"Arris", "Buttercoat", "Cup", Do you know what these actually mean?  Well the last one is something the builder spends endless hours drinking from isn't it? In actual fact, it is a bend that is created as a result of shrinkage in wood.

The terminology used in the building industry is somewhat 'strange' to say the least. Understanding a quotation can therefore be quite daunting, so we have compiled a glossary of terms to help you. 

Click on the letters below to find the terms and their meanings.





Particles of sand or stone mixed with cement and water to make concrete, or added to paint to make a textured finish



A blockage in a pipe caused by a trapped bubble of air
Apex The triangle of brickwork that forms the roof, usually found on the end of a house

A machine or device powered by electricity or A functional piece of equipment connected to the plumbing such as a basin, sink, bath etc



When an argument over a building contract has reached stalemate, both parties can agree to its settlement by a third party usually mentioned in the contract. Both parties agree to abide by a third party's decision when both arguments have been heard. It is legally binding and avoids costly and lengthy court proceedings



The joinery moulding around windows or doors used to cover the gap left between the frame and wall.



The sharp edge at the meeting of two surfaces. They are usually eased or pencil-rounded

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The backward suction of part of a plumbing system caused by the failure of mains water pressure, leading to pollution of the water tank

Balanced Flue


A ducting system that allows a heating appliance, such as a boiler, to draw fresh air from, and discharge gases to, the outside of a building



Naturally occurring sand-and-gravel mix sometimes used as aggregate for making concrete



One of a set of posts supporting a stair handrail



The protective barrier alongside a staircase or landing



See baluster

Barge Board


A timber board following the lines of the apex on the gable-end covering the ends of roof timbers, protecting them from rain. Also known as Verge Boards or Gable Boards.




A narrow strip of wood to which sheet materials, such as slates, are fixed.




The slope of the face of a wall that leans backwards or tapers from bottom to top



To have broken away, as when a layer of cement rendering has parted from a wall



The diameter of a pipe or tube; To drill a hole



There are two basic types of brick Facing and Common. Common bricks are usually cheaper and used underground, behind plaster or in the middle of large walls. Facing bricks are used for any visible exterior wall.

British Standard Institute (BSI)

An organisation that publishes British Standards (a document agreed between makers and users of how things should be done) and codes of practice. They are also responsible for the English versions of European Standards.
Building Line A length of cord stretched between two points which acts as a marker for building works.

Building Regulations


Under the Building Act 1984, these are the laws that control layout and materials used in building. they are there to ensure strength, durability, health and safety.



The rough raised edge left on a work-piece after cutting or filing



The top layer of cement renders

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The grooved strip of lead which holds the glass in a leaded light or stained-glass window




The timber lining of a door or window opening; or a concrete encasement.

Cavity wall

A continuous gap between the inner and outer brickwork usually 50ml in width. Also known as Hollow Wall




A narrow flat surface along the edge of a work-piece (normally at an angle of 45 degrees to adjacent surfaces); To plane the angled surface




A groove cut in masonry or plaster to accept pipe-work or an electrical cable; To cut or channel such grooves




A complete path through which an electric current can flow




Curving inwards




A component, usually a length of wire, along which an electric current will pass


An agreement between a client and a building contractor to do certain types of works. This can be as written or verbal and as in-depth as wished.

Contract Documents



The legal contract consisting of drawings and specifications of the projected job.




The person who signs the contract and undertakes the specified works.




Curving outwards




The continuous horizontal decorative moulding between walls and ceiling in a room. External cornices throw rain water away from the wall of a building and also protect the roof from fire.




To cut a hole which allows the head of a bolt or screw to lie below a surface; the hole made by this process is referred to as the same



To cut a tapered recess which allows the head of a screw to lie flush with a surface; the tapered recess itself
CORGI (Confederation for the Registration of Gas Installers) Gas pipe work must usually be installed by a registered gas fitter i.e. a CORGI registered fitter.
Coving A pre-fabricated moulding used to make a cornice



To natural bend in planks of timber, caused by shrinkage, specifically across the width of a piece of wood.

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Dado The lower part of an interior wall - usually defined with a moulded wooden rail (the dado rail) at about waist height
Damp-Proof Course (DPC) A layer of impervious material, which prevents moisture rising from the ground into the walls of a building; a water-impermeable membrane (water can't pass through). It usually sits between two structures to isolate wet parts from dry. It can be a chemical treatment.
Damp-Proof Membrane (DPM) A layer of impervious material, which prevents moisture rising through a concrete floor
Datum The point from which measurements are taken

Defects Period (Defects Liability Period)

The length of time within which any defect is the responsibility of the builder to put right (usually six months)- this can only be enforced if it is included in the terms of contract.

The separation between layers of plywood or glued-0laminated timber as a result of the glue failing.


Drip Groove A groove cut or moulded in the underside of a windowsill to prevent rainwater running back to the wall
Drop A vertical ceiling panel, when the level of a ceiling changes.

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Earth A connection between an electrical circuit and the earth (ground) or a terminal to which the connection is made.
Eaves The edges of a roof that project beyond the walls
Efflorescence A white powdery deposit caused by soluble salts migrating to the surface of a wall or ceiling
End grain The surface of wood exposed after cutting across the fibres

Engineering brick


Dense, frost resistant brick used in high exposure or underground conditions.
Estimate A builder's best guess at the cost of a job - It should never use it as a guide for cost as it invariably goes up. Only a quote is legally binding and only then if accepted by both parties.



A room or rooms added to an existing building

Extension lead

A length of electrical flex for temporarily connecting the short permanent flex of an appliance to a wall socket.

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Face edge In woodworking, the surface planed square to the face side
Face side In woodworking, the flat planed surface from which other dimensions and angles are measured and worked


A downward slope

Fascia A strip of wood, which covers the ends of rafters and to which external guttering is fixed
Fascia board

A board fixed to the roof edges to carry gutters.

Feather To wear away or smooth an edge until it is undetectable
Fence An adjustable guide to keep the cutting edge of a tool a set distance from the edge of a work-piece
Flashings A weatherproof junction between a roof and a wall or chimney, or between one roof and another
Flaunching A mortared slope at the top of a fireback or round a chimney pot
Floor plan A sketch showing the layout of a building.
Flute A rounded concave groove

FOC (Free of charge)

You won't come across this very often, when you do be wary.

Footing A narrow concrete foundation for a wall

The underground base for walls or fence posts, usually concrete and brick.

Frass Powdered wood produced by the activity of woodworm
Frog The angled depression in one face of some house-bricks

Furring strips

Parallel strips of wood fixed to a wall or ceiling to provide a framework for attaching panels

Fuse board

Where the main electrical service cable is connected to the house circuitry; the accumulation of consumer unit, meter etc

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Gable The triangle of brickwork that forms the roof, usually found on the end of a house

Gable Board


A timber board following the lines of the apex on the gable-end covering the ends of roof timbers, protecting them from rain. Also known as Barge Boards or Verge Boards.


Covered with a protective coating of zinc


A substance with a thick jelly-like consistency

Going The horizontal measurement between the top and bottom risers of a stair or the depth of one tread
GRP (Glass Reinforcement Plastic) Type of fibreglass.

The general direction of wood fibres; the pattern produced on the surface of timber by cutting through the fibres (See also End Grain and Short Grain)


A ring of rubber or plastic, lining a hole to protect electrical cable from chafing.  A blind grommet incorporates a thin web of plastic or rubber that seals the hole until the web is cut to provide access for a cable.
Groove A long narrow channel cut in plaster or wood in the general direction of the grain; to cut such channels.

Strips of wood fixed to a wall to provide nail-fixing points for skirting boards, door casings etc. (See also Pallets).


The notch formed between two saw teeth.

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Hardcore Broken bricks or stones used to form a sub-base below paving, foundations etc.

The height of the surface of water above a specific point - used as a measurement of pressure; for example, a head of 12m; The top horizontal member of a wooden frame.

Heave An upward swelling of level ground caused by excess moisture.
Held plate The top horizontal member of a stud partition.
Helical Spiral shaped.
Hoarding Temporary protection or security fencing.
Hoggin A fine ballast, usually with a clay content, used to form a sub-base for concrete pads or paving.

Hollow Wall

A continuous gap between the inner and outer brickwork usually 50ml in width. Also known as Cavity Wall


To finely sharpen a cutting edge
Horns Extended door or window stiles, designed to protect the corners from damage while in storage.
Housing A long narrow channel cut across the general direction of wood grain to form part of a joint.

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Materials used to reduce the transmission of heat or sound, or Nonconductive material surrounding electrical wires or connections to prevent the passage of electricity.

Interim Payments

Agreed stage payments on large projects, again this should be stated in the contract

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The covering of an area, usually the floor, by another material, usually wood.


The separation of building elements i.e. Plaster coming away from brick wall.

Lath and plaster

A method of finishing a timber-framed wall or ceiling. Narrow strips of wood are nailed to the studs or joists to provide a supporting framework for plaster or tiles.


A stepped section of brickwork or block work built at each end of a wall to act as a guide to the height of the intermediate coursing.


A horizontal beam used to support the wall over a door or window opening.

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Maintenance Period

Period after completion of a contract during which a contractor is required to make good, at his own expense, any work which needs repair.

Marine Plywood

Exterior-grade plywood.


A non-setting compound used to seal joints.

Metre Cubed (m 3) Length x Width x Height in metres
Metre Squared (m2)

Length x Width in metres


See moisture-vapour permeable.


A joint formed between two pieces of wood by cutting bevels of equal angle (usually 45 degrees) at the ends of each piece, or To cut this type of joint.

Moisture-vapour permeable

Used to describe a finish which allows moisture to escape from timber, allowing it to dry out, while protecting the wood from rainwater or damp.

Mono-pitch roof

A roof that slopes in one direction only.

Mortar Usually a mixture of sand, cement and water though various sealants and preventatives can be added.

Mortise and Tenon

One of the strongest wood joints. Usually at right angles the mortise is a hole cut into one piece of wood and the tenon is the piece that goes into it. It is then usually glued and can be screwed.


A small weight used to pass a line through a narrow vertical space.


A vertical dividing member of a window frame.


A central vertical member of a panel door.

Multipoint locking system Type of lock with multiple bolts fixing into frame activated by one lock mechanism.

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A stout wooden beam used with props to support the section of a wall above an opening prior to the installation of a rolled steel joist or lintel.


The section of an electrical circuit which carries the flow of current back to source; A terminal to which the connection is made; A colour composed mainly of black and white.


The post at the top or bottom of a flight of stairs, which supports the handrail.


A short horizontal wooden member between studs.


The front edge of a stair tread.

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A wooden plug built into masonry to provide a fixing point for a door casing.


To remove fine shavings from wood with a chisel.


The internal render of a chimney.

Party wall

The wall between two houses over which each of the adjoining owners has equal rights in law.

Party Wall Act 1995

An Act of Parliament preventing the owner of a shared or party wall fence doing any work or alteration to it without notifying the other owners.

Penetrating oil

A thin lubricant which will seep between corroded components and ease them.


The part of an electrical circuit which carries the flow of current to an appliance or accessory. Also known as live.


Raised fibres which stand out from a backing material, for instance in a carpet.

Pilot hole

A small-diameter hole drilled prior to the insertion of a woodscrew to act as a guide for its thread.

Pinch rod

A wooden batten used to gauge the width of a frame or opening.

PC (Prime Cost)

Used in specifications. The cost of buying a certain item as distinct from the cost of installing it.


A drawing showing a layout in a horizontal plane.

Planning Permission

The process of obtaining consent from the local authority to alter or erect buildings.

Pointing and re-pointing

The raking out of mortar from between brick joints and re-placing with new mortar. This is a long and laborious task but prevents damp.


The first coat of a paint system to protect the work-piece and to reduce absorption of subsequent undercoats and top coats.

Pro-forma Checklist

A ready-made checklist.


The outline or contour of an object.

Progress Report

A weekly report undertaken by builders on large jobs.

Protective multiple earth

A system of electrical wiring in which the neutral part of the circuit is used to take the earth-leakage current to earth.

PTFE (Polytetrafluorethylene)

used to make tape for sealing threaded plumbing fittings.


A horizontal beam that provides intermediate support for rafters or sheet roofing.

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A detailed job specification with pricing for a job.

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Rain Water Pipe.


See Residual Current Device.


See Rolled Steel Joist


One of a set of parallel sloping beams that form the main structural element of a roof.


A device that permits movement in one direction only by restricting the reversal of a toothed wheel or rack.


A stepped rectangular recess along the edge of a work-piece, usually as part of a joint, or To cut such recesses.


A thin layer of cement-based mortar applied to exterior walls to provide a protective finish. Sometimes fine stone aggregate is embedded in the mortar, or To apply the mortar.


The act of repairing an item to its original or 'near-as' condition. Usually a highly skilled job.


The taking off, of the existing roof covering and replacing it with new under felt, batons and either re-using existing tiles or replacing with new.

Residual Current Device

A device which monitors the flow of electrical current through the live and neutral wires of a circuit. When an RCD detects an imbalance caused by earth leakage, it cuts off the supply of electricity as a safety precaution.


Funds held back by the client as an insurance against repair.


The vertical side of an opening in a wall.

Ridge Tile

A concrete or clay semi-circular tile covering the ridge at which both slopes of the roof meet.


The vertical part of a step.

Rising main

The pipe that supplies water under mains pressure, usually to a storage cistern in the roof.

Rolled Steel Joist

A steel beam used for structural support.

Roof Pitch

The angle at which the roof slopes.

Roof Valley

The junction were two separate roofs meet.


A pad of cotton wool wrapped in soft cloth used to apply stain, shellac polish etc

Rub joint

Glued wood rubbed together and held by suction until it sets

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The opening part of a sash window


The bottom layer of Mortar/Plaster render


A thin layer of sharp sand and cement mortar applied to give a smooth surface to concrete

Screed batten

A thin strip of wood fixed to a surface which acts as a guide to the to the level of thickness of an application of plaster or render


To scratch a line with a pointed tool


To mark a line with a pointed tool that shows the profile of a surface on the edge of sheet material to which is to be butted against

Sequence of Trades

The order in which various trades carry out their work within the one site. I.e. A plasterer will finish walls before a chippie (carpenter) comes and fits the skirting.


Incoming gas, electric and water supply.


A small rectangular paving block


The outer layer of insulation surrounding an electrical cable or flex

Short circuit

The accidental re-routing of electricity to earth that increases the flow of current and blows a fuse

Short grain

When the direction of wood fibres lies across the narrow section of timber


The lowest horizontal member of a stud partition; the lowest horizontal member of a window/door frame


The area being used during construction or building.

Sleeper wall

A low masonry wall used as an intermediate support for ground-floor joists


Usually done when a builder has finished. A list is produced of items that contain defects and given to the builder to make good before full and final payment.


A pit filled with rubble or gravel into which water is drained

Soffit board

A horizontal board attached to the under side of the rafters.


The underside of a part of a building such as the eaves


Coniferous tree timber


Flaking or breaking of the outer face of masonry caused by expanding moisture in icy conditions


A triangular in-fill below the outer string of a staircase


A definitive document detailing all works required

Stage payment

A payment, which is pre-arranged to be paid at different stages of the contract.

Staff bead

The innermost strip of timber that holds a sliding sash in place in a window frame


A vertical side member of a door or window sash


Wood filler that matches the colour of the timber to which it's being applied


The board which connects one floor level to another, onto which staircase treads and risers are jointed.  The open side is an outer string, and the one against the wall the wall string

Stud partition

An interior timber framed plasterboard-dividing wall


The vertical members of a timber-framed wall


The sinking of the ground caused by the shrinkage of excessively dry soil or exterior forces

Supplementary bonding

The earthing of electrical appliances and exposed metal pipe-work in a bathroom or kitchen

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To pack down firmly with repeated blows.


A cut-out pattern of paper, wood, metal etc. to help shape a work piece or work pieces accurately


A projecting tongue on the end of a piece of wood that fits into a corresponding mortise


A passive conductor for an electrical connection


A solvent such as turpentine, used to dilute paint or varnish, highly flammable and carcinogenic.


Paints that have a jelly-like consistency until stirred or applied, at which point they become liquefied


The outer layer of paint


The horizontal dividing member of a window frame


The bent section of pipe beneath a bath, sink etc It contains standing water to prevent the passage of gases

The horizontal part of a step

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UPVC (Un-Plasticised Polyvinyl Chloride)

Plastic material out of which Gutters, Rainwater Pipes and windows are made.


A layer or layers of paint used to cover the colour of a primer and to build a protective layer of paint prior to the application of a topcoat

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Verge Board


A timber board following the lines of the apex on the gable-end covering the ends of roof timbers, protecting them from rain. Also known as Barge Boards or Gable Boards.

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Wall Plate

A horizontal timber placed along the top of a wall to support the ends of joists in order to spread their load

Wall Ties

Metal ties that hold together the external and internal leaves of brickwork in a cavity wall.

Waney edge

A natural wavy edge on a plank, which could be covered by tree bark


To bend or twist as a result of damp or heat

Water hammer

Vibration in plumbing caused by fluctuating water pressure.


Showing signs of exposure to the weather.

Weep hole

A small hole at the base of a wall to allow absorbed water to drain outside

Wet Trades

Any plastering or rendering, both of which require lots of water.

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