Do You Know All of These Terms a Construction Worker Should Know?



By: Bambi Turner

6 Min Quiz

Image: Alistair Berg/DigitalVision/GettyImages

About This Quiz

You've got yourself a pickup truck, a box full of tools and years of DIY experience -- you're almost ready to start your career in construction. Before you head for the jobsite, however,there's one more thing you need in your arsenal of skills -- a good grasp of construction worker lingo.

If you want to succeed on a modern construction site, whether it's a house, warehouse or major high-rise, you have to make sure you and your co-workers are speaking the same language. That's because miscommunication in construction can be surprisingly costly, both in terms of wasted time and materials and repair and replacement expenses. Even worse, failure to understand basic industry terms can leave you vulnerable to safety issues, including fall hazards, chemicals and heavy equipment. 

While much of the lingo used in construction relates to the trades themselves, you should also familiar yourself with some business terms if you plan to work in this industry. That means knowing what OSHA is, what an RFI or Addendum is, and why you should always be aware of liquidated damages.

Think you can speak the language of the construction world? Take our quiz to see how many of these terms you can identify!

What is the proper term for 2x4 lumber installed vertically to frame a wall?

The vertical framing members used to frame walls are known as studs. They are usually made of 2x4 lumber, but some homes and many businesses use metal studs instead of wood.


What is the primary purpose of OSHA?

In the United States, the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, sets standard for workplace safety, with special standards aimed at the construction industry. Employers who fail to follow OSHA guidelines may be subject to heavy fines or even criminal charges.


What are the metal channels called that transport air through a building?

Sheet metal ductwork is used to transport air throughout the home. These ducts are used for heating, cooling and ventilation, and form an integral part of the HVAC system.


What is the name used for strips of wood built into walls to hold heavy objects?

Wooden blocking is installed within wall cavities before the walls are completed. This blocking allows you to hang a heavy object, like a fire extinguisher or television, so that it will stay safely in place.


What are I-beams usually made of?

An I-beam, which is so named because it looks like a letter I when viewed from the side, is a steel beam that serves as a major structural support in many buildings. It consists of a single web in the center, with two caps -- called flanges -- at either end.


Egress is another word for...

Every construction worker should be aware of egress, or exit requirements. These standards are designed to allow occupants to safely exit a building or home in the event of an emergency. If you're building a basement bedroom, for example, you'll often be required to add a window as a second means of egress.


Liquidated damages are fines construction companies pay if...

Sticking to the schedule and completing the job when you promised is critical for construction industry success. Not only will it help you keep getting work, but it will allow you to avoid liquidated damages -- hefty fines levied on firms that fail to finish on time.


Where would you apply spackle?

Spackle is a genericized trademark for a popular type of drywall putty. Similar to joint compound, it's ideal for filling holes in drywall, and has been used in construction since the 1920s.


Drywall rated for fire-resistance is marked as...

All drywall has some fire resistance thanks to its gypsum core. Type X drywall has special additives included in the core to enhance fire-resistance, making it ideal for applications such as a garage wall or ceiling.


The NFPA makes rules related to...

The National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, develops guidelines for fire safety in the building trades. Construction workers should not only be familiar with the acronym, but also with some basic NFPA guidelines used in the field.


What terms describes strips of metal used to seal around roof penetrations?

Flashing is the metal or rubber trim used to seal penetrations around the roof and keep water out. It can be used around chimneys, pipes, vents, windows, doors or any other openings where sealing is required.


The term AFF refers to how far you install something from...

Look at almost any construction drawing and you'll see the term AFF. This is an abbreviation for "Above Finished Floor" that tells you how far above the floor an item should be installed.


Which of these is grout most commonly used with?

Grout, a spreadable liquid made from sand, water and other elements, is most often used when installing tile. The grout fills in the gaps between the tiles to keep them stable and secure.


What are as-builts?

As-builts are a fact of life in the construction trade. This is the term used to describe a set of drawings maintained by each trade. This set includes markups that show changes as to how the structure was actually built, and may differ significantly from the original plans.


What is the name of the substance used between layers of brick?

Mortar is a thick paste made from sand, water and concrete. When layered between rows of brick or block, it holds the units together to form a solid and durable structure.


What does ADA refer to?

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, affects every trade on a construction site. This set of federal laws specifies how a structure must be built to allow safe and equal access for people with disabilities. All construction workers should be familiar with ADA and its requirements.


DWV is a type of...

DWV is an abbreviation that stands for drain, waste vent piping. These pipes carry wastewater, sewage and sewer gases safely out of a home or building.


If you have a question about the blueprints or project specification, you can send one of these to the architect.

An RFI, or request for information, is an official request for additional information or clarification. Once it's answered by the architect or engineer who designed the project, it becomes an official part of the project plans and specs.


Which of these is not a form of aggregate?

Aggregate is used in many types of construction products and processes, from concrete to asphalt. This material consists of various particles, including gravel, stone, sand and even recycled concrete or crushed rock.


If a project owner makes an official change to the plans after work has begun, the change is called this.

An addendum is any official change made by the owner of a project after the bid has been completed. This could include a major change, like additional square footage, or something simpler -- like a change from ceramic tile to wood flooring.


What are MSDS?

Material Safety Data Sheets are a critical part of any construction site. Known as MSDS, they reveal important information about each chemical used on the job, and are designed to keep workers and occupants safe.


Which of these is a tunnel passing through a building?

A chase is a vertical or horizontal void hidden within a building. It can be built around a flue, a pipe riser, an air channel or other system to allow the building to function while maintaining a clean and neat appearance.


In construction speak, this is another word for ground level.

Rather than speaking about whether something is at ground level, construction workers use the term grade. An item buried under the soil is below-grade, while certain elements may be installed above-grade.


What does the H in HVAC stand for?

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, is a series of systems to maintain proper, safe and comfortable airflow in the home. It consists of a heating unit, like a furnace or boiler, combined with a central cooling system or heat pump, plus ductwork to carry the air through the building.


This horizontal framing member supports the floor in a typical home.

While studs run vertically, joists run horizontally to structurally support a home. They generally rest on larger members, such as girders or beams, for extra support.


Roofing materials are measured by the...

If you plan to install roofing, you have to know how to properly measure and order material. Roofing is measured by the square, with one square equal to 100 square feet of material.


What do you call the top portion of a door frame?

A header is a horizontal framing member that passes over a door or window. The vertical portions of a door frame are known as jambs.


What is the purpose of a louver?

A louver is a panel with slits cut into it for ventilation purposes. Some are installed on the exterior of a building, while others go indoors -- such as on an interior closet door.


What does the M in O&M stand for?

Construction crews are often required to included operations and maintenance manuals as part of their project closeout submission. These manuals teach building operators how to run and maintain all systems once the contractor has moved on and left the site.


What is retainage?

On most construction sites, the project owner holds back a portion of each contractor's pay -- known as retainage -- until the work is complete. This may amount to 5 to 10 percent of each subcontract, but varies by project.


What is the primary ingredient used to make drywall?

Up until the 1940s, builders used elaborate lathe and plaster systems to construct walls. Since then, drywall has become the material of choice. Made from pressed gypsum and heavy paper, these sheets of material are installed, sanded and painted to create smooth, even wall surfaces.


Which construction trade might deal with pigtails?

A pigtail is the domain of the electrician. It consists of a pair of wires connected to a single device.


What does OC mean on a set of construction drawings?

The term OC is very common on construction drawings. It stands for on center, and tells an installer that measurements should be taken from the center of one component to the center of the next one, rather than from either edge.


OSB is a type of...

Oriented strand board, or OSB, is a type of sheet wood similar to plywood. Made from layers of wood strands and glue, it's used to frame walls, floors and ceilings.


Lumber is measured using this unit.

Construction pros know that lumber is measured and ordered using board feet. One board foot is equal to 144 cubic inches of wood, or a section of wood measuring 12 inches by 12 inches by 1 inch.


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