Construction terms: The construction terms you need to know
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Construction terms 101
The construction industry is a complicated industry, with architects, engineers, machine operators, project managers and labourers all combining to bring unique skill sets, understandings and their own interconnected vocabularies.
Construction has a number of unique 'terms', which these different professions and people use to describe their jobs, activities and what needs to be done.
Construction terms - like all languages - evolve over time. The hard construction terms and terminology around technical aspects of construction remain largely the same, but the common construction terms which permeate sites all over the world are always changing.
Knowing your construction terms is an important part of working in the construction industry. It's awkward when your boss or fellow worker talks about a construction term which you have never heard of or don't understand, even if you're nodding your head in agreement.
It serves your interactions, communications and career incredibly well to know your construction terms well.
And like in every industry and new subject, the best way to learn about construction terms is to read them, understand what they are, and begin applying them to your own conversations.
The construction terms dictionary
In order to help you understand and navigate the construction industry and landscape, we have assembled a construction terms dictionary which you can read through, look back and rely on for your construction terms.
The construction terms have been broken down into sections or 'groups' of terms in order to best navigate and understand them.
This construction terms dictionary is not exhaustive - meaning there are obviously hundreds of other construction terms which you may or may not need to be aware of.
But if you can get all of these construction terms into your vocabulary, you will be in a good place when discussing the fundamental aspects and activities being performed on your construction sites.
Construction management terms
Construction management and construction project management are filled with acronyms, interesting terms and a good dose of jargon. Navigating these construction terms can be tricky, especially when discussing a construction project with a project manager or director.
So here's a list of the construction management terms you should be aware of - and well versed in:
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) - A work breakdown structure is one of the most important construction management terms. Work breakdown structures enable construction and project managers to breakdown project deliverables into sub-deliverables, which enables companies to manage project into manageable pieces.
Stakeholder - Stakeholder can often by confused with shareholder, and vice versa. A stakeholder is an important term, because a stakeholder is any person who is engaged with and influenced by a project including contractors, subcontractors, governments and communities.
Baseline - Baseline is a construction term which is thrown around a lot, and for good reasons. Baselines are used to measure the performance, progress and results of a project. Some of the more common baselines include cost baselines, production baselines and schedule baselines.
Triple constraint - The triple constraint is a term, but also a concept which you should be aware of. It refers to the 3 major and constant constraints involved in delivering a project: time, scope and cost - with quality at the centre of the constraints.
Gantt chart - Gantt charts are on the most powerful project management terms. A gantt chart is simply a visual representation of a schedule, and you will be seeing and hearing about a lot of gantt charts.
Contingency plan - Contingency plans are one of the construction terms you may hear during the planning phase of a project. A contingency plan is simply a 'backup' plan which a company can engage when the original plan fails to work or has some issues.
Critical path method (CPM) - The critical path method is a methodology which enables construction companies to analyse the critical steps in the project - separating them from the non-critical paths.
Deliverable - One of the most commonly used construction terms for project managers: the deliverable. Every project will require a certain number of required outputs/results - known as deliverables. A specific phase of a project or specific document or report are examples of deliverables.
Change requests - Most construction projects feature changes from the original plan. Change requests take on many different construction terms in the industry, including variations, change orders and change requests.
Quality control and quality assurance - Quality is a broad and extremely commonly used construction term. Quality refers to a product or service being fit for purpose, while quality control and assurance are terms which describe how quality will be maintained and communicated.
Construction management and project management are extremely broad categories and filled with unique terminology - a few of which are captured above.
Construction technology terms
Construction technology has become more and more important for the construction industry in the last 10-15 years, and continue to grow in importance today.
The below construction technology terms highlight some examples of construction technology, as well as some of the terms which are 'hot right now'. Technology moves incredibly quickly, so the construction technology terms which are important tomorrow may be slightly different to what's important today - although some of the core terms and concepts will remain the same.
Construction software - Construction software is one of the most commonly used construction terms, and it can refer to any software-based product or tool which seeks to digitise an aspect of a construction activity - through desktop based software and 'apps'.
Construction hardware - There's plenty of construction hardware on construction sites, but when used in the context of technology, people are referring to hardware like sensors, which connect to software products to automate tasks and deliver insights through data.
IoT (Internet of Things) - The internet of things is a broad term which describes a 'future' where normal objects are connected to the internet and connected to each other. In construction, this term refers to new connectivity and automation options with previously manual objects like machines, tools and safety gear. In the future, these items may be connected to the internet to feed data and insights into dashboards and other mediums.
Cloud-based - Cloud-based refers to a product which is stored, managed, and processed on a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet. This in contrast to non cloud-based services, which are hosted on local servers or personal computers. Many construction softwares today are cloud-based, and the trend is moving more towards this.
Interoperability - A less commonly used construction term, but an important one, construction interoperability refers to whether or not different tools can communicate directly with one another. For example, PDFs and word docs are not fully interoperable.
Artificial intelligence - A construction term which is pretty hot right now and thrown around all too often, artificial intelligence refers to systems which are able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition and complex decision making.
Building construction terms
Building construction has it's own set of building construction terms to know, and depending on your role or specific construction function, you may or may not hear a lot of these terms.
Balustrade - Balustrades are a common building construction terms because they are the vertical support members of stairs, platforms, landings and bridges.
FINIAL - Finials are like many building construction terms, rather confusing unless you know the definition. A finial is the decorative fitting used at the junction of ridges and hips. These junctions occur on conical, pyramid and domes roofs.
Herringbone bond - Herringbone can be used in a number of different ways, because it is a specific diagonal pattern used in paving, tiling and other pattern-based activities.
laminate - Laminate is a commonly used construction term, but one which can be confused. Laminate is simply any product made by bonding together two or more layers.
Rafter - There's plenty of different types of rafters (common rafters, cripple rafters, hip rafters etc.), but they all share a common meaning: they are the sloping member of a roof which provide the main structural support for the roofing material.
Seasoning - Don't get caught out if someone uses this construction term just before or during lunch. While they may be using the term to ask for the salt and/or pepper, there's a chance they are referring to the building construction term about eliminating excess moisture from timber by air or kiln drying.
Shoring - Kind of what it sounds like, shoring is a building construction term which refers to the support of a building to prevent it collapsing. Shoring is a term most commonly used before excavation or demolition.
Vent - Most people know what a vent is, but how about the technical definition? A vent is a pipe which enables the discharging of pressure and/or gas to limit pressure fluctuations.
Valve - Similar to the vent, a valve is a device which controls in this case, the movement of liquid or gas through a specific item such as a piston or gate.
Sump - A sump (also called a drain pit), is a pit at or below the lowest point of any structure. The sump collects unwanted water and facilitates its removal.
Acrow prop - An acrow prop (commonly referred to as acrows) are struts which are adjustable in length and used as temporary supports for structures and scaffold.
Construction equipment terms
Construction equipment terms are some of the more important construction terms to know, because they are often referred to in a direct manner:
- Can you grab me the 'X'
- Get out of the way of the 'X'
You can put yourself in some uncomfortable situations if you don't know your construction equipment terms well.
While you are unlikely to know every piece of equipment and every material on the construction site, here are some important construction equipment terms you should definitely know.
Earthmover - Earthmover is a pretty straightforward construction term, referring to any machine which is built and used to dig dirt or move earth, including blackhoes and bulldozers.
Crawlers - Crawlers is a construction term which is harder to lock down, because it is more broad than many construction terms. Crawlers are versatile machines which do a bunch of things including digging trenches, lifting pipes and loading trucks - typically through various attachments including grapples, breakers and shears.
Cat skinner - Cat skinner is an interesting term which describes a person who actually operates a bulldozer.
Articulated truck - Articulated trucks are a particular type of truck used in construction and other industries like mining, to carry heavy loads over rough terrain and environment.
Hand tools - There are way too many hand tools to cover in a single construction term dictionary like this, so we'll leave the tools for another day.
Construction estimating terms
Construction estimating terms are used in - surprise - the construction estimating phase.
Construction estimating is a vital skill and practice in the industry, and can mean the difference between 'winning' and 'losing'.
Construction estimating is a complicated process, and involves a lot of moving pieces as well as a lot of risk. The construction estimating terms below form a large part of the safety net, tools and strategies which construction companies use to better estimate their projects and ultimately deliver on time and on budget.
The next time you are in one of those construction estimating meetings, you'll be in good shape with these terms.
Bid bond - A bid bond is a formal and written guarantee issues by a third party, assuring that the work performed will be performed in-line with the contract.
Bill of materials - A bill of materials outlines in a list, the materials required to deliver a project (or part of a project).
Building information model (BIM) - A building information model is a computerised model of a building in multiple dimensions, allowing digital and hypothetical changes in plans.
CAD - CAD is one of the most common construction estimating terms, referring to any type of computer assisted drawing, which similar to BIM, allows for digital modelling and estimating.
Cost validation - A cost validation is a critical check and balance on a construction firms own estimate. A cost validation is a professional affirmation that the cost of the materials and/or labour is consistent with the estimate.
Performance bond - Similar to a bid bond, a performance bond is a guarantee secured by a third party by the winning bidder, that work will be completed according to the the contract and project plans and specs.
Riser diagram - A riser diagram is a diagram which companies use to illustrate and depict a system, such as an electrical or plumbing system which travels through and up and down a building.
Specification (spec) - Spec is a construction term which is thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? A specification is the inclusion of a product into the construction plan.
Value engineering - We will dive into construction engineering terms next, but value engineering is still estimating related, being a suggested alternative to save money on a construction project.
Construction engineering terms
Engineering is a technical subject and profession, and it has it's fair share of technical jargon and interesting construction terms.
There are many different types of engineering, and we will try to focus on construction-related engineering terms here.
Beam - Beams come in various forms including simple beams, cantilever beams and continuous beams, and all beams share the common term meaning of being a structural member which carries loads cross-ways to their longitudinal axis.
Cantilever - A cantilever is the part of a member which extends over a beam and is not supported at its end.
Continuity - Continuity shares many things in common with the word continue. Continuity describes the transfer of loads and stresses from member to member as if there were no connections.
Dead load - Dead load describes the loads from the weight of the permanent components of a structure - in contract to dynamic loads which vary over time.
Girder - Girder is another structural construction engineering term, referring to the main horizontal member spanning between to main supports.
Kip - Some words in construction engineering simplify normal every day language. A kip is simply 1000 pounds.
Joist - Joist is one of the more commonly used construction terms, referring to a load-carrying member with a web system used to support floors and roofs - two of the most common elements of any building.
Shear - Most people have heard of sheared bolts, and this describes the term sheared well. Shear refers to the force resulting in two touching parts of a material sliding in opposite directions, often resulting in damage.
Torsion loads - A torsion load is a load which causes a member to twist.
Construction terms Australia
Being an Australia company here at Sitemate, we know all about the construction terms used here in Australia.
Australia is famous for its slang, jargon and interesting language (and often colourful language), and the construction sites in Australia are no different.
Most construction terms in Australia are shortened or given some love by Aussie workers. Here are some of the PG construction terms used in Australia, which you'll definitely need should you ever find yourself on an Australian construction site.
Bushfire attack level of BAL - Many construction terms are created out of necessity. In Australia, bushfires are relatively common unfortunately. A bushfire attack level indicates the construction requirements for building within a bushfire prone area - of which there are quite a few.
Chippie - Australia is famous for naming things, and the construction site is no exception. Why call someone a carpenter when you can call someone a chippie?
Sparkie - Need an electrician? Nah, you need a sparkie (which is an electrician). It's a more endearing term for sure.
Brickie - It doesn't stop at carpenters and electricians. Bricklayers also have their own name and of course, it's brickie.
Dado - Australian's love adding the letter 'o' to everything, including names. But in this case, a dado is simply the lower portion of the wall - near waist height - which usually features a different surface treatment.
Smoko - One of the more famous Australian construction terms, smoko refers to an Australian lunch or 'smoke' break on a construction site. If you're ever on a construction site, you'll probably hear the smoko shout around 10:30am which means grab your sandwich and take a crate.
Acoustic batts - Acoustic batts are not a type of bat species. It is a sound-insulating material used for noise reduction which may not be required in quiet Australian suburbs.
Subbie - In Australia, subcontractors are subbies - and they probably always will be.
Construction legal terms
The legal side of construction is serious business, with disputes and litigation being an all-too common scenario for projects issues and overruns.
In order to mitigate these issues, there are a number of construction legal terms which help to clarify important legal aspects of construction companies, projects and contracts.
Absolute obligation - An obligation to exercise reasonable care at all times.
Adjudicator - No one wants to go to the adjudicator, but sometimes it's required. An adjudicator is a 3rd party who helps parties resolve construction disputes.
ADR or alternative dispute resolution - There's a few steps before involving adjudicators, and one method can involve this non-binding but structured method of settling a dispute through mediation or a small trial.
Building inspector - A commonly used construction term, a building inspector is a local authority officer which ensures compliance with building regulations.
Certifier - A certifier is the person named in a contractor who has the power to issue certificates which have a contractual effect.
Change orders and variations - Change orders and variations are formal letters and documents which enable construction companies to instruct changes in the work specified in the original contract.
Completion - The complete execution of the work.
Defect liability period - Defects are an inevitable part of partaking in any construction project. A defect liability period is a grace period for which project parties can rectify their defects without charge.
EOT - An extension of time is an extension granted to a project party resulting from delays and other issues.
Hudson formula - The hudson formula is not a common construction term, but it is an important one. The hudson formula is used to calculate a contractors loss of profit following prolongation.
Mechanics lien - Liens are incredibly important in construction. A mechanics lien, mostly used in the USA, enables project parties to place a lien on the property until they are paid. Liens are used by both contractors and subcontractors, are a powerful tool parties can use for legal leverage.
Practical completion - A very commonly used construction term, practical completion is defined by the project or phase of work being sufficiently completed to be handed over (even if there are a few minor defects).
Programme, program and schedule - The sequence of events proposed for a construction project, which is intended to be followed.
Quantity surveyor - A surveyor who's job is to measure and value building work.
Snagging list or punch list - A snagging list or punch list are used as legal construction terms, and as basic quality terms, referring to an actual list of defects or omissions which a project party needs to be rectified before their work is deemed to be complete.
Tender - The formal written offer by a contractor to do work.
As you can imagine, the construction legal terms go on and on, and many of them are convoluted and complicated. You won't need to know most of the more sophisticated construction legal terms unless they arise, which means the term is probably the least of your worries.
Remembering your construction terms
Remembering all of your construction terms and acronyms can be a part-time job in and of itself.
Obviously over time, your construction vocabulary and terms will become larger and more sophisticated. But not all of us can wait for new and interesting construction terms to arise in conversation, nor is it advisable to ask what something means at times.
So in order to improve your construction terminology, it helps to read through articles and construction term 'dictionaries' like this, and more broadly, it helps to be proactive about learning and reading about the industry.
Staying on top of new trends in project management, engineering and construction technology can help you stay ahead of the curve - and avoid those awkward head-nodding moments when you have no idea about the construction term which someone has just dropped in your meeting.
About Lance Hodgson
Lance is VP of Marketing at Sitemate. His aim is to bring awareness to a brighter future for the Built World where industrial workers and companies work smarter.