Property Glossary of Building Terms - Jargon used in the UK
receive a builders estimate or surveyors report and if you
have never purchased, extended, built a property before, some
of the descriptions can be confusing. Listed below is an alphabetical
list used in the UK buildings industry. Some of these of course
will be found at the local DIY store when you decide to carry
out some improvements yourself.
Pebbles, shingle, gravel etc. used in the manufacture of concrete,
and in the construction of "soakaways".
Perforated brick used for ventilation, especially to floor
voids (beneath timber floors) and roof spaces.
Architrave: Joinery moulding around window or doorway.
Asbestos: Fibrous mineral used in the past for insulation.
Can be a health hazard specialist advice should be sought
if asbestos (especially blue asbestos) is found.
Asbestos Cement: Cement with 10-15% asbestos fibre
as reinforcement. Fragile will not bear heavy weights. Hazardous
fibres may be released if cut or drilled.
Finely dressed natural stone: the best grade of masonry.
Black, tar-like substance, strongly adhesive and impervious
to moisture. Used on flat roofs and floors.
Board: (See Verge Board)
Balanced Flue: Common metal device normally serving
gas appliances which allows air to be drawn to the appliance
whilst also allowing fumes to escape.
Beetle Infestation: (Wood boring insects: woodworm)
Larvae of various species of beetle which tunnel into timber
causing damage. Specialist treatment normally required. Can
also affect furniture.
Smoothly contoured concrete slope beside drainage channel
within an inspection chamber. Also known as Haunching.
Bitumen: Black, sticky substance, related to asphalt.
Used in sealants, mineral felts and damp-proof courses.
Block: Originally made from cinders ("breeze") the term
now commonly used to refer to various types of concrete and
cement building blocks
Carbonation: A natural process affecting the outer
layer of concrete. Metal reinforcement within that layer is
liable to early corrosion, with consequent fracturing of the
Cavity Wall: Standard modern method of building external
walls of houses comprising two leaves of brick or blockwork
separated by a gap ("cavity") of about 50mm (2 inches).
Wall Insulation: Filling of wall cavities by one of various
forms of insulation material - Beads: Polystyrene beads pumped
into the cavities. Will easily fall out if the wall is broken
open for any reason - Foam: Urea formaldehyde form, mixed
on site, and pumped into the cavities where it sets. Can lead
to problems of dampness and make replacement of wall-ties
more difficult - Rockwool: Inert mineral fibre pumped into
Wall - Tie: Metal device bedded into the inner and outer
leaves of cavity walls to strengthen the wall. Failure by
corrosion can result in the wall becoming unstable specialist
replacement ties are then required.
Cesspool: A simple method of drain comprising a holding
tank that needs frequent emptying. Not to be confused with
Chipboard: Also referred to as "particle board". Chips
of wood compressed and glued into sheet form. Cheap method
of decking to flat roofs, floors and (with Formica or melamine
surface) furniture, especially kitchen units.
Collar: Horizontal timber member intended to restrain
opposing roof slopes. Absence, removal or weakening can lead
to Roof Spread.
Combination Boiler: Modern form of gas boiler which
activates on demand. With this form of boiler there is no
need for water storage tanks, hot water cylinders etc and
generally the pressure is much better for showers.
Occurs when warm moist air meets a cold surface. The water
in the air then either settles as water droplets on the surface
(as it does on windows for example),or if the surface is absorbent,
it soaks into the surface. In the latter case condensation
is often not noticed unless or until mould appears. (See
/ Coping Stone: Usually stone or concrete, laid on top
of a wall as a decorative finish and to stop rainwater soaking
into the wall.
Corbell: Projection of stone, brick, timber or metal
jutting out from a wall to support a weight.
Cornice: Ornamental moulded projection around the top
of a building or around the wall of a room just below the
Curved junction between wall and ceiling or (rarely) between
ceiling and floor.
Dado Rail: Wooden moulding fixed horizontally to a
wall, aprroximately 1 metre above the floor, originally intended
to protect the wall against damage by chair-backs now very
much a decorative feature.
Damp Proof Course: (DPC) Course Layer of impervious
material (mineral felt, pvc etc) incorporated into a wall
to prevent dampness rising up the wall or lateral dampness
around windows, doors etc. Various proprietary methods are
available for damp proofing existing walls including "electro-osmosis"
and chemical injection.
Beetle: (Xestobium Refovillosum) Serious
insect pest in structural timbers, usually affects old hardwoods
with fungal decay already present.
Double Glazing: A method of thermal insulation usually
either: Sealed unit: Two panes of glass fixed and hermetically
sealed together; or Secondary: In effect a second "window"
placed inside the original window.
Drainage pipes from guttering.
Rot:(Serpula Lacrymans.) A fungus that attacks structural
and joinery timbers, often with devastating results. Can flourish
in moist, unventilated areas. Not to be confused with wet
Eaves: The overhanging edge of a roof.
Efflorescence: Salts crystallised on the surface of
a wall as a result of moisture evaporation.
Engineering Brick: Particularly strong and dense type
of brick, sometimes used as damp-proof course.
Fibreboard: Cheap, lightweight board material of little
strength, used in ceilings or as insulation to attics.
Building technique used to prevent leakage at a roof joint.
Normally metal (lead, zinc, copper) but can be cement, felt
or proprietary material.
Contoured cement around the base of chimney pots, to secure
the pot and to throw off rain.
Flue: A smoke duct in a chimney, or a proprietary pipe
serving a heat-producing appliance such as a central heating
Lining: Metal (usually stainless steel) tube within a
flue essential for high output gas appliances such as boilers.
May also be manufactured from clay and built into the flue.
Foundations: Normally concrete, laid underground as
a structural base to a wall - in older buildings may be brick
Frog: A depression imprinted in the upper surface of
a brick, to save clay, reduce weight and increase the strength
of the wall. Bricks should always be laid frog uppermost.
Fused Spur: Power socket that does not have a plug
going into it, instead the cable from an appliance like a
fridge, radiator, burglar alarm etc and has a fuse socket
built into it.
Gable: Upper section of a wall, usually triangular
in shape, at either end of a ridged roof. - Gable end.
Referred to for 13amp power pints 1 gang = 1 single socket
2 gang = 1 double socket.
Ground Heave: Swelling of clay sub-soil due to absorption
of moisture: can cause an upward movement in foundations.
An opening into a drain, normally at ground level, placed
to receive water etc. from downpipes and wastepipes. Haunching:
See Benching.It is also a term used to describe the
support to a drain underground.
The external junction between two intersecting roof slopes.
Chamber: Commonly called a man hole. Access point to a
drain comprising a chamber (of brick, concrete or plastic)
with the drainage channel at its base and a removable cover
at ground level.
Side part of a doorway or window.
Horizontal structural timber used in flat roof, ceiling and
floor construction. Occasionally also metal.
Downhill movement of unstable earth, clay, rock etc. often
following prolonged heavy rain or coastal erosion, but sometimes
due entirely to sub-soil having little cohesive integrity.
Lath: Thin strip of wood used in the fixing of roof
tiles or slates, or as a backing to plaster. Lath and plaster
walls were very common in houses from late 1800,s to 1950's
Lintel: Horizontal structural beam of timber, stone,
steel or concrete placed over window or door openings.
LPG: Liquid Petroleum Gas or Propane. Available to
serve gas appliances in areas without mains gas. Requires
a storage tank.
Hole: - See Inspection Chamber
Mortar: Mixture of sand, cement, lime and water, used
to join stones or bricks.
Mullion: Vertical bar dividing individual
lights in a window.
Stout post supporting a staircase handrail at
top and bottom. Also, the central pillar of a winding or spiral
Rough concrete below timber ground floors: the level of the
oversite should be above external ground level.
Parapet: Low wall along the edge of a flat roof, balcony
A vertical column of brickwork or other material, used to
strengthen the wall or to support a weight.
Stiff "sandwich" of plaster between coarse paper. Now in widespread
use for ceilings and walls.
Smooth outer edge of mortar joint between bricks, stones etc.
Powder Post Beetle: (Bostrychidae or Lyctidae family of
beetles) A relatively uncommon pest that can, if untreated,
cause widespread damage to structural timbers.
Horizontal beam in a roof upon which rafters rest. Quoin:
The external angle of a building; or, specifically, bricks
or stone blocks forming that angle.
A sloping roof beam, usually timber, forming the carcass of
a roof. Random Rubble: Primitive method of stone wall construction
with no attempt at bonding or coursing.
Vertical covering of a wall either plaster (internally) or
cement (externally), sometimes with pebbledash, stucco or
Tyrolean textured finish.
Reveals: The side faces of a window or door opening.
Ridge: The apex of a roof.
Riser: The vertical part of a step or stair.
Damp: Moisture soaking up a wall from below ground, by
capillary action causing rot in timbers, plaster decay, decoration
Roof Spread: Outward bowing of a wall caused by the
thrust of a badly restrained roof carcass (see Collar).
Screed: Final, smooth finish of a solid floor, usually
cement, concrete or asphalt.
Tank: Tank Drain installation whereby sewage decomposes
through bacteriological action, which can be slowed down or
stopped altogether by the use of chemicals such as bleach,
biological washing powders etc. Not to be confused with Cesspool.
Settlement: General disturbance in a structure showing
as distortion in walls etc., possibly a result of major structural
failure, very dry weather conditions etc. Sometimes of little
current significance. (See also Subsidence)
Naturally occurring cracks in timber; in building timbers,
shakes can appear quite dramatic, but strength is not always
Shingles: Small rectangular slabs of wood used on roofs
instead of tiles, slates etc.
Arrangement for disposal of rainwater, utilising graded aggregate
laid below ground.
Soaker: Sheet metal (usually lead, copper or zinc)
at the junction of a roof with a vertical surface of a chimneystack,
adjoining wall etc. Associated with flashings that should
Soffit: The under-surface of eaves, balcony, arch etc.
Solid Fuel: Heating fuel, normally coal, coke or one of a
variety of proprietary fuels.
Space above and to the sides of an arch; also the space below
Partition: Lightweight, sometimes non-load bearing wall
construction comprising a framework of timber faced with plaster,
plasterboard or other finish.
Ground movement, generally downward, possible a result of
mining activities or clay shrinkage.
Soil lying immediately below the topsoil, upon which foundations
Attack: Chemical reaction activated by water, between
tricalcium aluminate and soluble sulphates. Can cause deterioration
in brick walls and concrete floors.
Bar: Heavy metal bar passing through a wall, or walls,
to brace a structure suffering from structural instability.
Torching: Mortar applied on the underside of roof tiles
or slates to help prevent moisture penetration. Not necessary
when a roof is underdrawn with felt.
Horizontal part of a step or stair.
The horizontal part of a step or stair.
Trussed Rafters: Method of roof construction utilising
prefabricated triangular framework of timbers. Now widely
used in domestic construction.
Method strengthening weak foundations whereby a new, stronger
foundation is placed beneath the original.
Gutter: Horizontal or sloping gutter, usually lead-or-tile-lined,
at the internal intersection between two roof slopes.
Necessary in all buildings to disperse moisture resulting
from bathing, cooking, breathing etc. and to assist in prevention
of condensation. Floors -necessary to avoid rot, especially
Dry Rot; achieved by airbricks near to ground level. Roofs
- necessary to disperse condensation within roof spaces; achieved
either by airbricks in gables or ducts at the eaves. (see
The edge of a roof, especially over a gable.
Verge Board: Timber, sometimes decorative plastic material,
placed at the verge of a roof: also known as bargeboard.
Wood panelling or boarding on the lower part of an internal
Wall Plate: Timber placed at the eaves of a roof, to
take the weight of the roof timbers.
Wastepipe: Drainage pipe for baths, basins, wc's.
Wet Rot: (Coniophora Puteana) Decay of timber due to
damp conditions. Not to be confused with the more serious
Colloquial term for beetle infestation: usually intended to
mean Common Furniture Beetle (Anobium Punctatum): by
far the most frequently encountered insect attack in structural
and joinery timbers.
above has been compiled to assist people with rental terminology.
We advise that this information is for guidance only and cannot
be relied on for accuracy and that you should consult a qualified
legal representative if you require full explanation. © jml
Property Services June 2005
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