Glossary of Terms Related to Building Construction
Addenda: Written or graphic documents, issued before the execution of a contract that modify, clarify or interpret the bid documents.
AIA: The American Institute of Architects, a profession organization of registered architects.
Allowance: A fixed sum for a specific portion of the work determined by the architect in advance of bidding to be used by all bidders in their bids. An Allowance would be used when the exact character or quality of an element of the work is not known at the time of bidding.
Alternate: An alternative to the base bid that provides for a change in the level of quality, or scope of the work specified in the base bid. This provides the owner with an option to modify the project by accepting or rejecting the alternate.
Approved Equal: Material, equipment, or method proposed by the contractor and approved by the architect for incorporation in or use in the work as equivalent in essential attributes to the material, equipment, or method specified in the contract document.
Architect: A designation reserved, usually by law, for a person or organization professionally qualified and duly licensed to perform architectural services.
Architect of Record: The architect licensed in the jurisdiction that the project is located in, who prepares, stamps and signs the construction documents, and is legally recorded as the architect for the project.
As-Built Drawings (Record Documents): Drawings prepared after construction that describe the actual construction of a project.
Bid: A written agreement prepared by the bidder to enter into a contract to provide the labor and/or materials required by the terms of the bid documents.
Bid Documents: Written and graphic documents prepared by the architect used by the bidders to prepare the bid. A typical bid document might include, construction drawings, specifications, instructions to bidders, a bid form, and other information used by the bidder in the preparation of a bid.
Bid Security: A bond, cash, cashier's check, bank draft, or money order used to warrant that the selected bidder will execute the construction contract and furnish a performance bond, if required, within a stipulated period of time.
Bond: A written obligation by which a bonding agency agrees to pay a specified amount, or complete specified work, in the event a contract is not completed.
Building Inspector: An employee or agent of a governmental authority empowered to inspect building projects and insure that they are constructed according to code.
Building Codes: Regulations, ordinances or statutory requirements of a government unit relating to building construction and occupancy, generally adopted and administered for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare.
Building Official: The municipal official responsible for enforcement and interpretation of the building code.
Building Permit: A license granted by a government agency to construct a specific project on a specific site, under the terms of the permit.
Building Plan: A view of a building floor, looking down from above, showing its horizontal elements, such as, walls, doors, windows, cabinetry, etc..
Change Order: An amendment to the construction contract signed by the owner, architect, and contractor that authorizes a change in the work or an adjustment in the contract sum, or the contract time, or both.
Civil Engineer: An engineer that deals primarily, but not exclusively, with site work, such as road design, drainage design and grading.
Construction Budget: The sum established by the owner as available for construction of the project, including contingencies for bidding to contractors and for changes during construction.
Construction Documents: Drawings and specifications created by an architect that set forth in detail requirements for the construction of the project.
Consultant: In the context of this glossary, a consultant is a design professional usually employed by the architect, to help design a project, such as, a structural engineer, mechanical engineer, interior designer, etc.
Contract: An agreement between two or more parties. In the context of this glossary, a contract refers to the agreement between the contractor and owner, or between the architect and owner.
Contract Documents: The collection of documents that define the agreement between the owner and the contractor, including, but not limited to, the contract, written specifications, and the drawings.
Contractor: In this glossary, the contractor is the builder that has entered into an agreement with the owner to build a project. Since the contractor may bring in subcontractors to construct portions of the project, he/she may also be referred to as "the general contractor" or "the general".
CSI: The Construction Specifications Institute, a professional organization of construction specification writers.
Cost Analysis: The architect calculates expected future operating, maintenance, and replacement costs of desired designs and features to assist homeowners in developing a realistic design and budget estimate.
Design-Build: A method of project delivery in which the owner contracts directly with a single entity that is responsible for both design and construction services for a construction project.
Design Development: The preparation of more detailed drawings and final design plans, showing correct sizes and shapes for rooms. Also included is an outline of the construction specifications, listing the major materials to be used.
Design Architect: A design architect would produce the schematic and/or design development documents for a project, but usually not the construction documents, and may not be the architect of record. This is usually only done on larger projects.
Design Review Committee (Architectural Review Committee): A committee, usually appointed by the city council, or other elected body, that considers the design and aesthetics of proposed development.
Detail: A drawing showing an element, or a small portion of the building.
Door Schedule: A list of the doors, and their characteristics for a project, usually shown in a tabular form.
Electrical Engineer: An engineer that designs the electrical and communications systems for a building.
Elevation: A horizontal view of a building, or object, from one side.
Energy Code: That portion of the building code that relates to energy usage conservation requirements, and standards.
Environmental Impact Report (EIR): Detailed review of a proposed project, its potential adverse environmental effects, possible changes that can be made to reduce adverse effects, and possible alternatives.
Final Completion: That point in which all work is complete, and all other contract requirements have been satisfied.
Finish Schedule: A list of the rooms, and their finishes, usually shown in a tabular form.
Fire Code: That portion of the building code that relates to fire safety requirements, and standards.
Fire Protection Engineer: An engineer that designs the fire alarm, and fire suppression systems for a building.
General Conditions of the Contract: The legal requirements in a construction contract that cover a wide variety of topics, issues, and problems that may arise once the project is under construction.
Hardware Schedule: A list of the hardware used in the doors, usually shown in a tabular form, and referenced in the door schedule.
HVAC: Heating, ventilation, and cooling systems.
Initial Study: Analysis of a project's potential environmental effects to determine whether an EIR is required.
Instructions to Bidders: The ground rules that bidders are expected to adhere to in a bid, such as, date/time bids are due, bid form, where bids are to be delivered, etc.
Interior Elevation: A horizontal view of an interior wall of a building.
Invitation to Bid: A letter inviting a potential bidder to prepare a bid on a project.
Labor and Material Payment Bond: A bond that protects the owner from suits arising out of the original contractor's failure to pay for labor and materials.
Land Use Code (Planning Code): That portion of a municipal ordinance that regulates the development and use of land within the jurisdiction.
Landscape Architect: A licensed design professional that deals primarily, but not exclusively, with site work, such as plant selection, irrigation systems, site furniture, etc.
Lien: A claim on the property of another as security for the payment of a just debt.
Life Cycle Cost Analysis: The calculation of expected future operating, maintenance, and replacement costs of designs and features to assist owners in developing a realistic design and budget estimate.
Mechanical Engineer: An engineer that designs the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems for a building.
Overhead: That portion of the cost of doing business that is not directly related to any specific project.
Performance Bond: A bond that binds a surety company to complete a construction contract if the contractor defaults.
Permits: Approvals required by local building authorities, including building, land use, fire, energy code, etc.
Perspective: A 2 dimensional drawing that represents a 3 dimensional view with vanishing points.
Planning Commission: A group of citizens appointed by the city council or board of supervisors to consider land use planning matters including proposals to adopt or amend a general plan or zoning ordinance, take action on subdivisions, and approve use permits and variances.
Profit: That portion of a fee not included as a direct or overhead cost. Profit is considered the benefit accrued for doing business.
Program: A written statement setting forth design objectives, constraints, and criteria for a project, including special requirements and systems, and site requirements. The program is usually prepared by the architect with input from the owner regarding the goals, needs and function of the project, design expectations, available budget, and pertinent building code and zoning regulations.
Programming: The architect and homeowner first discuss the goals, needs and function of the project, design expectations and available budget, pertinent building code and zoning regulations. The architect prepares a written statement setting forth design objectives, constraints, and criteria for a project, including special requirements and systems, and site requirements.
Project Budget: The sum established by the owner as available for the entire project, including the construction budget, land costs, costs of furniture, furnishings, and equipment; financing costs; compensation for professional services; cost of owner furnished goods and services; contingency allowance; and similar established or estimated costs.
Retainage: A portion of contractor's earned funds withheld from each progress payment until the project is complete. 5 to 10% is a common amount withheld, and is used as leverage to insure that the work is indeed completed under contract.
Schematic Design: The preparation of studies to ascertain the requirements of the project, consisting of drawings and other documents illustrating the scale and relationships of the project components for approval by the owner. The architect also submits to the owner a preliminary estimate of construction cost based on current area, volume, or other unit costs.
Section: A drawing that represents a slice through a building (usually a vertical slice).
Setback: Minimum distance that zoning ordinance requires must be maintained between a structure and property lines or between two structures.
Shop Drawings: Detailed drawings showing how building elements will be fabricated, usually prepared by the fabricator or manufacturer.
Site Plan: A view of a project site, looking down from above, showing its horizontal elements, such as, buildings, vegetation, roads, contours, etc..
Soils Engineer: An engineer that is licensed to analyze soil conditions and produce design criteria used by the structural engineer to design the structural systems for a building.
Specifications: A part of the construction documents contained in the project manual consisting of written requirements for materials, equipment, construction systems, standards and workmanship, usually prepared in a standard 16 part CSI format.
Square Footage: Square footage is the building floor area, and it can be calculated as either gross or net square footage. No uniform standard for computing building area for all types of buildings yet exists, and architects, builders and realtors each measure square footage differently. Square footage is not always an indication of the livable space available in a structure. Owners are encouraged to ask for an explanation of which spaces were included in the square footage calculation.
Structural Engineer: An engineer that is licensed to design the structural systems for a building.
Subcontractor: A contractor, usually a specialty contractor, such as electrical or plumbing, that is under subcontract to the general contractor. Submittals: Items that the contractor must submit to the architect for review and approval including such items as, shop drawings, product data, samples, mock-ups, test results, warranties, maintenance manuals, etc.
Substantial Completion: The point when construction is sufficiently complete in accordance with the contract documents, that the owner can occupy or utilize the building or space.
Supplementary Conditions: Modifications to the general conditions of a contract to adapt them to a particular project.
Surveyor: A licensed design professional that prepares drawings defining existing site conditions, site boundaries, and sets monuments locating those boundaries.
Unit Price: A price for a specified unit of work and/or materials used to cover unknown conditions and variables that cannot be quantified exactly at the time of bidding.
Use on Review: Pursuant to the zoning ordinance, a permit to authorize uses not routinely allowed on a particular site subject to compliance with specified conditions. May require a public hearing before the Planning Commission, Zoning Board, or Zoning Administrator.
Use Permit (Conditional Use Permit): Pursuant to the zoning ordinance, a permit to authorize uses not routinely allowed on a particular site subject to compliance with specified conditions. May require a public hearing before the Planning Commission, Zoning Board, or Zoning Administrator.
Variance: A limited waiver from the requirements of the zoning ordinance, or building code, that may be granted because of special circumstances regarding the subject property. A land use variance usually requires a public hearing before the Planning Commission, Zoning Board, or Zoning Administrator. A building code variance may be granted by the Building Official, or a Board of Permit Appeals.
Vendor: The supplier of materials, and equipment used in the construction of a project.
Window: A glazed opening in an external wall of a building; an entire unit consisting of a frame sash and glazing, and any operable elements.  For a complete glossary of window component terms visit The Efficient Window Collaborative at http://www.efficientwindows.org/glossary.cfm
Window Schedule: A list of the windows, and their characteristics for a project, usually shown in a tabular form.
Zoning: Local ordinances regulating the use and development of property by dividing the jurisdiction into land use districts or zones represented on a map and specifying the uses and development standards (e.g. maximum height of structures, minimum setbacks, minimum useable open space) within each zone.
Zoning Permit (Zoning Certificate, Land Use Permit): A permit granted pursuant to the zoning ordinance to allow development or use of a specific project on a specific site under the terms of the permit. Required prior to obtaining building permit.
Terms Related to Green Building can be found in our Green Building Glossary.
AIA, unless noted otherwise.
1. The Efficient Window Collaborative. http://www.efficientwindows.org/glossary.cfm