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|Home Inspection / Construction Glossary
Adobe: a) A sun-dried, unburned brick of clay and straw. b) The clay or soil from which this
brick is made. c) A structure built with this type of brick.
Air Barrier: material or surface designed to prevent passage of air, but not water vapor.
Air Gap: a separation between any pipe or faucet conveying water and the flood-level rim
of any plumbing receptacle.
Ampacity: ampere-carrying capacity of a wire.
Ampere: unit of electrical current; often abbreviated “amp”.
Anti-siphon Valve: valve on a exterior faucet (hose bib) that prevents the sprinkler
water from back flowing into the main water supply.
Area Wall: A wall that forms the open area.
Area way: An open space to permit the entry of light and air to a window.
Asbestos: a fire and heat-resistant material used in construction until the early 1970s,
when it was discovered to pose health hazards.
Ash Dump: A door in the hearth of a fireplace where ashes can be swept to a pit beneath.
Asphalt Plastic Cement: asphalt used to seal roofing materials together.
Attic: the space under the roof of a structure but above the top floor.
Backfill: Earth installed in the area excavated for the construction of the foundation
Back-flow Preventer Valve: see anti-siphon valve above.
Balloon Frame: wood frame in which studs are continuous from the sill plate to the top
plate of the top floor.
Balusters: The vertical spindles of a guard railing.
Baseboard: any board or molding covering an interior wall where it meets the floor.
Basement Floor Slab: The reinforced poured concrete slab that forms the basement
Batt: an oblong blanket of fiberglass insulation.
Batten: thin wood molding used to cover a joint (usually used with siding).
Bay Window: window that projects outward from the wall.
Bearing Wall: wall that supports a load from above, such as a vertical load of a roof
Bitumen: substance containing oil or coal-based compounds; (asphalt based roofing
Branch Circuit: one of several circuits in a building, originating at the service entrance
panel and protected by a separate circuit breaker or fuse.
Brick Veneer: brick facing over wood or masonry frame.
Bridging: Short members installed between adjacent joists to prevent twisting.
British Thermal Unit (BTU): amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1
pound of water by 1 degree.
Building Paper: A building wrap installed prior to the installation of siding or roofing.
Building Paper: a waterproof heavy paper used in construction of a roof or wall.
Built-up Roof: roofing consisting of many alternating layers of asphalt and felt and often
top-coated with gravel.
Buss Bar: rectangular metal bar (usually copper) for carrying large electrical current in
electrical service panel.
Butt Joint: joint in which two members meet without overlap or miter.
Capillary: movement of water through small gaps due to adhesion and surface tension.
Casement: Window: window hinged on the side and opening outward.
Casing: inside or outside molding.
Cellulose Insulation: loose-fill insulation consisting of shredded and treated newspaper.
Check: cracks in the surface of wood resulting from drying and shrinking of the surface
faster then the interior.
Chili: Red or Green or "Christmas" chili; what they ask at the restaurant when the home
inspector goes to lunch and has Huevos Rancheros.
Chimney Cap: The cap (or crown) is the top of the chimney and protects the top of the
chimney from weather.
Chimney Flashing: Aluminum or copper sheet-metal is installed to provide a watertight
joint between the chimney and the roof.
Chimney: Provides a method of removing the products of combustion from a heating
system, water heater, fireplace, wood burning stove, etc.
Circuit Breaker: electromechanical device that opens when the electrical circuit exceeds
its electrical capacity.
Circuit: two or more wires carrying electricity to lights, receptacles, switches and
Clapboard Siding: A type of siding; other siding can be wooden shingles, aluminum siding,
vinyl siding, etc.
Clean out Door: The door to the ash pit where the ashes can be cleaned out.
Clean out Plug: a threaded fitting in a pipe or fixture that provides access for cleaning or
Closed Valley: roof valley where the shingles extend in an unbroken line across the valley
Collar Tie: Structural members that tie together two opposing roof rafters; collar ties
help to prevent roof spreading.
Conductor: wire intended to carry electrical current.
Conduit: metal or plastic pipe that surrounds electrical wires and protects them from
Convection: heat transfer through either the natural or forced movement of air.
Corner Bracing: Diagonal members installed at corners for strength.
Corner Post: The vertical member located at the corner of the house frame.
Cornice: A decorative member that is installed at the upper portion of an exterior wall.
Countersink: to sink a nail or screw below the surface.
Crawlspace: a space between the ground and the first floor of a house that allows access
for repair of utilities that run under the house.
Cricket: small roof or feature for diverting water away from the back side of a parapet
wall or chimney.
Cripple Wall: a short wall built upon the foundation of a house that produces a high
Damper: an adjustable plate in the flue of a fireplace or furnace that is used to control
the draft from the flames.
Damp-Proofing: water-proofing a masonry surface to retard capillary action and water
Dead Load: load imposed on a structure by the weight of the building materials only.
Decay: deterioration of wood from attack by fungi or insects.
Dew Point: air temperature at which water vapor begins to condense as either water or
Dielectric Union: type of connector that insulates two different types of metal pipe
(plumbing) to prevent electrolysis.
Dimension Lumber: framing lumber 2 to 5 inches in thickness and up to 12 inches in
Diversion Valve: valve in a septic tank system that allows the user to alternate leach lines.
Dormer: vertical window projecting from a roof; gabled dormers have peaked roofs, shed
dormers have shed roofs.
Double Glazing: insulated window pane formed by two thicknesses of glass with a sealed
air space between them.
Double Lugging: running two or more electrical circuits off a single lug (terminal or
connector); often referred to as “double tap”.
Downspout: The downspout leader is a vertical component that is connected to the gutter
to provide a method of diverting water that runs off the roof.
Drainage: gradual flowing of liquids off a surface or any system to remove liquid waste or
rainwater by channeling its flow to a designated area.
Drip Edge: material designed to force water to drip away from roof rakes and eaves.
Ducts: any conduit for hot air, gas, water, electrical wiring, etc.
Eaves: the lower part of a roof that projects beyond an exterior wall.
Egress Window: window whose clear dimensions are large enough that it can serve as a
fire exit; specifically required in bedrooms
Elevation: view of a vertical face of a building.
Entrance Canopy: A roof extension located above an entrance door;.
Fascia Board: The trim board located under the edge of the roof that the gutters are
Finish Flooring: Hardwood, carpet, tile, or resilient flooring.
Finished Grade Line: The level of the ground at the foundation.
Firebrick: special clay brick that can be exposed to extremely high temperature change
without damage; used in furnaces, fireplaces and similar high temperature areas.
Fireplace Chimney: The front of the fireplace chimney.
Fire-Stop: framing member designed to block the spread of fire within a framing cavity.
Flashing: sheet metal or similar materials used at different points in a structure to
prevent water seepage around vent pipes or chimneys.
Floor Furnace: a ductless furnace placed directly below a floor that transmits heat only
through a grille in the floor.
Floor Joist: a framing piece that rests on the outer foundation walls and interior beams
or girders, and supports the flooring above.
Flooring Paper: Felt paper that is installed over the sub-flooring prior to the installation
of finished flooring.
Flue: the opening or passageway in a chimney through which smoke, gases, etc., pass from a
building. Any opening or passageway for the elimination of gases or fumes from gas water
heaters, boilers, furnaces or wall heaters.
Flue Liner: The flue lines the chimney opening with a masonry or metal material.
Footing Drain Tile: A perforated drainage pipe installed at the base of the footing that
functions to drain water away the house and reduce the possibility of basement water
Footing: foot like projection at the base of a foundation wall, column, pier, etc., used to
secure, support, and help eliminate settling or shifting of the wall.
Forced-Air Furnace: furnace that has a fan or blower which forces warm air through the
Foundation Wall: A wall of poured concrete (or concrete block, etc.) that rests on the
footings; the foundation wall supports the house.
Foundation: the part of a building, usually below ground level, that supports the
superstructure above it.
Framing: wood structure of a building that provides its strength and shape; includes
exterior and interior walls, floor, roof, and ceilings.
Frieze: in wood construction, the horizontal board between the top of the siding and the
Frost Heave: expansion of the earth due to freezing of interstitial water.
Frost Line: maximum depth of freezing in the soil.
Furring: Thin strips of wood used to level a surface.
Fuse: a short plug in an electric panel box that interrupts an electrical circuit when it
Gable: The triangular end wall of a house that has sloping roofs.
Girder: a large or principal beam used to support concentrated loads or weight at
particular points along its length.
Glazing: glass or other transparent material used for windows.
Grade: level of the ground or earth.
Gravel Fill: The gravel bed installed beneath the basement floor slab which helps to
reduce the possibility of basement water seepage.
Ground Fault Interrupter: (GFI or GFCI) circuit interrupter (breaker) that trips on
leakage of current. The electrical code currently requires the GFI protected outlet
feature in “wet areas” such as outdoors, garages, kitchens, spas and bathrooms.
Grounded "neutral" Wire: “neutral” wire in a circuit that is connected to the ground and
serves to return current from the hot wire back to the ground; identified by a white
Grounding Wire: bare or green wire in a circuit that connects metal components, such as
appliance cabinets, to the ground.
Grout: very thin mortar applied to masonry joints.
Gutter: A trough that collects and diverts water that runs off the roof.
Header: beam over a door or window for supporting the load from above.
Hearth: the stone or brick floor of a fireplace.
Home Energy Audit: PreVue service that evaluates your home energy usage and
effectiveness. Cost of improvements and return on investments.
Hydronic: method of distributing heat by hot water.
I-beam: steel whose cross section resembles the letter i.
Ice Dam: ridge of ice at roof eaves or gutters causing snow and ice blockage, and
preventing from properly draining.
Infiltration: incursion of outdoor air through cracks, holes and joints.
Insulating Glass: factory-sealed double or triple glazing.
Jamb: top and sides of a door or window.
Joint Compound: material used to finish joints in gypsum drywall. Known as mud.
Joist: Structural components that support a floor or ceiling.
Junction Box (J-Box): a device in which wires are spliced to bring various electrical
Knob-and-Tube Wiring: oldest type of electrical wiring; the knobs serve as insulators,
and the ceramic tubes isolate the wiring from neighboring wood.
Lath: perforated base for application of plaster or stucco base coat; formerly wood, now
Lattice: framework of crossed strips of wood, plastic, or metal.
Leach Line: a gravel-filled subsurface trench extending from a septic tank; liquid wastes
are absorbed into the leach line's soil
Lintel: solid member above a door or window that carries the load above.
Live Load: temporary load imposed on a building by occupancy and the environment.
Load-Bearing Wall: a wall capable of supporting weight.
Louvers: An open vent cover.
Masonry: construction consisting of stone, brick, or concrete block.
Membrane Roof: roofing consisting of a single waterproof sheet.
Metal Lathe: A sheet metal mesh to which plaster is applied.
Miter: to cut at an angle other than 90 degrees.
Moisture Barrier: treated paper or metal that retards or bars water vapor, used to keep
moisture from passing into walls or floors.
Mortar: mixture of cement, sand, and water.
NAHI: National Association of Home Inspectors
Neutral Wire: grounded (white) wire in an AC electrical circuit.
Newel: A post that terminates a railing.
Non-Bearing Wall: wall or partition that does not carry a load from above.
Nosing: projection of a stair tread beyond the riser.
On Center (OC): framing measurement from the center of one member to the center of
Open Valley: roof valley where shingles do not cross the valley intersection; flashing does.
Outer Hearth: The portion of the fireplace hearth that extends beyond the front of the
Parapet: a low wall or barrier at the edge of a balcony or roof.
Parging: a surface coat of cement over masonry to help waterproof it.
Passive Solar Collector: system for collecting solar energy without use of mechanical
devices such as fans or pumps.
Pitch: the angle of slope of a roof. (i.e. 4 inches rise in a 12 inch area equals a 4/12 pitch
Plate: horizontal framing member at the top or bottom of a wall.
Plenum: a chamber that can serve as a distribution area for heating or cooling systems,
generally located between a false ceiling and the actual ceiling.
Polarity: the electrical charge, either positive or negative, of an electric service terminal.
Pre-Listing Inspection: Inspection for property condition by the seller or listing agent
before the property is listed on the market.
Pressure-Treated Wood: wood that has been injected with preservative under pressure.
Racking: distortion of a building surface from the rectangular plane.
Radon: Is the chemical element that has the symbol Rn and atomic number 86. Radon is a
colorless, naturally occurring, radioactive noble gas that is formed from the decay of
radium. Radon is a significant contaminant that affects indoor air quality worldwide. Radon
gas from natural sources can accumulate in buildings and reportedly causes 21,000 lung
cancer deaths per year in the United States alone. Radon is the second most frequent
cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking, and radon-induced lung cancer is thought to
be the 6th leading cause of cancer death overall.
Radon Measurement: PreVue is registered with the State of New Mexico for the
measurement of radon gas. PreVue uses a Continuous Radon Monitor and charcoal samples.
Radiant Heating: method of heating whereby much of the heat transfer is accomplished
by radiation through space from warm building, surfaces such as floors, walls, or ceilings.
Rafter: roof beam running in the direction of the slope.
Rebar: steel bars used in concrete, to strengthen it and tie it together.
Relative Humidity: amount of water vapor in air compared with the maximum amount
possible, expressed as a percentage.
Retrofit: to upgrade a structure using modem materials.
Ridge Board: a board running the length of the ridge of the roof, to which rafters are
Ridge Vent: continuous, prefabricated outlet ventilator placed over an opening at the
ridge of the roof line to allow the release of air.
Ridge: highest point of a roof.
Riser: vertical board between stair treads; also a vertical plumbing pipe.
Roll Roofing: low-cost asphalt roofing in roll form.
Roof Insulation: Insulation placed on the attic floor or underside of roof sheathing to
reduce heat losses.
Roof Rafters: Structural members that support the roof.
Roof Ridge: The peak of the roof.
Roof Sheathing: The roof deck is installed over the roof rafters and provides the
surface for the application of the roofing shingles. The roof deck (sheathing) can be
plywood, plank, or hardboard.
Roofing Surface: Asphalt shingles, cedar shingles, slate tiles, clay tiles, or any other
roofing material that protects a house from the weather.
R-Value: measurement of a materials resistance to heat.
Sash: frame holding the panes of glass in a window or door.
Sealant: compressible material used to seal building joints, etc.
Sealed Glass: panes of glass with a sealed air space between.
Service Conductors: The service conductors which extend from the point of utility
company supply through the wall of a building to the service switch for the electric wiring
of the building.
Service Drop: service entry wiring from the utility pole to the meter.
Service Lateral: The underground service conductors between the street main, including
any risers at a pole or other structure or from transformers, and the first point of
connection to the service entrance conductors in a terminal box or meter or other
enclosure, inside or outside the building wall.
Sheathing: The outer skin of the framing to which siding is installed.
Sheetrock: plasterboard compound of a core of gypsum between two sheets of heavy
Shim: thin, tapered piece of wood or metal, used to level something.
Shingle: small, thin piece of material, often tapered, for lying in overlapping rows as in
roofing or siding.
Sill: lowest horizontal member in a frame that rests on the foundation wall; also the
bottom piece of the window rough opening.
Skylight: a window in a roof or ceiling.
Slab-on-Grade: concrete slab resting directly on the ground at near grade level.
Soffit: underside of a roof overhang, cornice, or stairway.
Span: distance between supports.
Spark Arrester: wire mesh device placed atop a chimney to prevent embers from blowing
out onto the roof.
Stair Rail: A hand railing in a stairwell.
Stair Riser: The vertical portion of a stairway located between two adjacent treads.
Stair Stringer: The diagonal side members of a stairway to which the treads and risers
Stair Tread: The horizontal step of a stairway.
Standing-Seam: metal roofing technique of folding the upturned edges of adjacent
sheets to form a weatherproof seam.
Stile: vertical outside frame member in a door or window sash.
Stool: interior horizontal, flat molding at the bottom of a window.
Stop (molding): thin molding for stopping doors on closure or holding window sash in place.
Storm Drain Pipe: The underground drain pipe that collects water from the downspout
Stringer: side member of stairway into which the stair treads and risers are attached
Stucco: a wet plaster (Portland cement based) finish, specifically designed for exterior
use; popular as an outside wall surface or as a siding material; typically a three coat
system: metal lath; 1) base or scratch coat; 2) brown (second) coat and 3) finish or top
Stud: vertical framing member to which wall sheathing and siding are attached.
Sub-floor: the plywood, planks, or hardboard that is installed over floor joists; the sub-
floor may also serve as the finish floor.
Tab: exposed portion of an asphalt shingle between the cutouts.
Taping: finishing gypsum drywall joints with paper tape and joint compound.
Tempered Glass: glass that has been cooled rapidly to produce surface tension; the result
is a stronger-than normal glass that shatters into relatively harmless cubical fragments
Termite Shield: A metal shield that helps to prevent termites from destroying the
wooden frame of the house.
Thimble: protective device installed in a combustible wall through which a stovepipe
Threshold: a wooden or metal strip under an outside door; the entrance to a building.
Toe Nailing: nailing a wood joint at an angle for additional strength.
Tongue and Groove: flooring and sheathing joint in which the tongue of one piece meets a
groove in a mating piece.
Trap: a curved section of drain pipes used under plumbing fixtures to "trap" waste
material or debris; liquid remains and forms a seal for preventing the passage or escape
of air or of gases through the pipe from behind or below
Tread: horizontal part of a step.
Truss: framing structure for spanning great distances, in which every member is purely in
tension or compression.
Underlayment: sheet material or wood providing a smooth, sound base for the finished
Vapor Barrier: material or surface designed to block diffusion of water vapor.
Vermiculite: type of insulation.
Wall Insulation: Insulation installed in exterior walls to reduce heat losses.
Water Hammer: sound made by supply pipes when water is suddenly stopped by the quick
closing of a valve.
Window Casing: The decorative portions surrounding the interior side of a window opening.
Window Frame: The lining of a window opening.
Window Sash: The inner frame that contains the window glazing.
Window: An opening in a building to permit the entry of light and air.