Florida Contractor’s How-To Glossary
The definitions in this glossary are provided as an aid to assist you with unfamiliar terms. Tools, products, materials, techniques, building codes and local regulations vary; therefore the reader must always exercise reasonable caution, follow applicable codes and regulations, and is urged to consult with a professional if in doubt about any terms or procedures.
Scroll to find the definition you’re looking for or click the first letter of the term.
Air Space: The area between insulation facing and interior of exterior wall coverings. For best results, manufacturers recommend filling this space with insulation and allowing at least 3/4″ air space in installing reflective faced insulation.
Amendments (Soil): Organic substances added to the soil to improve its quality.
Annual: A plant that completes its life cycle in a single year.
Aphids: Insects that look like black, yellow, green or white grains of rice, and suck the juices of new growth on plants.
Balancing: Fine-tuning the air flow of a heating/cooling system to even up the delivery through a home.
Balled and Burlapped (B&B): A method of plant preparation in which the roots are contained inside a moist “ball” of rich loam, and wrapped in burlap to protect it during storage and transport.
Balusters: Spindles that help support a staircase handrail.
Bareroot: Plants sold with the roots loose rather than contained in a wrapped soil ball or container.
Bat: A half-brick.
Batt: A section of fiber-glass or rock-wool insulation measuring 15 or 23 inches wide by four to eight feet long.
Batten: A narrow strip used to cover joints between boards or panels.
Bed (plant): A specific garden area in which plants are grouped together to create a unified design.
Biennial (plant): A plant with a life cycle that spans two years.
Biscuit: n. a football shaped wafer of wood, usually compressed beech, designed to swell with the application of glue and used to key and strengthen glue joints in woodworking. Plastic biscuits are also used in special applications such as joining panels of special composition countertop material. v. to join by use of biscuits.
Blankets: Fiber-glass or rock-wool insulation that comes in long rolls 15 or 23 inches wide.
Blocking: Small wood pieces to brace framing members or to provide a nailing base for gypsum board or paneling.
Board Foot: A unit of measure for lumber equal to 1 inch thick by 12 inches wide by 12 inches long. Examples:
1″ x 12″ x 16′ = 16 board feet
2″ x 12″ x 16′ = 32 board feet
Bond: The pattern in which bricks or other masonry units are laid. Also, the cementing action of an adhesive.
Bottom chord: The lower or bottom member of a truss.
Bracing: In a stick-built roof system it is the W-shaped structural member which provides support to the roof rafter. A piece of dimensional lumber or metal, used diagonally on the corner of a home. See corner brace.
Brick veneer: a four-inch brick wall used to provide an exterior finish for a house.
Broadcast: To randomly disperse seeds or other material across a set area.
BTU (British Thermal Unit): The amount of heat needed to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. Heating and cooling equipment commonly is rated by the BTUs it can deliver or absorb. Also see heat gain and heat loss.
Building codes: Community ordinances governing the manner in which a home may be constructed or modified. Most codes primarily concern themselves with fire and health, with separate sections relating to electrical, plumbing, and structural work. Also see zoning.
Butt: To place materials end-to-end or end-to-edge without overlapping.
Butt hinge: The most common type. One leaf attaches to the door’s edge, the other to its jamb.
Casing: Trim work around a door, window, or other opening.
Caulk: Any of a variety of different compounds used to seal seams and joints against infiltration of water and air.
Ceiling joist: One of a series of parallel framing members used to support ceiling loads and supported in turn by larger beams, girders or bearing walls.
Ceramic tile: A man-made or machine-made clay tile used to finish a floor or wall.
CFM (cubic feet per minute): A rating that expresses the amount of air a blower or fan can move.
Chalking: The tendency of some exterior paints to gradually erode away over a period of time.
Class “A:” Optimum fire rating issued by Underwriter’s Laboratories on roofing. The building code in some areas requires this type of roofing for fire safety.
Class “C:” Minimum fire rating issued by the Underwriters’ Laboratories for roofing materials.
Cold Frame: A four-sided structure with a glass or plastic covering used to shelter young plants or transplanted seedlings from cold temperatures.
Companion planting: The method of protecting a specific species of plant from a predatory insect by planting a more desirable plant nearby.
Compost: A diverse mixture of completely decayed organic matter used for fertilizing and conditioning soil.
Compression web: A member of a truss which connects the bottom and top chords and provides downward support.
Concrete block: A hollow or solid unit made of concrete used in building construction.
Conduit: A metal tube used to run, house or contain electrical wire.
Convection: Currents created by heating air, which then rises and pulls cooler air behind it. Also see radiation.
COP (coefficient of performance): A measure of the efficiency of any heating unit– arrived at by dividing its output in BTUs by its input in BTUs.
Coping: A cap at the top of a wall that’s rounded or beveled to shed water. Also, a curved cut made so that one contoured molding can join neatly with another.
Corm: A bulb-like structure that serves as a continual underground food source for a flowering plant.
Corner bead: Lightweight, perforated metal angle used to reinforce outside corners in drywall construction.
Corner assembly: The framing members used to change direction in an interior-exterior wall.
Cornice: The projection from a building that crowns or finishes the edge. Horizontal projection at the top of exterior wall which finishes the eaves of a building.
Courses: Parallel layers of building materials such as bricks, shingles, or siding laid up horizontally.
Cove: A concave curve where vertical and horizontal surfaces join.
Crawl space: Space between floor and ground of a house or building.
Cripples: Short studs above or below a door or window opening.
Crown: Paving slightly humped so that water will run off. Also a contoured molding sometimes installed at the junctures of walls and ceilings.
Cultivar: A plant variety resulting from the cross-pollination of two different plants within a species.
Cultivate: To assist a plant in the growing process.
Cupping: A type of warping that causes boards to curl up at their edges.
Damper: A valve inside a duct or flue that can be used to slow or stop the flow of air or smoke.
Dampproofing: The coating applied to the exterior of a foundation wall with a waterproofing material such as foundation coating.
Dead bolt: A locking device that can be activated only with a key or thumb turn. Unlike a latch, which has a beveled tongue, dead bolts have square ends.
Deadhead: To remove flower heads from plants after they have bloomed to prolong the flowering season.
Deciduous: A plant that loses most or all of its leaves in fall or winter.
Decking: The material installed over the supporting framing members to which the roofing material is applied.
Determinate: A plant that, by artificial or natural means, produces all of its flowers or fruit at the same time.
Directional Light: Light intensity at the center of the beam. Used for flood and spot light bulbs types.
Division: A method of producing new plants from existing stock by digging up the plant, cutting it into two or more pieces, and replanting.
Do-it-yourself (DIY): The process of doing any project by oneself. Some may traditionally have been contracted out to a professional or in the case of a klutz done by one’s spouse or father-in-law. If necessity is the mother of invention it is also the father of DIY.
Double cylinder: A type of lock that must be operated with a key from inside as well as outside.
Double-digging: The process of moving the topsoil of one area to another area to reinvigorate the soil.
Double hung window: A window that has a top sash and bottom sash, both of which move up and down.
Double pane window: Two panes of glass sealed at the edges to create dead air space. The sealed air acts as an insulator.
Drain tile: A perforated, corrugated plastic pipe laid at the bottom of the foundation wall used to drain excess water away from the foundation. It prevents water from seeping through the foundation wall.
Drip line: The circumference around a plant formed by water that drips off its outermost leaves or branches.
Drying in: The construction process generally considered to be from the foundation plate up through the application of exterior finish materials.
Dry wall: A masonry wall laid up without mortar.
DWV (drain-waste-vent): The section of a plumbing system that carries water and sewer gases out of a home.
EPACT: Energy Policy Act. Government regulations promoting the use of energy efficient lighting by prohibiting the manufacturing or importing of certain inefficient bulb types.
Efflorescence: A whitish powder sometimes exuded by the mortar joints in masonry work. It’s caused by salts rising to the surface.
Elbow (ell): A plumbing or electrical fitting that lets you change directions in runs of pipe or conduit.
Espalier: Method of training a plant in a formal pattern against a wall or trellis.
Evaporator coil: The part of a cooling system that absorbs heat from air in your home. Also see condensing unit.
Evergreen: A plant that retains its green foliage and is functional for more than one growing season.
Expansion joint: Flexible material between two surfaces that enables joints to ride out differing rates of expansion and contraction.
Fascia board: Horizontal trim attached to the outside ends of rafters or to the top of an exterior wall.
Felt: Highly absorbent fiber material saturated and impregnated with asphalt and used as backing for rock surfaced roofing materials. Made from organic, asbestos or glass fibers to result in a strong, absorbent and flexible product.
Female: Any part, such as a nut or fitting, into which another (male) part can be inserted. Internal threads are female.
Finger joint: A manufacturing process of interlocking two shorter pieces of wood end to end to create a longer piece of dimensional lumber or molding. Often used in jambs and casings.
Finish roof: Shingles, asphalt, etc. used to cover the exterior of a roof.
Fire brick: Brick made of refractory ceramic material which will resist high temperatures. Used in a fireplace.
Fire blocking: Short horizontal members sometimes nailed between studs, usually about halfway up a wall.
Firebrick: Highly heat-resistant brick for lining fireplaces and boilers.
Flashing: Metal or composition strips used to seal junctions between roofing and other surfaces, or in the valleys between different slopes.
Floating: The next-to-last stage in concrete work, when you smooth off the job and bring water to the surface.
Floor girder (girder): A horizontal beam supporting the floor joists.
Floor joist: One of a series of parallel framing members used to support floor loads and supported in turn by larger beams, girders, bearing walls or foundation.
Flue: A pipe or other channel that carries off smoke and combustion gasses to the outside air.
Fluorescent lamp: A light source that instead of “burning” as incandescent bulbs do, uses an ionization process to produce ultraviolet radiation. This turns into visible light when it hits a coating on the tube’s inner surface.
Forcing: Compelling plants, by artificial means, to mature quickly and produce their flowers earlier than normal.
Framing: The wood skeleton of a building.
Framing in: The construction process generally considered to be from the foundation plate up to the application of exterior finish materials.
Frost line: The depth to which the ground freezes below the surface. This varies from region to region, and determines how deep footings must be.
Furring: Lightweight wood or metal strips that even up a wall or ceiling for paneling or drywall. On masonry, furring provides a surface on which to nail.
Gable roof: A roof which slopes from two sides only.
Gable stud: The stud at the gable of a roof where the exterior finish is applied.
Gang nail plate: A steel plate attached to both sides at each joint of a truss.
Gate valve: A valve that lets you completely stop–but not modulate–the flow within a pipe. Also see globe valve.
GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter): An electrical safety device that instantly shuts down a circuit if a leakage occurs. Codes commonly require them on bathroom and outdoor circuits.
Girder (floor girder): A horizontal beam supporting the floor joists.
Glazing: The process of installing glass, which commonly is secured with glazier’s points and glazing compound.
Globe valve: A valve that lets you adjust the flow of water to any rate between fully on and fully off. Also see gate valve.
Grade: Ground level, or the elevation at any given point.
Grain: The direction of fibers in lumber or other materials.
Ground: Refers to electricity’s habit of seeking the shortest route to earth. Neutral wires carry it there in all circuits. An additional grounding wire–or the sheathing of metal-clad cable or conduit–protects against shock
if the neutral leg is interrupted.
Groundcovers: Low-growing, spreading plants used for ornamental purposes, or as a substitution for grass.
Grout: Thin mortar that fills the joints between tiles or other masonry.
Gypsum board: See drywall.
Half-hardy: Referring to plants that can withstand long periods of damp or cold weather, but may be damaged by frost.
Harden off: The process of increasing an indoor plant’s exposure to light and colder temperatures to acclimate it to outdoor conditions.
Hardy: Referring to plants that have the ability to survive prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures.
Heat pump: A reversible air conditioner that can extract heat from outside as well as inside air.
Heel in: A method of protecting a plant, such as a Rose or Blackberry bush, by placing its stems in a shallow trench over winter.
Herbaceous: Referring to non-woody (soft-stemmed) perennial plants that often die back to the ground every winter and reappear in the spring.
HID (high intensity discharge) lamp: A lamp that operates in the same way as a fluorescent tube, but that has a bulb like incandescent lamps.
Hip roof: A roof with four sloping sides.
Hoop stake: A long, thin, metal post with a perpendicular ring of wire at the top, which serves as a support for tall-growing flowers.
Humus: Dark, rich, organic soil matter made from decaying plant or animal material.
Hybrid: A plant that is the offspring of two parent plants of differing varieties, species, or cultivars.
Inside corner: The point at which two walls form an internal angle, as in the corner of a room.
Interior finish: Any coverings that cover the interior walls of a house. Examples are drywall, paneling, etc.
Jack post: A type of structural support made of metal, which can be raised or lowered through a series of pins and a screw to meet the height required. Basically used as a replacement for an old supporting member in a building.
Joint compound: A synthetic-based formula used in combination with paper tape to conceal joints between drywall panels. Also see taping.
Joists: Horizontal framing members that support a floor and/or ceiling.
Kilowatt (kw): One thousand watts. A kilowatt hour is the base unit used in measuring electrical consumption. Also see watt.
Latch: A beveled metal tongue operated by a spring-loaded knob or lever. The tongue’s bevel lets you close the door and engage the locking mechanism, if any, without using a key. Contrasts with dead bolt.
Lath: Strips of wood, expanded metal mesh, or a special drywall that serve as a base for plaster or stucco.
Layering: A method of plant propagation by which a single stem of a plant is notched, and buried with its leafy tip exposed, while still attached to the parent.
Leaching: Occurs when water flushes mineral substances and nutrients out of the soil.
Leggy: Refers to plants that have an abnormal amount of stem in relation to their flower and foliage.
Life: The average number of hours a bulb will burn.
Lighting Efficiency: Expressed as Lumens per Watt. A measure of efficiency similar to miles per gallon. The best choice is usually the highest light output (Lumens) for the least power consumed (Watts).
Limit switch: A safety control that automatically shuts off a furnace if it gets too hot. Most also control blower cycles.
Lineal foot: A unit of measure for lumber equal to any thickness by any width by 12 inches long. Example: 2″ x 6″ x 14′ = 14 lineal feet. 1″ x 6″ x 14′ = 14 lineal feet.
Lintel: A load-bearing beam over an opening in masonry, such as a door or fireplace.
Loam: Ideal garden soil that has a well-balanced moisture of sand, silt and clay.
Masonry: Brick, tile, stone, concrete units, etc., or combinations thereof, bonded with mortar. Something constructed using bricks or stones.
Millwork: Woodwork such as doors, sashes and trim that have been shaped, usually by a milling machine.
Miter: A joint formed by beveling the edges or ends of two pieces at 45-degree angles, then fitting them together to make a 90-degree angle.
Mortar: The bonding agent between bricks, blocks, or other masonry units. Consists of water, sand, and cement–but not gravel. Also see concrete.
Mortise: A hole, slot, groove, or other recess into which another element fits. Most hinges, for example, are mortised so they lie flush.
Mulch: Any organic material spread on top of soil to reduce water loss, prevent the growth of weeds, enrich the soil, and feed the plants.
Muriatic acid: Commonly used as a brick cleaner after masonry work is completed.
Naturalize: A method of random garden plant distribution that simulates the growth of plants in the wild.
Newel post: A post at the bottom, landing, or top of a staircase to which the handrail is secured.
No-hub: A clamp-and-sleeve system for joining together cast-iron drainage pipes. Older hub-type pipes had to be leaded at all joints.
Offshoots: New plants that branch out from the base of a plant’s main stem.
Ornamental: A plant raised for aesthetic reasons.
Outside corner: The point at which two walls form an external angle, one you usually can walk around.
Overhang: Outward projecting eave-soffit area of a roof; the part of the roof that hangs out or over the outside wall.
Partition: An interior dividing wall. Partitions may or may not be bearing.
Paving: Materials–commonly masonry–laid down to make a firm, even surface.
Payback: The length of time before the money you save with new equipment, insulation, etc. will equal your original investment. Commonly used in evaluating energy-related items.
Pier: A masonry post. Piers often serve as footings for wood or steel posts.
Pinch off: A method of encouraging bushy plant growth by removing the growing tip with a pinching motion.
Pilot hole: A small-diameter hole that guides a nail or screw.
Pilot light: A small, continuous flame that ignites gas or oil burners when needed.
Pitch (roof): The slope of a roof expressed in feet rise per foot of run.
Plenum: The main hot-air supply duct leading from a furnace.
Plugs: Circular pieces of sod that are planted in a grid formation to start a new lawn.
Plumb: True vertical. Also see level.
Plumb bob: A lead weight attached to a string. It is the tool used in determining plumb.
Plywood: A building panel made by gluing together thin layers of wood. Alternating grain directions from one layer to the next adds strength.
Pressure-treated wood: Lumber that has been saturated with a preservative.
Primer: A first coating formulated to seal raw surfaces and hold succeeding finish coats.
Propagate: To grow new plants from old ones by using one of a variety of methods.
Radiation: Energy transmitted from a heat source to the air around it. So-called “radiators” actually depend more on convection than radiation.
Rafters: Parallel framing members that support a roof.
Retaining wall: A barrier created with stones, timbers, or boards, prevent the erosion of soil on steep slopes.
Rhizome: A horizontal, fleshy stem under or on the ground that sends out roots and shoots.
Ridge board: The topmost beam at the peak of a roof to which rafters tie.
Rise: The vertical distance from one point to another above it; a measurement you need in planning a stairway or ramp. Also see run.
Riser: The upright piece between two stairsteps. Also see tread.
Roof sheathing: The sheets or boards for sheathing over rafters. Also called roof decking, roof underlayment.
Roofing cement: A pliable asphalt- or plastic-based compound used as an adhesive and to seal flashings, minor leaks, etc.
Rootbound: Container-grown plants that lack adequate space for root growth.
Rough opening: The openings in walls and partitions for doors and windows as formed by the framing members.
Rough sill: The framing member at the bottom of a rough opening for a window. It is attached to the cripple studs below the rough opening.
Roughing-in: The initial stage of a plumbing, electrical, carpentry, or other project, when all components that won’t be seen after the second finishing phase are assembled.
Row cover: Nylon or synthetic netting used to cover young seedlings to protect them from predators.
Run: The horizontal distance a ramp or stairway traverses. Also see rise.
R-value: A measure of the resistance an insulating material offers to heat transfer. The higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation.
Saddle: The plate at the bottom of some–usually exterior–door openings. Sometimes called a threshold.
Sash: The openable part of a window, consisting of a frame and one or more panes of glass.
Setback: The distance a home must be built from property lines (this is dictated by local zoning ordinances. Also a temporary change in a thermostat’s setting.
Settlement: Shifts in a structure, usually caused by freeze-thaw cycles underground.
Sheathing: The first covering on a roof or exterior wall, usually fastened directly to rafters or studs.
Sheetrock: A type of wall and ceiling finish made from ground gypsum covered with a paper finish. Common sizes are 4’x8′, 4’x12′. Most commonly used as a wall finish that is then painted or wallpapered. Also, drywall,
gypsum wall board.
Shim: Thin material inserted to make adjustments in level or plumb. Tapered wood shingles make excellent shims in carpentry work.
Shingle: A covering used to finish the sides or the roof of a house.
Shoe molding: Strips of quarter round commonly used where a baseboard meets the floor. Also sometimes known as base shoe.
Shrub: A plant with woody stems that is usually less than 15 ft. tall at maturity, and is either deciduous or evergreen.
Siding: The finish material of an exterior wall. Types include wood, aluminum, vinyl and hardboard.
Sill: The lowest horizontal piece of window, door, or wall framework.
Sill plate (mudsill): Bottom horizontal member of an exterior wall frame which rests atop foundation, sometimes called mudsill; also sole plate, bottom member of interior wall frame.
Slab (concrete): A term referring to a flat area of concrete.
Slab construction: A build term referring to construction placed on a slab as its foundation.
Sleepers: Boards laid directly over a masonry floor to serve as nailers for plywood, or strip or plank flooring.
Soffit: Covering attached to the underside of eaves or a staircase.
Soil test: A measurement of major nutrient (phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen) and pH levels in the soil.
Soil pipe: A large pipe that carries liquid and solid wastes to a sewer or septic tank.
Spacing: The distance between individual members or shingles in building construction.
Span: The distance between supports, generally walls, for rafters or trusses.
Spandrel: The space between two openings which are one above the other in a wall.
Spec home: A house built before it is sold. The builder speculates that he can sell it at a profit. Sometimes he speculates that he can merely sell it.
Specifications: Written elaboration in specific detail about construction materials and methods; this supplements working drawings.
Square: A situation that exists when two elements are at right angles to each other. Also a tool for checking this. An area of roofing which is 10′ square or comprising 100 square feet.
Staking: A method of supporting tall, upright-growing plants by tying their stems to a wood or metal post.
Standard (plant): A plant that is trained, through pruning or staking, to the form of a tree.
Stick built: A house built without prefabricated parts. Also called conventional building.
Stringer: The side or inclined member of a stair system used to support the treads and risers.
Stops: Moldings along the inner edges of a door or window frame. Also valves used to shut off water to a fixture.
Stucco: A mixture of Portland cement, sand, lime and water used to cover cement blocks for decoration purposes.
Stud framing: A building method that distributes structural loads to each of a series of relatively lightweight studs. Contrasts with post-and-beam.
Studs: Vertical 2×3, 2×4, or 2×6 framing members spaced at regular intervals within a wall.
Subfloor: Bottom layer of plywood or boards in a two-layer floor.
Sucker: A shoot that grows from a plant’s roots or from beneath the surface of the ground and may affect the plant’s health, appearance, or longevity.
Taping: The process of covering drywall joints with paper tape and joint compound.
Tee: A T-shaped plumbing fitting.
Tender: Referring to plants that are susceptible to frost and may not be able to survive freezing temperatures.
Terminal bud: The uppermost bud on a stem.
Terra Cotta: A ceramic material molded into masonry units.
Thatch: A layer of plant debris that accumulates between the soil and the grass blades, and prevents the flow of moisture, air and nutrients to the grass roots
Thinning: Cutting branches or stems back to the main branch to allow sunlight into the plant’s center, provide air circulation, and encourage remaining stems to grow in their normal direction.
Three-four-five triangle: An easy, mathematical way to check whether a large angle is square. Measure three feet along one side, four feet along the other; if the corner is square, the diagonal distance between those two points will equal five feet.
Threshold: See saddle.
Throat: The opening at the top of a fireplace through which smoke passes en-route to the flue.
Tie (veneer): A metal strip used to tie a brick or masonry wall to the wooden frame wall.
Toe-nail: To drive nails at an angle.
Ton: A measure of cooling power. One ton equals 12,000 BTU’s.
Tongue and groove: A style of lumber in which the pieces interlock to form a strong solid formation.
Top chord: The upper or top member of a truss.
Top dressing: Feeding plants by sprinkling fertilizer or compost on top of them.
Top plate: The topmost horizontal element of a stud-frame wall.
Topiary: The art of pruning and shaping trees and shrubs into decorative shapes.
Topsoil: The uppermost layer of soil that is the site for plants’ root growth and contains the most organic matter.
Training: Method of controlling plant growth, especially on climbing plants, by tying the stems to a support and pruning the plant back regularly.
Trap: A plumbing fitting that holds water to prevent air, gas, and vermin from backing up into a fixture.
Treads: The level parts of a staircase. Also see risers.
Treated lumber: A chemical treatment applied to dimension lumber to prevent rot or decay. Examples are Womanized, salt treatment, penta wood. Used mainly in outdoor decks and other exposed areas.
Trimmers: Studs at either side of a door, window, or other opening that are used to support the header.
Truss: A prefabricated structure made of wood members designed to form a rigid framework for supporting loads over a given span.
Trusses: Pre-engineered and wood frames designed to support roof or floor loads.
Tuberous: Referring to plants possessing thick and fleshy underground roots that serve as sites for food storage.
Underlayment: Top layer of plywood (or other material) in a two-layer floor. Provides a smooth base for carpet, tile or sheet flooring.
Union: A plumbing fitting that joins pipes end-to-end so they can be dismantled.
Vapor barrier: A waterproof membrane in a floor, wall, or ceiling that blocks the transfer of condensation.
Variegation: A pattern of stripes or patches on otherwise solid-colored leaves.
Variety: A naturally grown or cultivated type of plant species.
Weeds: Unwanted plants that grow rampantly through other plantings and may strangle desirable plants, competing for their food, water and light.
Woody: Referring to hard-stemmed plants that are capable of surviving cold weather and do not die back.
Zoning: Ordinances regulating the ways in which a property may be used in any given neighborhood. Zoning laws may limit where you can locate a structure. Also see building codes.