Remodeling Terms: A Glossary of Useful Terminology

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If you about to undertake a home remodel  but struggle with some of the unfamiliar terminology, this dictionary of terms is for you. Here is a comprehensive guide to all the many words and terms used in the remodeling, architecture, interior design, and construction industries.  Remodelers and designers speak their own language, and it's important to understand it when you are making a major investment in your home.



Abbreviation for air conditioner or alternating current (which is the standard current in homes).

AC Condenser

The air conditioning unit that sits outside your home. It has a fan that removes heat from the freon gas in the condenser, turning it back into a liquid that can be pumped to the indoor unit.

Anchor Bolts

These heavy galvanized bolts attach the wooden sill plate to the concrete foundation.


Americans with Disabilities Act. Lays out certain accessibility  guidelines for building design.

See also: 7 Smart Steps to Bathroom Universal Design


New rooms or square footage that is added to a home.

See also:  Seattle Home Additions & Whole House Remodels with CRD Design Build


Accessory dwelling unit. Any additional legal residence that is incorporated into a single-family home. Also called a mother-in-law apartment. In most municipalities, an ADU must have its own entrance, its own electrical service, and egress.

See also:  How to Rent Your Backyard Cottage or ADU

Air Gap

This plumbing technique prevents backflow through a pipe by allowing air to enter to break a siphon. 


Sand, gravel, or crushed rock. Mixed into concrete and are an important element of creating a strong foundation.


A portion of the construction budget that is set aside for certain items that have not yet been selected. For instance, a building contract might have an allowance for tile if the homeowner hasn't selected a particular tile yet. Making all of your design choices before construction begins helps a remodel or construction project go faster.

Appliance Garage

A kitchen cabinet, usually at counter level, that is dedicated to the storage of small appliances, like the toaster, stand mixer, microwave, and coffee maker.

See also: Where to Put the #%$@ Microwave? Microwave Placement in the Kitchen


A plumber, electrician, or other building-professional-in-training who is working under the supervision of a licensed individual. 


The vertical trim board under a window.

See also: Window Replacement 101: The Essential Guide for Beginners


A licensed designer of buildings. Architects design some homes and remodel projects, but the bulk of this work is done by interior designers.

Area Wells

The metal or concrete that holds back the earth to make a space for basement windows.


A naturally occurring mineral material that was used extensively for fireproofing and other home and industrial applications. Later, it was found to be a deadly carcinogen. When remodeling an older home, precautions must be taken not to disturb asbestos-containing materials. If this is not possible, they must be abated.

See also:  Asbestos 101: Dealing with Asbestos in Your Seattle Home

Attic Access

An opening that is placed in  the ceiling of a home to allow passage to the attic. Fold-down wooden stairs or a  ladder are commonly used for access.

Attic Ventilator

An exterior exhaust fan and vent system that allows fresh outside air to pass through the attic, keeping the home cooler in summer.

Awning Window

A window that hinges at the top. Often, it operates with a crank.



When holes are dug during construction, either to lay a foundation or run underground pipes, the builder will backfill the exposed areas with dirt.


Framing lumber that is installed between the studs and behind the drywall to support towel holders, cabinets, railings, etc.


A waterproof surface (commonly tile) that is installed behind a kitchen countertop. It is easily wiped down if food or liquids splatter on it.

See also:  13 Geometric Patterns for Your Kitchen Backsplash Tile

Balloon Framing

When the wall studs run the entire height of the building, from the sill plates at the bottom to the roof plates at the top. The joists of the second floor  sit on a ledger (a band of wood nailed horizontally into the studs). 


The vertical slats or spindles that go between the railing and the stair treads.


The entire assembly of railing, balusters, and posts that edge a stairway or walkway.

See also: Creative Details: Handrails


A large horizontal rafter that supports shorter rafters in the roof of a home.


The trim board that goes around a room, where the wall meets the floor.

Basement Finishing

The process of insulating and adding finished flooring, drywall, and other amenities to a basement. It is a cost-effective way to add   living space  to a home without having to add on to the upper stories.

See also:  How to Cut Your Second Story Addition Budget in Half


A piece of insulation—usually fiberglass, rock wool, or cotton—that fits between studs in a wall. Standard widths are 15" or 23". Batts can be 4' or 8' long or come in longer rolls. They are available in various thicknesses to fit walls framed with 2x4 or 2x6 studs. 


Narrow strips of wood that cover the joints between sheets of plywood or wide boards. Typically used in board-and-batten siding. 

Bay Window

A square or polygon-shaped window that projects out from the side of the house.


These wooden or steel structures run horizontally to support the structure. When a wall is removed, a support beam is put in its place, either recessed in the ceiling or directly beneath it, to support the weight of the home.

Bearing Partition

A partition wall that helps support the structure above. See "Bearing wall."

Bearing Point

In structural engineering, this is a point where heavy loads are concentrated and transferred to the foundation below via a column or other support.

Bearing Wall

An interior wall that not only supports its own weight but helps carry the weight of the floors above or the roof. In contrast to a non-bearing wall, which has no structural role and can usually be removed.


A formal offer from a contractor to do specified work, laid out in a legally binding contract.  

See also: The No-Regrets Guide to Choosing a Home Remodeler

Bifold Door

Doors that have  hinges in the middle. They can be used in tighter areas, where a standard swinging door would not fit. Commonly used as closet doors.


Waste water from toilets.


These small wood pieces are attached to the framing members to brace them or to provide a place to nail drywall into.

Blown-In Insulation

Loose fiber insulation that is laid down using a blower system. It is commonly used in attics and walls, where it is difficult or impossible to place insulation batts.

Board Foot

A unit of measure of lumber equaling  12" x 12" x 1". A 16-foot 2" x 12" board would be 32 board feet. 


A crane truck used to put heavy construction items, like roof trusses, in place.

Bottom Plate

The boards that lay on the subfloor, onto which vertical studs are attached to build a wall.


A diagonal piece of wood that holds up or strengthens a wall structure. Often these are used to temporarily hold a partially built wall in place until it is completed. 

Breaker Panel

The electrical box that houses the circuit breakers for a home.

Broom Finish

A rough concrete surface finish, achieved by going over the wet concrete with a stiff broom. Commonly seen on sidewalks, driveways, and stairs.

See also: Stamped, Stenciled & Stained Concrete

Building Codes

Ordinances that stipulate how a home must be constructed or remodeled. There are international building codes that are the standard almost everywhere. Cities and other localities may layer on their own codes. Here are Seattle's building codes.

Building Paper

Coated or impregnated paper that comes in rolls, used in construction for various purposes. Sometimes it is heavy felt. Often placed under shingles when roofing.

Building Permit

Official approval issued by your local government that authorizes you or your contractor to proceed with a construction project. Applying for a building permit may include a review of your building plans.  

See also: Are Permits Required for a Bathroom Remodel in Seattle?

Bull Nose

A type of rounded corner treatment on drywall.

Bull-Nose Tile

Tile that has a finished edge or edges. The edge is usually rounded, to provide a smooth transition from tile to wall.

Bump-Out Addition

This usually refers to a very small addition that protrudes from the side of a house. Usually smaller  than a full room addition, but sometimes  larger first-floor additions are called bump-outs. 

See also: Small Additions to Bring Big Style to Your Home Renovation


A small house or cottage, usually one story. If there are upper rooms, they are set into the sloping roof with dormers. Bungalow-style homes usually have large front porches and sometimes verandas. 

See also: Fremont Bungalow Renovation

Bypass Doors

A set of two or more doors that slide parallel with each other on tracks. Usually used for closets.


Cabinet Refacing

The process of repainting or applying a veneer to existing cabinets. Sometimes new cabinet doors are added. Door hardware is often replaced at the same time. Can be an economical alternative to replacing cabinets.


Computer aided design.  This refers to using software (rather than paper) to design a project. The benefits are speed, accuracy, and the ability to design in three dimensions rather than two.


A section of the house that overhangs the foundation.


A floor covering made of thick woven fabric with a stiff backing. Typically, carpeting extends wall-to-wall. Carpet can be made from many different materials, including nylon, olefin, polyester, and natural wool. Carpeting is rated by its density, stain resistance, and wear resistance. It is usually underlaid with a foam carpet pad to make it more comfortable and make it wear longer.

Case Goods

Non-upholstered furniture, like desks, tables, chairs, storage chests, etc. 

Casement Window

A window that hinges on the side and opens like a door.

Cathedral Ceiling

A slanted ceiling that rises through more than one floor. 


A flexible material used to fill gaps.  Some caulk dries hard, but most is designed to stretch. Some caulk can be painted, and other types are formulated to be waterproof and resist mold in damp environments.


A person who works with or repairs wood in homes.

Cedar Shakes

A shake is split from a log, sometimes by hand, into a wedge shape. It can be used for roofing, or, more commonly, for siding. It is different than a wood shingle, which is milled from a solid block of wood.

Ceiling Joist

Parallel framing members that span ceiling sections to support ceiling loads. These usually rest on load-bearing walls.


The adhesive element in concrete. Usually Portland cement, which comes in a white powder form.

Ceramic Tile

A clay tile, usually fired and glazed, that is used for flooring, shower enclosures, and walls. 

See also: 10 Durable Bathroom Materials

Certificate of Occupancy

A document issued by a municipality that certifies that the building is in compliance with building codes and has been deemed habitable. 


Cubic feet per minute. It is a unit of measurement for the volume of air a blower or exhaust fan can move.

Chair Rail

A piece of trim that is installed 3 or 4 feet above the floor, which keeps chair backs from damaging the wall.

Chalk Line

A straight line created by stretching a piece of string covered in chalk dust between two points and then snapping it down. It is a quick and easy way for carpenters to align walls, lay out a space, or mark a series of cuts.

Change Order

When homeowners decide to make a change to a construction  project or alter the terms of the contract, they must sign a written change order to record their approval.

See also: What Does a Remodel Cost?


An enclosed space that is framed into a wall for plumbing or electrical wires to pass through, unobstructed.

Chip Board

Also called oriented-strand board (OSB), this manufactured wood panel is made of 1" - 2" wood chips compressed and glued together. It is often used in the place of plywood for exterior sheathing.

Circuit Breaker

Found in the home's electrical panel. Are designed to trip automatically if there is a dangerous short.

Clean Out

An opening through which a drain line can be accessed. Usually closed with a threaded plug, which can be opened and closed as needed.

Cold Air Return

The ducts that carry cool room air back to the furnace, where it is reheated.


A vertical support that carries the weight of the building above it. Commonly made of concrete or steel.


A mix of sand, gravel, portland cement, and water. Usually the material of choice for foundations, slabs, and large, structural columns.

Concrete Block

Sometimes called a cinderblock. A hollow concrete brick that is usually 8" x 8" x 16" in size. Can be reinforced with rebar.


A small metal pipe that electrical wiring is run through.


A legal document between two or more entities. In the case of a remodeling project, the homeowner may sign contracts with the designer or architect and the general contractor. If the homeowners choose design-build, they only sign a contract with one company that handles both design and construction.

See also: Should I Hire an Architect or Choose Design Build?


A company that is licensed to perform general construction or specialty construction work. A general contractor will oversee almost all aspects of a construction job but is not commonly licensed to do specialty work, like plumbing, electrical, or asbestos abatement. The general contractor will then hire specialized subcontractors to complete these tasks.

See also: CRD Design Build Subcontractor Partnerships

Control Joint

Lines cut into a concrete slab to control where cracking occurs.

Copper Pipe

A common material used to plumb the supply side of homes. Other materials used in place of copper are PEX and galvanized steel.


The triangle-shaped piece that holds up a shelf or mantel. It can sometimes be decorative.

Corner Bead

An L-shaped piece of metal that is placed on the outside corners of drywall where two walls meet. It creates a perfect right-angle corner that can be coated with drywall mud.

Cosmetic Upgrade

A remodeling project in which paint and other surfaces are renewed, but the layout of the rooms and the positioning of appliances does not change.


The horizontal surfaces installed in kitchens and bathrooms, and sometimes laundry rooms. These can be made from many different materials, usually ones that are easy to clean and durable.

See also: Pros & Cons: 11 Countertop Materials Compared

Craftsman Style

A style of home  that originated from the Arts and Crafts Movement. Common features are covered front porches with tapered columns and exposed rafter tails, built-in cabinetry, deep roof eaves, single dormers, handcrafted wood and stone work, a large fireplace, and an open floor plan.

See also: 10 of the Most Popular Interior Design Styles Defined


The small space below the bottom floor of a home that is enclosed by the foundation wall. Usually, the crawlspace has a dirt floor, but some have been paved with concrete or otherwise sealed and insulated. 

Crown Molding

An interior trim piece that is used where the angled ceiling meets the vertical wall.

Curb Appeal

Landscaping, the front door, hard-scaping, plantings, and other elements that make a home attractive from the outside, looking in from the street.

Curbless Shower

Also called a walk-in shower. A shower that has no curb to step over to enter it. They are an important element of universal design, but they are a convenience feature for anyone.



Detached accessory dwelling unit. A small home built on  the lot of a single-family home. Sometimes built atop or combined with a garage. Also called a backyard cottage, a carriage house, or a backyard studio.

See also: Ultimate Guide to  Seattle Backyard Cottages

Daylight Basement

A basement that has windows and a door on one end. Can be built on a lot with a slope. Also called a walk-out basement.

See also: Seattle Basement and ADU Remodels with CRD Design Build

Dead Light

The section of a window unit that does not open.

See also: Window Replacement 101: The Essential Guide for Beginners


Demolition. The removal of existing fixtures, walls, and other structures and materials to make a space ready for renovation.

Design Build

An approach to remodeling in which design and construction functions are all under one roof. The benefits of the design-build approach are that accurate running estimates of construction costs can be made throughout the design phase and that all responsibility for the success of the project falls on one company, instead of on two companies, neither of which will want to take the blame if something goes wrong.

See also: Who Do I Hire for My Remodeling Design?

Design Center

A builder or remodeler's showroom where product samples are displayed.

Design Review

The process by which local authorities  check building plans to make sure they comply with building codes. If the design review is approved, a building permit will be issued.


The distance between points.


A large switch that disconnects an electrical circuit. Commonly, a disconnect is placed next to air conditioner units.


The wooden frame that is installed into a wall and into which the door is placed. Door stops are attached the the side and top doorjambs to keep the door from swinging the wrong way and to aid in air sealing. Often, doors come prepackaged with their jambs.


An opening in a sloping roof, out of which a small roof section protrudes. The dormer has a vertical wall that can house a window or windows. Dormers can help create more living space in a room with sloped walls.  When renovating an attic space, dormers can be added to create a functional room.

Double-Hung Window

Windows in which both the upper and lower sections of glass can be slid up and down.

See also: Window Replacement 101: The Essential Guide for Beginners

Double Vanity

A vanity in a bathroom with two sinks.

See also: Luxury Baths: Designing a Perfectly Indulgent Space

Dovetail Joint

A type of flaring mortise-and-tenon joint  which creates a sturdy right-angle connection between two pieces of wood. Dovetails are the quality standard for drawers.

See also: 5 of the Most Durable Kitchen Materials


A metal pipe that carries rainwater down from the roof gutters to ground level.


Progress billings for projects being built under a fixed-price contract. A contractor will make regular draws from the construction budget as each stage of a project is completed. Only completed work is paid for.

Drip Cap

A piece of exterior metal flashing or other molding placed above a door or window that keeps rainwater  from dripping down over it.

Dry In

When the tar paper or roofing felt is installed on a roof, a home is considered dried in, since it relatively impervious to rainwater at that stage.


A gypsum plaster panel wrapped in heavy paper. Drywall panels are used almost exclusively in homes now, having replaced lathe-and-plaster walls.


Light metal tubes that carry conditioned air and return unconditioned air through a house. An integral part of the HVAC system.

Dust Control

A system put in place by a remodeler to keep dust from accumulating or getting into the air. It may  mean dust collection at the source, such as a vacuum attached to a saw, or it may mean active filtration of the air. Some systems use portable plastic barriers to separate the area under construction from the rest of the home. Systems may include negative pressure, so that dust that is created doesn't drift into other rooms.

See also: Why the "During" Is as Important as "Before" or "After" the Home Remodel


Earthquake Strap

Metal strap that attaches a water heater or other fixed appliance to the wall so that it doesn't tip in case of an earthquake.

Eased Edges

A corner profile for countertops. Eased-edge countertops are slightly rounded on the top-front edge to prevent chipping and make them safer and more comfortable to use.


A legal contract that allows someone to use a portion of another's property, usually for a specific use, like to run a sewer line or a driveway. When purchasing a property, it is part of your  due diligence to check for any easements.


The overhang of the roof past the vertical walls.

Egress Window

A large window that can also be used to exit a home in case of emergency. Building codes have specific requirements for egress from every part of the home.

Electric Resistance Heater

Baseboard or cove heater that produces heat by passing electric current through metal wires.  Not as efficient as a heat pump, for instance.

See also: Best Heating System for Your Seattle Home

Electrical Rough

A phase of work performed by the electrician. Wires are run and electrical boxes are installed, but the finish plates are not. Electrical rough typically occurs after the plumbing rough.

Electrical Service

A term used to describe the connection from the main electrical utility to the first point of contact  in a home, usually the main breaker box.  

Electrical Trim

The final steps the electrician makes to get a home ready for electrical inspection. Switches, plugs, covers, bath fans, and other items are installed.


A person who installs and fixes electrical equipment. In most places, a licensed electrician must go through an apprenticeship program.

Enamel Paint

This term usually applies to solvent-based paints that air dry to a hard, glossy surface. There are, however, numerous "latex enamel" paints that are actually water-based but have certain additives to mimic the properties of traditional enamels. Solvent-based paints are rarely used in home remodeling and construction projects now because other safer products have been developed.

See also: A Primer on Paint

Energy Code

A subset of building codes that refer specifically to insulation, windows, doors, lighting, and HVAC equipment efficiency requirements. The goal of energy codes is to build buildings that have lower energy requirements.


The costs of labor and building materials that a contractor speculates a project will require. In many cases, a written estimate does not necessarily determine the final cost. A fixed-price contract, on the other hand, sets the estimated cost as the actual price the homeowner pays for the decided-upon work.

See also: CRD Design Build Pricing | Know the Cost Before Remodeling Begins

Existing Conditions

On remodeling building plans, the original layout of the home is labeled "existing conditions" to distinguish it from the proposed renovations.

Expansion Joint

A piece of fibrous material that is placed in gaps in and around concrete slab sections and the foundation to allow it to expand and contract with the seasons and not crack.


Face-Frame Cabinets

A style of cabinetry. If you picture cabinets as a series of wooden boxes, all grouped together. Looking at them head on, each box has four sides. Following the practices of traditional joinery, cabinetmakers attached a narrow frame of wood to the front of those four edges of the box. This creates a stronger cabinet, hides the edge of the cabinet box, and provides a place for the door hinges to attach to. In contrast to Euro-style cabinets, which don't have the front frame.

See also: Face Frame Cabinets Are Back


Floor area ratio. The ratio of a home's total floor area to the size of the lot. Someone in Seattle with a 5,000+ square-foot lot would only be allowed 35% of that lot to be covered by a home and any accessory buildings, like a garage or DADU.

See also: Can I Build a Backyard Cottage? Seattle's 2019 Rules Make It Easier


The boards that are attached to the ends of your rafters at the eaves. Gutters are often attached to the fascia boards.


A type of building paper, also called tar paper. Usually laid under the shingles in a roofing assembly. 


The arrangement of windows on a façade. May also refer to the design of the windows themselves.

Fiberglass Windows

Windows made of fiberglass are considered to be very durable and are often among the most energy-efficient. Unlike vinyl windows, fiberglass windows can be easily repainted. Unlike wood windows, fiberglass doesn't rot, warp, or degrade. 

Field Measurements

Measurements taken on the home itself. This is in contrast to dimensions gathered from blueprints.  An important first step in designing a remodel is to take field measurements of the existing spaces.

Finish Carpentry

The finishing touches after the main structural changes are complete. Includes installing trim, doors, cabinets, stairs, flooring, etc.

Fire Block

Horizontal blocks of wood nailed between the studs to prevent fire from traveling up through the walls.

Fixed-Price Contract

A construction contract that names a specific dollar amount that the project will cost.  This is in contrast to a time-and-materials contract, in which the final cost is not known when the contract is signed. The risk of cost overruns is placed on the contractor.

See also: The No-Regrets Guide to Choosing a Home Remodeler


Flat pieces of stone used for walkways and drives and sometimes as a veneer on walls.


Sheet metal bent into shape to protect the roof and walls from water seepage.

Flat Paint

Paint without any sheen. Usually used in living areas and bedrooms but not common in kitchens and bathrooms because it is more difficult to clean. Most paints used in homes are not totally flat but have some level of sheen.

See also: A Primer on Paint


A name for horizontal poured concrete surfaces, like driveways, sidewalks, floors, etc.

Float Finish

A float is a tool used to make poured concrete smooth and flat. It is used after the surface has already been made level using a screed (long wooden plank drawn over the surface). Concrete that has been floated will be smoother and more compact and will have had most surface imperfections removed.

Floating Floor

A type of floor where the material is not nailed or glued down. Often, laminate click-together floors are designed to float in place. 

Floating Wall

A special wall built on a concrete floor that has two bottom plates that can move independently of each other. The "float" space between the two bottom plates allows the wall to stay true even as the concrete floor beneath moves up or down. Usually found in basements and garages.

Floor Drain

A drain built into the floor designed to remove any standing water.

See also: Intro to Basement Drainage Systems

Floor Plan

The basic layout of a building, as drawn on the horizontal plane. In contrast to an elevation, which shows the structure on the vertical plane.


Or footer. A thick concrete pad that supports the foundation wall.

Forced-Air Heating

A form of central heating in which a furnace heats air, which is distributed to every room via ducts.  Can be powered by natural gas, propane, electricity, or a heat exchanger connected to a heat pump.

See also: Best Heating System for Your Seattle Home


A temporary structure into which concrete is poured. After it hardens, the forms are removed. 


The concrete structure below the first floor of a home, including the concrete footings.

See also: Foundation Problems 101


An entry hall or area in a home or other building.


Lumber that is used to construct the skeleton of the building, such as joists, studs, and rafters.

French Drain

Sometimes called a perimeter drain. It is a perforated drain pipe in a trench that is covered with gravel. Usually these go around the outside perimeter of a building to keep the basement dry.

See also: Intro to Basement Drainage Systems

Full Review

Larger construction projects trigger what's called a full design review. City officials carefully check over proposed building plans to ensure that they meet all zoning, safety, and building codes. 

See also: Are Permits Required for a Kitchen Remodel in Seattle?

Furring Strips

Small strips of soft wood used to shim and level out a wall or ceiling sub-surface.



The triangular-shaped part of a wall that encloses the end of a pitched roof.

General Contractor

An individual or a company that supervises construction. The role is generally that of project manager. In some cases, the GC will also have a hands-on role in construction, but in many cases, the GC will hire subcontractors and tradespeople (like plumbers and electricians) to do most of the physical work.


Ground fault interrupt. A type of outlet that instantly cuts power if it detect a short. These are required in kitchens, bathrooms, basements, and other potentially wet environments.


Installing glass. This term may also refer to the windows in a finished home or a design.

Gloss Paint

Paint that has a high sheen. Not commonly used on walls in homes but is more likely found on furniture or other high-touch surfaces. 

See also: A Primer on Paint


Glued laminate beam. These structural beams are made of thinner pieces of wood glued together under pressure. Stronger than a solid wood beam.


The process of leveling dirt. Can also mean the level of the ground at a certain point. For instance, most of a basement is "below grade."


A type of igneous rock. Commonly used as a countertop material in homes. 

See also:  Natural Stone Vs Manufactured Stone Countertops: What's the Dif?


Waste water from sinks, tubs, and washing machine. It is sometimes recycled to use for irrigation.

Green Building

A building that is designed to reduce harmful impacts on the environment through its design, materials, and reduced ongoing energy needs.


A type of drywall that has some water-resistant properties and is commonly used for walls in damp areas. It is no longer used as a direct backer for tile in shower surrounds because it was found not to be water resistant enough.


A special type of decorative mortar that fills the space between tile.


A metal or vinyl conduit that carries rainwater from the roof to downspouts. Typically attached to the fascia board.



Someone who specializes in small home repairs and improvements. Usually a sole proprietor. A handyman may or may not be a licensed general contractor.


In landscaping, elements that are made of stone, concrete, tile, or brick.  Paths, walkways, driveways, etc. As opposed to plantings.


Wood from broad-leafed trees, such as oak, ash, maple, etc. As opposed to softwood, which comes from coniferous trees.


A beam that spans the opening for a window, door, or stairway.

Heat Pump

A device that transfers heat from the outdoors into your home. Think of it as an air conditioner working in reverse.  Some heat pumps can cool the indoor air as well as heat it. Heat pumps are much more efficient than standard resistance-electric heat.

Heating Load

The amount of  heat energy that needs to be added to  a space to maintain the temperature. Used in caculating the size of furnace needed to heat a home.

Hip Roof

A roof with four inclined size instead of just two on a gabled roof.

Hose Bib

A plumbing fitting that a hose can be attached to. Usually has a valve. Commonly placed around the outside perimeter of a home so that irrigation hoses can be connected.

House Lifting

The process of jacking up a house to rebuild the foundation or add extra space below.


Abbreviation for heat, ventilation, and air conditioning. 



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


Air that slips into and out of  a home through cracks and crevices, causing drafts and wasting energy. A main goal of a home energy retrofit  is usually to reduce infiltration.

Induction Stove

A type of electric stove that uses magnetic fields to heat the pan itself, rather than the stove top.  It is an efficient way to cook, and home chefs like it because it mimics the quick heating and cool-down of a gas stove, without the harmful fumes. Induction stoves have a flat glass surface and are usually easier to clean.

See also:  How to Pick Kitchen Appliances for Your Remodel


Building inspectors are employed by the local government to come out to jobsites to ensure the building is being built to code. Specialty inspectors, such as electrical and plumbing inspectors, may also be involved in the inspection process. Typically, inspections occur before an area of the building is closed in and hidden from view. Inspectors will check the forms of the footers and foundation before concrete is poured, and they will check the construction methods, plumbing, and electrical before the walls are "closed in" or covered over in drywall. Usually, the price you pay for building permits includes the necessary inspections.

See also: How Long Does a Whole-House Remodel Take in Seattle?


Material that resists heat transmission that is placed in the walls, the attic, the ceiling, beneath the slab, around the foundation, or anywhere else in a home. Common insulation materials include fiberglass, mineral wool, cellulose, rigid foam panels, and spray-on foam.

Interior Decorator

A person whose job it is to choose furnishings, finishes, and other elements that lend an interior of a home or other building a certain look.

Interior Designer

 Interior designers are professionals who specialize in the art and science of planning spaces (both inside and out) that address the safety and well-being of occupants. Designers identify, research, plan, and implement creative solutions that make spaces function and look better.

See also: Do I Need an Interior Designer for My Remodel?

Irrigation System

A system that delivers water for plants, such as a sprinkler system for your lawn. Can be set up to operate automatically.


Jack Post

A metal replacement for an old supporting post. Most have pins to make their height adjustable. Typically used in basements to prop up sagging first floors.

Jack-and-Jill Bathroom

A bathroom that has entrance doors on each end from two different rooms. Commonly used between kids' bedrooms.

See also:  10 Essential Bathroom Floor Plans


The wood pieces that surround a door or window, including studs and trim pieces.

Jib Door

A door that is designed to blend into the wall or wainscoting. It creates a hidden-room effect. 


An area of work in a construction project.


Parallel planks of lumber  that support a floor or ceiling. These usually rest on  bearing walls, girders, or other larger beams.

Joist Hanger

A U-shaped piece of metal that is nailed into a beam. The ends of floor joists are supported by it.


Kilowatt  Hour

The most common volumetric unit of measurement for electricity.  Equivalent to 1,000 watts of electricity used for an hour. This is what household electrical meters count.

Knob-and-Tube Wiring

An outdated way to wire a house that uses uninsulated wire supported by knobs and enclosed in tubes where it passes through beams or walls. Popular in the United States from about 1880 to 1940.


Laminate Flooring

An engineered flooring product  consisting of multiple layers of synthetic materials fused together. It is often made to look like hardwood flooring with a photographic layer applied to the top. Usually installed as a floating floor. Can be durable but is usually susceptible to water damage. 

See also:  Steer Clear of These 8 Terrible Building Materials


A small platform between flights of stairs. Usually where stairs  change direction.


The process of beautifying a yard with plantings, ornamental features, and regrading.

Laundry Room

A room that houses a washing machine, dryer, and folding area. 

Lead paint

A now-outlawed formulation of paint  that contained the toxic heavy metal lead. When remodeling a home, remodelers must test for lead paint and carefully contain it or remove it.

See also:  Lead Paint 101: What to Do if You Have Lead Paint in Your Seattle Home

Leech Field

Part of a septic system. Used in rural areas where a connection to a city sewer system is not feasible. A leech field is a large area of land into which filtered sewage is discharged gradually so that it can leech into the soil.

Lineal Foot

A way to measure lumber. Each lineal foot is equal to 1" thick by 12" wide and 12" long. So a 2" x 12"  x 16' board would be 32 lineal feet.

Load-Bearing Wall

Exterior walls and some interior walls that are engineered to support the weight of the roof and floors above. Usually identified by a double top plate.


Letter of intent. In design and construction, it is a document that states the intent of two parties (the builder/designer and the homeowner) to work together. Later in the process, it is  replaced by a more formal contract laying out the specific price or other terms.


A plot of land on which a home is situated.


A cover for an exterior vent in a home that has diagonal slats that keep out water while allowing air to flow.


A unit of measurement for light output.  For instance, a 100-watt incandescent light bulb produces about 1,600 lumens. An LED bulb can produce the same number of lumens but use only about 15 watts of electricity.


Luxury vinyl tile. A flooring material that comes in tiles that can be glued down or floated. Surfaces are usually printed to look like wood or stone with a photo-realistic, textured image. LVT is considered to be very durable and is resistant to moisture and temperature changes.


Main Water Shutoff

A valve that turns off the main water supply to the house so plumbing work can be done.  Most commonly found in basements, on the exterior of the house, or underground for city access.

Mansard Roof

A four sided roof in which the bottom half has a steeper slope than the top half. Popularized by french architects during the Baroque period.


The shelf above a fireplace. Usually decorative in its design.


A natural stone with a porous surface, commonly used for countertops and tile.


Forbo-Nairn's brand named linoleum flooring. Marmoleum is LEED certified because it is hypoallergenic and made with all-natural products.


Brick, stone, and other building materials that are bonded together with mortar to form a wall.

Master Suite

To be considered a master suite, the room must have enough space for a sitting area or an in-room office and an en-suite bathroom. The term is commonly used to refer to a master bedroom with private bath attached.


Medium-density fiberboard is a wood material comprised of hard and softwood residuals that can more dense than plywood but not as strong. It  is commonly used for baseboard and other interior trim.

See also:  Steer Clear of These 8 Terrible Building Materials


A layer of material that is impermeable to water. Typically used on flat roofs. Can be made of synthetic rubber or PVC.

Mid-century Modern

A design that was popularized between 1930 and 1960 involving sleek lines and a futuristic yet organic style.


Any wood product that was produced in a mill. For example, molding, doors, and trim.

Mini Split

An energy-efficient heating and cooling system that is has two components: an indoor fan coil and an outdoor compressor. 

Miter Joint

When two pieces of material are cut and joined at a 45-degree angle to form a 90-degree corner, it is a miter joint.


Decorative trim that is used to frame or shape something.


A stone binding paste commonly used to join brick, concrete blocks, and decorative stones.

Mother-in-Law Apartment

An Accessory dwelling unit that is either separate from the main living quarter or attached.

See also: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Cottages

Mud Room

An entryway found at the front or back door, often with a coat closet and easy-to-clean flooring, like linoleum.


The process of applying drywall compound (mud) to cover and smooth out joints and screw indentations in drywall.


A vertical piece of framing found on glass windows to offer support for the glazing of the window.


Natural Gas

A gas mixture containing mostly methane. Used to heat some homes and provides flame to gas-powered ovens and stove tops.


Homes that produce as much renewable energy as they use over the course of a year. Energy comes from solar panels, and the home's energy needs are reduced with super-insulated walls and windows.


National Kitchen and Bath Association. A nonprofit trade association representing the kitchen and bath industry with a large membership base. 

Nonbearing Wall

A wall that does not offer any structural support to the building.


On-Demand Hot Water Heater

An energy efficient tank-less water heater.


Oriented strand board is a wood product engineered by compressing wood strands and adhesive. 



A water seal made by  the curved portion of a drain pipe to block sewage gasses from entering the home.


A permanent decorative liquid wall coating. Can be oil or latex based.

See also: A Primer on Paint


A person hired to apply paint to the exterior or interior of a building.

Particle Board

A more affordable substitute for plywood. Engineered from sawdust and resin.


A wall that divides a room into multiple parts.


Pieces of masonry laid flat to make a pathway.

Pedestal Sink

A sink basin supported by a  column. 

Percolation Test

A test performed by a soil engineer to determine if the ground is capable of absorbing liquid from a septic system.

Perimeter Drain

The drainage system that is installed in the ground surrounding the foundation of your home. The perimeter drain is usually connected to a sump pump that pumps out excess water.

See also:  Intro to Basement Drainage Systems

Permeable Pavement

Paving material that allows  storm water to pass through. Often done with porous concrete or separated paving stone.

See also: Consider a Permeable Driveway


A city-issued document allowing a specific project to be done.


A plastic tubing system used for water supply pipes. Made of cross-linked polyethylene, PEX is flexible and heat resistant.


The measurement of the steepness of a roof slope. Tells you how many inches the roof rises for every 12" of roof depth. A 12/12 roof would be very steep, while a 6/12 roof would be much less steep.

Plan View

In architectural plans, it is a view from the top, looking down.


In architecture and design, plans are a set of documents that include drawings of the proposed building, specifications, and more. It is a complete set of guidelines needed to complete construction.


A line that is perfectly vertical. 


A person hired to install or repair sewage of drainage piping and potable water.

Plumbing Rough

After the rough heat is installed, the plumbing contractor installs all plastic ABS drain and copper water lines, waste lines,shower pans, bath tubs, and gas piping to furnaces and fireplaces.

Plumbing Stack

A main plumbing pipe that runs vertically through multiple levels of flooring. Horizontal pipes on every floor connect to it. It can be a vent pipe to the roof or a drainage pipe that carries sewage down.

Plumbing Trim

The process of installing seals and fixtures that takes place after the interior wall is finished being installed over the rough plumbing.


A wooden panel made of multiple  layers of veneer pressed together with adhesive.

Pocket Door

A sliding door that when completely open is hidden in the wall.

Porcelain Tile

A dense, less-porous clay formed and colored into flat sheets. Often used for countertops and other bathroom surfaces.

Portland Cement

Cement created by heating crushed limestone and clay into a solid brick and then grinding the brick into a powder. It hardens after getting wet and is the main binder in many concrete and mortar mixtures.

Post and Beam

A support structure made of a few columns rather than that of stud framing support.

Post and Pier Foundation

Foundation system with short wooden support beams rather than concrete footers.


The first layer of paint that is applied when multiple layers will be added. Primer helps hide small imperfections in the surface and provides a layer to which the finish paint can bind.

Punch List

A list of errors that should be corrected by a contractor.


Photovoltaics. Solar panels. Often installed on the roof of a home to generate renewable energy.


Plastic piping made of Poly Vinyl Chloride.



A natural mineral made of silicon and oxygen. In interior design and construction, it usually refers to an engineered countertop surface made of crushed quartz and a small amount of resin that is hard-wearing and very resistant to staining.

See also: 10 advantages of Quartz counter tops over Granite.


A very hard natural metamorphic rock that contains quartz. It can be mined and milled into stone slabs for countertops.



A measurement of how well a wall, layer of insulation , or other surface can resist a conductive flow of heat. Often, the R-value of an entire wall assembly can be calculated.

Radiant Heating

Heat that is transmitted by electromagnetic waves rather than conduction or convection.  It is a very gentle, even form of heat that most people find very comfortable. Radiant heat systems are commonly installed underneath flooring, either with an electric mat or hot-water tubing. Radiant heat panels can also be installed on a ceiling for an instant feeling of warmth. Radiant heat can save energy because it doesn't require the air in a room to be as warm for an occupant to feel warm.


A dense radioactive gas that naturally occurs in many parts of the world. A common source of lung cancer. Homes in radon-prone areas need to be tested for radon, and steps must be made to ventilate the radon out of the home. 


2x10 or 2x12 studs installed horizontally to support the roof load.


Textured steel bars set in concrete to offer support to concrete structures like foundation, footers, and walls.

Reclaimed Materials

Materials from a previous building that are reused for a new project.

Recycled Materials

Materials from products that have reached the end of their useful life and have been reprocessed to make a newer product.

Reinforced Concrete

Concrete that has beet set with steel mesh or rebar to enforce strength.


The act of stopping or reversing environmental damage.

Retaining Wall

A structure built to retain soil. Commonly installed on properties that are on a slope.

Rim Joist

In relation to the framing system of a deck or flooring, a Rim Joist is Installed perpendicular to the joist and offers lateral support.


The vertical boards set in place to fill the space between stair treads.


A cable that is made of two or more wires encased in a rubber tubing.

Rough Carpentry

Base work done for a building like framing. As opposed to finish carpentry, which is the installation of trim and other items once the main structural work is done.


Plumbing, duct or electrical work set in place but not yet installed.

Rough Opening

The opening made for a  doorway or window before shims,  drywall, trim,  or siding is installed.


Sanitary Sewer

A sewer system that collects sewage from the interior pipes. Not meant to hold storm drainage.


A blueprint key with information on doorway, window and mirror sizing.

Schematic Estimate

The total estimated cost for a project before the construction adjustments have been made.


A name brand of tile edge protector with a symmetrically rounded corner profile.


The act of fitting and cutting wood work to go on an irregular surface. 

Second-Story Addition

Removing the roof and adding another level to a single story home. 

Section drawings

When looking at building plans, a section drawing is one that shows a vertical slice of the home.  Section drawings show ceiling heights.

Semigloss Paint

Paint that when dry has a moderate amount of shine. Semigloss paint is often applied to bathrooms and kitchens because it is easy to wipe down.

Septic System

An underground waste water treatment tank. Built on site and sized depending on the number of bedrooms in the home. The septic system promotes the organic breakdown of solid waste through an anaerobic process. 


The minimum distance a building is to be placed from a street, alleyway, or sidewalk. This is partially a safety measure to protect the building.

Sewer Stub

The connecting point between your home's sewer line and the city's main sewer line.


A wooden shingle crated by splitting wood at the grain line. Most commonly made with cedar or redwood.

Shaker Style

A traditional furniture style, with tapered legs and clean lines. Although it is a traditional style, it has also enjoyed contemporary popularity.  Shaker-style kitchen cabinet doors and drawer faces, featuring a flat center panel and square edges, have become very popular.


The installation of wood paneling on the exterior of the building's framing structure. This is usually done with plywood or OSB.


A level of gloss or luster a surface has after the paint has dried.

Sheet Metal Duct Work

Metal ducts, round or square, that push hot or cold air from the furnace through the rest of the house.

Sheet Rock

A brand name of drywall paneling that encases the interior of the building. Drywall is made of calcium sulfate dihydrate and is layered front and back with thick sheets of paper.


A piece of scrap wood or metal that is wedged into a tight spot, pushing a beam or frame into place.


Roof coverings made of asphalt, wood, slate, or tile cut to size and layered in a way that protects the roof from natural elements.

Shower Pan

A waterproof barrier that is installed under the shower basin to prevent leakage.

Side Sewer

The portion of the sanitary sewer line that runs from the house to the public sewer line. The line is buried several feet under ground and is maintained by the home owner.


Protective material installed on the exterior of the house. Also known as wall cladding.


The wood plate framing that lays flat against the foundation wall, installed with anchor bolts.  This is usually done with treated lumber.

Single-Hung Window

A window with one opening pane or vent.


Installing a wooden board along the base of an interior wall.


A lighting and sometimes ventilation structure installed in the roof. Occasionally referred to as a ceiling window, skylights come in many shapes and sizes for all types of roof shapes.


Another term for a paved concrete surface. For example a driveway, garage floor, or a basement floor.

Smart Home

A home that has a built in automation system that controls the lighting, temperature, electronics, appliances and security systems. 

Soaking Tub

A soaking tub is a freestanding tub that is deep enough for you to be completely submerged. This is preferable to bathing in a standard tub where, your shoulders and knees are exposed.


The underside of the roof that extends past the exterior wall.

Soft Goods

Textiles with a soft texture, like carpet, linens, or curtains.


Wood that is sourced from  gymnosperm trees, such as conifers.

Soil Stack

The vertical plumbing that carries sewage away from toilets and down to the drain.  It is normally also extended up to the roof to vent.

Solid-Surface Countertops

A counter top made of marble dust and plastic resin. This creates a pore-less surface.

Sound Attenuation

The act of soundproofing a wall or floor with insulation and other products.

Space Planning

A part of the design process that determines where furniture and appliances should be placed to work effectively with each other.


Specific information about your project, including signed agreements, design drafts, lists of subcontractors, and other details that are needed to carry out the remodel project.

Spray Foam Insulation

A chemical foam that can be sprayed directing onto the framing of a home. Spray foam is made of isocyanate and polyol resin, two chemicals that when added together they expand and solidify 30 to 60 times the volume of the original liquid.

Square Footage

The area within the original floorplan, calculated by multiplying the width in feet by the length in feet.

Standing-Seam Metal Roof

Roofing in the form of large metal sheets with raised vertical ribs that are set about one foot apart from each other. An extremely durable roofing material.


Standard fire and allied perils insurance. This type of home insurance covers fires, lightning, aircraft damage, explosion, sprinkler leakage, and many other adverse events.

Storm Window

A temporary or permanent second window layer that is installed on the exterior of the original window to offer protection from the elements.


The metal plate into which the bolt of a door's  latch is slid. The strike is mounted on the door frame.

Structural Engineer

Engineers who are trained and licensed to design the framing and support of a building.  If a home requires major structural modifications, a structural engineer is usually enlisted.


A plaster coating used on the exterior of buildings.


A 2x4 or 2x6 that is installed vertically on the framing system. Also known as a wall stud. The stud is attached to both the top and bottom horizontal support plates.

Sump Pump

A pump that is used to remove water that has accumulated in a sump, or shallow depression. Sump pumps are common in basements that are prone to water intrusion.

See also: Intro to Basement Drainage Systems


The person leading a remodel or building project who works on site.

Supply Lines

The part of the piping or electrical system that runs from the city supply to your home.

Switch Plate

The plastic (or metal) plate that covers interior wiring but allows the toggle of a switch to protrude.



The process of looking at a set of building plans and making a list of all the items needed to complete its construction. It is commonly used for estimating and ordering purposes.


The act of sealing the cracks between drywall sheets. This is done with paper tape and joint compound.


The act of demolishing a home and clearing the lot to start new.  A teardown is sometimes necessary when there is extensive damage or rot, or if the value of the lot is far greater than the home that currently sits upon it. In real estate, a teardown can also refer to a home in bad shape that will most likely be demolished by a new owner.

Tempered Glass

Strengthened glass that has undergone intense heating followed by a rapid cool down which forces the glass into compression. Tempered glass is about four times stronger than standard glass and "pelletizes" rather than shatters.


A colony of ant-like bugs that tunnel through wood. Termite infestations can quickly cause serious structural damage to a home.


A flooring mixture of quartz, marble, granite, or glass chips that is bound with resin and then polished to a smooth surface. Terrazo is either poured in place or precast to fit a specific spot.


A device that detects and controls the temperature of an area. A thermostat can be manually or automatically adjusted.

Time-and-Materials Contract

A type of construction contract that does not have a fixed price for the job. The final price will be calculated (usually at each billing cycle) based on the number of hours the contractor put in, the cost of materials, and the cost of subcontractors. The risk for cost-overruns is placed on the homeowner.

Toe Nailing

Driving a nail in at an angle to hold floor joists to the plate.

Top Plate

A horizontal piece of the frame wall located at the top of the wall. The top plate is responsible for supporting rafters, ceiling joists, or other members of the frame.


A multi-level home on a small footprint that adjoins the adjacent home or homes.

Trade Only

Also "to the trade." Refers to dealers that sell furniture, fabrics, and other furnishings to designers only. Items are typically sold at a discount, and the designer marks them up. In contrast with retail stores.

See also: Shopping at a Design Center


A plumbing fitting that is responsible for holding water to prevent air, gas, and vermin from backing up into the home through a fixture.


Finishing touches that mechanical contractors do to complete their work. This includes; moldings, installing interior doors, guard rails, shelves etc...


A premade assembly of beams and other elements that make up a part of a building. The most common is a roof truss.

Two-Story Addition

An addition to the side of a home. Often, the bottom floor of the addition will be an additional living space, while the top floor is an extra bedroom or master suite.


An umbrella term for skilled tradespeople, many of whom are licensed, such as electricians and plumbers. Other skilled trades may or may not require professional licensing, such as demolition, concrete  work, and roofing.


The top surface piece of a stair step.



The measurement of the amount of heat lost, usually through a window.  The lower the U-value, the more energy-efficient the window.


A material placed under flooring and roofing that protects the sub-layer from water damage and provide a smooth even surface.

Universal Design

A design that makes the property and building accessible to all. Including the elderly, children and the disabled.

Urethane Paint

A paint coating whose properties are more elastic than that of a polyurethane which has a harder structure. The elastic properties of urethane paint help provide a glossy finish.



Bathroom cabinetry that holds the sink and fixture while providing excess storage space.


A very thin sheet of wood. Veneer is used in woodworking to make doors, flooring and other finishes. 

Vinyl Windows

Windows made of PVC material. Originating in the 1970's, vinyl windows are more affordable and need less maintenance than wood windows.

See also: A Practical Guide to Window Placement


A virtual reality hologram used to portray remodel designs.


Walk-In Closet

A closet extending farther than that of a standard closet, allowing a person to enter. Walk-in closets are usually large enough for two people to share.

Walk-In Shower

A shower that does not have an attached bathing tub. You can walk directly into it because it is level with the floor.


The final inspection to check for design or construction errors that may need fixing before the project is deemed to be complete.

Wall-Hung Toilet

A toilet installed with the tank hidden behind the interior wall. Wall hung toilets are considered a modern and minimalist design.


A decorative sheet of paper that is applied to an interior wall in many different ways. Some wallpapers have adhesive backing, while others require glue.


A contract that covers an appliance or labor done to a home that offers protection from an assembly flaw. Most warranties offer free replacement and labor within a specified time frame.

Waste Pipe

The pipe that carries waste from the home to the city's sewage system.

Water-Based Paint

Pigment and binder dissolved in water to be applied to interior walls.

Water Closet

A  small room that has only a toilet. Water closets are often attached to master baths.

Water Main

The pipe that delivers water from the city supply pipe to the home.


Adding barrier material or sealant that protects the exterior of your foundation from water damage that is caused by direct contact with soil. This involves excavating around the foundation all the way down to the bottom and applying a sealant and then routing the excess water through a drainage system. 


An abbreviation for water closet. (See water closet.)


The act of improving the exterior of your home to offer better insulation to keep energy consumption low. This involves caulking, adding new insulation, adding storm windows, storm doors, and adding weather stripping.


The thin plates of metal or other material around doors and windows to keep excess air from flowing in and out of the home.

Weep Holes

Small holes that allow moisture to escape.

Wet Bathroom

A bathroom that has a shower without water barrier walls or floor lips.  The walls and floor of a wet bath are usually tiled.

See also: What Is a Wet Bathroom?


A term that is used by cabinetmakers for secondary, utility lumber. It is used for unseen things like toe kick framing, cleats, webbing, and brackets.  There are a several different tree species that are considered whitewood,  such as pine, poplar, and spruce. When whitewood is used for framing, it should be stamped "SPF."

Whole-House Fan

A ventilation system that involves a vent and tube that takes cool air from throughout the house and pushes it into the attic to support the even distribution of cool air throughout the home.

Whole-House Remodel

Renovation of an entire home, all the way down to the studs. This is commonly done on outdated homes that still have a strong framing structure.


The wooden parts of a home, including framing, trim, doors, etc.



Some HVAC systems have zones, which are areas of the home that are independently temperature controlled.


A government issued property label that limits the use of said property. Examples include single-family use, residential, high-rise, etc.

Article Categories: Remodeling

Guide to Hiring a Remodeler

This comprehensive guide walks you through all the steps of choosing who will design and build your project, vetting remodeling companies, and ensuring that you have the best experience.

Guide to Hiring a Remodeler