Tool Kit

Glossary of Building Terms 

Building Terms – For Homeowners

Even if you don’t know them all, every homeowner should have quick access to these building terms. Many parts of the home have mysterious and sometimes confusing names. Use this glossary for help.

Contractors and tradespeople like to throw fancy words around when describing their work or when trying to make a sale. So it’s good that you know what these terms mean and not be fooled.

Also, when it comes to researching, buying, ordering or repairing your home, you need to know the right name for the right part.

This is a “living” list and will change and be added to all the time. If you can’t find a certain term here, kindly let me know and I will get you the definition. I’ll also add it to this list and give you credit for the request. Some of these terms link back to articles used in this site.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L| M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z 



AC: Asphalt concrete paving. A rolled oil-based, sand and gravel material used for driveway and parking area surfaces.

Aerator:A removable screen on the spout of the faucet to soften the flow of the water and filter out stray sand and sediment particles.

AFCIAn electrical device called an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter. It senses arcing in an electical circuit and shuts it down in order to prevent fire risks.

Air gapA plumbing vent designed to prevent water from back flowing into the potable water stream and causing contamination. Commonly used with dishwashers.

Air conditionerA system used to chill warm air and distribute it through the home in order to reduce the temperature.

Ampere or Amp: The flow rate of electricity through the electrical wiring.

Anchor boltsBolts that extend up through mudsill from the foundation to secure the mudsill in place.

Angle stop: Water shut-off valve(s) located beneath sinks or adjacent to toilets and other fixtures that allow the water supply to be turned off for repair or maintenance of the fixture.

Anode rod: A sacrificial aluminum or magnesium rod used to prevent rusting. Used primarily on the interior of water heater tanks to extend the life of the water heater by approximately 5 years.

Apron: 1) the trim just below a sill applied to the wall surface, 2) a hardened surface area adjoining the garage openings.

AquiferA natural subterranean body of water.

Arbor: An arched open framework over a walkway.

Asbestos:   A common, pervasive hazardous mineral fiber found in many older buildings. Used in construction until the 1960’s to insulate and protect flammable building materials from hot objects. Also found in many drywall ceilings and plasters made before the 1970’s.

Ash dump: Small door at the bottom of the firebox interior of older wood burning fireplaces to push the ashes out.  A cleanout door was located on the exterior at the back of the fireplace in order to collect the ashes for disposal.

As per code: A collection of legal requirements for buildings designed to protect the safety, health, and general welfare of people who work and live in them.

AstragalTrim board that is attached to the active side of a French door or double window. It acts as a stop, a weatherstripping mount, prevents air/water entry and is a cosmetic trim.

Attic: The attic is a space above the living area between the roof framing and the ceiling framing. Tends to become overheated in summer.

Awning: An exterior mounted framework over a door or window to provide shade or protection from weather.

Awning window: A window that swings upward to open.



Backflow preventer: Plumbing device which allows water to flow in only one direction.

Back splash: A trim material spanning across the back of the countertop and up the wall.

Balcony: An upper level platform attached to an exterior wall and extending outward to form a space accessible from a window or door.

BalusterSpaced vertical supports for railings.

BalustradeAny row of balusters

Barrel vaultA continuous arched roof or ceiling structure so named because of its appearance similar to a barrel on its side.

Basement: A space below a structure excavated into the ground.

Base boards: Wood or rubber trim strip along the base of the wall extending above the floor.

Basin wrench:   A special long-handled wrench for working on faucets mounted behind sinks and lavatories.

Basket strainer:   Larger diameter kitchen sink stopper made of slotted metal to prevent clogging material from entering the drain.

Battens: Wood nailing strips used to attach roofing tiles to the structure.

Bathroom: A room with a toilet, a sink, and a tub and/or shower is considered a FULL bathroom. A room with toilet and sink only is considered a half-bath or wash room.

Bay window: A window system that extends out past the wall line forming a larger interior space.

Beam: Horizontal structural support member

BedroomA room typically for sleeping. It must be a minimum of 70 square feet, have one wall at least 7’ long, have a minimum ceiling height of 7’ over at least 50% of the space, it must have two means of egress (entry and exit) one is typically a door from the interior of the home and the other a window. To qualify as an egress point the window must be a minimum 20”x24” and between 24”- 44” off the floor. A bedroom does not require a closet by definition although most real estate markets demand that.

Bi-pass doors: Rolling closet door panels that slide on tracks to open and close.

Bird’s mouth:   A descriptive name for the cut made in a roof rafter so that it sits properly supported atop the exterior wall framing.

Biscuit joint: A trim and cabinet joining technique to strengthen the connection between wood members.

Board and batt:   An exterior siding method using vertical boards or panels with trim boards (batts) nailed over the joints.

Bollard:  A steel post or pipe filled with concrete and embedded into the ground to protect sensitive areas from damage.

Bond wire: Electrical grounding wire attached to both the water inlet and outlet of a tank-type water heater.

Braided hose: Flexible connector hoses for water that are manufactured with a woven protective metal mesh exterior.

Breaker panel: A metal wall panel containing circuit breakers.

BTUAbbreviation for British Thermal Unit, a standard unit for measuring heat gain or loss.

Bulkhead: A horizontal or inclined door providing access to a cellar.

Bull’s eye: Circular or oval shaped windows.

Burrito system:  A linear subsurface interceptor drain system consisting of a   perforated drain pipe at the bottom of a trench, surrounded by    drain rock and the entire assembly completely wrapped with filter fabric.

Burners: The heating elements of a cooktop, oven, stove, furnace, boiler   or water heater.

Butt:  Alternative term for door hinge.

Buttery: Historically a buttery is a room where the beer is stored.  The name derives from the butt or mug used for drinking beer. Has nothing to do with butter-(sorry!) for that see dairy below.

Buttress:  A support for a large expanse of wall surface



Cabinet pull: A handle or knob used to open a cabinet door or drawer.

Cantilever: Any structural member or construction extending unsupported at one end.

Cartridges:  A container used for holding plumbing filters or other material.

Casement window: A window that cranks or swings open to the side.

Casin:  The wall trim around a door or window

Casita: A small shaded enclosure adjacent to a pool.

Catch basin: Receptor or reservoir in the ground that receives surface water runoff or drainage.

Caulking:  A flexible, adhesive substance used to fill gaps between surfaces or materials.

CenteringThe temporary framework or falsework necessary for the support of individual stones or masonry when constructing an arch span.

Central vacuum: A build-in vacuum system consisting of a powerful motor and filter connected to piping permanently installed in the framing of the home.

Ceramic tileHeat fired clay tile.   

Cesspool:  A lined excavation in the ground that receives the discharge of a sewer drainage system.

Chair rail:  A trim piece, usually wood that runs across the walls at about the height of the back of a chair. Used originally to protect the wall.

Chandelier:  Ceiling mounted hanging light fixture containing several light sources or bulbs.

Chandlery: Historically this is a room devoted to the making and storage of candles. Prior to the invention of light bulbs, candles provided most of the available light for people after sunset. The cost of candles was enormous. For large estates the entire process of managing lighting and the making and provision of candles was the responsibility of a chandler.

Charring:An ancient method of preserving wood by burning or charring the surface layer. This renders the treated layer unfit for attack by micro organisms and insects.

Chase: An enclosed passageway in a structure for ducts, piping, wire or conduit.

Cheeks: The inward angled sides of the chimney firebox.

Chimney cap: A decorative termination for the flue atop the chimney.

Chimney effect: The movement of air through a structure from the lower floors to the upper floors by the natural convection of heat rising.

Circuit breaker :  An electrical device located in a distribution panel used for discontinuing current to electrical circuits, receptacles, fixtures, switches, appliances etc. Used mainly to protect the circuit from overload.

Clerestory window: Windows placed high on the wall for light

CO detector: A detection alarm to alert occupants of the presence of carbon monoxide in the living area.

Column: A vertical structural support member

Compressor: The externally located part of the air conditioning system used to remove heat from the cooling system.

Conclusion: A project conclusion strategy includes a user guide, homeowner training, punch list, maintenance plan and budget.

Conductor head: A decorative rain collector box placed below a scupper to direct rainwater to a downspout.

Conductors: These are the high voltage wires distributing electricity from the main panels to the lights, switches and outlets.

Condensation: Moisture that accumulates in a building caused by warm moist air coming into contact with cold surfaces, frequently on the surface of glass or tiles or other uninsulated surfaces.

Conduit: In electrical work, a channel that carries wires for protection and safety. Other types of conduit are EMT or RIGID.

Confined space: Any space in the home that has access for inspections and repairs but is unfit for human occupation. Examples are crawlspaces and attics.

Convection oven:  An appliance made to circulate hot air within the confines of the oven cavity to create more even temperatures and faster cooking time.

Conduction: Heat transfer by means of molecular agitation within a structure.

Control joint:  A joint or groove made in a concrete surface to attempt to minimize and control the location and direction of inevitable cracking.

CopingTile, brick or concrete edging or wall cap treatment.

Corbel: A support or brace for a rafter or other roof projection.

Corner bead : Metal angle metal attached to the vulnerable outside corners of drywall junctions prior to finishing to protect them from impact and create attractive crisp edges.

Cornice: The part of a roof that projects out from the wall.

Corrosion: Decay, deterioration or oxidation of a substance, usually metal.

Course:  A row of masonry units. Brick, block, stone etc.

Court: A safe, enclosed space or assembly for decisions, contests, games or leisure activity 

Cover plateA hard cleanable surface surrounding an electrical switch or outlet to protect the wall from damage or finger prints.

Cowboy/cowgirlAny person engaged in the lifestyle of professionally handling, caring for, riding, managing or competing with, horses, cattle and livestock.

Crawl space: An unfinished space below a building between the ground and the floor framing.

Creosote: Carbon deposits left in stovepipes and chimneys from condensed wood smoke.

CricketA sloped metal area on the roof usually behind a chimney or wall to ensure the proper runoff of water.

Cripple stud: A short stud adjacent to the King stud and directly under the ends of a door or window header.

Crown molding: Trim material placed at the junction of the ceiling and wall.

CulvertA passage for water below ground level.

CupolaAn vented box structure elevated above the roof ridge to create a chimney affect for moving air by convection up from the ground and out the roof.



DGAn abbreviated name for decomposed granite material used    for walkways, patios and driveways.

Dairy: A room devoted to the storage or processing of milk, butter, cheese or other milk products.

Damper: A movable plate that regulates the draft of a stove, fireplace, or furnace. Also used in furnace distribution ducts to regulate and balance flow to the heat register.

Dead bolt: Solid, throw-bolt type lock mechanism with no spring action.

Deck: A level unobstructed surface.

Defensible spaceThe area 100’ from any structure in a Wildland/Urban interface area.

Degree: A unit of temperature measurement either in Fahrenheit or Celsius.

Demand water heater: A water heater that heats and distributes hot water “on demand” without the use of a tank to store the hot water.

Dew point: The temperature at which moisture in the air condenses into liquid water.

Dimmer switchAn electrical switch that can regulate the voltage being delivered. Used for varying the intensity of lighting.

Dip tube: A water pipe, usually plastic, that delivers cold water to the bottom of a tank-type water heater.

Disposal: An appliance attached to the kitchen sink drain that grinds up food waste prior to washing down the drain.

Dormer: A structure projecting from a sloped roof, usually with a window.

Door buttsHinges

DoorjambA wood frame surrounding a door.

Door stopA device that properly aligns and seals a closed door into position or prevents an open door from damaging the wall.

DoorknobDevice turned by hand to unlatch and open a door.

Dovetail jointsA strong and accurate method of joining wood together at the corners of cabinets and drawers.

Downdraft vent: An appliance used to extract steam and cooking smoke by sucking the air down through filters and ducts from the surface of the cooktop to the exterior of the structure.

Downspout: A pipe, usually metal or plastic used to carry water from the roof gutters to the ground or drainage system.

Drip edge: Metal flashing attached to the lower edges of the roof sheathing to protect it from water blowing back under the roofing.

Drip pan:  A reservoir device placed under appliances or wet areas to prevent damage to floors and finishes from accidental leakage.

Dry rot:  A fungus infestation caused by trapped moisture that destroys wood.

Dryvit: Trade name for an exterior siding system similar to stucco in appearance but consisting of foam sheets covered in a fiberglass mesh and coated with a textured/granulated coating to emulate stucco.

Drywall: See gypsum board

Dry well: A pit that is designed to contain drainage water until it can be absorbed into the soil.

Ducts: Tubes and channels used to move or distribute air from heating, cooling or exhaust systems.



EaveThat part of a roof that projects over an exterior wall.

Eave ventsScreened openings in the eaves to allow fresh air to circulate    through the attic.

Easement: The right to use land owned by another, such as a utility company’s right-of-way.

Efflorescence:  A white powdery deposit of minerals and salts left on the surface of concrete and masonry by evaporated moisture.

Effluent: Treated sewage broken down to liquid form.

Egress: A means or place of going out; exit.

Elbow: An L-shaped pipe fitting.

Electrician: A skilled professional licensed to install and repair electrical   systems.

Electrical mast: Pipe protruding from the roof where the main service wires from the utility pole attach to the house.

Electrostatic: A type of air filter that employs a charge of stationary electricity to attract passing dust particles from the air.

Embers: Small windborne sparks and firebrands generated by wildfires.

Energy disperserAn arrangement of rock or gravel placed below the outfall of a drain system to prevent erosion of the surrounding ground.

Enfilade: An uninterrupted sight line occurring through a series of open doors in perfect alignment.

EscutcheonThe trim around plumbing pipes where they pass through a wall surface.

Expansion joint: A soft joint separating large sections of concrete or stucco surfaces to minimize damage from expansion and contraction of the material.



Fascia: A horizontal board nailed across the ends of the rafters at the lowest ends. It is part of the outer edge of a cornice.

FAU: Forced air unit AKA a central heating furnace consisting of a burner, blower, filter, flue and combustion air ducts.

Fencing: A barrier structure placed to separate exterior spaces.

FenestrationExterior glass surfaces.

Fir escapingLandscape planning, design, plant selections, irrigation and hardscaping to reduce the potential for fire hazard.

Flapper valveA floppy rubber diaphram used to control the flushing of a toilet.

Flashing: Metal or other impervious material used to prevent water from entering at building joints.

Float valveThe water fill-valve in the toilet tank controlled by a float shut-off.

Fluoride: A chemical added in minute amounts to municipal drinking    water to help prevent tooth decay.

Flue: The opening in a chimney through which smoke passes.

Flow restrictor: These are devices installed into faucets and shower heads by    the manufacturers to limit flow rates in order to save water. These are legislated by some state governments.

Footing: The bottom portion of a structure’s foundation that rests upon undisturbed soil.

Formwork: Temporary assembled materials, usually made of wood or metal that create a shaped enclosure for the placement of plastic or semi-liquid concrete.

Foundation: A permanent solid stone or concrete base for a structure.

Foundation vents: Screened openings around the perimeter of the foundation to allow fresh air to circulate in the crawlspace.

FRB: Fiberglas Reinforced Plastic material used to make sheets of water resistant wall paneling.

Fresh air exchanger: A device used to provide fresh air into a highly sealed living space with minimal loss of energy. See HRV.

Furring strips: Thin strips of wood or other material used to level or straighten finish surfaces.

FuseA device located in an electrical circuit that will fail in the event the circuit is overloaded and shut the circuit off. These have    mostly been replaced now by circuit breakers.



GableThe flat exterior wall portion of the end of a building that extends upward to the peak of the roof.

GabletSmall gables occurring over dormers.

Garage door release: An emergency release mechanism to disconnect the door from the drive motor for manual operation of the door.

GateA operable passageway in a fence.

GFCIGround fault circuit interrupter; a quick tripping circuit breaker that stops the flow of electricity within 1/40 second of sensing a short or current leak. Designed for use in areas where there is potential risk of shock such as outdoors, around kitchen and bathroom sinks and in carports/garages. GFCI’s are required by the building code and retrofitting is optional.

Girder: A primary structural beam onto which floor or ceiling joists are supported.

Glazing: Individual panes of window or door glass usually held in place with stops or putty

Glazer: A skilled technician trained to work with glass.

GraphiteLubricant for use on locks and other delicate mechanism.

Ground: A conducting connection between an electric circuit or equipment and the earth or some other grounded body.

Grout: A thin cement mortar material used for leveling and filling masonry and tile joint applications.

Gutter protection: Filter devices attached to rain gutters to prevent leaves and debris from entering the gutter, downspout and drain system   

Gypsum board:  A sheet of material made of gypsum also called sheetrock or drywall. Used in place of interior plaster in modern construction.



Hall: A space enclosed by walls and a roof. Historically the largest room in a structure. Homes were either built around a courtyard (open unroofed areas) in warm, temperate climates, or totally enclosed halls in colder, rainy climates.

Hand sprayer: A hose with a handheld wand for shower or faucet.

Hardware: Common term referring to any metal connectors or hard-wearing trim used in the structure. Finish hardware examples would be hinges, locks, latches, pulls, knobs etc. Rough examples are nails, bolts, staples, straps, nuts, bolts and washers.

Hard Water: Water with 7 grains or more of dissolved solids per gallon.

Hatch: A passageway for access to the crawlspace or attic.

Hayhood: The protruding roof area at one end of the upper gable of a barn roof.

Hayloft: An open attic area at the roof peak of a barn to store hay.

Hay trolley: A rail and pulley system that ran the length of the underside of the roof peak and extended to the exterior of most barns. It was used to lift and distribute hay to the interior of the barn hay loft.

Header: A horizontal structural framing support spanning over doors and window openings.

HearthFire resistant area that projects out from in front of the floor of the fireplace.

Heat balancing: Adjustment of the delivery of warm air throughout a structure to achieve an even heat temperature across all rooms.

Heat exchanger: An apparatus used to transfer heat from an isolated source to an end use.

HeelThe portion of the “birds mouth” rafter cut that rests on the top plate of the wall framing.

HEPA filtersHigh-efficiency particle arrestor, these are special air filters for removing very small particles from the air.

Hinge: A simple mechanism, usually metal, that allows a door or window to swing or rotate open.

Hip: The angled part of the roof where one plane meets another. Hips usually extend from ridge to lower edge of the roof.

Hold downs: Special heavy metal anchors used to secure the structure to the foundation at key locations.

Home:An assembly of materials that enclose a weatherproof space for human living.

HRV: A heat recovery ventilator exchanges stale interior air with fresh exterior air while “recovering” most of the heat from the stale air prior to its being exhausted.



IGU: Insulated glazing units AKA dual pane glass, are glass panels constructed from two sheets of glass with an air space between to provide an insulation barrier.

I-joist: A stable, engineered, and fabricated joist material especially well-suited for flat planes and long spans.

Ignitor: These are electronic devices used to induce heat or a spark on demand to ignite a natural gas or propane burner.

Incandescent lightingLight fixtures utilizing filament bulb light sources as opposed to LED’s

Induction cooktopA highly energy efficient appliance that generates heat by creating an oscillating magnetic field within a ferrite (iron or steel) cooking vessel or a special pad that then transfers heat to a non-ferrite vessel.

Inglenook: A built-in sitting area adjacent to the structure of the fireplace.

Insulation: Any material used to prevent thermal migration from outside to the inside of a structure. Insulation values are measured in R-values with higher being better.

Insulating batts: Long strips of insulation material, premanufactured to specific widths to fit between wall studs, ceiling joists or rafters.

Insulating foam: Expanding foam insulation material sprayed directly onto the framing.

Interceptor drain: See Burrito drain

Island: An assembly of cabinets with a countertop in the center of the kitchen.



JacksWaterproof penetrations through the roof for plumbing vents and electrical masts.

JettyAn area where a structures upper floor extends out past and slightly cantilevers out over the lower floor exterior walls.

Joystick: Hand grip used to control movement of an object.

Joist: A horizontal structural member that supports the floor or ceiling system.

Junction boxA metal box required by building code to contain splices in wires.



KDLumber grade meaning Kiln Dried to reduce shrinkage in the field after installation. Post kiln drying, lumber should have a moisture content between 6-10%.

Kick plate: A metal trim plate mounted to the bottom door rail to protect it from shoe marks and damage.

King stud: The structural stud on either side of the door or window header.

Knob and tubeOlder obsolete electric wiring where insulated wires are supported with porcelain knobs and tubes when passing through wood construction members.



Ladders: A portable climbing tool to allow human access to high places.

Ladder fuelsLow dead branches, grasses, shrubs, plants and other combustible which could act to spread fire from the ground to the upper canopy of trees.

Larder: Historically, this was the place, usually a small cool room where animal fat, grease, bacon was kept and processed.

Latch:A simple mechanism used to hold a gate, door or window closed. Some can be equipped with locks.

Latex: A milky, often sticky fluid extruded by cut plants that coagulates on contact with air. Synthesized for use in paints, coatings and caulks that can be emulsified and cleaned up with water.

LavatoryA bathroom sink

Leach fieldA large saturation area where the liquids from a septic tank are returned to, and absorbed by, the ground. Usually designed in pairs that can be rotated from time to time.

LED: Light emitting diodes are next-generation, low-power, long-life replacements for filament light bulbs.

Leaded windowsWindows constructed of smaller pieces of glass held together with a lead or metal came material. AKA stained glass or Tiffany glass.   

LeatheringA term used to describe the texturing of stone countertops.

LedgerHorizontal structural member through-bolted to a flat surface to support joists, rafters or trellis members.

Line setA bundle of pipes and wires used to move air conditioner coolant to/from the compressor on the exterior and the air handler on the interior of the structure.

LinoleumA durable, attractive and eco-friendly flooring material made from layers of linseed oil and crushed cork applied to a canvas backing. Once obsolete it is making a resurgence.

Lights: Individual panes of glass in a door or window.

LotThe total area of owned property surrounding a building site.

LouverAn opening obstructed by horizontally angled slats that deflect the weather.

Low water cutoffA shut off valve that turns off a boiler or water heater with low   water.



Main Service PanelThe main electrical panel with meter attached

Maintenance: The act of preventing deterioration and avoiding breakdowns in a building system.

ManifoldA closely arranged series of plumbing or irrigation pipes and valves leading from a main source pipe.

MantleDecorative area or shelf directly above the fireplace opening.

MildewA specific type of mold that appears on the surfaces of moist organic areas under certain ideal conditions.

Mission Critical: A life sustaining or protective feature without which collateral damage will be sustained.

Mixing valveValve on single handled plumbing fixtures that mixes hot and cold water to the proper temperature for use.

Moisture barrierAn impermeable layer beneath a floor that prevents moisture from migrating to the surface.

Mold: A deep penetrating fungus that grows under moist humid conditions.

Mud tunnelTubes made of dirt used by termites to travel from the ground to the wood structure.

Mud sillThe wood member placed directly on top of the foundation wall in wood frame construction.

MullionAn internal vertical structural member of a window or door.

Muntin: A panel or pane divider in a window or door.

Muriatic acidUsed to clean mortar and grout from masonry surfaces.



Nail pop: A bump or flaw in the surface of drywall created by a nail head.

Newel postThe main handrail termination post for a stairway.

NosingThe leading edge of a stair tread



Outfall: The exposed or daylight end of a drainage system where the collected water spills out.

Outlet: An electrical receptacle for connecting an electrical device or cord.



Patio: An outdoor entertaining space

P-trap: The curved drain pipe located directly under a sink.

Particle board: A heavy and dense wood sheet product made from compressing and gluing sawdust together.

Parapet: Walls build around a flat roof to create a cosmetic affect.

PassivationThe process of treating the surface of stainless steel to clean, polish and to make it less reactive to corrosive elements in the environment. Also know as pickling. Passivation, is a treatment method to protect the metal from corroding through—making the material “passive” to the surrounding environment. Passivation actually and counterintuitively encourages corrosion to occur on the surface, creating a thin layer of a new, non-reactive chemical. This top layer stays tightly bound to the metal, creating a natural seal that blocks the elements from corroding subsequent layers of the metal. A metal is passivated when the surface is covered with a tightly bound layer of corrosion. This layer may build naturally over time, but manufacturers can also actively induce it. New metal products require the treatment to ensure the surface is ready for exposure.

PaversBrick, concrete or stone blocks like cobblestones when placed together form a solid but porous surface for patios, walks and driveways.

Pendant lights: Light fixtures that hang down individually from a mount on the ceiling

Perimeter drainA system of drains used to divert water away from a building foundation.

Pergola: A framework over a walkway or patio to support vegetation and create a shaded area beneath.

PicketsIndividual boards on a low front fence usually spaced apart.

Pickling: The process of treating the surface of stainless steel to clean, polish and to make it less reactive to corrosive elements in the environment. Also know as passivation.

PiersA cylindrical foundation component used to extend and support the foundation down to deeper more structurally sound soil or bedrock.

Pilasters: Vertical support column usually attached to the surface of a wall.

Pilot light: A constantly burning small flame used to ignite large burners of furnaces or hot water heating devices in older equipment. These have been made obsolete as newer appliances are now equipped with energy saving ignitors.

Pipe fitting: Assembling piping together to form a plumbing system.

Plastic laminateA counter top material made from layers of laminated plastic. A trade name is Formica.

Plaster: A hard cement-based material used for interior wall surface finishes.

Plenum: An air chamber from which conditioned air is distributed to the individual room ducts.

Plumbing: The piping, drain and fixture system used to deliver and remove potable and waste water from your home.

Plumber: A licensed professional contractor trained to install and repair plumbing systems.

PlywoodA strong wood sheet product made from thin layers of wood built-up and glued together.

Pocket door: An interior door that slides into the wall cavity rather than swinging out into the space.

Pointing: A method of repairing mortar joints in masonry construction.

Porch: A covered area outside of an exterior door for protection from the weather.

Porcelain: Considered the finest of the ceramic potteries and made by   firing at 2200 to 2600 degrees F.

Powder-post beetles: Wood destroying insects that turn wood into a fine powdery residue.

Pressure regulator: A plumbing device usually mounted on the main line that limits incoming water pressure

Pressure treated woodWood members treated to resist rot with a chemical preservative under pressure.

Punch list: A to do list of items needing repair.

Pump: A mechanical device used to move liquid through a system of    pipes.



Quoin: The interlocking corner stones at the intersection of two a masonry exterior walls.



Rabbet:A joinery groove cut in a board to receive another piece of wood.

Radon: Naturally occurring toxic gas in the earth that is caused by the radioactive decay of the element radium.

Radiator:A device used to transfer heat to the air.

Rafter: Roof framing members.

Rafter tail:That portion of the rafter that extends past the exterior wall.

Rail:A handrail or the horizontal portion of a window or door panel.

RailingThe handrail and protective barrier for a stair or elevated patio or deck.

Rain chainsDecorative lengths of chain used to replace downspouts.

Rain cupsSimilar to rain chains but with cups instead of chain links designed to catch and control the flow of the water.

Rain gutters: Channels at the lower edge of the roof used to catch rain runoff and direct it to the downspouts.

RakeThe angle or slope of an incline or to remove mortar from a masonry joint.

RangeA combination appliance consisting of cooktop and lower oven.

RaspAn extremely course file used to shape and quickly remove material from a piece of wood

RazeTo demolish or remove.

RebarSteel used to reinforce structural concrete.

Receptacle: An outlet for connecting an electrical device or cord.

Re-circulator system: A system of a small pump and water lines that keep hot water immediately available to the various fixtures.

Rectory: The dwelling of an Anglican rector

Register: Heating/cooling system outflow grills located in each room or space for the distribution of heated or cooled air.

Repointing: The repair process of removing damaged mortar from between masonry units and replacing it with new mortar. (not to be confused with tuckpointing which is an installation aesthetic and not a repair.)

Reflected plan:A building plan that portrays the view looking upward from floor to ceiling.

Relief valveAlso known as a TP Relief Valve (temperature and pressure relief valve) used to relieve pressure on the interior of water heaters to protect them from exploding.

ResawThe process of ripping a board lengthwise on edge.

Resilient floor: Generic term for vinyl sheet flooring

Return GrillHeating/cooling system intake grills used to remove air from a space to be moved and conditioned through the system and returned to the space through the registers.

Reverse Osmosis: A process of forcing water through a membrane in order to block or remove some dissolved and larger impurities.

Ridge: The uppermost horizontal line of the roof.

Ridge ventA vented opening along the ridge of the roof to allow circulating air to pass out through the roof.

Rim joistA perimeter horizontal board attached to and running across   the ends of the joist array, usually with blocking in between the   joists.

RiserThe vertical portion or back of the stair step.

Romex: Electrical cables that have multiple conductors protected by a non-metallic coating or sheath.

Roof felt: Bituminous asphalt impregnated felt sheathing is used under the primary roofing material to provide a separation barrier and second layer of water resistance.

Rope:A flexible material made of fibers or strands woven into long lengths. Rope is possibly the oldest and most utilized of all building materials. It is used as a construction material, as a tool or both.

Root barrier: A professionally installed system to prevent invasive tree roots from damaging site or structure.

Roof pitch: The slope of a roof stated in rise over run ie. 4:12 = 4” vertical for every 12” horizontal.

Running water: Water in motion passing through the plumbing piping system.



Sash weights: Counter weights connected to the operable sashes of double hung windows to make them easier to move.

Saucery: This was an area of the kitchen where the preparation of sauces was conducted in larger estates. Sauces were often family secrets and the recipe’s were unwritten and highly guarded by a trusted servant of the kitchen called a saucerer.

ScaffoldingA supportive temporary work structure used during the construction or repair process to provide a safe platform from which to work.

Schluter strips: Trademarked line of products used for edging, terminations and joints between tiled surfaces and other materials.

Sconces: Wall mounted light fixtures

Scullery: A historical term for a small room traditionally devoted to the cutting up and preparation of certain foods, washing of dishes and sometime the laundering of clothing

Scupper: A penetration through a parapet wall to allow water to escape.

ScutcheonAn area or reveal creating a shadowbox effect where a door or window is setback deeply from the face of the wall surface.

ScuttleAn attic access hatch with hinged, upward swinging cover.

SedimentsSolid particles like sand moving in suspension through water lines.

Sediment trap: A short vertical length of gas pipe located on the main gas line before the appliance used to catch loose particles. Also known as drip tee, dirt leg.

SeepageSlow water leaks occurring in piping or through basement walls.

Seismic valveAn automatic gas shut off valve triggered by seismic events.

Self-cleaning oven: An oven capable of generating temperatures high enough to burn away spills leaving only ash behind. These appliances are equipped with safety locks to prevent accidentally opening them at high temperatures.

Septic tank: A watertight collection vault that receives sewage from the plumbing drains and uses natural bacteria to biologically break it down into liquid form.

SetbacksDimensions set by the planning or building department to determine the distance any construction must be from the property line.

Sewage ejectorA system to pump wastewater and sewage from an area where gravity removal is impossible.

Sewer clean out: A cap on the sewer line that allows access for observation, cleaning or maintenance.

ShakesHand split cedar roofing.

Sheathing: The structural covering of boards or wallboards, placed over exterior studding or rafters of a structure.

ShoringConstruction elements used to provide protective, temporary bracing to support the work efforts until they are completed.

ShouldersThe wider structural exterior portion of the fireplace just below the chimney.

Shutters: Storm shutters are moveable exterior barriers that can be swung over windows to provide shade or storm protection.

Side lite: A glazed panel adjacent to an entry door.   

Sill: The exterior trim across the bottom edge of windows that protrudes out beyond the wall surface.

Site: The area of land on which the home is positioned.

Simpson connectors: A trademarked line of structural metal connectors used for framing.

Skip sheathingA method of roof sheathing where a lath of spaced boards are nailed across the rafters and to which is attached the roof shingles. This allows air to circulate below the shingles preventing premature deterioration.

Skylight: Roof mounted window that allows light into the living space below.

Sheetrock: See gypsum board

Ship lap: A type of horizontal exterior siding where the layers of material overlap similar in appearance to a wood ship.

Shower pan: Waterproofing system beneath the shower finishes that prevents leaks.

Slab: A flat layer of concrete approximately 4” thick.

SleepersStrips of pressure treated wood laid over concrete to provide nailing for installation of floor framing.

SoffitThe underside of a roof overhang or eave.

Soft-close hardware: Cabinet hinges and slides designed to close softly without slamming.

Smoke detector: A sensor device to detect smoke in the living and sleeping areas of the home and alert the occupants.

Smooth wall: A type of drywall finish where the wall is completely smooth.

SolderingThe joining of copper pipe together with fittings.

Solvent: Any liquid agent used to dissolve another material.

Snake: A plumbing tool used to clear clogged drains.

Spackle: Paste or putty-like material used to patch small holes in drywall surfaces.

Spark arrestor: A screen device placed on top of a chimney to catch embers. It is strongly recommended if the home has a wood shake roof or is located in a fire prone area.

Spicery: Historically this is the room where some of the most valuable assets of the household were kept. The spices. This was usually a secure area and attended to by a trusted head spicer. Coffees, teas, salt, pepper and other exotic spices brought from around the world at great cost were kept in the spidery. 

Splash block: A hard surfaced sloped area below a downspout used to prevent erosion and direct rainwater away from the foundation of the structure.

Splashes or backsplashThis is a vertical water resistant plane running up the wall at the back of the countertop. It is used to protect the wall from splashing water.

Spout: The fitting that directs and delivers water into a fixture for use.

Squeegee: A tool to remove water from the surface of glass during the cleaning process. Keep one handy for big shower enclosures.

Standing seam roof:  Metal roof where the joints between the panels are made with a short, vertical, overlapping seam connection.

Stewardship: The long-term careful and responsible management and care of something important.

Stockyard: A holding pen for cattle on the way to market.

StoolThe horizontal bottom part of a window opening that extends into the interior living space.

StoppersThe devices at the bottom of tubs and sinks that prevent water from escaping.

Strike plateA piece of hardware metal mounted to the door jamb for the door latch or plunger to rub against while closing so as to not damage the wood.

Stringer: The key structural element of a stair with notches cut into it to form the steps and risers.  

Stucco: A cement plaster used for the finish siding on exterior surfaces of buildings.

Studs: Wood or metal framing members used to assemble walls.

Sump pump: A small electric pump used to remove water.

Swale: A shallow depression in the soil to channel surface water.

Switch: An electrical device mounted on the wall to turn a light or appliance on and off.

Syphon: A tube that when completely filled with water has the ability to move fluid uphill against the will of gravity without the use of mechanical pumping. Used extensively in toilets to empty the bowl after use.



T&GTongue and groove is a strong method of joining parts together through interlocking them with a groove and tab milled into the material.

Tack strip: A narrow board with short angled spikes mounted to the   subfloor next to the wall in order to hold carpeting tight to   the wall

Termites: Wood destroying insects the size and appearance of winged ants.

Thermostat: A control device for monitoring and controlling the interior    room temperature by cycling the heating/cooling system on or off.

The Trades: A term used to describe the various types of building skills required for construction.

Tree-way switch: An electrical wiring technique that allows a fixture to be   controlled from more than one switch location.

Threshold: The portion of an exterior door frame that you must step over and that seals the bottom edge of the door to prevent air and debris from blowing into the space

T/P relief valveThe emergency temperature and pressure relief valve on a water heater tank.

Toe kick: The space at the bottom of base cabinets that recedes back from the front surface.

Toenail: A technique of fastening structural members together by driving a nail from an angle.

Transom windowA fixed or awning window placed above a door.

Tread: The flat part of the stair used as a step.

Trellis: See pergola

Truss: A triangular shaped structural assembly for spanning large spaces or distances. Commonly used for roof framing.

T/S: Trouble Shoot

Tuckpointing: The addition of a second color (usually contrasting) or texture to an existing mortar joint. This can give the appearance of very thin, hairline type joints. Not to be confused with repointing (see above).



Underlayment: A thin layer of board material placed over the subfloor prior to the installation of any resilient or linoleum flooring.

Utility sink:    A large sink used for heavier purposes and cleaning usually located in laundry areas or garages.



Vapor barrier: An air impermeable layer under a floor area that prevents moisture and air from passing through to the surface.

Valley: The inside angle formed by the junction of two sloping sides of a roof.

VanityA bathroom make-up or sink cabinet

Vapor barrier:  Material used to retard the flow of moist air into wall cavities to prevent condensation.

VeneerA vertical siding finish layer applied to a structural support system. This can be virtually any material wood, brick, stone etc.

VentilationThe means by which circulating air is introduced or removed from a structure.



Wainscot: A finish treatment to the walls that runs from the floor to the chair rail height about half way up.

Wall coveringsPapers, fabrics, paneling and other finish treatments applied to the surface of the interior walls.

Wall platesTop and bottom horizontal framing members to which wall studs are attached. Once wall sections are in place a third top plate is installed spanning over the others to straighten and strengthen the stud wall assemblies.

Warm floorsA heating system based upon warming of the floor surface which then radiates into the spaces above.

Washlet: A toilet seat system trademarked by Toto that includes a bidet and drying feature.

Waterhammer: Banging sounds in water pipes, frequently heard when turning off flowing water.

Waterpipe: These are the main water pipes running throughout the structure.

WaterlineThese are the small connector lines used to supply fixtures with water from the angle stops. These can be decorative if exposed.

Water tests: The scientific examination of water samples for the presence of hazardous substances.

Waste lines: These are the drain pipes that carry away used water from the home.

Wax ringA circular gasket made of thick wax used to seal the bottom of the toilet to the sewer drain pipe.

Wet-pipe: A term used in plumbing to describe the constant state of a water carrying system. Used frequently to describe the piping for pressurized fire sprinkler systems. 

Widow’s peak: See hay hood. Extended peak at one gable end of a barn.

Widow’s watch: An enclosed rooftop platform which created an improved view.

Wood putty: A paste-like material used to fill nail holes in trim.

Wood stain: Stains are suspended in a liquid vehicle and applied to wood surfaces in order to darken or enhance the appearance. Depending on the wood, stains do not typically penetrate deeply into the material and require a protective film or finish coat.

Weather-stripping: Material used to prevent the passage of air around doors and windows.

Weep holes: Small openings that allow water to escape from an enclosed area.

Window sash: The moveable window framework holding the glass.

Window walls: Exterior glass barriers that incorporate entire wall sections.

Wine refrigeratorA refrigerator-like appliance with one or more zones designed to maintain a constant temperature for storing wines.

World view: Your mental model of reality. Comprehensive ideas & attitudes about the world, yourself, and your life. Beliefs and personally customized theories about the world and how it works which is your de facto truth regardless of any connection to actual truth. 

WUIWildland/Urban Interface, areas where human habitation and wildland coexist.








Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Help me to help you

Thank you for taking time to use this free website. I hope you find the junk-free information here fun and useful? Please send me your comments and feedback.

Writing and maintaining the information in this manual is a lot of hard work. By sharing these pages with your friends, you help me to continue the effort.  You can easily share these pages to all your favorite social media sites via the shortcut buttons on the sidebar. You can also simply email the page link to your friends. Please share often.

The very best way to help me happens when you use the embedded links to buy things. Using a link is easy and free, yet it provides a great source of support for this site. The vendors I've chosen to link to have proven to be trustworthy and are the very best resources available. That is why I recommend them personally. is the place to visit if you want information on

  • maintaining your home
  • how to improve air quality
  • ways to improve the real value of your home
  • what are the best housekeeping services
  • the problems with handymen services
  • how to plan and execute home renovation and home improvement projects
  • tips for spring cleaning; tidying up a messy house
  • and generally how to be a better homeowner.

Make sure you download your monthly maintenance checklist for this month.

Linking to this site

Do you want to link to anything on this site? Please do! Go right ahead. I appreciate it and am honored to be considered as a resource on your website. Always feel free to link to anything you find helpful. Of course, please never copy anything (everything is copyrighted and registered), but link away and thanks!

Thank you!

Copyright and permission to use information.

If you have questions or just want to say hi, please send me a note. If you are looking for help performing the work described and you are in the San Francisco area, go to HPS Palo Alto Inc.and request a free evaluation.

As a reminder, it is unlawful to make copies including cut and paste or especially in the form of making printouts for reuse. If you wish to make a print for personal use, I will happily grant you one-time permission if you will kindly send me a request in writing.

Thanks again!