Communication is the key to a successful relationship between contractor and customer. But what happens when a professional uses a term or expression that is not familiar? Too many times, clients are simply embarressed to say something is not clear or they are not familiar with the terminology being used.. Typically that’s where the trouble begins. Whether you are using a kitchen contractor to remodel a kitchen, trying to purchase a some paint for your own DIY kitchen renovation or trying to understand what kind of heating system or AC you are being recommended knowledge is the number one rule to prevent misunderstanding.
Below we have compiled a list of many terms used in the remodeling and home improvement industry. Make sure you are familiar so you can stump your contractor with using the terms yourself!
A type of paint with high pigment levels and good color retention. Acrylic paint is made up of a synthetic resin and is similar to latex. It is fast-drying, and the end result can be compared to a watercolor or oil painting.
An amount of money, or budget, captured within the construction contract that is set aside for expenses that will arise during the course of the construction project. It is typically used for details that will be decided after work has begun, such as type of tile to be used, cabinet fixtures, and similar details.
A type of paint with a metallic-looking finish. This finish comes from aluminum particles contained within the paint base.
Angle Stop or Angle Supply
A shut-off valve that connects the water pipes within the wall to the fixtures (faucet, toilet, etc) on the exterior of the wall.
A professional who designs buildings or assists in the renovation and planning of commercial or residential spaces. An architect also oversees and advises on creation of the design. An architect must complete a course of study and pass a test to be licensed by the state. Architects are often needed any time you do structural changes to a building, like removing or adding walls.
Asbestos (or magnesium silicate) is a material which was previously used in construction and insulation products. Asbestos was an attractive material due to its stability and fire-resistance. Exposure to asbestos over long periods of time has been proven to cause various types of lung cancer.
A type of window that is hinged at the top and the bottom panel, or sash, swings outward.
To prime, or apply paint to, the back or exterior of a piece of woodwork. Back Priming helps to prevent wood grain from contracting or swelling.
A board that runs along the base of the floor; a baseboard covers the gap between the floor and the adjoining wall.
A type of sink, circular in shape that has sloping or curving sides.
A three-window unit, the Bay window usually contains one large middle panel and two smaller side panels. A bay window projects outward from the walls of the home.
A written offer of a price that describes the project, the work entailed, and the specified cost for which the contractor is willing to perform the work.
A bathroom fixture with hot and cold running water which is used mainly for cleansing the posterior parts of the body. Bidets originated in France.
Bubbling that can form on a newly-painted surface. Blistering is sometimes caused by excessive heat, early application of a second coat of paint (before the first coat is dry), or moisture in the painted surface.
Mechanical drawings, prepared by an architect, that show precise detail of a building or space. Blueprints are used during the planning and construction of a project.
Occurs on painted surfaces and is caused by the presence of moisture during drying. Blushing can occur with any type of paint but most notably distorts gloss coats or clear lacquer.
Bond or Bonding
A bond is an amount of money which secures a contractor’s license with a certified governmental agency. A bond can be used to pay unpaid bills held by the contractor, or as a guarantee or contingency that a project will be completed as planned.
A window unit composed of several window panels that form a bow shape; each panel is typically configured at a 10 degree angle. A bow window projects outward from the walls of the home.
The space between the top of the upper cabinets and the ceiling in kitchens. The soffit forms a boxed framework in this space.
A single-window unit, the casement window is usually hinged on the side, and opens outward.
The trim or molding that forms the frame around doors and windows.
Used to seal gaps between surfaces, typically in a kitchen, bathroom, or outdoor siding. Caulking helps to prevent water leaks and acts as a seal in general against the elements.
A modification made to the original contract; this change is typically to the price, the plans or other specification of the project. The change order must be in writing.
A device located within the main electrical panel or in a circuit breaker box. The main purposes of the circuit breaker are: to regulate the amount of power that flows through a given circuit, and to shut power off to some or all areas of a house.
The dye or pigment used to tint paint. Colorants can be added to prepared paints or a base in proportionate amounts to achieve a desired color effect.
A hard building material made by mixing a cementing material (such as portland cement) and sand or gravel with water. Commonly used in construction of sidewalks, building foundations, and more.
Concrete Board or Wonder Board
Typically used as the foundation for a tiled surface, concrete board or wonder board is a flat panel made out of concrete and fiberglass.
A legal agreement between the homeowner and the contractor. A construction contract outlines the details of the project, and usually contains a project description, outline of the work, timing, cost details, any blueprints or plans, specifications, payment schedules, allowance details, and a warranty statement.
The timetable of a project. This timetable should detail the dates of commencement and anticipated completion of a project, and also include a description of each phase in the project and how long it will take relative to the completion time of the entire project.
A legal agreement between the homeowner and contractor that states the contractor’s compensation for the job will be a percentage of the total cost of the project’s labor and materials.
The time of a flush cycle for a toilet. The cycle time begins when the toilet lever is flushed and ends when the water supply shuts off.
A signed and sealed legal document that is used to transfer a title; typically used for real estate, automobiles, and other larger-scale purchases.
A professional (typically non-licensed) who designs houses or elements of a residence, including interior design, landscaping and more.
Valves, used in several plumbing fixtures that divert water to different outlets. Diverters are used in faucets, showers, bathtubs, and more.
A beam that redirects the weight, or load, from above a door to the side door studs.
A window that utilizes two panes of glass. Double glazing can help to improve energy efficiency in a home and can provide similar benefits as household insulation.
Double Hung Window
A window made up of two panels that slide vertically to open. This window style is a classic design and is typically constructed of wood.
Drop-Sheet or Drop Cloth
A sheet used to cover and protect furniture, floors, and valuables during interior painting projects.
Sometimes called “fungal wood rot”, dry rot is a fungus that can eat away at wood fibers, turning them to powder. Dry rot thrives in moist and damp conditions.
Drywall or Gypsum Wallboard
A manufactured wall surface of plasterboard or other material encased in a thin layer of cardboard. Typically comes in panels.
A type of paint finish, or gloss. The finish/sheen of eggshell is somewhere between flat (no gloss) and semi-gloss (some gloss).
An alternative to the standard round toilet bowl shape. The elongated toilet bowl is oval in shape and is about 2″ longer than a round toilet bowl.
A type of paint. Enamel paint dries to a smooth, hard finish. Enamel paint comes in a range of finishes/ gloss levels.
A program supported by the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that recognizes products that are energy efficient. Energy Star labels can be found on products ranging from air conditioners to home heating equipment and more.
The process of determining the cost of a project. Estimating typically results in a ballpark cost estimate and usually occurs prior to signing a final contract.
A joint that allows wood to contract and expand during seasonal temperature fluctuations.
Glass in a fibrous form used in making various types of products including bathtubs.
When painting, a top or final coat.
Fixed Price Contract
A type of contract that holds a set, agreed-upon price for the work.
A term which is used to describe many items within the home, typically in bathrooms and kitchens. Examples include sinks, faucets, bathtubs; almost anything exterior to the wall.
A type of paint finish. Paint with a flat finish has virtually no gloss or shine; it is known to be less durable than paint with a higher gloss.
The square footage of a building or space.
A drawing of a building or space that shows the current or proposed design and specifications of the room or rooms. Typically, a floor plan will also show windows, doors, walls, and stairwells.
Forced Air Heating
A type of heating with natural gas, oil, electricity or propane as fuel. The process involves heating air in a furnace and distributing it via a set of ducts to several areas of the house.
A wall that is part of the structure of a building. A structural wall is made of studs, a bottom and top plate, and a wall covering such as drywall.
French Hinged Door
Hinged doors with multiple glass panes that extend for most of the door’s lengths. French hinged doors also have wider panel members around the glass.
A decorative band, typically horizontal, that can be found on the interior or exterior of a building or home. It originates in architecture dating back for centuries; a common style of frieze is the egg-and-dart design.
A device that regulates the current of electricity. A fuse, typically found in older homes, will “break” and interrupt the circuit when the current exceeds certain amperage and the fuse becomes overloaded.
A company or individual that is capable of managing several types of construction and renovation projects. A general contractor will typically hire subcontractors and specialists to work on various phases of a project; ultimately, however, the general contractor holds responsibility for completing the job.
A machine which converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. A device that is used to protect from injury caused by contact with stray electrical currents that could be the result of faulty appliances or wiring, or water getting into an outlet. GFCI’s are required in most new home construction. Commonly referred to as GFI for short.
Describes the finish, or shine, of paint. There are several levels of gloss, including flat, velvet, eggshell, low luster, semi-gloss, and high gloss. Typically, paint with a high gloss level is more durable.
GPF or Gallons Per Flush
A measure that describes the water consumption for toilets.
To create the appearance of wood grain on a surface through specialized painting techniques, staining, or specially prepared paint colors.
A thin mortar that is typically used to fill the spaces between floor or wall tiles and other types of masonry.
A moveable showerhead that is connected to the water supply with a hose. Hand showers are an alternative to a fixed showerhead, especially in bathtub showers.
A dense fiberboard made by first reducing natural wood to fibers, and then pressing the fibers together. Hardboard is available in various sizes and thicknesses.
The floor area in front of a fireplace, or the actual floor of the fireplace. The hearth is usually constructed of brick, stone or cement.
Radiator heating system. Hot Water Heating, or Hydronic Heating, uses various types of fuel to heat water; the water is then distributed through pipes and radiators to provide heat throughout the home.
Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning; all appliances of the system used to condition the air within the home.
A type of beam constructed of iron, steel or wood that is shaped like the letter I at its cross section.
“Professional-strength” paint; typically industrial paint would be used for specific purposes, or in commercial environments. It is usually highly durable and ultra-resistant to chemicals or environmental exposure.
A window or door construction that combines two or more panes of glass. The spaces between the panes are hermetically sealed.
Material used to prevent heat loss in a structure. Insulation is usually placed within ceilings and walls, and sometimes floors. Quality home insulation can help to reduce heating or electricity bills.
Vertical pieces of wood (or other material) that line the sides of door and window frames.
A feature of a toilet that is designed to start the siphoning action quickly by directing water into the trap way. Jets are also used in bathtubs to create a whirlpool type effect.
A knot is a part of a tree limb or branch that is sometimes visible on the surface of a plank of wood.
A level part of a stairway, either between flights of stairs or at the end of a flight of stairs.
Paint that uses latex as a binder. Latex paint can be removed with water while it is wet.
A drying oil, derived from flaxseed, that used in paint, lacquer and varnish products.
Low Consumption Toilet
Toilets designed to use a small amount of water per flush; currently only 1.6 gallons.
A style of toilet, usually glass or china, where the bowl and tank are manufactured together as one fixture.
A type of toilet seat rim, usually used in commercial environments. An open-front toilet seat has a space, at least 2-3 inches wide, in the front of the rim. The seat resembles a horseshoe in shape.
A board, typically rectangular in shape that is set in a frame. Usually refers to the panels within a door frame or cabinet.
A schedule of payments, usually included in the contract, that describes at what point(s) the customer will pay the contractor. May include a deposit, periodic payments for materials, work performed, and of course a final payment.
Authorization from local or state government officials to perform work. Various types of permits are needed in order to begin a project, and may include zoning permits, building permits, electrical permits, plumbing permits, and more.
A building material made of thin sheets of wood that have been glued and pressed together.
A drain mechanism in which the stopper pops up and down; this is controlled by a piece within the faucet that pushes the stopper either up or down.
Pressure Balance Valve
A mixing valve within shower plumbing that automatically maintains a constant water temperature; this is done by regulating the changes in pressure from incoming cold and hot water supplies. The temperature remains constant despite changes in hot or cold water pressure.
Pressure Relief Valve
Used on a hot water heater or boiler. This device is used to prevent the build-up of steam within the tank by releasing steam when pressure reaches a certain threshold.
A list of unfinished items, created toward the end of a project, that must be completed or corrected before the last and final payment is made.
PVC or CPVC
A type of pipe, typically used for water supply or plumbing, made of a white, water-insoluble thermoplastic resin.
A contractor that specializes in larger, more involved home renovation projects. A remodeling contractor has expertise with simple and complex renovations, home additions, room and home expansions, complete apartment renovations and more.
The upright piece of a step that sits between one stair tread and the next.
The standard shape of a toilet bowl. A round toilet bowl has dimensions of 14 inches wide by 16 1⁄2 inches long, and is about 2 inches shorter than an elongated bowl.
A measure of thermal resistance. The R-value gauges the effectiveness of different types of home insulation; the greater the R-value, the greater the level of insulation quality.
A rough drawing of a room or building that shows the general size and shape of the space.
Scope of Work
The description of a project that includes in-depth details and describes the work to be completed.
A programmable thermostat that can be set to different temperatures at specified times of the day or week.
Use of single panes of glass in a window. An alternative to double glazing but not as energy-efficient.
The suction or pulling action that occurs in the trap-way of a toilet as it is flushed. Siphoning is critical to the flushing functionality of a toilet.
The visible, finished underside of a structural part of a building; may include the underside of staircases, eaves, arches, beams, or a roof overhang.
A contractor that is licensed to perform specialized types of jobs or tasks; examples include electrical, plumbing, appliance installation, and more.
Specifications or Specs
A list of materials, model numbers, features of appliances, colors, or other details that supplements the contract or other document detailing the scope of work.
Standard Practices of the Trades
Minimum construction standards. Dictates that the work will be performed in accordance with set standards of the industry as established by professionals in the field.
A General or Specialty contractor who works for another General contractor. Most general contractors will hire subcontractors that specialize in certain areas (electrical, plumbing, painting), to work on certain portions of a given project.
Electrical switch that enables you to turn a fixture on or off from two different locations. Commonly used at the top and bottom of a flight of stairs.
Time & Materials Contract
A contract which itemizes in detail the cost of labor (billed hourly in this case), overhead, and materials.
Tongue & Groove
A carpentry joint on a board or plank in which the jutting edge (tongue) of one board fits into the grooved end (groove) of another board. Typically used in hardwood flooring.
The horizontal piece of a step.
Decorative woodwork typically used around the edges of a room or building; usually trim is found around windows, doors, or the baseboard.
Tube & Knob Wiring
A common type of electrical wiring used prior to World War II. Suitable for small fixtures or electrical appliances that have low amperage requirements.
A standard toilet style that includes two pieces, the tank and bowl, which are connected.
A layer of paint applied before the topcoat; also called the base coat or primer.
A type of storage cabinet for bathrooms that sits under the sink/counter.
A style of sink that is not fully installed into the counter; it sits partially above the counter. This type of basin is often glass or porcelain and can be very colorful and stylistic.
The designer, architect, contractor and/or subcontractors meet at the project site to evaluate the project and scope of work.
Toilets designed to use a minimum of 1.6 gallons of water per flush and a maximum of 3.5 gallons per flush.
The measure of the electrical requirement of an appliance or fixture. Wattage is calculated by multiplying voltage by amperage.
The process of sealing openings or cracks around windows and doors with metal, wood or plastic materials. Weather-stripping prevents air and water from getting in through such gaps or openings.
Governmental specifications detailing how certain property may be used. Examples include: commercial, residential, high rise residential, single or multi-family homes, etc.