Home Renovation Glossary

Last updated: Oct 10, 2022

Renovations can be overwhelming and confusing — especially if you're unfamiliar with some of the industry lingo that experts use. So, we’ve compiled a list of terms that will help you better understand the renovation process and start building your dream home.

Glossary of Terms

# | 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

- # -

110 Line

“110” volt is a standard voltage household circuit that can support most appliances, lighting, and more.

220 Line

A “220” line is a high-voltage circuit designed to support appliances requiring higher amperage; for example, a 220 line is necessary to support an electric dryer.

- A -

AC

AC stands for an air conditioner which is a system for controlling humidity, ventilation, and temperature to maintain a cool atmosphere in warm conditions.

AC Condenser

Located outside your home, the AC condenser uses a fan to remove heat from the freon gas and turn it back into a liquid that is pumped into the indoor unit.

ADA

ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act, which explains accessibility guidelines for building design.

Addition

An additon includes either new rooms or square footage that is added to a home.

ADU

ADU stands for accessory dwelling unit, which is also known as a mother-in-law apartment. It is used to designate any additional legal residence that is incoporated into a single-family home.

Aggregate

Aggregate can be made up of sand, gravel, or crushed rock. It is used to create a strong fondation by being mixed into concrete.

Allowances

This is a part of the construction budget that reserved for items that still needs to be selected. For example, if a homeowner is still undecided about tiles, the building contract would account for that with an allowance.

Apprentice

An apprentice is a construction professional (e.g. plumber or electrician in the making) who is training and working under the supervision of a licensed individual

Apron

This is the vertical trim board under a window.

Architect

Architects are licensed professionals who design buildings, both residential and commercial.

Area Wells

This is the metal or concrete holding back the earth to make space for basement windows.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral material that was used for fireproofing, but was found to be a dangerous carcinogen. If you're renovating an holder home, be cautious about distrubing materials that contain asbestos.

Awning Window

It is a window that hinges at the top and usually operated with a crank.

- B -

Backfilling

Holes and exposed areas that occur during construction when laying down a foundation or running underground pipes are backfilled with dirt.

Backing

Supportive framing lumber was installed between studs and behind drywall for towel holders, cabinets, and railings.

Backsplash

A waterproof surface installed behind a kitchen countertop that is easy to clean, such as tile.

Baseboard

The baseboard is a trim board around a room that connects between the wall and the floor.

Basement Finishing

You can increase your living space by expanding downwards as you insulate and add finished flooring and drywall to your basement.

Beams

Wooden or steel structures are used as replacements when a wall is removed to support the weight of a home.

Bid

A legally binding contract that lays out specific work that a contractor must fulfill as part of a construction project.

Boom

A crane truck for transporting heavy construction items and elevating them to the right floor level.

Building Codes

Building codes are international stipulations that state how a home must be constructed. Though these rules are standardized almost everywhere, cities and municipalities may add on their own codes as well.

Building Permit

An authorization issued by your local government, city, or municipality approving a construction project to allow contractors to move forward with it.

Bungalow

A one-story small house or cottage is usually accompanied by large front porches and verandas.

Built environment

It is the space that people have created for themselves in which they can live, work, and enjoy leisure activities.

- C -

Cabinet Refacing

A more cost-friendly alternative to cabinet replacement where existing cabinets are repainted or have a veneer applied to them.

CAD

Computer-aided design (CAD) is a design that has been created using software instead of pen and paper for a project. This allows plans to be made in 3D.

Carpeting

Carpeting is a floor covering made of thick woven fabric, such as nylon, polyester, or natural wool.

Caulk

Caulk is used to fill gaps. It is a flexible material that is designed to stretch before hardening during the drying process.

Carpenter

An individual who possesses wood craftsmanship.

Ceiling Joist

Resting on load-bearing walls, ceiling joists are parallel framing structures that support ceiling loads.

Cement

Cement is the adhesive element of concrete.

Ceramic Tile

A fire or glazed clay tile is used for flowing, showers, and/or walls.

Certificate of Occupancy

A municipality-issued document certifying that a building is in compliance with building codes and can be lived in.

Change Order

Change orders are modifications made to a project during construction or alterations to the terms of the renovation contract that need to be approved by the homeowner.

Column

A concrete or steel vertical structure that supports the weight of the building.

Concrete

Used for foundations, slabs, and structural columns, concrete is a material made out of the sand, gravel, portland cement, and water.

Concrete Block

A hollow concrete brick (also known as cinderblock)

Contract

When it comes to home renovations, a contract is a legal document between the homeowner and a construction professional (e.g. designer, architect, general contractor) outlining the details of the project.

Contractor

A contractor will oversee most aspects of a construction project, but is not usually licensed to do specialized work. The contractor will hire subcontractors who are skilled in that certain trade to work on those tasks, such as plumbers or electricians.

Cosmetic Upgrade

While maintaining the current layout of a room, cosmetic upgrades involve a remodeling project where paint and other surfaces are refreshed.

- D -

DADU

A Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit (DADU) is a small home that is constructed on the same lot of a single-family home which can sometimes be build on a garage.

Demo

Demo stands for demolition, which is construction work to remove existing fixtures, walls, or other structures to prepare a space for renovation.

Design Build

A design build approach combines design and construction functions together under one company who will be entirely responsible for the success of a renovation project.

Design Review

During a design review, local authorities will verify building plans to ensure building code compliance for the issuance of building permits.

Draw

A draw involves progress billings that a contractor can make at each stage of a project for work that has been completed.

Drywall

A drywall is a gypsum plaster panel used in homes.

Ducting

Ducting are light metal tubes that are part of the HVAC system and help move conditioned air around the house.

- E -

Egress Window

Egress windows are large windows that can double as an emergency exit. They also have specific requirements according to building codes.

Electrician

A construction professional specialized in the installation and fixing of electrical equipment.

Estimate

A project's costs of labor and building materials as estimated by a contractor — the latter can be subject to change depending on the project's final scope of work.

Existing Conditions

A home's existing conditions refer to its original layout to differentiate it from suggested renovations from building plans.

- F -

Field Measurements

As opposed to blueprint dimensions, field measurements are taken on the home itself.

Finish Carpentry

Finish carpentry includes finishing touches such as installing trim, doors, cabinets, stairs, and flooring after the main structural construction is completed.

Floor Plan

The basic layout of a building is drawn on a horizontal plane.

Foundation

The foundation is the concrete structure that is laid out below the first floor of a home.

Foyer

An entry hall of a home

Framing

Lumber is used to build the structure of a building, such as joists, studs, and rafters.

French Drain

A perforated drain pipe covered by gravel located outside the perimeter of a home to keep its basement dry.

Full Review

Authorities verify proposed building plans to ensure that they meet all zoning, safety, and building codes when it comes to large construction projects.

- G -

General Contractor

A general contractor will supervise most aspects of a construction project. Though they may have a more hands-on role at times, they are not usually licensed to do specialized work, such as plumbing or electrical. The contractor will hire subcontrators who are skilled in that certain trade to work on those tasks.

Grade

Grade refers to the level of the ground. A basement is usually considered below grade.

Green Building

A building designed to reduce or eliminate negative impacts on our climate and environment.

Grout

A filler for the space that exists between tiles.

- H -

Handyman

A person who performs specialized work in small home repairs and improvements. A handyman is typically a sole proprietor, and may or may not be a licensed general contractor.

Hardscaping

Elements that are made of stone, concrete, tile, or brick in landscaping. Paths, walkways, driveways, etc are typically made of these materials in hardscaping.

Hardwood

Hardwood comes from broad-leafed trees, such as oak, ash, maple, etc. This is different from softwood, which comes from coniferous trees.

Header

A beam that extends across a window, door, or stairway opening.

Heat Pump

A device that pumps outdoor heat into your home; they are more energy-efficient than standard resistance-electric heat.

Heating Load

The amount of heat energy that needs to be added to a space to in order to maintain an acceptable temperature. This is used in understanding how large a furnace needs to be to heat a home.

Hip Roof

A roof with four inclined size as opposed to only two on a gabled roof, so it slopes upward from all sides of the structure.

HVAC

HVAC is an abbreviation for heat, ventilation, and air conditioning.

- I -

I-Beam

A strong steel beam that is used to carry the weight of the roof and upper floors across long spans, such as in a basement or a large room. It typically looks like an "I" at the cross section.

Infiltration

Air that slips through the cracks and crevices of a home, which causes drafts and wastes energy. A home energy retrofit is typically used to reduce infiltration.

Induction Stove

A type of electric stove that heats the pan by using magnetic fields. By mimicking the heating and cool-down of a gas stove, it is an efficient way to cook and does not expel any harmful fumes.

Inspections

Building inspectors, who are employed by the local government, come out to job sites to ensure the building is being built to code by checking the forms of the footers and foundations before concrete is poured. They will also go over construction methods, plumbing, and electrical before the drywall is put in place. Specialty inspectors, such as electrical and plumbing inspectors, may also be present during the inspection process.

Insulation

Material that is placed in the walls, attic, ceiling, beneath the slab, around the foundation, or anywhere else in a home to resist heat transmission. Insulation materials are typically composed of fiberglass, mineral wool, cellulose, rigid foam panels, and spray-on foam.

Interior Decorators

Interior decorators choose furnishings, finishes, and other elements for a home or building that establishes a certain design look.

Interior Designers

Interior designers are experts in planning spaces. Designers research, plan, and create creative solutions that will make spaces look better and function in a way that will maintain the safety of occupants.

- J -

Jack Post

An adjustable metal replacement for an old supporting post typically used in basements to support sinking first floors.

Jack-and-Jill Bathroom

A bathroom with entrance doors on each end from two different rooms.

Jamb

The wood pieces that line the side posts or surface of a door or window.

Jib Door

A door that is made flush with the wall or wainscoting, which creates a hidden-room effect.

Job Site

An area of work where construction is done.

Joist

Horizontal planks of lumber that are put in place to support a floor or ceiling, and typically rest on bearing walls, girders, or other large beams.

Joist Hanger

A U-shaped piece of metal that is used to anchor things such as decking, floors, and ceiling.

- K -

Kilowatt Hour

A volumetric unit of measurement for electricity that is equivalent to a power consumption of 1,000 watts of electricity for one hour, which is one of the most common measurements for households.

Knob-and-Tube Wiring

A wiring method for homes, popular in the United States from 1880-1940, that uses single-insulated wire supported by knobs that runs through walls and ceiling cavities.

- L -

Landscaping

The process of making a yard or other outdoor space more attractive with plantings, ornamental features, and regrading.

Leach Field

An area of land where subsurface disposal facilities are placed so filtered sewage can percolate into the soil; typically used in rural areas.

Lineal Foot

A method to measure lumber where each lineal foot is a measurement that is 12 inches long.

Load-Bearing Wall

Exterior walls and some interior walls that are designed to support the weight of the floor or roof structure above them.

LOI

LOI is a letter of intent, which is a document that states the intent of the builder/designer and the homeowner to work together. This is later replaced by a more formal contract that includes more specific details.

Lot

A plot of land on which a home is placed.

Louver

A cover for an exterior vent in a home with horizontal slats that are angled to admit light and air and keep out water and direct light.

Lumens

A unit of measurement for the quantity of light emitted by a source per unit of time.

LVT

LVT (luxury vinyl tile) is a flooring material that has a realistic 3D photo layer that is made to look like wood or stone and can be glued down or floated. It is known to be a durable material that is resistant to water and changes in temperature.

- M -

Main Water Shutoff

A valve that turns off the main water supply coming into the house, which is typically located in basements, on the exterior of the house, or underground. This is performed so plumbing work can be done.

Mansard Roof

A roof with floor sloping sides, each of which has a steeper slope on the bottom half than on the top half.

Mantel

A decorative shelf above a fireplace.

Marble

A material composed of limestone that is typically used for countertops and tile.

Marmoleum

A modern brand-named type of linoleum flooring from Forbo-Nairn that is LEED certified due to its being hypoallergenic and composed of all-natural products.

Masonry

Brick, stone, and other building materials that are bound together by mortar.

Master Suite

The largest bedroom in a home that typically contains a sitting area and an en-suite bathroom.

MDF

MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is an engineered wood product that is composed of broken down hard and softwood and combined with wax and a resin binder. It is typically used for baseboard and other interior trim.

Membrane

A thin layer of material typically made of synthetic rubber that forms a barrier to prevent water penetration.

Mid-Century Modern

A design from the 1930s to the 1960s that was characterized by clean, organic forms, and lack of embellishment.

Millwork

Any wood-mill produced materials that typically include molding, doors, and trim.

Mini Split

Heating and cooling system that allows for controlled heat and cooling in each room.

Miter Joint

A perpendicular joint that is made by cutting two pieces of material are cut and joining them at a 45-degree angle.

Molding

A material composed of wood, plastic, or stone that is used as a decorative frame.

Mortar

A material used to bind various types of stone.

Mother-in-Law Apartment

An accessory dwelling unit that is separate or attached from the main living unit.

Mud Room

A dedicated space in the home, typically found at the front or back door, where footwear and outerwear can be removed.

Mudding

The process of applying thin coats of drywall compound (mud) to newly hung drywall to cover and smooth out joints and screw indentations.

Mullion

A vertical bar of framing found between the panes of glass in windows to support window glazing.

- N -

Natural Gas

A gas mixture consisting mainly of methane that is sometimes used to heat homes and for gas-powered ovens and stove tops.

Net-Zero-Energy

Homes that use energy produced by solar panels, so the amount of energy they create is equal to the amount they use over a course of a year.

NKBA

The National Kitchen and Bath Association, which is a nonprofit trade association that represents the kitchen and bath industry.

Nonbearing Wall

A wall inside a property that does not bear any structural weight of a building; these are also referred to as "curtain walls."

- O -

On-Demand Hot Water Heater

Tankless water heaters that use high-powered burners to heat water and are usually fueled by electricity or gas.

OSB

Oriented strand board is a type of engineered wood that is produced by combining adhesive and compressed layers of wood strands in a specific placement.

- P -

P-Trap

A U-shaped portion of a drain pipe that prevents sewer gasses from entering a home.

Particle Board

A wood product composed of sawdust and adhesives that is often used for furniture, underlayment, and substrate.

Partition

A wall that divides a room into parts.

Paver

Paving stone, tile, or brick-like concrete that is used to make a pathway.

Pedestal Sink

A sink that is made up of an upper basin and a lower shaft.

Percolation Test

A test that determines how much liquid the ground is able to absorb from a septic tank; it is typically performed by a soil engineer.

Perimeter Drain

A perforated pipe with a mesh cover that is installed in the ground circling the perimeter of your home. The small holes in the pipe allow water to enter and eventually be drained away.

Permeable Pavement

Paving material composed of porous concrete that allows storm water to flow through.

Permit

A document issued by the city that allows for work for a project to be done.

PEX

Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) is a a plastic tubing system used typically building water supply pipes, heating and cooling systems, and domestic water piping.

Pitch

The measurement of the steepness of a roof slope; it is conveyed as a ratio of inches rise per horizontal foot.

Plan View

A view in architectural plans from the home or building from above, looking down.

Plans

In architecture and design, plans are a set of technical drawings to scale to show the layout of the space, specifications, and more.

Plumb

A completely vertical line.

Plumber

A person that specializes in installing or repairing sewage and drainage piping.

Plumbing Rough

The process of installing all vents, waste lines, shower pans, bath tubs, and gas piping to furnaces and fireplaces to prepare the home for use.

Plumbing Stack

A main plumbing pipe that is the source from where all pipes connect to. It runs vertically throughout the home.

Plywood

A wood material composed of thin layers of veneer pressed together with adjacent layers.

Pocket Door

A sliding door, that when fully opened, disappears into a part of the wall.

Porcelain Tile

Typically used for countertops and other bathroom surfaces, with a low water-absorption rate.

Portland Cement

Cement that is created by combining limestone and clay that hardens after getting wet.

Post and Beam

A support structure composed of several columns as opposed to a stud framing support.

Post and Pier Foundation

Foundation system composed of wooden posts or concrete piers that support the weight of the house.

Primer

An undercoat of paint that is applied prior to the addition of multiple layers will be added.

Punch List

A document prepared towards the end of construction that should be corrected by a contractor before final payment.

PV

Photovoltaics solar panels that use sunlight as a source to generate renewable energy. They are often installed on the roofs of homes.

PVC

Plastic piping that is composed of polyvinyl chloride.

- Q -

Quartz

A crystalline mineral composed of silicon and oxygen that is typically used in engineered countertop surfaces made of crushed quartz.

Quartzite

A hard, decorative stone that contains quartz and is used to cover walls, as flooring, and as stair steps, as well as for countertops.

- R -

R-Value

A measurement of how well an insulating material can resist a flow of heat, with the higher the R-Value, the greater the effectiveness of the insulation.

Radiant Heating

Heat systems that deliver heat to the floor or panels in the ceiling or walls of a house to supply instant warmth, and can save energy.

Rafter

One of multiple wooden beams installed horizontally to support the weight of a roof.

Rebar

Steel reinforcing rod set in concrete that supports the foundation, footers, and walls.

Reclaimed Materials

Materials from a deconstructed building that are recycled for reuse for a new project.

Reinforced Concrete

Concrete that is embedded with steel mesh or rebar to increase strength.

Remediation

Reversing or stopping environmental damage.

Retaining Wall

A wall built to hold back soil, typically constructed on properties on a slope.

Rim Joist

A rim joist is attached perpendicular to the joist and offers lateral support for the ends of the joists within a deck or flooring framing system.

Risers

The vertical sections in place between staircase treads.

Romex

A cable with two or more wires that are sheathed in a rubber tubing.

Rough Carpentry

The basics of building work, which includes the framing portion of building.

Rough-In

The stage in which mechanical, electrical, and plumbing lines are laid out but not yet installed.

Rough Opening

A framed for a planned doorway or window before drywall, trim, or siding is put in place.

- S -

Sanitary Sewer

An underground sewer system that transports sewage from the interior pipes to a sewage treatment plant.

Schematic Estimate

The total estimated cost for a project prior to any construction adjustments being made.

Second-Story Addition

Adding a second level to a single story home by removing the roof.

Section Drawings

Specific views of the home within building plans that also feature ceiling heights.

Semigloss Paint

Paint that has a moderate sheen when dry, and is typically applied to bathrooms and kitchens.

Setbacks

The specific distance a building is required to be placed from a street, alleyway, or sidewalk; setbacks differ based on zoning district.

Shaker Style

A traditional furniture style with minimalist designs that feature tapered legs and clean lines.

Sheathing

The protective covering of the building's framing structure exterior.

Sheet Metal Duct Work

Round or square metal pipes that distribute hot or cold air from the furnace to the house.

Shingles

Flat, rectangular tiles composed of asphalt, wood, or slate that are layered and protect the roof from natural elements.

Shower Pan

A waterproof insert that is installed on the floor of the shower to prevent water leakage from occurring.

Siding

Siding, or wall cladding, is material installed on the exterior of the house to protect against exposure to the elements.

Single-Hung Window

A window with a bottom, operable sash and a top, secured sash.

Skylight

A window that is installed in the roof.

Soaking Tub

A freestanding tub that has enough depth for one to be completely submerged.

Solid-Surface Countertops

A counter top composed of mineral dust that creates the look of a seamless surface.

STFI Policy

STFI, or standard fire and allied perils insurance, is a type of home insurance covers fires, lightning, aircraft damage, explosion, sprinkler leakage, bursting or overflowing of water tanks, and many other possible damaging occurrences.

Storm Window

A temporary window that is placed on the outside of the original window for protection from winter or bad weather.

Stucco

A plaster that is used for coating exterior walls of buildings.

- T -

Take-Off

The process of making a list of the materials needed for a construction project to calculate how much it will cost to complete it.

Teardown

The act of demolishing a home to replace it with a new home or building. A teardown can also occur with homes in bad conditions that will likely be demolished and replaced by a new homeowner.

Tempered Glass

A type of safety glass that is produced through controlled thermal treatment to fortify it and make it approximately four times stronger than standard glass.

Terrazzo

A flooring material composed of of quartz, marble, granite, or glass chips that is set in concrete and then polished to produce a smooth surface.

Time-and-Materials Contract

A type of construction contract that quotes hourly labor rates and material costs as opposed to having a fixed price for the job.

Trim

The finishing materials that mechanical contractors install on the building exterior, which typically includes moldings, interior doors, guard rails, shelves etc.

Truss

An assembly of beams arranged into connected triangles so the structure acts as a single object.

Two-Story Addition

The addition of a second floor to a home by removing the roof.

Treads

The top surface portion of a stair step where a person walks.

- U -

U-Value

The measurement of how much heat is being transmitted through a wall or window; a lower U-value means a more energy-efficient window.

Underlayment

A material placed between the under flooring and finished flooring that creates protects a smooth and even surface.

Universal Design

A design of buildings and environments that makes them accessible to all people regardless of age, ability, and other factors.

Urethane Paint

A type of paint composed of a mixture of pigment and polyurethanes, which holds the pigment molecules together and gives a glossy finish when dry.

- V -

Vanity

Bathroom furniture that combines the sink, countertop, and mirror and provides extra storage space.

Veneer

A thin sheet of wood that is typically applied to coarser wood on doors, floors, and other finishes.

Vessel

A type of sink that sits on top of the bathroom counter, and is typically composed of glass or porcelain.

Vinyl Windows

Windows made of PVC, a plastic material; they are less costly and require less maintenance than wood windows.

- W -

Walk-in-Closet

Closet spaces that are larger than a standard closet. They allow a person to enter the space and hold enough room for two people to share.

Walk-in-Shower

A shower that is level with the floor and has no steps, so it can be walked directly into; it does not have an attached bathing tub.

Walk-Through

The final inspection of a nearly complete project to check for any errors before the project is labeled complete.

Wall-Hung Toilet

A type of toilet that has the toilet bowl mounted to the wall and the tank installed inside the interior wall. Wall hung toilets are seen as modern fixtures as they take up less space.

Warranty

A contract that protects any work performed on a home from defects, and typically provide a free replacement within a specific time frame.

Water-Based Paint

A type of paint that uses water to combine the pigments and binders and is mainly for interior walls.

Water Closet

A room that has only a toilet.

Water Main

The pipe that brings water from the main city source to the home.

Waterproofing

Applying a type of material or sealant to a home's exterior that provides protection from water infiltration.

Weatherization

The act of protecting a home from various kinds of weather, by adding insulation, storm windows, caulking, and other additions to provide improved insulation to decrease energy consumption.

Weatherstrip

Thin strips of metal, rubber, other material that is applied to the edges of doors and windows to prevent excess air flow.

Wet Bathroom

A bathroom with no barrier between the shower and the rest of the bathroom.

Whole-House Fan

A type of ventilation system that is used to distribute air throughout an entire home by pumping in cool air from the house into the attic to provide circulation throughout the home.

- X -

Xeriscaping

A type of landscaping that does not involve irrigation.

X-Bracing

A practice used in structural engineering that places two supports in a diagonal fashion to create an X-shape, which evenly distributes the load of a building.

- Y -

Yard

A measurement of a two-dimensional area; a cubic yard measures three-dimensional volume.

Yard of cement

The volume of concrete; when poured on an even surface, one cubic yard of cement can cover 27 square feet at one foot thick.

- Z -

Zone

The area around an HVAC system that has its own controlled temperature, compared to other parts of the home.

Zoning

Local laws or regulations that determine what changes can be made to a piece of property in a specific region.