Need-to-know construction terms for building your industry knowledge from the ground up.
- Work breakdown structure
The breakdown of a project into an organized grouping of project deliverables in order to more clearly see the smaller components in the total work scope of a project.
Also known as a construction takeoff or take-off, a list of all raw materials and prefabricated components needed to complete a project, the quantity needed, and the cost for each material.
- Punch list
A document created near the end of a construction project with a list of any items within the project that do not conform to contract specifications and must be addressed by the general contractor before payment is received.
- Toolbox talk
A toolbox talk is an informal meeting focused on topics related to safety and tailored to the specific job a crew is working on, such as job site hazards and safe work practices. During these meetings, both workers and supervisors get to share their tips, status updates, and insights to help crews safely navigate the project they’re working on.
- Tilt-up construction
A method of construction in which concrete slabs or panels are poured into frames on the ground and then raised into vertical positions by cranes to create the exterior wall formation of a building.
A government regulation that involves restricting how a parcel of land is used. For example, industrial buildings cannot be constructed in areas zoned solely for residential.
A distortion of material, which can be a sign of water damage.
A very thin sheet of wood. It is typically a finer wood that is used as a decorative cover for lower-quality wood.
A framework, typically consisting of rafters, posts, and struts, supporting a roof, bridge, or other structure. Triangular in shape, trusses only incur axial force.
- Time clock app
A mobile app allowing users to clock in and out of shifts on a job site directly from their smartphone. Some time clock apps, such as ExakTime’s, are powered by GPS and can track workers’ time, location, and speed of travel in real-time.
Employee timesheets record the start and end time of tasks. They usually contain a detailed breakdown of tasks accomplished by each employee during a workweek, and are used by payroll managers to know how much to compensate employees during each pay period.
- Storm Chasers
Companies that solicit home repair business (including roofing and siding) after natural disasters occur. Some storm chasers exploit homeowners with money-making scams or low-quality work.
Material that covers up the joint between the floor and a wall in the interior of a building, for aesthetic purposes.
- Site inspection
An in-person, planned or unplanned visit and review of your job site, usually by government officials (e.g. an OSHA inspection). A common reason for inspection is to ensure that state or federal safety regulations are being followed, and to provide recommendations where they are not. When found in violation, a business is cited and sometimes fined.
- Silica dust
A particle also known as “crystalline silica” and “quartz” that when inhaled can lead to silicosis—a disease of the lungs—and cancer. High-risk jobs requiring protective measures against silica dust include abrasive blasting, foundry work, stone cutting, rock drilling, quarry work and tunneling, among others.
- Scratch coat
The first coat of plaster which is scratched to form a bond for a second coat.
- Scope of Work (SoW)
A formal written document created after a bid is won, listing all tasks required to complete a construction project. A companion to the construction contract, it serves as the reference point for accountability and guidance for the duration of the project. (In contrast, Material Specifications emphasize the functional or performance criteria required, including specific quantities, qualities, materials and the like.)
- R value
A measurement used for insulation to determine a material’s resistance to the passage of heat. The higher the R value, the more insulating “power” it has.
- RFI (Request For Information)
A formal piece of communication with the goal of resolving gaps, conflicts, or ambiguities during the bidding process or early in the construction process. An RFI is meant to eliminate the need for costly change orders.
Ribbed steel bars installed in concrete foundation walls and footers, and poured in place within concrete structures to add strength. Comes in various thicknesses and strength grade.
A series of roof frame pieces connected to the supports that hold up the roofing and sheathing.
- QTO (Quantity Takeoff)
A detailed measurement of materials and labor needed to complete a construction project, and their costs. Also known as a “construction takeoff”, the QTO is developed by an estimator during the preconstruction phase and used to craft a bid for the scope of construction.
Abbreviation for polyvinyl chloride, a plastic commonly used for water pipes and flooring.
- Prevailing wage
Prevailing wages are established by the Department of Labor for each trade working on public projects. This includes the hourly wage, benefits and overtime paid in the largest city in each county to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics. To stay compliant, workers must get paid weekly on these government-funded projects.
- PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
Protective clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer’s body from injury or infection.
A list of all employees to be paid plus the wage or salary owed to each. This term can also refer to the actual money on hand for distribution.
A wall placed at the edge of a roof that prevents people from falling off.
- Overtime (OT)
Unless employees are FLSA-exempt, hours worked beyond 40 per work week are deemed “overtime” and compensated accordingly. Overtime pay must be at least 1.5 times the regular pay rate.
- OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
A U.S. government agency within the Department of Labor that regulates the safety and health of workers on American job sites.
- OC (“On Center”)
The measurement of spacing for studs, rafters, and joists in a building from the center of one member to the center of the next.
A mixture used in masonry work consisting of cement or lime blended with sand and water. Mortar is used to bind together bricks, concrete, stones and more.
A method used to lay pipes without digging trenches. During the moling process, a machine known as a “mole” forces its way through the soil along the desired path of the pipe.
- Material Procurement
The researching of products and vendors, negotiating, and purchasing of goods that is done to obtain the appropriate materials for a project.
- Material Specification
A document, usually prepared by an architect or designer, detailing the materials to be used in a given project. This document sometimes includes reference standards and definitions.
The binding together of stone, brick, concrete, hollow-tile, concrete block, or other similar building units or materials with mortar to form a wall.
- Lean Construction
A modern system of construction with the aim of improving efficiency, reduce wasted time, and improve bottom lines. The point of this approach is to minimize risk, decrease costs and use of materials based on customer needs.
A metal wire on the frame of a building, serving as a base for laying down plaster or stucco.
A section where the surfaces of two components are joined.
A beam that has a cross-section resembling a capital “I”. Girders often have an I-beam cross-section.
An abbreviation standing for heat, ventilation, and air conditioning.
Also known as a project hand over or turnover, it is the stage at which the responsibility for a project is transferred from the construction team back to the building owner.
The completed assembly of main and cross tees in a suspended ceiling system, installed before the ceiling panels are put in.
The main horizontal support of a structure that supports the smaller beams.
- General Contractor (GC)
A company or person who enters into a contract with the owner of a construction site. The GC is responsible for completing the project, and often partners with subcontractors during different phases of the job.
- FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act)
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that mandates minimum wage, overtime pay eligibility, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments. DOL audits are typically undertaken to uphold FLSA.
A carpenter contractor who builds a home or structure based on blueprints—including installing lumber, flooring, backing, rafters, beams and all other work related to the wooden part of the home.
The supporting portion of a structure below the first floor construction, or below grade, including the footings.
A supervisor (a.k.a. foreman or forewoman) oversees the construction activities that take place on the worksite, and is heavily involved in planning, organizing and controlling projects.
- Field measure
Taking actual measurements of units such as cabinets, countertops and doors within a structure versus relying on blueprints for the numbers.
Included in a bid proposal, an estimate is the total amount a contractor believes a project will cost—including labor, materials and other expenses.
The heating system, usually including round or rectangular metal pipes used for distributing hot or cold air from the furnace or central air conditioning unit to rooms in a home or building.
- DOL Audit
An investigation of a business by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division. The Wage and Hour Division conducts audits to enforce federal labor law, primarily the FLSA. These audits exist to enforce labor law compliance by administering penalties for negligence.
- Department of Labor (DOL)
A department within the U.S. government that regulates wage and salary work and protects employees from worker abuse and dangerous worksite conditions across all industries.
The Davis-Bacon Act was passed by Congress during the Great Depression to protect workers on federal projects from unfair wages. One aspect of the act is known as prevailing wage law. The prevailing wage is the hourly wage, benefits and overtime paid to most of the workers, laborers and mechanics within a particular area. Each state has their own “certified” wage rates contractors must abide by for federal jobs.
- Cross tee
A short, metal T-beam connecting the spaces between main beams in suspended ceiling systems.
A pipe, usually metal, used to protect electric wiring.
- Construction industry software
Software solutions used to make any or all aspects of construction contracting easier, such as ExakTime’s construction workforce management solution.
Following the rules set out in a regulation or law. For instance, “labor law compliance” means following, or complying, with the Fair Labor Standards Act (along with any other applicable laws).
- Change order
A document that modifies the plans, price, or deadline of a construction contract.
- Certified payroll
Used for all government construction contracts that fall under the Davis-Bacon Act, certified payroll requires completion of Federal Form WH-347 that lists all employees, wages, benefits, the number of hours worked and type of work. This form must be submitted on a weekly basis along with withholdings, gross wages and a statement of compliance.
- CAD (Computer-Aided Design)
The use of architecture software to create detailed, accurate models of buildings during the design process.
- BOQ (Bill of Quantities)
Used to properly price a project and complete the Quantity Takeoff, a bill of quantities is a document containing a list of materials needed to complete a project along with brief descriptions.
- Bull float
A handled tool or machine with a flat plane for giving the final surfacing to a concrete poured area, as in a sidewalk or road, to make it smooth. Also known as a concrete float or power float.
- BIM (Building Information Modeling)
Software that allows key stakeholders to visualize, manage and share data about a building or other kind of construction project; a digital scale model in which every component and material can be identified, ensuring everyone is working from the same plan.
A formal offer made by a contractor to finish a project in accordance with job specifications and within a certain time frame and budget.
The process of refilling holes and trenches that were made during excavation at a job site.
- Base or base board
A board, usually wooden or vinyl, covering the lowest part of an interior wall. Its purpose is to cover the joint between the wall surface and the floor.
- ANSI (American National Standards Institute)
A not-for-profit organization that oversees the creation and use of voluntary health and safety standards for products and businesses across many industries (including plumbing).
- Air space
The one-inch space between insulation and exterior wall coverings.
A mixture of sand, stone, slag, and gravel that is used to make concrete.
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- Mike Cooper,
Cooper Drywall, Knoxville, TN