Terms to Know-Read this First!

by Julie

There are many terms to know during any construction and home remodeling project.  The terms below are used throughout the Builder in Your Pocket books and articles. They are listed in the order that you are most likely to encounter them during your building or home improvement project. Beyond just technical terms, I’ve also outlined the roles of some important people on your team and a bit of insight into the world of building.

You – the Homeowner

  • ”You” refers to the person building or remodeling a home. In most cases, “you” will be the homeowner.
  • “You” may also refer to anyone in charge (in terms of making selections and hiring the builder) of building or remodeling a house – developers, investors, property managers, etc.
  • “You” can also mean a do-it-yourselfer or person acting as their own contactor. In either case, you are still a homeowner who has to make selections and manage the project.

Planner or Designer

  • A number of different professionals may be involved in your particular project. Architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape designers, design/build firms, the builder, draftsmen, lighting planners, etc. might become involved at various points in the project.
  • Some people begin by working with an architect to design and draw plans. Design/build firms and some contractors also have pre-drawn plans that can be amended to fit your needs.
  • Salespeople at the supply houses are often overlooked, however, they are experienced pros in their field and a critical part of your design (and building) team. For example, a very good lighting salesperson/designer reviews your house plans, advises you on room-by-room lighting sources, placement and switches and then generates a checklist for the entire house. After discussing your budget and interior design plan, he leads you through the showroom, helping select fixtures that are appropriate to your lighting needs, spending limits and décor. Afterwards, he draws out the lighting and controls plan on your blueprints for the electrical trades to follow. Or for the architect to rework. Once your inventory arrives at the warehouse, he coordinates and labels everything to make sure all fixtures are installed in their proper place.
  • The role of showroom salespeople is such an integral part of building that there is an entire section of the website and whole chapter in the book devoted to it.

Builder or General Contractor (GC)

  • A general contractor oversees the entire building process and coordinates the subcontractors. The general contractor holds the primary contract for building the house.
  • As a matter of convention, a builder is someone who constructs new houses while a remodeler works on existing houses. Throughout this book, the general contractor will be referred to as a “builder” or “contractor” even when discussing a remodeling project.
  • “Building your home” will refer to work on both new houses and remodeling projects.
  • If you are a do-it-yourselfer and plan to build or remodel your own house, then you are the contractor when obtaining permits or dealing with trades. At other times, like when shopping for fixtures, you will be in the homeowner role. There are specific responsibilities that are (and should) only be handled by the general contractor. Therefore, as you read this information, think about which hat you will be wearing at the time.
  • Some builders are literally hands-on and act as part of the labor team. As such, they are on site much of the time, working and supervising.
  • In most cases, builders act as supervisors. They are on the phone, or at a computer or in their trucks. They come by the “job” to check on progress.
  • The builder’s primary responsibility is supervising all aspects of construction. If your project moves along smoothly, then there is a builder behind the scenes doing A LOT of work.
  • “He” and “she” will be used interchangeably. For obvious reasons.

Subcontractors (Subs)

  • Also called “trade contractors” or “trades”.
  • Subcontracts are “specialists” with a particular skill set – flooring, plumbing, wiring, etc. General contractors typically build relationships with certain Subs and are familiar with the quality of their work, work habits and timetables. Builders may occasionally have their own employees to do some of the work, but nowadays tasks are usually subcontracted out.
  • Subcontractors are the hands-on crew that has a direct impact on building your dream. Get to know them as they work on your home. Just make sure to honor the correct lines of communication. The people in the field do appreciate compliments! and you should feel free to answer the occasional question about a small detail, otherwise, discuss all changes and issues (big or small) with your builder. Will prevent problems that way, I promise!
  • Subcontractors vary greatly in size and how they operate.
    1. A single painting sub who shows up by himself with a small bucket of tools.
    2. A plumber who owns the company and rarely comes to the job personally. He might have several vans with employees who are in the field, doing the actual work.
    3. A flooring company with a showroom that both sells and installs materials.

Plans or Blueprints

  • Blueprints are typically computer generated by an architect or draftsperson. They are called “blueprints” because years ago the ink was blue and smelled like ammonia.
  • A plan or blueprint is the visual representation of your dream that the builder and trades use as a guide during construction. Finished plans show specific measurements and materials for the basic elements of the house (roof, framing, foundation, sheathing, plumbing, etc.).
    Although interior elements such as cabinets and fixtures are shown on the plans. They are shown in a general way, mostly for initial bidding and layout reasons. You still have choices to make about material and configuration.
  • Plans come in “sets” of pages that show details for different parts of the house. Sets of plans can range from 1-100+ pages, depending on the complexity of the building. You will need to have at least 4 copies of the plans – subcontractors typically keep their own working set. Best to ask the builder how many she would like.
  • Once construction begins, some things on the plans can be changed – others are permanent. As construction progresses, it becomes harder (and more expensive!) to make “change orders,” so keep on top of the work and bring up issues with your builder as soon as possible.


  • May be called “supply house”, “dealer” or “vendor”.
  • For the homeowner, these people are HUGE. They are the source of all interior design elements such as doors, windows, lighting, flooring, etc.
  • Good builders work with a variety of supply houses. Generally speaking, there are three types:
    1. Specialty suppliers where the trades shop, such as lumber yards. Some of these will only sell to contractors who have an account with them.
    2. Wholesalers where homeowners select their interior materials. These shops are the heart of creating your special vision.
      Wholesalers typically have a showroom where you can view samples. They also have experienced salespeople who will guide you through the selection process. Your builder will tell you which wholesaler they recommend and who to see.
    3. Home improvement stores like Lowes or Home Depot. Also called the big box stores. Their selection is usually more generic, however it can also be less expensive.
  • Read over the “Working With Suppliers” chapter of the book. There is a good bit to learn about making these relationships work to your advantage and satisfaction. This chapter also contains some insider tips about wholesale pricing and options.


  • Also called “job” by the contractors. While “project” usually refers to a new construction or major remodel of an entire house, the information could easily apply to smaller jobs such as a single bathroom makeover.

Selections or Choices

  • A building project begins with a lot of unknowns. True costs for items like cabinets and flooring are added up in the showroom, after you have made your final choices. To compensate for the uncertainty, builders sketch out an Allowance Schedule as a budgeting guide. This is frankly a best guess based on your house size and the contractor’s understanding of your vision.
    Because this can have an ENORMOUS impact on the final cost of your home, it is covered in a special section entitled “Managing Your Project”.
  • You will be amazed by the dozens of detailed choices you must make. Please refer to the checklist that sums up items that will need your input. It looks daunting at first, but you will be spreading this work out over several weeks (possibly months).
  • There are also numerous points where you have almost no input. Elements like lumber, wiring, sewer pipes, concrete, etc. are chosen by the builder and subs. You are welcome to (and should) ask questions, but no one will actively seek out your opinion on these aspects. One of the many reasons to hire good professionals is that they make these decisions for you.

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