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Demystifying the Construction Lingo: A Homeowner's Guide to Building Terms

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Building or rebuilding a home is an exciting yet complex journey. If you're new to the world of construction, the terminology can feel like a foreign language. But don't worry, we're here to translate! This guide breaks down essential construction terms, providing you with the knowledge to navigate your project with confidence.

Meet the Maestro: The General Contractor

  • General Contractor: A general contractor oversees the entire construction project, managing all aspects such as hiring subcontractors, obtaining materials, and ensuring work is completed according to plans. Example: Think of the general contractor as the conductor of an orchestra, coordinating all the musicians (subcontractors) to create a harmonious performance (finished home).

Setting the Stage: Planning and Budgeting

  • General Conditions: These are the direct job costs for the project incurred by the General Contractor. Including items such as site management (superintendent), temporary facilities, utilities, toilets, and site cleanup. Example: The cost of a laborer to set up temporary fencing to protect the job site.

  • Contingency: A budget provision for unexpected costs during construction, typically ranging from 3% to 10% of the budget. Example: Contingency is like carrying an umbrella; you hope you won't need it, but it's good to have if a storm (unexpected cost) arises.

  • Bid: A bid is a proposal submitted by a contractor (or subcontractor) detailing the total cost for a specific project or part of a project. Bids are often solicited from multiple contractors to ensure competitive pricing.

  • Allowances: Budgeted amounts for specific items or tasks that may vary in cost. Example: An allowance for appliances might be set at $25,000, giving you flexibility in choosing the models and features you want.

  • Estimate: An estimate is an educated guess or approximation of the cost for a particular task or item that may not be well-defined at the outset of the project. Example: If the exact type of flooring has not been selected, the contractor might include an estimate for flooring based on the average cost of materials and labor for similar homes in the area.

  • Fixed Cost: A cost set by your general contractor for specific tasks or materials. Example: A fixed cost for roofing might be $27,000, based on a detailed quote from the roofer.

Making Changes and Choices: Design and Materials

  • Change Orders: Modifications to the original construction contract, often resulting in additional costs. Example: If you decide to add a fireplace, a change order would detail the additional work and cost involved.

  • Finish Schedules: Outlines the materials and finishes to be used, vital for coordinating work and ensuring cohesive design. Example: A finish schedule might list the type of wood flooring for the living room and the tile for the bathroom.

  • Value Engineering: A process to improve value by examining function and cost. Example: Value engineering might find a less expensive flooring option that still meets design goals.

  • Mock-up: Creating a model to visualize the final product, like a mock-up of a fireplace.

The Heart of the Home: Systems and Functionality

  • MEP: Stands for Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing, the essential systems that make the home functional. Example: MEP includes heating and cooling systems (Mechanical), wiring and lighting (Electrical), and water and sewage lines (Plumbing).

  • AV (Audio-Visual) Systems: The entertainment heartbeat of the home, encompassing everything from home theaters to smart home controls. Example: An AV system might include surround sound speakers in the living room for movie nights and integrated controls for lighting, temperature, and security.

Organizing the Library: Documentation and Legalities

  • CSI Codes: Standardized system for organizing construction costs. Example: CSI codes help categorize different parts of the project, like a library's Dewey Decimal System for books.

  • Subcontractor: A specialized contractor performing specific tasks, such as plumbing or roofing. Example: The general contractor might hire a subcontractor who specializes in installing granite countertops.

  • Punch List: A list of work not conforming to contract specifications that must be completed before final payment. Example: A punch list might include painting touch-ups or fixing a leaky faucet.

  • Lien Waiver: A legal document stating that payment has been received, waiving future lien rights. Example: A lien waiver from a subcontractor confirms they've been paid and won't seek further payment.

  • Building Codes: Regulations governing construction to safeguard health and safety. Example: Safety rules, like ensuring stair railings are the right height.

  • Permitting: Obtaining approvals from local authorities to proceed with construction.

  • Submittals: Documents or materials submitted for approval during construction. Example: A submittal might include a sample of the tile chosen for the kitchen backsplash.

  • Warranty Period: Time after completion when the contractor fixes defects or issues. Example: If a door starts sticking six months after completion, it might be fixed under warranty.

Understanding these terms and concepts will empower you as a homeowner to engage more confidently in the rebuilding process. But beyond the terminology, the foundation of a successful construction project lies in the relationship you build with your general contractor. Your contractor is not just a service provider but a partner and advocate in turning your vision into reality.

Building or rebuilding a home is a complex endeavor that involves coordinating 20-30 different subcontractors, complying with building codes, managing budgets, and countless other details. Your general contractor is the expert you're hiring to navigate this intricate process, working on your behalf to ensure everything comes together seamlessly.

It's essential to establish a relationship of trust and open communication with your general contractor. Feel free to ask questions, express your concerns, and stay engaged throughout the project. A collaborative relationship fosters transparency, aligns expectations, and contributes to a successful and satisfying home rebuilding experience.

Remember, your contractor is there to help, guide, and support you every step of the way. By working closely together and understanding the language of construction, you can actively participate in key decisions and enjoy the exciting journey of creating your dream home.

So, grab your hard hat and let's build your dream home together, one term at a time!



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