Renovation 101: Vocabulary

Congratulations! You finally nailed down a general contractor and now you’re ready to start renovating – cue in the daily emails, endless 30-second phone calls, and random phone pictures. The goal for your project is for it to be fun and productive. Part of being productive is being able to communicate and part of being able to communicate is being able to understand. Communication tools on site include cell phones, pictures, diagrams on wood scraps, pencil on drywall, and occasional body language. The renovation process is all about conveying your vision. It’s crucial to properly communicate with your GC in order get the job done and it helps to be able to speak in the language of construction.


So, here are some definitions of terms to help you with the process:


Accent lighting: light that is focused on a specific area or object; commonly used to highlight a piece or art or artifact

Backsplash: a panel behind a sink or stove to protect the wall from splashes

Baseboard: wood moulding located on the base of the wall and above the floor

Casing: wood moulding forming a frame around a door or window

Clearance space: the space needed to operate an appliance, cabinets, or a safe passage

Demo: Short-term slang for: demolition. The process of removing and/or destroying objects for a designated purpose

Drywall: also known as gypsum board, this is a plaster and/or fibrous board, used to form the interior walls of a house. The term “drywall” is typically used to describe the scope item of gypsum board installation and taping of gypsum board to create a smooth wall surface

Energy: the amount of power that a unit uses to operate functionally

Foundation: a base of sturdy material, like stone or concrete, that supports a building from underneath

Girder: a large steel or iron beam used to support a structure

Grout: Cement compound used to fill gaps and seal joints, such as between tiles

Island:a free-standing cabinet unit with a counter on top, which allows access from all sides

Low Voltage: Associated with and distinctively different from Electrical. Low voltage includes functional items in the building using a lesser amount of electrical voltage. Items commonly referred to as “low voltage” include doorbells, security systems, speaker systems, and internet/cable systems.

MEP: Short-term slang for: Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing. These systems provide the functionality of utilities in a building. Mechanical (HVAC) includes the heating and cooling, Electrical includes power supply, and Plumbing includes water, sewer, and gas piping.

Mortar: A compound used to attach stones to another surface or to other stones, such as laying tile on a concrete floor.

New Construction: To build a new structure

Off-the-grid: a system that runs on renewable energy sources

Pocket door: a sliding door that is moved into a compartment in the adjacent wall

Quality: the standard of something as measured against something else. High quality is what all construction projects should entail.

Renovation: to make new again using new materials and modern methods

Restoration: to repair to original condition using age-specific materials and/or methods

Router: A tool with a circular blade used for cutting decorative finishes in moulding and door handle openings

Sawzall: short-term slag for: reciprocating saw. This is a handheld tool used for multiple purposes including making a lot of noise and a large mess when one is feeling excited.

Shim: A small piece of material, usually wood, used for leveling, aligning, or reinforcing building materials, Often used for leveling sub-floors to make them even and aligning door jams so the doors swing freely.

Sub-flooring: a floor laid as a base for a finished floor

Tongue & Groove: A term used to describe the installation method of attaching two building materials consisting of an inset piece and an insert piece. Commonly used for hardwood floor installations.

Renovating property can be a challenging process and putting in enough time to communicate effectively is an important method for achieving your dream home. The terms listed above lend a helping hand in understanding the renovation process so that the next time you sit down with your GC, it will be a two-way conversation.


  • Italian: integrity; honest; upright
  • Latin: refresh; renew; restore
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