Construction Defect Glossary

This glossary of construction defect terms was prepared for non-attorneys to assist them in understanding construction, construction defects and the process of dealing with construct defects. This construction defect glossary is general information only and is not intended to be legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should consult with an attorney licensed in your state.


Act of God refers to damage caused by nature, not people. See Natural Disaster.

Anchor Bolts are bolts anchored in concrete or masonry which are attached to the building structure, usually by means of the sill plate.

Backfill is the replacement of excavated soil into a trench usually against or around a foundation wall.

Bedrock is the subsurface layer of earth that is suitable to support a structure.

Bond is an insurance contract by which someone is insured against loss by acts or defaults of a third party.

Performance Bond is a bond that insures that the contractor or builder will complete the project.

Building Paper is a waterproof, heavy paper used in the construction of walls and roofs. It also provides insulation.

Built-up Roof is a flat roof consisting of layers of roofing materials sometimes covered with fine gravel.

Caisson is a cylindrical casing which becomes the structural support for a piling. The piling is inserted and concrete is then poured into the casing.

Caulking is a flexible material used to seal gaps between surfaces for the purpose of preventing leaks. Caulking must be maintained in order to assure its effectiveness.

Cement is a mineral powder which when mixed with water becomes a component of concrete and is used to make cement blocks.

Cement Block is a building block which is normally hollow and made of cement.

Cinder Block is a building block which is normally hollow and made of cement and cinders (ashes). Cinder blocks do not have the strength or weight of cement blocks.

Circuit Breaker is an electrical device that has replaced the use of fuses in ~u.i1di~gs. They look similar to switches. When there is an electrical overload, the electricity is shut off (circuit is broken). Circuit breakers can be reset whereas fuses must be replaced.

Civil Engineering refers to the broad field of engineering that deals with the planning, construction and maintenance of building structures and public works.

Column is a large pillar or vertical support structure.

Column Footing is the foundation base for a column. These are generally constructed of reinforced concrete.

Compaction refers to the density of the soil.

Completion Bond is a bond that guarantees that a building will be completed on time. Completion bonds are sometimes required by construction lenders as a condition of providing construction financing.

Concrete is a mixture of cement, sand, gravel and water, poured to a desired shape.

When it dries it gets very hard. Concrete can be reinforced with steel.

Condensation consists of drops of water that may accumulate on the inside of the exterior covering of a building. Vapor barriers are used to prevent condensation. Excess condensation can result in mold growth.

Control Joint is a tooled groove made on concrete slabs and sidewalls to control where the concrete slab will crack.

Contour Line is a line showing the shape of a parcel of land or a body of water. It also consists of a line on a topographical map connecting all areas of the property which have the same elevation.

Contour Map is a map that uses carved lines to outline the configuration and elevations of land surface areas.

Counter Flashing is flashing used on chimneys at the roofline to prevent the entry of water.

Crawl Space is the space between the ground and the bottom of the floor on the first level of a home.

Damp Proofing is the black, tar based waterproofing material that is applied to the exterior of subterranean foundation walls to prevent water intrusion.

Earthquake Strap is a metal strap used to secure hot water heaters to the frame of a building in order to prevent the water heater from shifting in an earthquake and causing a gas leak.

Expansion Joint is a joint that allows for expansion or contraction of the parts of a structure resulting from changes in temperature.

Expansive Soil refers to soil that expands and contracts depending on the amount of water in it.

Faltade is the main face of a building.

Felt is another word for the tar paper placed under roof shingles.

Fire Block is a 2" x 4" horizontal wood member nailed between wall studs used for fire and smoke suppression. They are also referred to as fire stops.

Fire Wall is a wall especially designed to slow down the spread of fire in a building. All door openings in fire walls must have fire doors installed in them.

Flashing is sheet metal used in roof and wall construction to prevent water intrusion.

Flue is the opening in a chimney through which gas and smoke passes to outside the building.

Footing is a foot shaped projection at the base of a foundation wall used to prevent shifting or settling.

Fuse is a device that prevents the overloading of an electrical circuit by containing a strip of metal which will melt at low heat and thereby break the circuit.

Geology is the science and study of the earth including the processes that change it. Geologists study rocks and geologic features.

Geotechnical Engineering is concerned with soils, foundations, slopes, retaining walls, ground water and related areas. Geotechnical engineers are civil engineers. Geotechnical engineers also assess the risk to people and property from natural hazards such as landslides, sinkholes, earthquakes and soil liquefaction.

GFI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is a plug designed to shut off the current when a dangerous condition exists. A GFI protects people while fuses and circuit breakers protect equipment.

Grade is the ground level, or elevation. It also refers to the process of leveling soil or the quality of manufactured wood.

Grade Beam is a foundation wall that is poured level with or slightly below the grade of the soil. It usually transmits the load from a bearing wall to a spaced foundation such as piles or caissons.

Gutter is a shallow channel of metal or other material installed on the facia of a building to catch and carry away rainwater from the roof.

Indemnity Agreement is a contract in which one party agrees to reimburse the other for any loss suffered as a result of defined circumstances.

Landslide is a downward movement of soil, rocks and possibly mud, plant material, structures and roads. Landslides can be triggered by defective construction or can result from the combination of effective construction and an earthquake.

Lateral Support refers to the right of a landowner to the natural support of his or her land by adjoining land. The owner of the adjoining land has the legal duty not to modify his or her land so as to cause the support provided by his land to be lessened or

Lath is the material upon which the first coat of plaster (scratch coat) is applied. It may be a coarse wire screen or solid material such as rock lath.

Load Bearing Wall is a wall that supports weight over and above its own weight. All exterior walls are load bearing walls.

Masonry is anything constructed of cement blocks, cinder blocks, bricks, cement or stone.

Metal Lath refers to sheets of metal that are cut to form openings. It is used as a plaster base for walls and ceilings.

Moisture Barrier is an insulating material used to prevent the transfer of moisture, or the build up of moisture in walls from condensation.

Mortar is the material used in masonry construction to hold the bricks or other components together. It is made of cement, lime, sand and water.

Natural Disaster is an Act of God.

Non-Bearing Wall is a wall that supports no weight other than its own. It is a partition.

Parapet Wall is a short wall constructed at the edge of a flat roof to prevent people from falling off the roof.

Partition is a non bearing wall that is moveable. It is used to divide space.

Party Wall is a wall built on a property boundary. It may be part of a building or may be outside any building.

Percolation Test or Perk Test is a test to determine the capacity of soil to absorb water. These tests are made for both construction and septic tank systems.

Pier is a concrete column used to support other structures such as beams.

Piling is a column, usually made of steel or concrete, that is driven into the ground to provide support for a structure.

Plot Plan is an overhead plan prepared by a surveyor that shows the location of the buildings on the lot, all property lines, easements, set backs and dimensions.

Post is a vertical framing member that supports a beam.

Rebar refers to steel reinforcing bars placed into poured concrete to make it stronger.

Sack Mix refers to the amount of cement in a cubic yard of concrete. The higher the number, the stronger the concrete.

Scratch Coat is the first coat of plaster applied to the lath.

Scupper is an opening in a wall or roof for drainage. Scuppers are normally connected to downspouts.

Sheathing is the covering over roof rafters of wall studs. It may be plywood or wallboard.

Slab is the concrete floor and foundation used in homes without basements. It also refers to concrete poured for use as patio decks.

Specifications or Specs is the list of methods, materials, colors, allowances, model numbers and other details that supplement the plans to a building.

Stair Rise is the vertical distance between stair treds.

Structural Engineering is concerned with structural design and analysis of buildings and other structures such as bridges. It is part of the field of civil engineering. Structural engineers can design hospitals, schools and buildings over nine stories, where as, civil engineers cannot.

Sump is a pit for collecting water to be pumped into a drainage system.

Sump Pump is a water pump placed into a sump that operates when water enters the sump.

Survey is the measurement of the boundaries of a parcel of land. Surveys indicate distances, angles and usually topography.

Treated Lumber is lumber treated with a chemical pesticide to reduce damage from insects or wood rot.

Tred is the horizontal component of stairs between the stair risers.

Two Hour Wall or Door refers to a fire resistant wall or door that would take at least two hours for a fire to burn through.

Vapor Barrier is a moisture retarding material such as heavy, treated paper or plastic that prevents the transfer of moisture.

Vent is usually a pipe that permits gases or air to be released from a building.

Water Table is the depth from the ground surface, at which underground water is found.

Weep Holes are small holes in a retaining wall or planter used to drain water so as to relieve pressure build-up.

Weep Screed is a vertical metal lattice that provides reinforcement for stucco and the drainage of moisture. It is located at or below the foundation plate me.


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