150 Common Construction Terms to Know

140 Common Construction Terms to Know

The construction industry has many complicated jargons that make it hard for anyone new to grasp these new terms. If you are starting as a construction manager or trying to set up a new project, it would be advisable to understand some of the basic terms used in the industry.

We have compiled a glossary of some of the most common terms you will likely encounter working on your project.


Most common terms in construction


Aggregate refers to coarse or medium-grained particulate material that contains sand, crushed stone, and gravel, or recycled concrete. Aggregates are used in foundations, concrete mixes, railroads, and tarmac roads.


This refers to the overall costs necessary to complete a project. It encompasses both direct and indirect costs.


An appraisal is an opinion given by a cost consultant on the valuation of a property. The purpose is to assess available options before settling on a preferred choice for building.


An apprentice is someone who has taken up specialty training under the guidance of an experienced craft professional. Skills taught during an apprenticeship will depend on the specialty they are pursuing and the skill level of their educator/mentor.

Architect of Record

This refers to the person whose license and name are attached to the construction permits used in a particular site. The architect-of-record is not necessarily the project’s designer, but he handles the project’s paperwork.


As-built drawings are the complete records of the drawings representing the actual work completed in a project. They are essential as they are used to track deviations from the original building plans.

AWP (advanced work packaging)

Advanced work packaging is a process framework for industrial construction projects that facilitates engineering planning to be driven by construction sequencing.

Back Charge

A back charge arises when one party is indebted to another party in a contract. They are typically billed after the completion of construction works. For instance, if a plumbing subcontractor’s installations end up in leaking pipes, the general contractor can back charge for repair costs.


This is the process of replacing soil removed during the excavation of foundations or related earthworks. This protects foundations and parts of the substructure from natural elements. The material used in backfills can be the same soil removed from excavation or new rocks or dirt that meet the structural requirements.

Base estimate

The base estimate is the preliminary cost estimate from the contractor. It contains the contractor’s profits and overheads, design fee estimates, and other project cost estimates. It, however, excludes risk and inflation.


Beams are horizontal members that carry perpendicular loads. They can span below slabs or wall openings.

Bearing capacity

The bearing capacity is the strength of soil to withstand imposed loads on it. The safe bearing capacity is whereby the maximum contact pressure by a structure on the ground should not produce shear failure in the soil.

Best value method

The best value method is a procurement method used in construction that ensures the client gets the optimum value for money in building. It is also used in prequalifying bidders for a project. It combines cost, quality, and sustainability.


Construction bidding is the process of submitting proposals to undertake a project to a client. It starts with cost estimation, and the qualifying firm is chosen from this process.

Bid leveling

Bid leveling is the process of confirming that bidders within the same bid package are pricing work on an even level with all factors considered. By normalizing all bids on a project, clients can more easily evaluate the bidders. 

Bid-hit ratio

This is the ratio of successful against unsuccessful bids that a contractor makes.

Bid Package

A bid package is the set of documents that a contractor sends when requesting proposals. The bid package contains the scope of work, project specifications, drawings, and general conditions.

Bid Selection

Bid selection is the process whereby the client chooses the best bidder for the project. In most cases, the lowest bidder wins the contract, but private clients consider many factors before awarding a project.

Bid Solicitation 

Bid solicitation is whereby a client notifies bidders of a project opportunity by sending out invitations for bids or requests for proposals.

BIM (building information modeling)

This is a process for creating and managing the necessary information in a construction project. BIM solutions are based on cloud platforms, and they integrate data from different disciplines to replicate a digital representation of an asset during its lifecycle.


Blocking is using short pieces of lumber to fill, join, or reinforce a building structure.


A blueprint is a drawing that encompasses all of the project’s specifications. They are used to determine a project’s feasibility, obtain licenses, and actual construction. Since much of construction documents are digital today, blueprint can be seen as a somewhat outdated term for plans and models. 

BOQ (bill of quantities)

This is the document prepared by the cost consultant that itemizes materials, equipment, labor, and other associated costs. It provides the specific quantities of the project in drawings and specifications.

Box crib

Box cribs are temporary wooden structures used in supporting objects during construction. They can be used to secure overturned vehicles and debris from collapsed structures.

Builder’s risk insurance

This covers any losses incurred during construction. It covers the destruction of a building, theft of materials, destruction by fire, wind, or theft.

Building engineer

The building engineer is concerned with the planning, operation, design, and construction of a project. They provide advice on cost-effective systems for the building.

Building line

This line demarcates the edges of a plot of land beyond which construction cannot occur. It is set back at a specified distance from the property line.

CAD (computer-aided design)

This broad concept primarily refers to using computer software to undertake project design successfully. Project designers create models and digital representations of entire structures using CAD.


A cant is an oblique line that slants off or cuts off at a corner.


A cantilever is a beam supported only on one side but carries load either at the end or along the unsupported span.


Casework is the name that refers to manufacturing boxed furniture like racks, drawers, storage spaces, and bookcases.

Catastrophic failure

When a structure gets to ultimate stress levels, catastrophic failure occurs. This failure is sudden and cascades down a building. Recovery from it is impossible.


Caulking is applying ‘caulk’ around doors and windows. The caulk acts as a sealant and is suitable in areas with no expansion and contraction. The caulk is applied using a caulking gun, and it hardens after drying.

Change Order

This refers to an amendment in the construction contract that leads to changes in the scope of work. Ambiguities or the owner’s desire to implement changes to the project can bring change orders about in the construction plans.

Civil engineering

Civil engineering is an engineering discipline that involves the design, construction, and maintenance of environments that humans benefit from on a daily basis. This includes infrastructure in the form of buildings, public works like water and power, and any other built environment. Examples include roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, airports, railroads, power grids, water management, and more.

Clash detection

Clash detection is the process of identifying construction errors in a virtual space before work is done onsite, which cuts down on costly rework downstream. This allows BIM/VDC leaders and construction teams to catch errors before they’re discovered in the field and become very costly rework. Clash detection is best done automatically with design coordination software to ensure adherence to safety regulations and operational needs in the built environment. 


Closeout is the process of confirming all facets and components of an entire job are properly finished and signed off on before the team begins to disperse. The contractor or project manager needs to be sure that all parts of a project are truly complete and that the last components installed look as good as the first.

CMAR (construction management at risk)

Construction manager at risk is one of the construction delivery methods whereby a construction manager is bound to deliver the project under a guaranteed maximum price. This price is based on specifications and construction documents plus any other inferred contract terms.

Conceptual estimate

A conceptual estimate is an estimate prepared using engineering concepts and avoiding the counting of individual pieces. As the name implies, conceptual estimates are generally made in the early phases of a project, before construction drawings are completed.

Concrete Cover

Concrete cover is the distance between concrete reinforcements and the outer surface of the concrete.

Concrete slab

A concrete slab is a flat horizontal surface supported by beam or column systems. It is a common structural element in modern buildings that comes in many different finishes.

Construction build out

Construction build-out is necessary to bring a structure from foundation to completion. After construction build-out, a building is ready for occupancy.

Construction estimate

A construction estimate is a forecast of costs on elements of a building structure. Construction estimation is the process of forecasting these building costs to assess the feasibility and allocate budgets.

Construction management software

Construction management software is a project management solution that helps companies solve issues like decision making, task scheduling, budgeting, and communication. It automates a lot of solutions making the construction business easier.

Contract formation

In construction, contract formation is an agreement between a client and a contractor to undertake a project. One party must propose a contract, and another party accepts. It involves negotiations for the parties to arrive at amicable conclusions.

Cost codes

Cost codes are defined lists of prices on items used for managing, tracking, reporting, and budgeting the expenses associated with a job.

Cost-plus contract

A cost-plus contract is a contract in construction where the owner pays the contractor costs for labor and materials and an additional negotiated margin to cover for profits.

Cross bracing

Cross Bracing refers to diagonal supports that cross in an X-shaped manner to provide additional supports to a structure. It is an excellent way to improve structural stability and performance in a building.

Cut and fill

Cut and fill in construction is moving earth from a construction site logically. Instead of shipping out the old dirt from excavation, the soil is preserved and used in leveling and grading after construction.

Daily report

A construction daily report is a document filed daily by a site manager at the end of every working day on a project. It ensures everyone on the project is at par, thus preventing mistakes and miscommunication.

Damp proofing

Damp proofing is a method of moisture control in construction that is applied to floors, walls, and interiors to prevent water percolation into structures.

Dead Load

A dead load is a static load in a structure that remains permanent over a structure’s lifetime. It can be due to self-weight, fixed décor, permanent attachments, and accessories.


This is a contracting delivery method where the project owner contracts different parties to undertake the design and construction. Construction only begins after design, and there is no overlap between design and construction. It is the most common project delivery method.


Design-build is a project delivery method where one party enters a contract with the project owner to offer design and construction services.


A diagrid is a network of metal concrete or wooden framework that diagonally intersect and are used for building construction and roofing.


Construction drawings are pictorial and graphical representations of a structure’s dimensions, components, and details.


A drywall is a wall panel consisting of gypsum sandwiched between two thick papers. It is used in interior wall panels and ceilings for replacing traditional plastering methods.


Elevation is an orthographic projection of the exterior faces of a building. Elevations depict how the finished appearance of a building will appear.


An encasement in construction is the covering used in building components. It includes underground pipes, roofing materials, and any toxic substances in building components.


Falsework means the temporary works done in construction to support the permanent structure till the construction process is complete.


FF&E is a common abbreviation used to denote Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment. FF&E has no permanent connection to a building’s structure and its utilities.

Fieldwork order

A fieldwork order is a document from the client to the general contractor or a subcontractor to perform changes in a project outside the initially agreed scope.

Floor plan

A floor plan is a constructional drawing that depicts a house design or construction project from above.


A footing is the part of a building’s foundation that creates an attachment between the soil and the foundation of the building.


The foreman is a critical player in the contractor’s team, and his work is to organize and coordinate the site’s operatives. He oversees the timely completion of tasks and often prepares project reports.

General contractor

A general contractor is a company or person employed by the client responsible for coordinating and executing large projects. They manage subcontractors, handle budgets and schedules in projects.


 A girder is the primary horizontal support in a structure carrying vertical loads and small beams. Most girders are steel I-beams, and they span longer than ordinary beams.

GMP (guaranteed maximum price)

A guaranteed maximum price is the highest price a client can pay for a project. If the construction price goes beyond the guaranteed maximum price, the client is not contractually obliged to pay the contractor.


This is an abbreviation referring to Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning systems in a building.

IFB (invitation for bid)

Invitation for bids is a call from a client to contractors soliciting services for a project’s delivery. It lays project requirements, service requirements, standards, and qualifications.

ILD (integrated labor delivery) 

Integrated labor delivery is a project delivery framework where labor comes in at the design stage. Subcontractors perform about 80% to 100% of the work.

IPD (integrated project delivery)

IPD is an approach in construction project planning that integrates business structures, people, and systems. It entails a multi-party contract between the contractor, architect, and client. The stakeholders share the incentives and risks of the project.

Job costing

Job costing is an accounting method for calculating actual costs in a construction project. It breaks down expenses into small specific tasks and details labor and material costs.

Job walk

A job walk is a scheduled job site visit for bidders to gather more information so that they can submit a more accurate bid. The data and time is set by an owner for their project’s bidding general contractors (GC) or general contractors setting a time for bidding subcontractors.


A joint is a separation between different building elements that allows for independent movement and protects the structure from damage.


Joists are horizontal elements running in a parallel series perpendicularly across beams or girders. They provide for load transfer.


A journeyperson is a skilled tradesperson who has successfully completed an apprenticeship under a master craftsperson. They are considered competent in their craft and qualified to be paid for the services they provide. However, they are not usually considered skilled enough to hire or train others. Once this person has completed their journeypersonman years, they may become a master and operate independently without the guidance of a master craftsperson.

Lean construction

Lean construction is a construction methodology that aims at achieving a reliable and predictable workflow model that is continuous. It is goal-oriented and aims at reducing wastage while maximizing value.


A lease-leaseback is a construction delivery method where an owner leases a site to a developer who develops it and returns it to the owner. The developer might finance the project to completion or receive partial payments over the project’s lifetime.


A lien is a claim made either by a contractor or subcontractor over unpaid work on a property that’s been adequately done.

Lift slab construction

This is a construction method for concrete buildings whereby a floor or a roof slab is cast on a previously existing slab. The new slab is then raised using hydraulic jacks.

Live load

A live load is a variable load on a structural element, and the value of the load varies with the time and occupancy of the structure.

Low bid procurement

This is a method for awarding construction contracts in competitive bidding where the lowest bidder wins the contract.

Lump-sum contracts

This is a construction contract where the contractor bids for a project for a total project price instead of bidding on individual items. This single price is then agreed upon before the commencement of works.

Load-bearing wall

A load-bearing wall is a structural wall in a building that carries loads from a roof structure to the foundation below. Removal of load-bearing walls can cause a collapse in a structure.

Lookout (architecture)

A lookout is a wooden joist in a roof rafter that extends as a cantilever to the exterior of a building. It supports the roof and provides for a nailing surface.

MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing)

MEP is an abbreviation that stands for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. They are the technical aspects that make a building habitable.


This is a construction method for laying pipes without excavation. A pneumatically driven machine is driven in the pipe’s path to mole through the soil then pipes are laid.

Monocrete construction

Monocrete construction is a construction method that uses concrete wall panels that are bolted together.


Mortar is a mixture of sand, water, and aggregates that makes an inert cementing material. The mixture then hardens into a stone-like structure and spread over surfaces.

Negotiated procurement

Negotiated procurement is a procurement approach where the owner and contractor collaborate and negotiate contract terms legally.

NIC (not in contract)

The term NIC is common in construction documents, and it refers to Not In Contract.

NTE (not-to-exceed)

 An NTE is a contract type that means Not to Exceed price. In this contract type, a contractor’s expenditure and scope of work are limited to this value.

OCO (owner change order)

In construction, an owner change order (OCO) is an amendment to the original scope of contractually agreed upon work, initiated by the owner. 

It is common for change orders to cause cost overruns on a project. When an owner requests a change order, it’s assumed that budget and schedule will be refactored by contractors according to the amended project needs.


 This is an eco-friendly material that is an alternative to plywood or fiberboard. Particleboards use wastes such as sawdust and wood shavings and mix them with resin to form boards.

Pay applications 

A pay application is a group of documents with completed project billing exchanged between a contractor and a client.

Penalty clause

This is a provision in a contract that specifies the payable monetary sums in the event of a breach of contract. They usually happen when there is a breach in time or project budget.

Performance gap

This is the difference in the performance value of a structure from the predicted value in the design stage and the actual value in the post-occupancy stage.


Plywood is a material made from thin wood veneers glued together. The wooden sheets are stronger and more stable, providing a rigid sheet that does not warp easily.

PO (purchase order)

A purchase order is a construction document the buyer and vendor have agreed upon outlining the goods and services necessary to complete a project. It is used to place orders before delivery.

Precast concrete

Precast concrete refers to concrete that is manufactured away from the construction site. Concrete is produced in a reusable mold, cured in a controlled environment then transported to the site.

Project manager 

A project manager is responsible for overseeing a project’s success from inception to completion. They lead the planning, execution, budgeting, monitoring, and control of a project.


This is a legal contract for delivering construction projects or services between a public and a private entity. It is the private entity that usually funds the project.

Punch list

A punch list is a document created before the final inspection, and project closeout lists incomplete or improperly completed works. It is usually attached to the certificate of substantial completion.


A purlin is a horizontal structure that provides structural support in buildings. They are common in roof trusses and support roof rafters.

PVC (poly vinyl chloride)

PVC is the most common plastic material that is used in plastic pipes, window frames, flooring, cables, and roofing.

Quantity takeoff 

A quantity takeoff is a detailed measurement of the materials, equipment, and labor necessary to complete a project. It involves dividing project components into small units that are easy to estimate and measure.


A rafter is a sloped structural piece supporting the roof, and it extends from the ridge of the roof to the wall plate. Rafters are usually laid in a series and provide supports for roof decks and roof coverings.

Reinforced concrete

Reinforced concrete refers to concrete embedded in which steel absorbs tension and shear stresses in concrete.

RFI (request for information) 

A request for information is a formally written document from the contractor or designer seeking clarification of specifications, agreements, construction plans, or drawings.

RFP (request for proposal)

A request for proposal is a public announcement by a client seeking out bids for a project. The RFP defines the project, scope, and detailed specifications.

RFQ (request for quote)

A request for quote is an invitation for bidding of services or activities by an owner or contractor of a project. The request for a quote can be for vendors or subcontractors.

RFT (request for tender)

A request for tenders is a sealed bid in a structured format that sends out invitations to suppliers to solicit services. A request for tender is broader in scope than a request for proposal, which is more specific.


This is the stage in construction where the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing lines are brought into the project. During the rough-in, the basic framing of the project is complete, but the final connections of the project are not complete.


Rubblization is a construction technique that aims at saving concrete transportation costs. It is breaking concrete and reducing it to rubble, then transporting it to a different location and using it as base material.

Schedule of values

A schedule of values is a list of work items on a project and the related item costs and values. A schedule of values covers the entire contract sum as small work portions.

Scope creep

Scope creep refers to when project requirements and scope extend and increase gradually over time. Deliverables increase over time. Scope creep is generally a result of disagreements and miscommunication.

Scope of work (SOW)

This refers to the volume of work that should be performed in a project. It is recorded in a scope document that records project milestones, reports, and deliverables. It also has a timeline for the project.

Section drawing

A section drawing shows the view of a structure or object as if it had been sliced through along an imaginary plane.


A shiplap is a wooden board used on the exterior sides of sheds, barns, and buildings. They overlap and usually are left unfinished to give a rustic feel.

Shop drawings

These are drawings prepared by the contractor, subcontractor, or fabricator showing detailed specifications on how a component will be manufactured. It depicts the design intent and is issued to the project manager for compliance review.


This is a temporary support used in construction to reinforce below-ground excavations. It is also used as a temporary support during the repair of buildings.


This is a strip that covers the lowest part of an interior wall. It covers the joint between the wall surface and the floor. It serves decoration purposes and at the same time protects the wall from abrasion and kicks.

Slack time

Slack time is also known as float, and it refers to the amount of time that can elapse as a project transitions from one task to another. This time is accounted for during scheduling to cater for functions that are at risk of facing delays.

Soil investigation

This refers to the geotechnical studies conducted to establish soil strength before commencing construction. Soil investigations also guide designers on the type of building they should construct in an area.

Soil stockpile

This is removing the topsoil before construction and saving it for later use. The stockpile is then used for landscaping and restoration after construction.


Specifications explain the scope of work, craft, materials to be used, and installations in a project. They are contained in a document presented during bidding.


Staking is a process by land surveyors to mark out sites where the building of a project will take place. It helps the project move from plans and blueprints to actual construction.


Studs are framing elements running along a wall between the floor and ceiling to support the walls.


Subcontracting refers to bringing outside parties to a project to perform specific tasks which the main contractor has not specialized in or cannot accomplish.


A subcontractor refers to anyone providing services or labor in a project and they are hired by the general contractor.


A submittal is a written document from the contractor to the design team requesting approvals on equipment, materials, or completed works. Submittals can be in the form of shop drawings or cut sheets.


A subfloor is the foundation layer placed just beneath the flooring surface to provide a continuous structural surface. It is made of plywood or cement fiberboard.


A superstructure is the part of a building that is above ground level. It bears different loads and submits them to the soil through the substructure.

Target value design

Target value design is a method in construction management that applies target costing to deliver a project within a client’s budgetary constraints.


A tender is an offer from a client to undertake a project at an agreed price. Tendering, on the other hand, is whereby an employer invites contractors to submit bids.

Thin-shell structure 

This is a curved lightweight structure meant to transfer shear, tensile and compressive stresses. They encase structures with continuous surfaces.

Tie (cavity wall)

A tie in a cavity wall is the component used to join the internal and external walls of a cavity wall, thus allowing them to act as a homogeneous unit. This ensures the stability of a cavity wall.

Time and materials (T&M)

Time and materials are a form of contract used when a project’s scope has not been predetermined. Contractors are therefore paid based on time and materials used in a project.

Topping out

Topping out is when the uppermost beam, steel, or beam member is laid in place, signifying that a building has reached its height. It is also referred to as topping off, and a ceremony is sometimes held to celebrate this milestone.


A truss is a structural member made of steel or timber lying in a single plane to form a series of triangles. Trusses are primarily used in roofs, towers, and bridges.


Underpinning is the process of increasing the depths of existing foundations to transfer loads to stable soils. It is sometimes used to stabilize buildings with shallow foundations when buildings with deep foundations are constructed adjacent to them.

Unit price contracts

A unit price contract is whereby a construction company divides the work in a project into small portions then uses this to estimate project costs. These contracts are outstanding when the scope of a project is not clear.

VDC (Virtual design and construction)

Virtual design and construction is a digital technology employed by architects, engineers, and contractors to visualize building plans, designs, and processes. It assists the project team in assessing construction plans from inception to finish.


A veneer is a thin layer of steel or wood that covers the exterior part of a framed wall. It improves resistance to fires, pests, and strong winds.

VIF (verify in field)

VIF is a common abbreviation on construction documents and specifications, and it means verify in field.

Voided Biaxial Slab

This is a reinforced concrete slab with voids to reduce the volume of concrete. These slabs are generally prefabricated and are one-way spanning.

Wall Stud

This is a fundamental wall framing member that supports part of a wall or partition. It is smaller in cross-section compared to a wall.


Warping refers to the change in timber’s flatness caused by uneven changes in moisture content on the piece of wood.


Zoning is subdividing land in a municipality where properties exist in different areas of a municipality. Zoning laws also determine the maximum building heights and distance of a building from the road.


Understanding these construction terms gives you a deeper meaning of what happens in construction. Since the construction industry is multi-disciplinary, you will also hear these terms used in engineering, cost estimation, and architecture.

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