He said, what? Decoding building lingo

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By Jason Burgess

Communicating with building professionals can be baffling to first-time renovators. So often architects and tradesmen sound like they are speaking a foreign language. Some terminology is so enigmatic it almost sounds Shakespearean. Other appellations that may be recognisable to the layman end up meaning something entirely different when applied to a construction site. From "abacus" to "ziggurat" there is an encyclopaedia’s worth of designations to disseminate. Rather than tackle that list head on, the following line-up clarifies a few of the physical descriptors that renovators will likely hear in relation to their property.

Architrave - The moulded timber that surrounds and finishes a door or window, shaped to suit the style or era of a home.

Asbestos - A building product once used in many homes and buildings for roofing, insulation around hot pipes, flooring and in textured ceilings. The fibrous minerals it is made from can cause life-threatening illnesses when inhaled. Removal should be left to professionals.

Balusters - Vertical supports or posts for staircase handrails or railings along balconies or verandas. Together the handrail and balusters are called a Balustrade.

Bearer - A beam that sits on and spans foundation piles, to support floor joists, jack studs and/or subfloor framing.

Blackwater – Wastewater from toilets and urinals.

Bottom Plate - A structural member that sits under the bottom ends of vertical wall studs and through which the studs are fixed.

Ceiling Batten - Horizontal timber (commonly) that is fixed below rafters or ceiling joists and to which the ceiling lining is attached.

Cladding - The exterior ‘skin’ of a home. Cladding may be built from one or a combination of wood, brick or metal. As well as improving the appearance of a house it also provides weather protection and some thermal insulation.

Construction R-value - The measure of thermal resistance or any building product is given a rating or R-Value. In the construction of a house the R-value is a measured as a combination of the R-values of the individual components less the effect of any thermal bridging (areas where heat is lost or transferred) of the framing.

Cornice - An ornamental moulding (usually in timber or plaster) that sits horizontally at the top of a wall where it meets the ceiling.

Dwang /Nogging - You could be forgiven for thinking that these were descriptions of typical construction sounds heard on any building site. In fact, they are common names for the short pieces of timber or steel fixed horizontally between framing studs or floor joists to prevent buckling or twisting and add rigidity.

Eave - Not the builder's wife but the overhanging lower roof edge that projects beyond the line of the exterior wall.

Fascia - Typically, a wooden board running along the bottom edge of the roof at the eaves. Metals are commonly used as fascia and on older homes a fascia could be stone and quite ornate. Guttering is usually attached to the fascia. It is sometimes referred to as a bargeboard but strictly speaking they are found on the projecting edges of roof gables.

Flashing - An impervious material like galvanised steel used to prevent moisture penetration. Used around joints and objects like chimneys and vents, most commonly found around doors, and windows. On roofs flashing is used in valleys and to deflect water away from seams.

Framing - An assembly of timber and steel members that together provide structural support to walls and floors and to which lining, cladding, flooring or decking is attached.

Gable and Hip Roofs - The Gable or pitched roof has two roof panels that meet at the ridge and form a distinctive triangle shape at either end of the roofline. The pyramid-shaped hip roof has four sloping sides or triangular shaped ‘hip ends’ and a rectangular base.

Greywater –  Wastewater from bathrooms and laundries. 

Impervious floor covering - A material or product that does not allow water to pass through EG: tiles, vinyl and linoleum.

Jamb Vertical - (Side) portions of a door frame, sometimes referred to as a door post. Locks are fixed to one jamb while the door itself is attached and hinged to the other.

Joist - A horizontal framing member (timber, steel or concrete,) to which flooring, decking (a floor joist) or ceiling linings (a ceiling joist) are fixed.

Lintel - A horizontal beam spanning a portal, fireplace or opening, that supports the wall above.

Member - Describes a structural element of the building framework EG: beams, joists, studs, or posts.

Midfloor -  A kind of between-floors substrate area (usually framed) contained within the ceiling of a lower level and the floor of an upper story.

Photovoltaic systems  - Also known as PV systems or solar power, use solar panels (usually roof mounted) to absorb sunlight which is passed through an energy inverter which converts it into electricity.

Potable water – Drinkable quality water.

Purlin/Tile Batten - A horizontal structural member that spans the rafters or trusses of a roof frame and to which the roof cladding is attached.

Rafter - A framing member that usually follows the pitch of the roofline and provides support for sarking, purlins or roof cladding.

Ridge Beam - The horizontal timber at the apex of the roof, which carries the load of the rafters that are fixed to it at their upper ends.

Roof Trusses - Structural framework of timber or steel (often triangular), generally comprised of rafters, posts, beams and struts. Designed to support the roof and ceiling cladding and usually prefabricated offsite.

Sarking - Applies to multiple uses within the roof area. Sarking may refer to a layer of insulation paper or reflective foil that acts as a ceiling lining and either aids insulation or in hotter climates deflects heat. Or it could pertain to the use of closely fixed boards, that are secured to rafters, trusses or purlins to serve as support and a surface to directly fix tiles and shingles.

Scriber - Is not a builder with a penchant for the written word. It is a finishing moulding that helps to weatherproof weatherboard homes, used as trim around windows and at external joints.

Skillion Roof - A mono-pitched roof usually quite steep with virtually no attic space as the ceiling lining normally runs parallel and close to the roof cladding.

Soffit - The lower face or underside of any construction element. A soffit is most commonly used in conjunction with the exposed undersurface of the overhanging eaves of a roof.

Stud - Is not a buff builder but the vertical member within a wall-frame. A stud is different from a Post, which is a main building support. And no, Jack Stud is not the builder's brother. It is a stud used to support a horizontal lintel or beam. They are located on both sides of a door, window, or other opening.

Subfloor - The framed area beneath the ground floor.

Substrate - Essentially an underlying layer. But depending on which trade you are talking to it could mean any or all of the components that exist beneath a floor or structure IE: framing, concrete pad, insulation and the foundations or in the case of an engineer, the soil, rock, gravel, clay that the foundations sit on. Could also be used in relation to cladding, coating, finish or membrane.

Thermal envelope - The walls, floor, windows, roof and the insulated ceiling of a house, which form a barrier between the conditioned and external environment. A garage is not usually considered part of the thermal envelope. The choice of materials used within these areas will impact on the energy performance of the home.

Valley - V-shaped valleys are created in the trough or seam where two roofs meet EG: where a gable roof joins a hip.

Get in touch

A Refresh Project Manager can help you demystify the baffling world of builder’s jargon today.

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