Decoding Shop Talk: Here's What Your Contractor Is Actually Saying

Every industry has jargon that is known to the pros and Greek to everyone else. If you're embarking on a renovation, though, you should take a little time to pick up some of the lingo to be better prepared to communicate with your contractor.

  1. Building Understanding

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    Construction terminology

    Do you sometimes feel like you and your contractor are speaking different languages? If so, it's not your imagination: The average homeowner may not be familiar with some of the words, terms, and abbreviations commonly used by contractors. To ensure that you and your contractor are on the same page, it's a good idea to bone up on typical remodeling and construction terminology before you start on a major home renovation project. Being able to speak the same language will save time, money, and trouble down the road.

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  2. General Contractor and Subcontractor

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    Difference between general contractor and subcontractor

    The term “general contractor,” or “GC,” refers to the individual who manages a renovation project. While the ultimate responsibility for completing the project rests with the general contractor, that person may hire subcontractors and specialty contractors to handle different dimensions of the project, such as plumbing, painting, electrical work, or appliance installation.

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  3. Bond, Bonded, Bonding

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    Bonded contractor meaning

    A contractor bond provides a homeowner with a degree of financial protection in the event that a job is not completed properly (or at all) or the contractor fails to pay subcontractors or suppliers. A bond also covers any property damage that may occur during construction. Bonded contractors have secured their license with a certifying agency, usually a surety company or government entity, and have paid premiums for the bonding. 

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  4. Allowance

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    Construction allowance meaning

    An allowance is an amount of money that homeowners set aside in the construction budget for items that they know they will need but have not yet chosen. For instance, a project may include an allowance for flooring or an allowance for cabinetry based on the anticipated cost of these items. Keep in mind that if a homeowner then goes on to select a more expensive flooring material or cabinet style than expected, the allowance will not cover the cost, and the project may go over budget.

    Related: 15 Hidden Costs of Home Remodeling

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  5. Change Order

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    Change order meaning

    Change orders are the true budget busters in any remodeling project. Simply put, a change order is issued—and charged—any time a homeowner asks a contractor to deviate from the original plan. A change order can be something as simple as moving the position of an outlet or light switch, or as complicated as restructuring the layout of a kitchen. Whatever the alteration, there's a price that comes with the privilege of changing your mind. All planning, measuring, and positioning should be done before you sign off on the final estimate and scope of work—not after.

    Related: 9 Things Your Contractor Never Wants to Hear

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  6. Specs

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    Construction specs meaning

    Short for “specifications," this term refers to a detailed list of materials, products, and work that will be required to complete a project. A list of specs should be included as part of the contractor’s estimate and the final contract.

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  7. "Standard Practices of the Trades"

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    Contractor contract terms

    This phrase, typically found in a contractor's contract, stipulates that all work will meet the standard of the average professional in the field. It may be better, however, for a homeowner to delete this clause and insist on a detailed list of specifications and scope of work.

    Related: Here's How Much Remodeling Any Room Really Costs

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  8. “110s” and “220s”

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    “110s” and “220s” meaning

    These numbers describe electrical wiring: A “110” refers to a 110-volt line, which is the standard household circuit for lighting, outlets, and most appliances. A “220” refers to a 220-volt line, needed for higher amperage appliances like ranges and electric dryers.

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  9. Diverter

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    Plumbing diverter meaning

    You've probably used one without even knowing what it was called! Diverters are commonly found in kitchen faucets, showers, and bathtubs, and their job is to route water to different outlets. For instance, a bathtub diverter directs water out to the spout or up to the shower head. 

    Related: 11 Things Your Contractor Won’t Tell You for Free

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  10. Double-Hung, Bay, Bow, Casement, or Awning

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    Types of windows

    These terms all refer to windows. A double-hung, the most common type of window used in residential construction, features two sashes that slide past each other vertically to open and close. A bay is a three-piece window unit that projects outward from the interior. A bow also projects away from the house but consists of four or more units that sweep out in a smooth arch. A casement is a single sash that is hinged on one side and swings out, like a door. An awning window is hinged at the top and opens out from the bottom.

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  11. I-Beam, Load Bearing, Door Header

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    I-beam and other structural supports

    These are types of structural supports that hold up the various elements of your home—your house’s “skeleton,” if you will. An I-beam is a wood, steel, or iron beam that draws its name from its shape; in cross section, it looks like the letter I. A load-bearing wall is a wall that carries the weight of the structural components above it and is typically anchored by the foundation. A door header is a beam that redirects the weight of the wall sections above the door to the studs on either side of the door.

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