpose is to control sound volume, while providing cover.
 
Air Duct
Pipes that carry warm air and cold air to rooms and back to furnace or air conditioning system.
 
Ampere
The rate of flow of electricity through electric wires.
 
Apron
A paved area, such as the juncture of a driveway with the street or with a garage entrance.
 
Backfill
The gravel or earth replaced in the space around a building wall after foundations are in place.
 
Balusters
Upright supports of a balustrade rail.
 
Balustrade
A row of balusters topped by a rail, edging a balcony or a staircase.
 
Baseboard
A board along the floor against walls and partitions to hid gaps.
 
Batt
Insulation in the form of a blanket, rather than loose filling.
 
Batten
Small thin strips covering joints between wider boards on exterior building surfaces.
 
Beam
One of the principal horizontal wood or steel members of a building.
 
Bearing Wall
A wall that supports a floor or roof of a building.
 
Bib or Bibcock
A water faucet to which a hose may be attached, also called a hose bib or sill cock.
 
Bleeding
Seeping of resin or gum from lumber. This term is also used in referring to the process of drawing air from water pipes.
 
Brace
A piece of wood or other material used to form a triangle and stiffen some part of a structure.
 
Braced Framing
Construction technique using posts and cross-bracing for greater rigidity.
 
Brick Veneer
Brick used as the outer surface of a framed wall.
 
Bridging
Small wood or metal pieces placed diagonally between floor joists.
 
Building Paper
Heavy paper used in walls or roofs to dampproof.
 
Built-Up Roof
A roofing material applied in sealed, waterproof layers, where there is only a slight slope to the roof.
 
Butt Joint
Joining point of two pieces of wood or molding.
 
Bx Cable
Electricity cable wrapped in rubber with a flexible steel outer covering.
 
Cantilever
A projecting beam or joist, not supported at one end, used to support an extension of a structure.
 
Carriage
The member which supports the steps or treads of a stair.
 
Casement
A window sash that opens on hinges at the vertical edge.
 
Casing
Door and window framing.
 
Cavity Wall
A hollow wall formed by firmly linked masonry walls, providing an insulating air space between.
 
Chimney Cap
Concrete capping around the top of chimney bricks and around the floors to protect the masonry from the elements.
 
Chair Rail
Wooden molding on a wall around a room at the level of a chair back.
 
Chamfered Edge
Molding with pared-off corners.
 
Chase
A groove in a masonry wall or through a floor to accommodate pipes or ducts.
 
Chimney Breast
The horizontal projection-usually inside a building-of a chimney from the wall in which it is built.
 
Circuit Breaker
A safety device which opens (breaks) an electric circuit automatically when it becomes overloaded.
 
Cistern
A tank to catch and store rain water.
 
Clapboard
A long thin board, thicker on one edge, overlapped and nailed on for exterior siding.
 
Collar Beam
A horizontal beam fastened above the lower ends of rafters to add rigidity.
 
Coping
Tile or brick used to cap or cover the top of a masonry wall.
 
Corbel
A horizontal projection from a wall, forming a ledge or supporting a structure above it.
 
Corner Bead
A strip of wood or metal for protecting the external corners of plastered walls.
 
Cornice
Horizontal projection at the top of a wall or under the overhanging part of the roof.
 
Course
A horizontal row of bricks, cinder blocks or other masonry materials.
 
Cove Lighting
Concealed light sources behind a cornice or horizontal recess which direct the light upon a reflecting ceiling.
 
Crawl Space
A shallow, unfinished space beneath the first floor of a house which has no basement, used for visual inspection and access to pipes and ducts. Also, a shallow space in the attic, immediately under the roof.
 
Cripples
Cut-off framing members above and below windows.

Door Buck
The rough frame of a door.
 
Dormer
The projecting frame of a recess in a sloping roof.
 
Double Glazing
An insulating window pane formed of two thicknesses of glass with a sealed air space between them.
 
Double Hung Windows
Windows with an upperand lower sash, each supported by cords and weights.
 
Downspout Leader
Downspout A spout or pipe to carry rain water down from a roof or gutters.
 
Cripples
A pipe for conducting rainwater from the roof to a cistern or to the ground by way of a downspout.
 
Downspout Strap
A piece of metal which secures the downspout to the eaves or wall of a building.
 
Drip
The projecting part of a cornice which sheds rain water.
 
Dry Wall
A wall surface of plasterboard or material other than plaster.
 
 

Eaves
The extension of roof beyond house walls.
 
Efflorescence
White powder that forms on the surface of brick.
 
Effluent
Treated sewage from a septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
 
Fascia
A flat horizontal member of a cornice placed in a vertical position.
 
Fill-Type Insulation
Loose insulating material which is applied by hand or blown into wall spaces mechanically.
 
Flashing
Noncorrosive metal used around angles or junctions in roofs and exterior walls to prevent leaks.
 
Floor Joists
Framing pieces which rest on outer foundation walls and interior beams or girders.
 
Flue
A passageway in a chimney for conveying smoke, gases or fumes to the outside air.
 
Footing
Concrete base on which a foundation sits.
 
Foundation
Lower parts of walls on which the structure is built. Foundation walls of masonry or concrete are mainly below ground level.
 
Framing
The rough lumber of a house-joists, studs, rafters, and beams.
 
Furring
Thin wood, or metal applied to a wall to level the surface for lathing, boarding, or plastering, to create an insulating air space, and to damp proof the wall.
 
Fuse
A short plug in an electric panel box which opens (breaks) an electrical circuit when it becomes overloaded.
 

Gable
The triangular part of a wall under the inverted "v" of the roof line.
 
Gambrel Roof
A roof with two pitches, designed to provide more space on upper floors. The roof is steeper on its lower slope and flatter toward the ridge.
 
Girder
A main member in a framed floor supporting the joists which carry the flooring boards. It carries the weight of a floor or partition.
 
Glazing
Fitting glass into windows or doors.
 
Grade Line
The point at which the ground rests against the foundation wall.
 
Green Lumber
Lumber which has been inadequately dried and which tends to warp or "bleed" resin.
 
Grounds
Pieces of wood embedded in plaster of walls to which skirtings are attached. Also wood pieces used to stop the plaster work around doors and windows.
 
Gusset
A brace or bracket used to strengthen a structure.
 
Gutter
A channel at the eaves for conveying away rain water.
 

Hardwood
The close-grained wood from broad-leaved trees such as oak or maple.
 
Headers
Double wood pieces supporting joists in a floor or double wood members placed on edge over windows and doors to transfer the roof and floor weight to the studs.
 
Heel
The end of a rafter that rests on the wall plate.
 
Hip Roof
A roof that slants upward on three or four sides.
 
Hip
The external angle formed by the juncture of two slopes of a roof.
 

Jalousies
Windows with movable, horizontal glass slats angled to admit-ventilation and keep out rain. This term is also used for outside shutters of wood constructed in this way.
 
Jamb
An upright surface that lines an opening for a door or window.
 
Joist
A small rectangular sectional member arranged parallel from wall to wall in a building, or resting on beams or girders. They support a floor or the laths or furring strips of a ceiling.
 

Kiln-Dried
Artificial drying of lumber, superior to most lumber that is air dried.
 
King-Post
The middle post of a truss. Large, heavy screws, used where great strength is required, as in heavy framing or when attaching ironwork to wood.
 

Lag-Screws or Coach-Screws
Large, heavy screws, used where great strength is required, as in heavy framing or when attaching ironwork to wood.
 
Lally Column
A steel tube sometimes filled with concrete, used to support girders or other floor beams.
 
Lath
One of a number of thin narrow strips of wood nailed to rafters, ceiling joists, wall studs, etc. to make a groundwork or key for slates, tiles, or plastering.
 
Leaching Bed
Tiles in the trenches carrying treated wastes from septic tanks.
 
Ledger
A piece of wood which is attached to a beam to support joists.
 
Lintel
The top piece over a door or window which supports walls above the opening.
 
Load-Bearing Wall
A strong wall capable of supporting weight.
 
Louver
An opening with horizontal slats to permit passage of air, but excluding rain, sunlight and view.
 

Masonry
Walls built by a mason, using brick, stone, tile or similar materials.
 
Molding
A strip of decorative material having a plane or curved narrow surface prepared for ornamental application. These strips are often used to hide gaps at wall junctures.
 
Moisture Barrier
Treated paper or metal that retards or bars water vapor, used to keep moisture from passing into walls or floors.
 
Mullion
Slender framing which divides the lights or panes of windows.
 
Newel
The upright post or the upright formed by the inner or smaller ends of steps about which steps of a circular staircase wind. In a straight flight staircase, the principal post at the foot or the secondary post at a landing.
 
Nosing
The rounded edge of a stair tread.
 
Parging
A rough coat of mortar applied over a masonry wall as protection or finish; may also serve as a base for an asphaltic waterproofing compound below grade.
 
Pilaster
A projection or the foundation wall used to support a floor girder or stiffen the wall.
 
Pitch
The angle of slope of a roof.
 
Plasterboard (See Dry Wall)
Gypsum board, used instead of plaster.
 
Plates
Pieces of wood placed on wall surfaces as fastening devices. The bottom member of the wall is the sole plate and the top member is the rafter plate.
 
Plenum
A chamber which can serve as a distribution area for heating or cooling systems, generally between a false ceiling and the actual ceiling.
 
Pointing
Treatment of joints in masonry by filling with mortar to improve appearance or protect against weather.
 
Post-And-Beam Construction
Wall construction in which beams are supported by heavy posts rather than many smaller studs.
 
Prefabrication
Construction of components such as walls, trusses, or doors, before delivery to the building site.
 

Rabbet
A groove cut in a board to receive another board.
 
Radiant Heat
Coils of electricity, hot water or steam pipes embedded in floors, ceilings, or walls to heat rooms.
 
Rafter
One of a series of structural roof members spanning from an exterior wall to a center ridge beam or ridge board.
 
Reinforced Concrete
Concrete strengthened with wire or metal bars.
 
Ridge Pole
A thick longitudinal plank to which the ridge rafters of a roof are attached.
 
Riser
The upright piece of a stair step, from tread to tread.
 
Roof Sheathing
Sheets, usually of plywood, which are nailed to the top edges of trusses or rafters to tie the roof together and support the roofing material.
 
Sandwich Panel
A panel with plastic, paper, or other material enclosed between two layers of a different material.
 
Sash
The movable part of a window-the frame in which panes of glass are set in a window or door.
 
Scotia
A concave molding.
 
Scuttle Hole
A small opening either to the attic, to the crawl space or to the plumbing pipes.
 
Seepage Pit
A sewage disposal system composed of a septic tank and a connected cesspool.
 
Septic Tank
A sewage settling tank in which part of the sewage is converted into gas and sludge before the remaining waste is discharged by gravity into a leaching bed underground.
 
Shakes
Handcut wood shingles.
 
Sheathing (See Wall Sheathing)
The first covering of boards or material on the outside wall or roof prior to installing the finished siding or roof covering.
 
Shim
Thin tapered piece of wood used for leveling or tightening a stair or other building element.
 
Shingles
Pieces of wood, asbestos or other material used as an overlapping outer covering on walls or roofs.
 
Shiplap
Boards with rabbeted edges overlapping.
 
Shiplap
Siding Boards of special design nailed horizontally to vertical studs with or without intervening sheathing to form the exposed surface of outside walls of frame buildings.
 
Sill Plate
The lowest member of the house framing resting on top of the foundation wall. Also called the mud sill.
 
Skirtings
Narrow boards around the margin of a floor; baseboards.
 
Slab
Concrete floor placed directly on earth or a gravel base and usually about four inches thick.
 
Sleeper
Strip of wood laid over concrete floor to which the finished wood floor is nailed or glued.
 
Soffit
The visible underwide of structural members such as staircases, cornices, beams, a roof overhang or eave.
 
Softwood
Easily worked wood or wood from a conebearing tree.
 
Soil Stack
Vertical plumbing pipe for waste water.
 
Stringer
A long, horizontal member which connects uprights in a frame or supports a floor or the like. One of the enclosed sides of a stair supporting the treads and risers.
 
Studs
In wall framing, the vertical members to which horizontal pieces are nailed. Studs are spaced either 16 inches or 24 inches apart.
 
Subfloor
Usually, plywood sheets that are nailed directly to the floor joists and that receive the finish flooring.
 
Sump
A pit in the basement in which water collects to be pumped out with a sump pump.
 
Swale
A wide shallow depression in the ground to form a channel for storm water drainage.

Tie
A wood member which binds a pair of principal rafters at the bottom.
 
Tile Field
Open-joint drain tiles laid to distribute septic tank effluent over an absorption area or to provide subsoil drainage in wet areas.
 
Toenail
Driving nails at an angle into corners or other joints.
 
Tongue-And-Groove
Carpentry joint in which the jutting edge of one board fits into the grooved end of a similar board.
 
Trap
A bend in a water pipe to hold water so gases will not escape from the plumbing system into the house.
 
Tread
The horizontal part of a stair step.
 
Truss
A combination of structural members usually arranged in triangular units to form a rigid framework for spanning between load-bearing walls.
 

Valley
The depression at the meeting point of two roof slopes.
 
Vapor Barrier
Material such as paper, metal or paint which is used to prevent vapor from passing from rooms into the outside walls.
 
Venetian Window
A window with one large fixed central pane and smaller panes at each side.
 
Vent Pipe
A pipe which allows gas to escape from plumbing systems.
 
Verge
The edge of tiles, slates or shingles, projecting over the gable of a roof.
 
 
Wainscoting
The lower three or four feet of an interior wall when lined with paneling, tile or other material different from the rest of the wall.
 
Wall Sheathing
Sheets of plywood, gypsum board, or other material nailed to the outside face of studs as a base for exterior siding.
 
Weather Stripping
Metal, wood, plastic or other material installed around door and window openings to prevent air infiltration.
 
Weep Hole
A small hole in a wall which permits water to drain off.