An Essential Guide to Builders’ Jargon

VIDEO: An Essential Guide to Builders’ Jargon

Don’t understand what your builder is talking about? Our Essential Guide to Builders Jargon can help you.

Like any industry, we builders use a lot of our own jargon and we know how confusing this can be for homeowners. Some clients can be too shy to ask or think that they should already know what we’re talking about. In this video, our Managing Director Jeremy Gates explains some of the common terms we use so that you can feel confident when you are dealing with your builder that you know exactly what’s being discussed and your home will be exactly what you’re after.

He also has a bonus tip that will save you thousands of dollars on your build – you can’t afford to miss it!


Hi, I’m Jeremy Gates, the Managing Director of Gaia Construction. I’m a registered builder and have been renovating and extending homes for nearly 30 years now.

Like any industry, we builders use a lot of our own jargon and I know how confusing this can be for home owners. Some clients can be too shy to ask or think that they should already know what we’re talking about. So today, I’m going to explain some of the common terms we use so that you can feel confident when you are dealing with your builder that you know exactly what’s being discussed and your home will be exactly what you’re after.

Also, I have a bonus tip that will save you thousands of dollars on your build – so stay tuned for that. You really can’t afford to miss it.

Starting off with builder’s jargon from the construction side.

During the framing stage, you might hear your builder talking about –

Battens – these are a length of squared timber or metal used to hold something in place or as fastening against a wall. For example, here is a picture of a timber batten for cladding to be fixed to.

Rafters – these are supporting timbers that span between walls or other supports and carry the roof which ceiling battens or the ceiling itself can be attached to. You can see the rafter here on this image.

Joists – these are supportive timbers which the flooring is fixed to. You can see the joists here on this image – they run horizontally at floor level.

Studs – a stud is a vertical framing usually made of timber or steel which forms part of a wall or partition. Also known as wall studs, they are a fundamental component of frame construction and are typically made of timber but can also be steel.
Studs come in different sizes. The minimum size that can be used in a specific place is specified by the engineer – generally they are 90mm wide x 35mm thick and 90mm wide x 45mm thick but they can go up to 240 x 45 for passive houses (this is because you need more insulation in a passive house wall so the wall needs to be wider).

Studs are places either at 450mm or 600mm centres. This means they are 450 or 600mm apart. Good builders use 90 x 45 at 450mm centres as this makes the home stronger and gives it a more solid feel and sound. In this image you can see that we have used 90 x 45 studs at 450mm centres.

Noggin – a noggin is a strut used to give rigidity to framework, they are fixed between joists or studs to increase the strength and stiffness of the framework. You can see the noggins here – they are the horizontal pieces of timber between the studs.

Lintels – these are a structural item, such as a steel or timber beam that carries loads over an opening, ie. a timber beam over an opening in a wall that supports the weight of the roof above it. In this image you can see the lintel over the window opening – this is taking the weight of the building above it.

Truss – a truss is an assembly of beams or other elements that creates a rigid structure. Typically they are used to build roofs. In this image, you can see a roof constructed using trusses compared to this image of a traditional cut roof – which is how roofs were made before trusses came along.

Door jambs (also sometimes doorpost): a door jamb is the vertical portion of the door frame onto which a door is secured.

Other terms you might hear:

Cornice – a cornice is an ornamental or decorative moulding along the top of a wall where it meets the ceiling. Here are some pictures of different cornices.

Some homes will have ‘square set’ instead of a cornice – this is an image of a square set ceiling/wall junction in the new town houses we built in Elwood.

Eaves – eaves are the lower portion and edge of a roof that overhangs the walls.
Fascias: a fascia is a board fixed horizontally to the lower ends of the rafters, which guttering can be fixed to. In this image you can see the eaves here and the fascias here.

Pelmets – pelmets are a box-type cover over the top of a window used to conceal curtain rods and fastenings. They are great for energy efficiency as they are very effective at reducing heat loss through the windows.

Window reveals: the window reveals are the depth of wall internally or externally from the edge of the wall to the face of the window. The depth of the window reveal is governed by the thickness of the wall – the thicker the wall the wider reveal you can have. This is an image of a window reveal in a home…

Also, there are a few terms that you’ll come across when discussing your building contract with your builder that may be unfamiliar to you. The 3 most common are:

Prime costs – a prime cost is an allowance for an item included in your building contract when that item has not yet been specified. For example, if you have not yet selected your oven, your builder may include the supply of an oven in the contract price and specify the allowance he has made for it as a prime cost – which could be say $1,500. If the oven costs less, you will receive a refund, and if it costs more you will have to pay the difference plus the builder’s margin. Prime costs only cover the supply of the item. Any associated labour – eg for installing the item – should be part of the fixed contract price.

Provisional sums are the similar – the difference is that they cover materials and labour. For example, landscaping. If at the time you sign your building contract you have not confirmed your landscaping works, the builder may include an allowance (or a provisional sum) in the contract price to cover landscaping. When the landscaping works are specified and the final cost is known, you may need to pay more – depending on how accurate the allowance was.

To avoid budget overruns, it is absolutely essential that you scrutinise every prime cost and provisional sum included in your building contract to ensure that they are realistic cost estimates. Make sure that your builder has not included unrealistically low estimates just to make his quote look low or put in a provisional sums where another builder has given you a fixed price– if the allowances are too low you will end up paying more. Ask your builder to explain how he calculated the estimate and what it was based on.

Ideally, you will have made all of your selections and all of your works will have been specified before you sign your building contract – so there won’t be any prime costs or provisional sums. But this isn’t always practical and it’s OK to proceed with some prime costs and provisional sums as long as you are comfortable that they are REALISTIC.

The other common term that you are likely to come across in your building contract is liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are a pre-specified monetary amount that one party can claim from the other party for loss or damage that occurs as a result of the other party’s failure to deliver the works under the contract on time. It must be a reasonable estimate of the loss or damage that will be suffered – it cannot be a penalty. We include liquidated damages in our contracts to guarantee our completion dates. So, if we do not complete our works by the completion date under the contract, we will pay liquidated damages – which is usually the rent that our client would need to pay while they wait for the works to be completed. We have never had to pay liquidated damages, but it is there to provide comfort to our clients that we stand behind our completion dates.

Thank you for joining me on this quick overview of some of the most common builder’s jargon. I hope it was useful.

At the beginning, I promised a bonus tip that will save you thousands on your building project.

You may have seen some of my other videos where I explain all of the benefits of involving a builder in your building project from the outset. Today I’m going to share with you one of the ways I save our clients thousands of dollars when I am part of the team working on the design of their new home.

It’s simple. Use standard sized materials and build according to standard sized openings – so that you can direct your budget to custom big ticket items like the kitchen.

For example, plaster board comes in widths of 1200 mm or 1350mm wide. Typically – floor to ceiling will be 2400mm or 2700mm high (which means 2 sheets of 1200mm plasterboard or 2 sheets of 1350mm plasterboard). If you were to go up to 2800mm high, the cost is twice as much labour and quarter as much materials – just for an extra 100mm – which will add up $$$ quickly

Doors are another great example. Standard door sizes are 720, 770, 820, 870 and 920 wide and 2040 mm high or 2340 mm high, these standard sized doors generally cost between $100 and $300.

If you were to go to a door 950mm wide and 2400mm high – this could easily cost between $500 to $1000 each. So if you have 10 doors in your home, this could easily be an extra $6,000 or $7,000. Also, if your doors are bigger than standard sizes, your architraves will be more expensive. Architraves generally come in lengths of 5.4 m – enough for a standard 820x 2340 door. If you increase the door size to 850 x 2400 you would need an extra length of architrave – most of which will be waste.

It is always best to ask the builder about standard sizes as they work with them everyday. We are always happy to work with you and recommend standard sizes if they are not specified.

If you are considering renovating or extending in the Bayside area of Melbourne, give us a call. I would be delighted to have a chat with you about your options for transforming your home. At Gaia Construction, we are passionate about building high quality, healthy & energy efficient homes that our clients will love living in for years to come.

If you are thinking about doing some building work, download our free guide on the 7 Things You Must Know Before Designing a New Home. It includes lots of useful tips to help you save time and money when designing a new home and renovation.

Download it now to learn how to save time & money and ensure that you are on track to your perfect home.

The Key Things to Know Before Designing Your New Home

7 things you must know book



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Sue Davidson

The highlight of Sue's job at Gaia Construction is handing over beautifully crafted homes to excited clients. In her spare time, Sue is passionate about the environment & the outdoors, enjoying time hiking, sailing, walking her dog Lulu and travelling around Australia with her husband Jeremy & Lulu in their small campervan.
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