Glossary of Construction Terms

Do you ever feel as if your contractor is selling you polyisocyanurate foam when what you really needed was a setback thermostat? Here is a handy guide to common (and not so common) construction terms. Scroll through the glossary below or sort by the letter that starts the word you're looking for. For example, to find polyisocyanurate foam, select P and click Submit.

A (7) | B (6) | C (18) | D (8) | E (9) | F (8) | G (2) | H (4) | I (1) | J (1) | L (4) | M (3) | O (2) | P (11) | R (10) | S (19) | T (7) | U (1) | V (1) | W (4) | Z (2)
Title Definition
Sanitary Sewer

A sewer system designed for the collection of waste water from the bathroom, kitchen and laundry drains, and is usually not designed to handle storm water.

See also: Q&A: Plumbing


The frame that holds the glass in a window, often the movable part of the window. See Double Hung Windows, and Casement Windows.

See also: Topics: Topics: Replacement Windows, Q&A: Framing For Windows


The drain in a downspout or flat roof, usually connected to the downspout.

See also: Topics: Roof

Septic System

An on site waste water treatment system. It usually has a septic tank which promotes the biological digestion of the waste, and a drain field which is designed to let the left over liquid soak into the ground. Septic systems and permits are usually sized by the number of bedrooms in a house.

See also: Topics: Topics: Plumbing

Sewage Ejector

A pump used to 'lift' waste water to a gravity sanitary sewer line. Usually used in basements and other locations which are situated below the level of the side sewer.

See also: Q&A: Plumbing

Setback Thermostat

A thermostat with a clock which can be programmed to various temperatures at different times of the day/week. Usually used as the heating or cooling system thermostat. See Multiple Setback Thermostats.

See also: Q&A: Thermostat Accuracy


A wood, usually cedar, roofing product which is produced by splitting a block of the wood along the grain line. Modern shakes are sometimes machine sawn on one side. See "Shingle".

See also: Topics: The Sound Roof


The plywood, board, OSB or other material used as the base for the roofing.


A machine sawn wood, usually cedar, roofing and siding product. See "Shake."

Side Sewer

The portion of the sanitary sewer which connects the interior waste water lines to the main sewer lines. The side sewer is usually buried in several feet of soil and runs from the house to the sewer line. It may be 'owned' by property owner or by the sewer utility, but it usually must be maintained by the owner and may only be serviced by utility approved "side sewer" contractors.

Single Ply Roof

See "Torch Down Roof."

See also: Topics: Roof, Q&A: Roofs

Skip Sheathing

The normal base for shake, shingle and some tile roofs. 1" x 4" or similar sized boards are nailed at 90 degrees to the rafters leaving a space of about 4" between each row and allowing for better ventilation.

See also: Topics: The Sound Roof, Q&A: Roofs

Slab on Grade

A type of foundation with a concrete floor which is placed directly on the soil. The edge of the slab is usually thicker and acts as the footing for the walls. Concrete block homes were common in California in the 1940's and 50's (see diagram).

Slab on Grade

See also: Q&A: Foundation


A small ceiling-like space, often out of doors, such as the underside of a roof overhang.

Specifications or Specs.

A narrative list of materials, methods, model numbers, colors, allowances, and other details which supplement the information contained in the blue prints.

See also: Topics: A Field Guide to Bad Home Repair and Remodeling Contracts, Topics: A Building and Remodeling Checklist, Topics: Roof

Splash Block

A pad which is placed under the lower end of a downspout and diverts the water from the downspout away from the house. Usually made out of concrete or fiberglass.

See also: Q&A: Gutters, Downspouts and Drains


A toxic black colored mold sometimes found in wet or flooded homes.

See also: Topics: Basements

Standard Practices of the Trade(s)

One of the more common, basic, and minimum construction standards. This is another way of saying that the work should be done in the way it is normally done by an average professional in the field.

Among the many other "standards of construction", the following terms are used in an attempt to define a quality of work (listed here in a rough order of quality, lowest first):

  • "to code"
  • "minimum standards of the trades" or "builder basic"
  • "standards of the trades"
  • "standards of the industry"
  • "manufacturers specifications"
  • "craftsman like"
  • "custom construction"
  • "custom practices"
  • "first class" or "top quality"

The specific application of the "standards" can't be found in any one book or list, they are just one more attempt to define expectations for a specific job.

Storm Sewer

A sewer system designed to collect storm water and is separated from the waste water system.

See also: Topics: Gutters, Downspouts and Drains