As you compete for jobs and undertake work on projects, you’ll be contacting general contractors, subcontractors, engineers and architects all merging to bring unique skill sets, perceptions and their own interconnected jargon.
Although this myriad of vocabulary can be extremely confusing at first, knowing common construction terms and definitions can benefit you greatly in understanding the industry better and enhancing your conversation.
These construction terms are constantly evolving, and the best way to add them to your vocabulary is of course to begin applying them to your own conversations, but firstly you must understand what they are!
In this article, we have drawn together a comprehensive list of 75 commonly used construction words, phrases and acronyms, and arranged them in a list so you can easily search for and review their meanings.
Construction terms 101 (and definitions)
Construction is a complex and multifaceted industry, with a vast array of technical terms and jargon used to describe the various processes and materials involved in building structures. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or new to the construction field, it can be challenging to keep track of all the terminology used in the industry.
That’s why we’ve compiled this alphabetical list of common construction terms and words to help you navigate the language of construction with ease. From A to Z, this list provides concise definitions of essential terms and concepts you’re likely to encounter on any construction site.
Whether you’re a contractor, engineer, architect, or simply interested in the world of construction, we hope this list is a valuable resource to help you understand the language of the industry.
- All-In Rate
An all-in rate is the overall cost of an item comprising all direct and indirect costs. These would cover the cost of materials transported to site, conversion, waste, unloading, handling, storage and preparing for use. You can again locate this term often used in the financial sector.
- Architect of Record
The term represents the name of the architect, or the architectural firm whose name is registered on a building permit issued for a specific project on which they have performed services. While an ‘architect of record’ may not actually do the design for the construction project, they have contract authority for the project and are permitted by the state.
- Batter (Walls)
Battered wall is a wall that has been designed with an intentional slope. Some architects prefer this design to provide structural strength while others choose it for an aesthetic appeal.
- Bearing capacity
Whenever a load is placed on the ground, such as from a building foundation, a crane, or a retaining wall, the ground must have the capability to hold it without extra settlement or failure. Bearing capacity is the capacity of soil to support the loads that apply to the ground above. Deeper the depth of embedment of the load, stronger will be the bearing capacity.
- Best Value Method
It is a construction procurement process which allows clients to choose contractors for their projects based on performance criteria, such as quality, reliability and expertise, rather than just price to assess value.
A bid is an offer to undertake a construction project based on design specifications and documents at a specified price. Price proposal is often based on the design specification and documents.
BIM is an acronym for Building Information Modeling. It is a 3D modeling process that integrates visual information with data about specifications, materials, functionality, and maintenance to provide all project participants a unified view of the project and all its components. It features details of the building, from its general structural layout to its minor detail measurements.
- Blue Prints
Blueprints are construction drawings that incorporate all the details that are expected in a project. It shows how a building is to be designed, what materials are to be employed, and placing doors and windows.
- BOQ (Bill of Quantities)
This document is issued to tenderers during the pricing phase and facilitates them in the calculation of construction costs for their project. It ensures that competing contractors price the items of work on the same basis and reduces the risk of uncertainty.
- CAD (computer-aided design)
Architectural software that digitally creates precise 2D drawings and 3D models. It is better, quicker, easier and less expensive than manual drafting options.
A cantilever is a structural element that protrudes horizontally out of a wall, edge beam, or a column and is supported at only one end.
- Cast in place Concrete
Cast-in-place concrete is a construction technique where a temporary formwork is prepared to shape concrete slabs and foundations, as well as components such as beams, columns, walls, roofs, and so on, until it hardens. It is also known as ‘poured-in-place’ concrete.
- Catastrophic failure
The term catastrophic failure refers to an accident in the construction process that destroys a building or structure. It makes it unsafe for use unless the entire structure is rebuilt.
- Cavity Wall
Also known as hollow wall, cavity wall is constructed with two distinct walls separated by an air space. These two walls act like a single wall and are joined by metal ties. They offer good sound insulation property.
Cladding is any material fixed to outside of a structure to form non-structural external surfaces that cover its exterior. Just as your skin protects internal bones and organs, cladding protects against the elements and shields against environmental conditions or to make it look more attractive.
- Concrete Cover
Concrete cover, in reinforced concrete, is the minimum thickness of concrete embedded over the reinforcement steel. It is measured from the exposed concrete surface to the closest reinforced steel surface. Concrete cover protects the steel from harmful influences such as aggressive solutions and fire.
- Concrete Slab
It is a common structural element that is used to create flat horizontal surfaces such as floors, roof decks, ceilings made of cast concrete. It is usually of constant thickness.
- Construction Build-Out
Construction Build-Out is changing or modifying an existing commercial space to make it more functional for the tenant occupying the space.
- Construction Drawings
Construction drawings are the final pre-construction drawings of the entire building that are incorporated into tender documentation. These drawings guide the construction process by depicting a structure’s dimensions, installation materials and other factors. They are prepared by architects and engineers.
- Construction Estimate
Construction estimating is the assessing of all the costs of building a structure to determine the feasibility of the project. These costs include direct costs, indirect costs, overhead costs and a profit margin for the general contractor.
- Construction Management at Risk (CMAR)
It is an innovative approach to construction project delivery methods where the project owner hires a construction manager early in the process to serve as a representative and consultant during the project. The Construction Manager further manages the project throughout each phase, ensuring it stays on budget and on schedule.
- Cross Bracing
Cross bracing is a structural component comprising reinforcements crossed shaped in an X-shape used to improve the endurance of a structure. It limits the building’s lateral movement, thus increasing the building’s capability to withstand seismic activity.
- Cut and Fill
Cutting and filling is the process of moving earth from one place to another to make the ground more level. A ‘cut’ is made when earth is cut from above the desired ground height and a ‘fill’ is when earth is used to fill a whole to desired ground level. It is regularly used in constructing a road, railway, building, or canal.
- Damp Proofing
Damp proofing is a coating applied to building walls and floors to restrict the movement of moisture through walls and floors. The barrier may be provided either horizontally or vertically in floors or walls, and may comprise flexible materials such as bitumen, mastic asphalt, bituminous felts, plastic or polythene sheets, metal sheets, cement concrete.
- Dead Load
Dead load is the self-load of the structure because of its complete weight. They are the permanent loads which are constantly present. It includes the weight of the structure, cladding, fixed equipment, etc.
Diagrid (diagonal + grid) is a structural reinforcement technique used to create triangular structures placed in diagonal grids. It requires less structural steel than a conventional steel frame.
A building elevation is an orthographic two dimensional projection of the exterior faces of a building. It refers to the ‘front’ of the building. Usually there are 4 main elevations: North, South, West, & East.
Encasement is the coating or covering of building components, interior and exterior to prevent future physical damage.
It is a temporary structure used to provide temporary support to structures during construction until the structure can support itself. It is chiefly used for large arch structures and bridges.
- Field Measure
Field measure is a survey where measurements are taken of an existing structure to ensure that each component will fit as intended within the space. It improves the overall accuracy of the installation.
- Floor Plan
Floor plans are scale drawings that show the arrangements of room, spaces and physical features viewed from one level of a structure. They provide a way to visualize how people will move through space.
Footing is the lowest load-bearing portion of a building that transfers the load from the foundation to a larger soil area. It supports the foundation, prevents settling, and provides support for the structure.
Formwork is a type of temporary mold or open box into which fresh concrete is to cast the required shape of concrete. It cautiously supports the reinforced concrete until it has reached adequate strength.
Girders are the main horizontal structural member with the capacity to support larger concentrated loads, such as columns or beams. It can be made from a variety of construction materials such as concrete, stainless steel, or a combination of both and may comprise a single piece or over one piece bound.
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. It is a system designed to achieve the environmental requirements of the comfort of occupants and a process. It uses electricity and coolant liquid to reduce the temperature of the air, while sending hot air outside and cold air inside. They are more used in different buildings such as industrial, commercial, residential and institutional buildings.
Joists are horizontal structural members that run across a building foundation, walls, and structural beams. It acts like the skeleton of a building.
- Lean construction
It is a construction method conducted to manage and improve the construction process with minimum cost and maximum value by considering customer needs. Lean construction ensures that a project is instantly done, and lower costs are incurred during the building process.
It is a project delivery method under which a company sells the asset it owns to a lease-leaseback entity and the lease-leaseback entity causes the construction of the facility on said property and subleases the facility back to the company. This sale and leaseback transaction is done on mutual understanding of both parties, and all the terms and conditions are predefined in an agreement.
A construction is a type of security interest in which contractors, subcontractors or any person who supplied services to a construction project may secure payment if payment is not forthcoming via the construction pyramid. It protects professionals from the risk of not being paid for services rendered.
- Lintel and Sill
A lintel level is a level at which the top of a door or window is finished, while sill is the level between a building’s window base and floor level.
- Live Load
Live load is the load to which a structure is subjected besides its own weight, such as people, the action of wind on an elevation, furniture, vehicles, and so on.
- Load-bearing wall
Load-bearing walls are walls that are constructed to support the weight of a floor or roof structure. These walls are constructed using concrete, blockwork and/or brick and transfers load from other parts of the structure to the foundations.
- Lookout (architecture)
Lookouts are wooden joists or rafters on the ridge of a roof that extends beyond an end wall of a building in a cantilever-like manner.
- MEP engineer
The acronym MEP stands for “mechanical, electrical and plumbing.” So an MEP engineer is an engineer who has a written agreement to offer mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering services to the said firm.
Moling is a trenchless method that is used to install underground pipes, cables, and ducts. It avoids the need to dig a trench.
- Monocrete Construction
Monocrete is a building construction method that uses modular bolt-together pre-cast concrete wall panels.
Mortar is a homogenous mixture of cement, sand and water that provides joints to build brick or block walls. It is applied as a paste which then sets hard. Mortar is a homogenous mixture of cement, sand and water. Different mortars are used in masonry construction based on their applications, binding materials, strength, bulk density and their purposes.
- Negotiated Procurement
It is a method of procurement where the government directly negotiates a contract with a legal supplier without formal price competition or formal advertising. It is allowed in cases of two failed biddings, emergency cases, small value procurement, lease of venue for official use, and so on.
- Pay Applications
In construction, the term pay application refers to a group of supporting documents exchanged between contractors and subcontractors during payment and is governed by a constructed contract. The contract varies per project and should provide detail on the form to use, documents to include, and application timing and deadlines.
- Performance Gap
A performance gap is an instance where the expected work progress does not match to the results on site. This could be because of environmental, workmanship, or occupant reasons.
Pilotis were the greatest of Le Corbusier’s architectural inventions. They are supports such as columns, pillars, or stilts that lift a building above ground or water. They help lift a building above the ground or a body of water.
- Precast Concrete
Precast concrete is a type of concrete that is prepared, cast and cured off-site. It is prepared by casting concrete in a recyclable cavity then it is next mended in a contained environment, transported to the construction site and maneuvered into place. It is mostly used for structural components such as wall panels, beams, columns, floors, staircases, pipes, tunnels, and so on.
- Project Manager
The project manager is an experienced construction professional who handles the entire management of the construction project. They inspect all prospects of the building process, particularly project deliverables, schedules, and accounts.
Purlins are the principal components of roof structures. They are horizontal beams employed for immediate structural protection in buildings.
PVC, which stands for Polyvinyl Chloride, is a rigid solid sheet that’s resistant to weathering, chemicals and corrosive environments. PVC sheets are very easy to fabricate and you can also install it with conventional tools.
- Quantity Take-off
Quantity take-offs are a detailed measurement of materials and labors held by estimators during the pre-construction phase. It helps the project developers have full knowledge of what to expect during the construction phase.
Rafters are a series of sloped structural components of a roof construction that extends from the ridge or hip of the roof designed to support the roof desks, roof coverings, and its associated loads.
- Reflected ceiling plan (RCP)
Reflected ceiling plan (RCP) is an architectural drawing where the plan of a ceiling is projected on a flat plane showing the placement of various objects like sprinklers, smoke detectors, and any other mechanical or electrical objects on the ceiling using symbols.
- Reinforced concrete
Reinforced concrete is a composite material in which concrete is embedded with reinforcement to compensate for the concrete’s relatively low tensile strength and ductility. This combination is made to use the compressive strength of concrete and tensile strength of steel, hence, work together to resist many types of loading.
The term reinforced is used because the steel reinforces the concrete and makes it an even stronger construction material.
- Request for Information (R.F.I.)
An R.F.I. (request for information) is a formal process for gathering information about products, services, or suppliers during the construction process to clarify the details of a project.
- Request for Proposal (R.F.P.)
A request for proposal (R.F.P.) is a business document that announces a project, describes it, and solicits bids from qualified contractors to complete it. These requests are typically sent out by either the owner or general contractor.
- Rim Joist
A rim joist is a board that runs perpendicular to the floor joists and end joists, supports the weight of the walls and provides lateral support for the joists. They are the final joists that end the series of framing joists and disperse the weight of the building across the entire expansion.
Rubblization is a unique means of construction technique that is used to repair the damaged concrete pavement. It employs a machinery that will break apart the concrete into rubbles and leave it in its place to become base layer for new surfaces. It saves time and transportation costs.
- Section Drawing
Section drawing shows a view of a structure as though it had been cut vertically along another imaginary plane. It reveals the interior profile, materials used, walls, and so forth, providing a view of the structure that is not usually seen.
Skirting is a strip that covers the lowest part of an interior wall covering the joint between the wall surface and the floor. Skirting also protects the wall from kicks, abrasion and furniture; and can serve as a decorative moulding.
Specifications are a part of the construction contract that describes the products, materials, and work required by a construction contract. They detail the work, materials, and installation required to complete a project. These specifications are used as a reference to ensure the correct fulfillment of each project requirement.
Stud is a vertical repetitive framing member that forms part of a wall and offers support.
They are a fundamental component of frame construction and are usually made of timber.
A subcontract is a secondary contract between a party employed to do a specific part of a job and a third party which agrees to do that part of that job. Construction companies often subcontract for the electrical work, plumbing, along with others.
It is an underlying structure of the building that is constructed below the ground level. It transfers loads received from superstructure to support soil and safeguard the building against the forces of wind, uplift, soil pressure and others. Elements of substructure include foundation and basement retaining walls.
Superstructure is the portion of a building that is constructed above ground level. It bears different loads operating on the structure. It includes columns, beams, door and window schedules, flooring, roofing, and so forth.
Tender is a submission made by a contractor in response to an offer or invitation to bid for a project within a finite deadline. It makes an offer for the supply of goods or services.
- Trombe Wall
A Trombe wall is a wall with high thermal mass that incorporates the concept of indirect-gain to achieve energy efficient design. It is painted in dark color and provides heat by absorbing thermal energy from incident sunlight and storing it.
A truss is a structure framework fabricated from straight pieces of metal or timber connected at pin joints or nodes to form a series of triangles lying in a single plane. By connecting a series of trusses together, an enormous amount of weight can be safely transferred to load-bearing beams, walls, or to the ground directly.
Underpinning is repairing, strengthening, or increasing the depth of a foundation of an existing building or other structure by lowering the footing to allow it to rest on more supportive soil. It is required when the original foundation is no longer strong enough to support the house.
Zoning relates to government regulations that guide what can and cannot be built on any property. It controls how the land can be developed and what purposes the zoned land can serve.
Other construction terminology
Budget and Accounting Terms
Allocation – The act of dividing or distributing funds from one account or appropriation to one or more accounts or appropriations.
Bond – A financial tool utilized to finance capital projects via long-term borrowing, typically issued by governments or corporations.
Budget Transfer – The process of transferring budgeted funds from one financial unit to another.
Cash Flow – The income and expenditure pattern of a company or individual, impacting the amount of cash available at any given time.
Chargeback – An expense incurred by one governmental unit, fund, or department, or a private individual, firm, or corporation, which will subsequently be reimbursed in cash or equivalent.
Chartfield String – A financial code used to uniquely identify the deposit or removal of funds. It consists of Department/Fund/Account/Program/Class/Project/Chargeback Code.
Claim Schedule – A schedule of invoices submitted by a state department to the Controller for payment to specific claimants.
Expenditure Transfer – The process of reallocating an expense after the fact.
General Fund – The primary state fund into which non-dedicated revenues are deposited, and from which most state expenditures are made.
Project Cost – The total amount of funds spent to complete a project, including construction expenses.
Purchase Order (PO) – A request form necessary when purchasing equipment, materials, or supplies from a vendor.
Purchase Order Amendment (POA) – A form required when the final invoice amount varies from the original Purchase Order (PO) amount.
Revenue Bond – A bond payable from a specific revenue source and not pledged with the full faith and credit of an issuer with taxing power. Pledged revenues can be derived from the project, grants, excise or other specified taxes, and typically do not require voter approval before issuance.
CSI Master Format – The CSI Master Format is a standardized system of numbers and titles used to organize construction information into a consistent sequence. By providing a consistent list of titles and numbers, Master Format improves the retrieval of information and communication in construction projects. It enables uniform organization of information in project manuals, project cost data, and technical data, thereby promoting standardization.
Construction Documents (CD Phase) – Detailed plans indicating how to construct the physical spaces of a building, including all drawings, specifications, and addenda associated with a specific construction project.
Constructability Review – A review of plans and specifications, conducted either by a contractor or third-party reviewer, to ensure the accuracy and proper detail of construction plans.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – A sustainable design approach utilizing materials, construction practices, efficient building design, and other techniques to minimize environmental impact.
Preliminary Design (PD Phase) – Plans showing the physical spaces and attributes of a building, including doors, windows, walls, and other features, further developed from the initial concept.
Schematic Design (SD Phase) – A conceptual plan showing the location of program spaces at a scaled size, providing a basic overview of the proposed building design.
Specifications – A detailed statement of project particulars, including prescribed materials, methods, and quality of work. Specifications follow a format that typically aligns with the Construction Specification Institute (CSI) standards.
A construction acronym is a shortened form of a construction-related term, usually consisting of the initial letters of each word in the term. Acronyms are commonly used in the construction industry to simplify and streamline communication, especially when dealing with technical terms or long project names.
Examples of construction acronyms include CMAR (Construction Management at Risk), BOQ (Bill of Quantities), and IFB (Invitation for Bid). Here’s a list of the most common construction acronyms and their meanings:
- ABC – Architecture, construction and engineering
- BOQ – Bill of quantities
- BRT – Business roundtable
- CA – Construction agent
- CHST – Construction health and safety technician
- C&R – Construction and repair
- CPT – Competent personal training
- CQC – Contractor quality control
- CM – Construction management or manager
- CMAR – Construction management at risk
- DCR – Daily construction report
- HUD – Housing and urban development
- IFB – Invitation for bid / Information for bidders (duplicate acronym)
- IPD – Integrated project delivery
- LID – Low impact development
- RTT – Request for tender
- SOW – Scope of work
- TI – Tenant improvement
- VDC – Virtual design and construction
- WBS – Work breakdown structure (added, as there were only 19 items in the original list)
Do we need these construction terms?
Understanding these construction terms and acronyms can be challenging, but knowing there specific definitions and acronyms, enables you to interpret the meaning of specific techniques, projects, and contracts.
Staying on top of trends in project management, engineering, and construction technology can stimulate your own development as a young designer and dodge those uncomfortable head-nodding occasions when you have no idea what the person talking to you is on about.
We’ve all been there!
We hope this glossary of construction terminologies helps you communicate more effectively both inside and outside of the studio. …and for further research and understanding designingbuildings.co.uk is a UK based site (constructions version of Wikipedia) where just about anything construction related is explained in great detail.
FAQ’s about construction terms & words
What words are associated with construction?
Here are some words that are commonly associated with construction:
- Change order
- Punch list
- Progress payment
This is not an exhaustive list, as there are many other terms and phrases associated with construction, depending on the specific type of project or area of focus.
What are the terms used in house construction?
Here are some common terms used in house construction:
- Architect: A professional who designs buildings and supervises their construction
- Building code: A set of regulations governing the construction of buildings and other structures
- Building permit: A document issued by a local government that allows construction or renovation to take place
- Foundation: The base on which a building is constructed, often made of concrete or masonry
- Framing: The structure of a building, including the wall studs, floor joists, and roof rafters
- Insulation: Material used to prevent the loss of heat or cold from a building, such as fiberglass or spray foam
- Load-bearing wall: A wall that supports the weight of the building’s structure
- Plumbing: The system of pipes, drains, and fixtures used to supply and distribute water and remove waste from a building
- Roofing: The materials and techniques used to create a weatherproof cover for the building’s roof, such as shingles or tiles
- Siding: The materials used to cover the exterior walls of a building, such as wood, vinyl, or brick
- Slab: A flat, level surface made of concrete, often used as a foundation for buildings
- Subfloor: The layer of flooring material laid on top of the floor joists but beneath the finished flooring, such as carpet or hardwood
- Truss: A structural framework of wood or metal used to support a roof or bridge
- Vapor barrier: A material used to prevent the passage of moisture into a building, such as plastic sheeting or foil-backed paper
- Wiring: The electrical system of a building, including the wiring, switches, and outlets.
This is not an exhaustive list, as there are many other terms and phrases used in house construction depending on the specific location, design, and materials used.
What are the 6 stages of construction?
The 6 stages of construction, also known as the construction project life cycle, typically include the following:
- Planning and Design: This initial stage involves developing the project concept, feasibility studies, preliminary designs, site analysis, and engineering studies. This stage also involves securing permits and approvals, as well as preparing construction plans and specifications.
- Pre-Construction: This stage involves detailed planning, budgeting, scheduling, and coordination with subcontractors, suppliers, and other stakeholders. Activities during this stage also include site preparation, material procurement, and establishment of temporary facilities.
- Procurement: This stage involves the acquisition of necessary equipment, materials, and labor required for construction. This includes obtaining quotes, issuing purchase orders, and negotiating contracts with vendors and suppliers.
- Construction: This is the main stage of the project where the actual construction work takes place. This includes site excavation, foundation construction, framing, installation of mechanical and electrical systems, interior finishing, and exterior cladding.
- Commissioning: This stage involves testing and verifying the functionality of all systems and equipment, ensuring compliance with building codes and specifications. This includes inspections, system testing, and building envelope testing.
- Handover and Closeout: The final stage of the construction project life cycle involves turning over the completed project to the owner or end-user. This includes final inspections, punch lists, final payments, and warranty and maintenance agreements.
It’s worth noting that the specific stages of construction may vary depending on the type and size of the project, as well as the contracting method used.