Renovation Terminology and Home Construction Terms Worth Knowing

A bathroom with white tiles

If you’re starting a home construction project and feeling overwhelmed by all the construction jargon, our list of construction terms can help.

Below is our guide to all of the jargon and lingo you need to know before you break ground and start working with Kirby Construction Company’s Reno home builders.



An amount of money allocated for specific items, as outlined in the construction contract.  An allowance is a rough estimate of cost for materials and labor. If there are items like countertops and appliances that you haven’t yet decided on before work begins, your contractor will likely add an allowance to your contract for that item. What you choose will ultimately affect the price of materials and labor.


This is a formal offer that you receive from a contractor which specifies the amount of work, under what conditions and estimation of cost. A bid gives you the power to negotiate the terms and conditions of your build.  (i.e., cost or timeline) and to move forward with the construction contract.


Blueprints are drawings of a structure prepared by an architect or designer. Blueprints help with planning, estimating, and securing permits for the actual construction of the home or remodel.

Building codes

These are rules or ordinances as established by a local or state jurisdiction covering how a house can be built or modified.  Building codes vary based on your community and geographical location. In most cases, new homes must meet the most recent codes, while older existing homes have some additional flexibility when it comes to being brought up-to-date. Your general contractor can help guide you when it comes to understanding and interpreting these codes. In many instances, an HOA can and will determine how your home looks.


“Can” is short for can light. This refers to various forms of recessed lighting.

Change Order

Change orders are written documents that modify the construction contract after work begins. A change order is essentially an agreement between you and your contractor to change the scope, price, schedule or any other term within the contract. The end result is almost always an increase in cost and labor time.

Cost Overrun and Underrun

The difference between the original contract price and the final cost of work, which includes all approved changes.


An easement is a formal agreement between two parties allowing one to use another’s property. You may need a right of way easement to run electricity, water, or gas lines across another owner’s property. Easements don’t grant ownership, only the right to use someone else’s property for specified purposes.

General Contractor

A licensed construction company that provides general building services. General contractors typically supervise the project along with specialty and subcontractors who handle specific elements of the home-building process, such as electrical work.


Is an acronym for “heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.” HVAC encompasses all of the units, materials, and techniques used to control the ventilation, air quality, and thermal comfort of your home.

HOA Approval

If you live in or plan to live in a community with an HOA, be aware that your HOA will have rules that dictate the finishes, style, and design of your home. You and your general contractor will need approval from the HOA before you being construction or remodeling.


An abbreviation for lamination or work that involves laminate.


LID is another term for the ceiling.  Faux beams or lights may be installed directly into the lid.

Live Edge

Building materials like countertops that incorporate or feature raw, chiseled or natural cut wood or other materials.


LVT is short for Luxury Vinyl Tile. LVT is an industry term, not a standard, for vinyl that realistically mimics the appearance of natural materials with an added layer to improve wear and performance.

VCT refers to vinyl composition tile, or sometimes vinyl composite tile. This is another finished flooring material used primarily in commercial and institutional applications.


Millwork applies generally to all finished or “milled” woodwork. Manufacturers or special craftsman may complete this work in a factory or onsite. Interior and exterior trim such as cabinet moldings, window sashes, cornices, wall crowns, and baseboard moldings are all examples of millwork. Millwork does not include flooring, ceiling or siding.

Lien/Mechanic’s Lien

A construction lien is a claim made against a property by a contractor or other professional who has supplied labor or materials for work on that property. Construction liens are designed to protect professionals from the risk of not being paid for services rendered.

A mechanic’s lien is a security interest in the title to real and personal property. It exists for the benefit of those who have supplied labor or materials that improve the property. If you don’t pay your bill, then your general contractor owns your house. They can then put a lien on that property until you pay.


In the construction industry, mud refers to a semi-fluid material that coats, seals, or adheres to various other materials. Other common names for mud include slurry, mortar, plaster, stucco, and concrete.

Not-To-Exceed (NTE)

An NTE price guarantees that construction costs don’t exceed a specified amount as stated in a contract. NTE’s may increase or decrease over the course of your build.  Contractors are typically responsible for overruns unless your NTE is adjusted for the added costs.


A permit grants you authorization from a government authority to build your house, proceed with particular phases of the building process or execute some form of addition or remodel. There are various permits for various construction applications, such as zoning, demolition, grading, septic, building, electrical and plumbing.


Plot refers to the specified parcel of land you own or plan to build your home on. An acre is a typical measurement for a plot of land.

Property Survey

Locating and measuring a property’s boundary lines and determining its exact coordinates, the amount of land, and location of easements or right of ways is part of the property survey. Surveys ensure that construction takes place within the legal boundaries of your property.

Restocking Fee

A restocking fee refers to an amount of money charged by your general or subcontractor or materials supplier for accepting returned materials or products.


R-value is a measure of the heat transfer rates for insulation. Higher R-values denote a higher quality of insulation performance and typically the thicker the insulation. For most structures like homes, builders plan for higher R rated insulation (R30) in the attics because that’s where much of the heat and cooling losses occur. Insulation for single story floors requires lower R values (R13) and walls somewhere in between (R25). The thickness and R values of insulation vary widely depending on where the structure is located and the overall local weather patterns.

A number identifying the level of insulation. The higher the number, the better the insulation works. R-value requirements for new homes vary according to your climate and where your home is located.


All framing and construction work that occurs before installing sheetrock. All contractor work, whether electrical, plumbing, or HVAC, requires a “roughing-in” phase that consists of basic installations and preparations for initial inspection and eventual trim work. Each contractor must schedule their rough-in so as not to conflict with others.


The soffit is the underside of any construction element. Soffits typically feature exposed siding underneath your roof’s overhang.


A specialty contractor typically brought in by your general contractor to complete a specific part of the building or construction process. 


Trim-out refers to the installation of all fixtures like lighting, faucets, cabinets etc.

Trough/Liner Drain

A trough or liner drain (also referred to as a channel drain, line drain, slot drain, linear drain or strip drain) is a specific type of floor drain with a central trough or channel-shaped body. It is most commonly used to evacuate water from a surface.

Waterfall Edge

Refers to a slab countertop that rolls over to one side. A waterfall slab is most commonly seen when the horizontal surface of the countertop miters vertically downward and terminates at the floor. This can be at the end of a cabinet or it could be free standing like at an eating area or bar top. It is almost always cut from the same slab so the grain or pattern monolithically transfers from the horizontal to the vertical surface creating the “waterfall” effect.

Connect with Kirby Construction Reno Home Builders

At Kirby Construction,  our Reno home builders, designers, and staff exercise great care in shepherding you through the custom home building experience. We commit ourselves to honesty, integrity, and craftsmanship. Your satisfaction is our goal throughout your journey. We’re here to help with everything from pre-construction services and new construction to remodels and additions. We know you may not always understand construction jargon, so we make sure that you aren’t left out of the loop. Get planning with us today!

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