Gemming up on builder speak before ringing for quotes or commissioning work can really help you specify a job more accurately. Knowing what you are talking about will help you avoid being scammed or charged for work that needn’t be done at all. Keep this glossary with some key terms to hand and you will be talking to the trades like a pro.
‘Acro prop’ is a strong metal column that can be extended or shortened, with a plate at either end. It’s used to support walls when removing lower portions of the brickwork.
‘Chippy’ is the carpenter or joiner on a job; ‘sparky’ is the electrician.
‘Efflorescence’ is the salty deposit you sometimes see coming out of walls. It is most common on relatively new brickwork, where it is caused by evaporation, and more often a cause for concern in established buildings where it can be a sign of water ingress rather than the wicking of moisture that was introduced as part of the building process.
‘First fix’ is the list of jobs involved in installing the hidden parts of a house, like air conditioning, pipes and wiring. If you can’t see something because it is behind your stud walls, above the ceiling or below the floor, it will have been put there as part of the first fix. The ‘second fix’ is the list of jobs that will be done after plastering, such as painting and decorating.
‘Flashing’ is the metal layer used to channel water away from brickwork. You will often see it above or below a window, around a pipe or chimney, or in the eve of a house. Over time, it can become corroded and may need replacing.
‘Flush’, aside from being a feature of modern toilets, is the term used to describe something that sits at the same level as the surrounding wall, such as the top of a countersunk screw.
‘Glulam’ is literally glued, laminated timber, hence the name. It is produced by gluing together several very thin layers of timber, which are clamped until the glue dries. The result is a strong, resilient building material that can be formed into a range of adventurous shapes for use as bannisters, floors and roof supports.
‘Go off’ is what plaster does when it sets on a wall, concrete does on a floor, sealant does around your bath and so on. If your builder tells you work needs to stop until the new plaster has gone off, they are probably telling the truth: it is not just an excuse to down tools for the day.
‘Grout’ is a filler used between tiles. Although often white or grey, it is now available in a range of colours to suit your décor.
‘Hipped roofs’ have a slope at either end, with a ridge in between.
‘Lintels’ are concrete supports used above empty spaces, like doorways and windows. They are used to support brickwork courses, or whole floors, above. See also, RSJ.
‘Making good’ is the task of repairing a badly done job or the damage caused as a by-product of another job, like installing sockets and switches. If your new plaster cracks excessively, tiles fall off the wall or the sealant around your bath splits, ask the builder to come back and make good.
‘MDF’ stands for medium density fibreboard and describes an artificial timber substitute made by gluing together offcuts, splinters and wood dust. It’s easy to shape and work with, but if you are using it in a kitchen, make sure your surfaces are well covered as it can swell when it gets damp.
‘Pointing’ is the mortar between bricks. Over time, this can be eroded by the weather, requiring that it be replaced through a process known as repointing.
‘RSJ’ stands for rolled steel joist, and is also known as an H beam, I beam or universal beam (it is not a reinforced steel joist, although your builder will have heard it called that so often they will be impressed you know better). Both strong and flexible, they are used as supports, often when a supporting wall is removed.
‘Screed’ is the grey substance, consisting of a sand and cement mix, that is used on ground floors, and over which you will usually lay tile or carpet.
‘Stack’ is a more technical term for the vertical (stacked) waste pipes running through or down the outside of your house, serving your sinks and toilets. Internally, they will often be boxed in for neatness.
‘Truss’ is a scaffolding-like arrangement of smaller supports used where a cheaper, less complex support would be impractical. For example, when converting a loft, a truss might be used to open up space that would otherwise be cut through by simpler but bulkier roof joists.
‘Underpinning’ is a process by which existing foundations are strengthened by inserting new foundation material beneath them. This may be undertaken to mitigate the effects of subsidence, or to take the weight of an extra floor when extending a building upwards.
‘Water table’ is the level below which the ground around your home is impossibly saturated. The water table can rise or fall depending on environmental conditions, and its level may have a bearing on the kind of foundations required for a building, and other measures that may need to be taken to minimise the impact of (or risk of) flooding.
Most important of all:
‘Builder’s tea’ is strong (often stewed) and usually sweet. Traditionally served in a mug, with two or three sugars and milk, it should be accompanied by a plate of digestives.
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