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Glossary of Terms

This glossary can help you understand the terminology you'll encounter during your home inspection and that you should generally know as a homeowner.

a

AMPERE (AMP)

A unit measure of electricity.

APERTURE

The opening in pipes.

ASBESTOS

A naturally occurring mineral fiber sometimes found in older homes. It is hazardous to health when a possibility exists of exposure to inhalable fibers. Homeowners should be alert for friable asbestos and always seek professional advice in dealing with it.

AWNING WINDOWS

A window with hinges at the top allowing it to open out and up.

b

BASEBOARD

Usually wood or vinyl installed around the perimeter of a room to cover the space where the wall and floor meet.

BASEBOARD HEAT

A heating system with the heating unit located along the perimeter of the wall where the baseboard would be. It can be either an electric or hot water system.

BREAKER BOX

A metal box that contains circuit breakers or fuses that control the electrical current in the home.

BUILDING CODE

Minimum local or state regulations established to protect public health and safety. They apply to building design, construction, rehabilitation, repair, materials, occupancy and use.

BUCKLING

The bending of a building material as a result of wear and tear or contact with a substance such as water.

c

CASEMENT WINDOWS

A side­hinged window that opens on hinges secured to the side of the window frame.

CAULKING

Material used to fill joints that may exist between floors and fixtures; around windows and doors, shower stalls and bathtubs, etc.

CIRCUIT BREAKER

The safety valves for electrical systems. It interrupts an electric circuit when an unusual condition arises such as lightning and malfunctioning appliances. Unlike a fuse, it can be reset.

CLASS B DOOR

A fire resistant rating applied by the Underwriters Laboratories Classification for a door having a 1 to 1 1/2 ­hour rating.

CPVC

Plastic water piping.

CRAWL SPACE

Shallow space between the underside of the first floor of a house and the ground.

CUTOFF VALVES

Valves used to shut water off, generally located under sinks or behind bathtub and shower access panels. They cutoff hot and/or cold water at the source without cutting all water off throughout the house.

d

DAMPER

An air valve that regulates the flow of air inside the flue of a furnace or fireplace.

DISPOSER

A device that grinds food sufficiently to enter drains for disposal without clogging.

DORMER

A converted attic with windows projecting through a sloping roof.

DOUBLE­HUNG WINDOW

A window with sashes that slide vertically and allow opening from the top and bottom.

DRYWALL

A gypsum board material used for walls or ceilings.

DUCTWORK

A system of distribution channels used to transmit heated or cooled air from a central system (HVAC) throughout a home.

e

EAVES

The section of the roof that overhangs the walls of a house.

EXHAUST FAN

Extracts air or excess heat from the interior of a home.

f

FLASHING

Sheet metal used at wall and roof junctions and around chimneys to prevent water entry.

FLUE

An enclosed chamber in a fireplace that directs flames, smoke and other gases to the outside air.

FOOTINGS

Concrete set in the soil (foundation bed) that support the foundation of the house.

FORCED­AIR FURNACE

A unit that transfers heat from fuel and circulates heat throughout the ducts of a house.

FOUNDATION

The part of the structure upon which all other construction is built.

FUSE BOX

A metal box that contains the fuses that regulate electric current in a house.

g

GROUND­FAULT INTERRUPTER (GFI)

A safety device that interrupts surges of electricity in appliances and other electrical components found in a home.

GUTTER/DOWNSPOUT

Channel of various materials including plastic and copper supported at the eaves to direct water away from the foundation of a home through downspouts.

h

HEARTH

The fireproof surface of a fireplace, usually 18 inches wide.

HEAT EXCHANGER

A device used to transfer heat in a furnace.

HEAT PUMP

A reverse cycle refrigeration unit that both heats and cools.

HOT WATER HEATING SYSTEM

This system heats water to boiling in a water heater, and a circulator pumps it through a system of pipes.

HVAC

Heating, ventilating and air conditioning system.

i

INSULATION

Material used to resist the loss of heat energy. Materials such as fiber glass, mineral wool, cellulose and foam are placed in the walls, ceilings, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation may be blown or installed in batt sections.

j

JOISTS

Horizontal timbers, beams or bars supporting a floor.

k

 

l

LATHING

Strips of wood or other material used as a base for the installation of plaster.

LEAD

A material used in pipes and paint of many older homes. We now know that lead is hazardous to health. The local environmental protection agency should be consulted for guidelines on handling, removal and applicable laws.

m

MASONRY

Construction using materials such as tile, brick, cement, stone or similar materials.

MEMBER

Wood or steel elements that make up the framing and foundation of a structure such as 2 X 4 strips of lumber cut to various lengths.

MORTAR

A bonding material used in the construction of brick or stone structures.

MOULDING

Strips of wood or the material used to cover joints between floors and walls, and walls and ceilings.

n

 

o

 

p

PARAPET WALL

A low wall or railing along the edge of a roof, balcony, bridge or terrace constructed for protection, to control water resulting from rain or artificial flooding or to insulate against the sun's rays.

PARQUET FLOORS

A floor that is laid in rectangular or square patterns often made of prefinished wood or wood veneer squares.

POINTING UP

The removal of deteriorated mortar between bricks and replacement with new mortar.

POLYBUTYLENE

Water piping used for interior piping and the main waterline to the street. Problems with this pipe have curtailed its use.

PROFESSIONAL INSPECTION

An inspection performed by a specially trained inspector to provide a comprehensive report on the condition of a house. This report is usually written and is often used in home sale negotiations.

q

 

r

R­VALUE

A measurement of the ability of insulation to slow the transfer of heat or cold. The higher the R­value, the greater the insulation power.

RADIANT HEATING SYSTEM

An electrical heating system that distributes heat through cables installed usually in baseboard panels.

RADON

A colorless, odorless gas that is emitted from soils, rocks and water as a result of radioactive decay in certain areas of the country. Radon is known to cause cancer. Homes should be tested for radon. The local environmental agency should be consulted on its handling, removal and any applicable laws.

RAFTER

The structural member or beam that supports the roof. It spans from the exterior wall to the ridge board of the peak of the roof.

REGISTERS

Help to regulate the flow of air.

RETAINING WALL

A vertical structure used to restrict the movement of soil or water.

s

SASH

Framework that holds the glass in a window or a door.

SETTLING

The lowering of elevation of a house or pavement due to weight or shrinkage.

SHINGLE

Sheets of waterproof material used to cover the roofs of homes and other surfaces.

SIDING

Finish material such as wood, vinyl and aluminum used on outside walls.

SILL

The lowest piece upon which a window or exterior door rests, usually slanted downward slightly to provide for rain water runoff.

SLAB

A concrete foundation or floor of a home. Houses built on slab usually do not have basements.

SOFFIT

The underside part of a roof that extends beyond the outside walls of a structure.

SOLAR HEAT

Heat created from the gathering of solar energy from the sun. It can be passive or active. A positive system takes advantage of winter sunlight through windows on the south side of a home. An active system heats through the collection of solar energy through solar collectors.

SUMP PUMP

An electric pump, usually installed in the basement to prevent water from entering the basement area. It empties water from a "well or pit" where it is collected and pumps it to the outside of a home.

t

THERMOSTAT

Helps to control temperatures within the home. Thermostats automatically turn heating or air conditioning on or off as necessary to maintain a desired temperature.

THRESHOLD

A strip of metal, wood, marble or other material placed at the base of a door.

u

UREA FORMALDEHYDE FOAM INSULATION

A type of foamed­in-place insulation that releases formaldehyde gas. It was banned by the Consumer Public Safety Commission in 1982 from use in residences and schools. Holding that the risks had not been proven, a Federal Court lifted the ban in 1983. The local consumer and/or environmental protection agency should be consulted for additional information on this type of insulation.

v

 

w

WEATHER-STRIPPING

Made of various materials used to reduce the escape of heat or air conditioning from a home. It is usually installed around windows and doors.

WINDOW WELL

The open subsurface space that provides light through a basement window.

x

 

y

 

z

ZONE

A system that allows different temperatures in various parts of a structure.