Construction Terminology

Knowing the correct terminology in any profession will always help you communicate effectively, and communicating with your contractor is no exception. First and foremost, you will understand you’re your contractor is talking about and secondly they will appreciate the fact that you have done your homework.

I hate to beat up on the home improvement TV shows but most of them are filmed outside of the Midwest region and for that reason some of the terminology, construction techniques, and product selection/s that they show are incorrect for our Midwest region.

In this article we will discuss the correct terminology for the framing members of your house.  Take a look at the illustration and you will see the names of the various components of a common house structure.

All wall are made of 2×4’s measuring 1 ½” x 3 ½”. I know, I know, but back in the day they actually measured 2” x4”. If you are remodeling a very old home you may come across some. If you do beware of the challenges you face matching new finished surfaces with the existing structure.

All the dimensional wood products with the exception of some structural engineered products are less than their named size would indicate.

Bolted to the top of the foundation are sill plates which can vary in width. A foam strip of insulation is added under the sill plate as well as shims to help level the sill plate as much as possible in preparation of the next step.

The deck is constructed of floor joists, in sizes ranging from 2 x 8 up to 2 x 12. These joists are spaced 16”o.c. (on center, measuring from the center of one to the center of another) and occasionally 24” o.c. Engineered components are being used for floor joists with increased frequency. The joists are tied together at the ends with rim joists, generally of the same dimension of the floor joists.

Place over the deck s plywood sheathing. If the floor joists are spaced 16” o.c. then ¾” plywood is used. If the floor joists are spaced 24” o.c. then thicker plywood is used such as 15/16”. This decking plywood has a tongue and groove connection on the long edge where it bridges over the space between joists. The butt ends are to be seamed directly over a joist. The plywood decking is glued and nailed to the joists to help stop movement and therefore squeaking.

Exterior and interior walls are placed on the deck. The walls that hold up the roof or ceiling are made up of studs, typically 2 x 4’s but occasionally 2 x 6’s are used for added strength or increased insulation capacity. These studs run vertically. At the bottom and top are horizontal 2 x 4’s called the bottom plate and the top plate. Be aware there are 2 top plates, for additional strength and they enable the walls to be tied together.

In the walls and above all window and door openings but below the top plate are headers. These headers are made up of 2 – 2 x 12’s with a piece of ½” plywood sandwiched in between the 2×12’s. The headers are supported by a wall stud at each end and a cripple stud under the end of the header, which is nailed to the full height wall stud.

Ceiling joists can vary in size from 2 x 6 to 2 x 12, and can have a dual purpose. They form the ceiling structure which is used to hold the ceiling drywall and can also be used as the floor structure if a second floor is added. An equally important job of ceiling joists is to hold the side walls together. Once the roof is in place, the weight will push down and out. The ceiling joists help keep the walls from giving way and moving outward.

comprise the structure that is the roof. Seldom is anything under a 2 x 8 used for , although in the old days 2×4’s were used on some steep roofs. At the top of the roof rafter a ridge board is used to help the connection of the to one another. Sometimes a couple feet below the ridge board a 2 x 4 is used to connect the from either side of the roof. These members are called collar ties, and they aid in holding the roof together.

There are different styles of roofs such as a gable, hip barn, shed, etc. The most common types of residential roofs are the gable and the hip or a combination of the two styles. The gable style has 2 sloping sides of roof/shingles and a triangle of siding material at one or both ends. The hip roof has 4 sloping side of roof/shingles. As I said before there are combinations of these two styles that make for some very interesting and complex roofs.

At the bottom of the roof slope you have the eves as they are collectively known. Separately the bottom or underneath is called the soffit, and the face, where the gutter mounts is called the fascia.

Understand the above terms and their application and you will know more than 95% of homeowners, and you will impress your remodeling contractor and more importantly you will increase the effectiveness of your communication during your project.

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