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85 Common Construction Terms Defined

85 Common Construction Terms Defined

Like any industry, the world of construction has its own jargon and ways of communicating important concepts. So if you’re getting started in construction or are collaborating with contractors or architects, you should understand these construction terms so that nothing is lost in translation.

This guide lists some of the most common construction terms in the industry. Whether you get involved in from project management, design-build, or general labor, you need to understand terms that relate to time and materials, contract documents, and general construction jargon you’ll hear on the job.

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construction terms button

1. Addendum

Written information, adding to, clarifying, or modifying bidding documents between all stakeholders, which allows all parties involved in a contract to change the initial contract without completely rewriting it.

2. A/C

An abbreviation of “air conditioner” or “conditioning,” which is the system that cools the air inside a building.

3. Aggregates

Material used in construction work for the foundation for roads, bridges, and buildings; used to form compound materials such as asphalt concrete or cement.

4. Air change rate

Number of times new air outside enters a room; indicates whether you’re losing air and money—high air change rate—or the air is getting stale—low air change rate.

5. Alteration

Also known as a remodel, an alteration to a structure is any change to its interior, for example, adding or removing nonstructural walls to change the layout of a house.

6. Alternate bid

The amount that is added or deducted from the base bid to account for alternate materials or other methods of constructions.

7. Allowances

An amount of money allocated in the construction contract for specific items; a rough estimate of the cost of materials and labor costs specified for that item.

8. Architects supplemental information (ASI)

Used by an architect to specify additional instructions; can offer a different interpretation of the architectural plans or be used to order minor changes to the original plans.

9. As-built drawings

Marked up original construction drawings, reflecting all of the changes made during construction; changes affecting the main building plan, such as relocating ductwork, plumbing, or electrical get recorded in as-built drawings.

10. Assignable square footage (ASF)

The amount of square footage in a certain physical space that can actually be used by the occupant, typically measured from finished wall to finished wall

excavator on construction site

11. Backfilling

Replacing excavated earth back into a trench or wall usually done by pouring the earth into a trench situated around or against the foundation wall that forms the boundary for the basement or crawl space.

12. Beam

Often called “girders,” a structural element laid horizontally that supports a load within a building, transversely carrying building loads from one building support to another.

13. Bearing point

The point where structural weight transfers from a load to the foundation of the building.

14. Blueprints

A type of construction document that shows how a building will be designed, providing details about where to situate things within the building layout; blueprints include measurements and other important details for builders.

15. Builder’s risk insurance

Insurance coverage builders take out for a construction project should anything go wrong; could include extended coverage specifically for the benefit of the customer.

16. Building information modeling (BIM)

A form of computer-aided design software that enables all construction workers to collaborate on a realistic 3-D model throughout the construction process; can use BIM software to more easily make adjustments to the building design and keep everyone on the same page over the course of the project.

17. Building envelope

A seal of protection to help prevent the transfer of heat from inside to outdoors, which includes anything that keeps the internal parts of the building separated from the outside world, such as the roof, floors, walls, windows, and so on; need proper insulation is necessary to ensure a good building envelope.

18. Breaker panel

The electrical box that manages the electric power transferred to each circuit, composed of a series of circuit breakers, which serves as the main distribution point for electricity flowing through a building

breaker panel

19. Capital construction project

A project to build new facilities or make significant long-term improvements to existing ones; usually have significant budgets and take a long time to complete, because the property is intended to last for a very long time.

20. Ceiling joist

Parallel framing supported by larger beams or girders that helps handle ceiling loads; also referred to as roof joists.

21. Cement

Considered a binder that hardens as it sets and adheres to other materials to bind them together; included in making concrete.

22. Change order

A written document that lays out the specifics of how a current work order or contract will be changed, typically needs to be agreed upon by all parties, and is necessary in order to modify a previously agreed upon contract.

23. Change order request

A written proposal to change an agreed-upon contract or work order, before it has been agreed to by the parties involved; can be requested by either the contractor or the owner.

24. Check valve

A valve that ensures liquid flows in only one direction through a pipe, consisting of two-port valves—valves with two openings—that allow fluid to enter one way and then leave the other.

25. Circuit breaker

A switch within a breaker panel or circuit breaker box that can shut off power or limit power flowing through a specific circuit.

26. Construction estimate

A document that breaks down the anticipated cost of a building construction project that provides a written breakdown of expected costs for things like materials, labor, permits, and so on and allows the owner to make a decision about whether to proceed with the project and/or the contractor who submitted the estimate.

27. Construction bid

A construction bid is a formal proposal by a contractor to do work on a project, usually in response to a request for proposals (RFP); it typically includes details such as an estimate of the total cost of building the structure, any subcontractors who would work for the contractor, special skills or qualifications that make the contractor well-suited for this project, and so on.

28. Concrete

A mixture of cement and water paste along with a sand and rock aggregate that is very hard and durable; one of the most widely used building materials in the construction industry.

29. Contractors

An individual or company who has been hired by a client to execute construction plans on a certain timeline and within a certain budget; includes general contractors, subcontractors, or contractors with specific areas of expertise, such as electricians and plumbers.

30. Construction management at risk (CMAR)

Provides professional services and acts as a consultant to the owner in the design development and construction phases, allowing the client to determine the right construction manager for the job during the design phase, which reduces the risk of the project and increases the likelihood it will get done on time and on budget.

31. Construction daily report

A daily report is a document that’s filed, typically by the site manager or overseer, at the end of every day worked on a construction project to ensure all work needs are being met and to prevent any rising errors or miscommunications.

32. Cost plus contract

A contract that requires the owner to fully pay all project expenses including the builder’s overhead costs and profit; doesn’t incentivize contractors to save money on materials and labor but does incentivize to use the very best labor and materials with a smaller risk of a contract overbid.

33. Compressor

Mechanical device that pressurizes air to power pneumatic tools; also refers to a separate device that pressures gas into liquid for heat pumps and air conditioners.

34. CSI MasterFormat

A system of numbers organized in a standard order or a sequence to help organize projects, the cost data, and product information.

35. Cubic feet per minute (CFM)

The amount of air, expressed in total volume, that a blower and fan can move through an opening within 60 seconds

calendar with date circled

36. Date of substantial completion

The date when a designated portion of a construction contract is considered sufficiently complete by the architect, as laid out in the construction contract; may be the date when the owner chooses to put that portion of the building to use.

37. Deferred maintenance

Projects that are not included in the capital repair process or ongoing maintenance due to not enough funding for the project.

38. Design-construct contract

A document used in arrangements where the contractor agrees to both design and build the construction project.

39. Division of the state architect (DSA)

An organization that oversees the design and construction of public buildings within the state.

40. Drywall

Drywall is a construction material used to create walls and ceilings; the flat panels are typically made of gypsum plaster between two sheets of paper.

41. Estimate

A document that breaks down expected costs to complete a certain construction project, typically provided as part of a construction bid.

42. Fast-track construction (fast-tracking)

A type of construction management where the contractor starts work on a project before the design has been finalized, enabling a project to get underway faster, with design being completed along the way.

43. Field order

A written order that stipulates a minor change or clarifies something about the work order—not a formal adjustment of the contract, just a clarification in line with contract stipulations.

44. Field measure

The actual measurements of physical things inside of a building—such as walls, stairs, and doors—as opposed to measurements listed in the blueprints.

45. Fire-resistive or fire-rated

Materials that are considered noncombustible even when exposed to actual flames in an ordinary fire and can withstand those flames for at least one hour.

46. Fire-retardant chemical

Chemicals used to treat building materials to slow the spread of flames and generally reduce the flammability of those materials.

47. Floor joist

Horizontal structural beams that cover an open space to support the flooring and distribute the weight of a structure and its contents; can choose from different types of joists, including solid lumber, I-joists, and open-web trusses.

48. Floor plan

A visual diagram that shows exactly how rooms are arranged on a floor of a building; often another way to refer to blueprints and will usually include measurements to assist builders

construction workers discussing a project

49. General Contractor

An individual or company who is primarily responsible to ensure the contracted work is completed; may be one person who does the work or someone who manages a team of employees to fulfill the terms of the contract.

50. Guaranteed maximum price (GMP)

A contract that sets a limit on how much a contractor can charge for labor, materials, and profit, which are attractive to owners because it limits their costs, but can be risky for contractors if there are price increases for raw materials, extra labor, or unexpected issues

51. Grades

The elevation or ground level where the earth is; may be used as a verb to refer to leveling dirt.

52. Gross square footage

The total square footage for the entire project; may be more than the usable square footage of the building once it is complete because not all square footage is usable space, such as inside walls or utility space.

53. Hazardous waste

Any waste substance that can cause harm to humans if not properly managed and disposed of, for example, asbestos.

54. HVAC

Any work that involves heating, ventilation, or air conditioning.

55. Job ordering contracting (JOC)

Multiyear contracts that allow organizations to quickly complete common construction projects quickly and without going through the bidding and designing process over and over again

56. Lien waiver

A document that relinquishes the lien rights against an owner’s property and can take the form of condition, unconditional, or final lien waiver

57. Lump sum contract

Contracts that have a fixed price for all of the work done on the project, which protect owners from cost overruns, shifting the risk to the contractor.

58. Minor construction project

Projects typically with less extensive work and expense; also known as minor capital outlay projects.

59. Move budget estimate

An estimate of how much it will cost to move furniture or do small electrical and cable work for an office, for example.

60. Mortar

A mixture of cement, sand, and water that is commonly used in masonry.

61. Notice of completion (NOC)

A formal notice from the owner that the construction project has been completed to satisfaction

62. Partition

A wall that serves as a boundary within a structure, separating rooms from each other and generally dividing up the internal space of the building; may require girders or support beams if load bearing.

63. Performance bond

A written document from a bonding company to the owner that lays out what happens if the contractor is not able to fulfill the contract in its entirety.

64. Plan check

When an official inspects the building permit documents to ensure that the construction project is up to code and there are no violations.

65. Project architect

The person or company that has been selected by the owner to design the construction project.

66. Preliminary lien notice

A written document from the contractor to the owner that asserts their right to place a lien on the property if the owner does not pay in full for all bills laid out in the contract

67. Punch List

A document that describes what work is remaining on a construction project before the owner will deem it completed, typically drawn up during final inspection of the workmanship of the project..

68. Purchase order

A document that provides the details of an order for anything from construction materials to equipment rentals

construction worker laying rebar

69. Rebar

Steel bars that are used as the underlying structure within concrete to provide additional strength to the material.

70. Renovation

The process of improving upon an existing building or structure rather than building an entirely new building.

71. Request for Information (RFI)

An owner’s request for contractors to provide potential solutions which happens earlier in the process than a request for proposal (RFP).

72. Request for Proposal (RFP)

A formal request for proposals from contractors, who then submit detailed estimates on project costs, approach, qualifications, and so on.

73. Request for Quote (RFQ)

Document that asks contractors to provide price quotes on a particular task or project.

74. Request for Tender (RFT)

A very specific request to provide clear terms that the respondent is bound to if accepted.

75. Rough order of magnitude

An estimate of how much a project will cost and how much effort it will take to complete it, which is done early in the project before the more formal bidding process begins.

76. Schedule of values

A document listing the value and cost of all work items, as well as the percentage of how much of each item has been completed so far, typically used to verify work completed and to release progress payments.

77. Scope changes

A modification to the work scope document.

78. Shear wall

A sturdy wall that has been designed to resist significant forces, such as powerful winds, using cantilever action, which is essential for shear walls, as well as reinforcement with strong materials, such as concrete or steel.

79. Small project approval forms (SPAF)

Paperwork that construction managers use to get approval from the owner for procurement and approval for small projects, such as some simple caulking work or experimenting with a different construction method.

80. State fire marshal (SFM)

The government official who is responsible for ensuring that a construction project is up to code when it comes to fire regulations.

81. Subcontractor

An individual or company who works for the prime contractor or main contractor and is tasked with completing a part of the construction project.

82. Time and materials

A document that lays out the scope of work, but in an open-ended fashion, stipulating prices for both materials and labor, but giving the owner the task of monitoring the project closely to keep it on track and from going over the project budget or cost estimate.

83. Trenching

When a contractor digs trenches in the ground, such as for laying pipework or building a retaining wall.

84. Unit Price Contracts (UPC)

A contract that prices out different categories based on the materials/task being used.

85. Zoning

Municipal or local laws or regulations that stipulate exactly what a property can be used for

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with dozens of key construction terms, you can speak intelligently on a construction site—or at least understand (mostly) what people are talking about and what documents you need to pull up. You’ll pick up the lingo in no time after a little while.

And whether you’re remodeling a home yourself, working with a contractor, or working at a jobsite, if you’re in the need to rent out construction equipment, reach out to BigRentz.

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