Mechanical + electrical systems in architecture, engineering, and construction
Safety issues with Major Appliance Operation, Maintenance, Troubleshooting
Fire Safety: A Basic FAQ
Fire Prevention and Protection in the Home, Home Safety and Health, Home Security
Residential Construction: Safety Rules Application
Building Construction for Dummies
Ultimate Guide to Skyscrapers
=2. Building It=
=3. Inhabiting It=
=4. Supporting It=
=5. Art and Science: Theory into Practice=
Ultimate Guide to Interiors
Mechanical / Electrical Systems for Buildings construction / architecture
- Fundamentals of Building Science
Home Safety and Security
1. Barriers against Break-Ins
above: Home Safety and Security Hardware (click each image to enlarge)
2. Silent Sentries, Loud Alarms
3. Defenses against Fire
4. Coping with Everyday Hazards
Defending a House
from Disaster (Intro and Article index)
Complete Step-by-Step Home Repair and Improvement
Construction Equipment: Ladders, Sawhorses and Scaffolds, etc.
Homeowner’s Inspection Guide:
Related: Wet Basement help: Foundations
-- A Quick Intro; Fundamentals
of Basement Repair + Improvement
Foundations and Concrete Structures
Redesigning / Renovating Apartments and Houses:
Encyclopedia of Home Construction:
Keeping Water Out of a Building:
Fitting Buildings to People:
Buildings and Fire Safety: How to Control Fire -- Learn how's and why's of fire prevention and fire control:
Getting a Building Built -- Planning and organizing building projects:
Fundamentals of Home Construction
Buildings and Architecture Glossary
Understanding Home Construction
Owner-Builder -- How to Design and Build Your Own House
The Ecological Home Improvement and Renovation Guide
- 1: Space
- 2: Energy
- 3: Health
- 4: Materials
- 5: Further Information
Hundreds of thousands of new homes are constructed each year in this country by builders and developers responding to the housing needs of a growing, maturing population. The vast majority of persons who purchase those homes are not knowledgeable in the technicalities of building construction. They simply don’t have expertise in construction principles, the proper application of materials and components, in field techniques, what constitutes good workmanship, nor the role of local codes and conditions. This is certainly understandable, since this is a very specialized and technical field. However, all of these factors significantly impact and influence the success of the building project. As a result, the average soon-to-be homeowner is not equipped to recognize, nor identify, potential problem-laden issues which can take place daily during the construction period; issues and problems which can have substantial impacts on the quality, durability, and cost of future maintenance of the finished building, not least of all, on their personal satisfaction with it.
This certainly represents an unfortunate situation for persons who are making such a major investment and long-term commitment.
Being convinced that some comprehensive information on the subject is therefore needed and could make a world of difference to this audience, it’s hereby our intent to:
1) Provide basic information about the materials, components and systems which are typically assembled under field conditions into residential building construction;
2) Describe principles and suggest details which can result in quality construction;
3) By editorial use of the device: (CAUTION), to focus attention throughout the text on problem areas, pitfalls, and other potential deficiencies which can, and do, occur;
4) Provide the reader with an improved basis to recognize problems -- then make judgments about impacts and alternatives; so that if necessary, action can be taken to achieve corrective measures before deficiencies and less than-satisfactory conditions are buried or covered up by subsequent work.
5) Overall, to assist the reader in becoming more able to deal with the construction process, on an informed basis.
Extensive use is made of graphic diagrams and pictures throughout, to illustrate the issues or details being discussed. The illustrations are not intended to be sufficiently finished nor complete to be usable for actual construction purposes. Instead, each is directed at pointing out, by illustration, a particular construction principal, or a pitfall. Most are drawn in the same format used in actual building plans and documents, but are kept simplified to best illustrate the particular issue being discussed, and to not discourage the reader by being unnecessarily technical.
It’s definitely not intended that the use of this guide in any way minimize, substitute for, nor negate the need for Architects and other professionals. Their expertise and services should be sought by those persons who wish to have special, customized and unique design solutions provided to meet their special needs. On the contrary, the author is keenly interested in encouraging the public to seek out professional help and guidance in the building design and construction process, for he sincerely believes that the most interesting, unique and satisfactory building solutions result from the use of trained professionals.
We, however, recognize the reality that a substantial number of new private residences or smaller indistrial projects are developed and constructed directly by builders or developers without the assistance or services, to the purchaser, of an Architect. It’s to those persons for whom this guide is intended, in the expectation that thru the use of this information, those persons will be much better equipped to recognize what’s taking place during the construction process; and , thus have a better basis to deal with problems, rather than be subject to consequences later on.
This guide, therefore, is directed to those persons who will eventually be securing a new conventional residence which is constructed by some other party, as well as to those who contemplate having additions or alterations made to existing conventional residences by contractors or builders. The construction principles and issues apply to either scenario.
This guide deals with general construction aspects of residential and commercial building; in other words, physical bricks and mortar items such as foundations, walls, floors, roofs, and finishes. Typical Mechanical, Plumbing and Electrical systems are not included herein. Web sites like DIY Resources and U.S. Construction Resources have been created to web site cover these and other related subjects. This is done with the conviction that many people would prefer to restrict their level of study to only the more obvious physical features of their residence and not be burdened with more detail on those systems which are more technical in nature, and physically less obvious. This also allows one to make a choice as to the level of interest and involvement in the total building picture.
What this Web Site is Not About!
It’s not the purpose of this site to advise nor guide persons thru the complex and involved process of determining what type, style or size house or building should be built, by whom, at what cost, nor under what terms and conditions. Nor does this guide provide advice for persons wishing to undertake do-it-yourself construction of their home.
Rather, this guide is intended for persons or organizations who are unfamiliar with construction methods and details, but who will at some time be contracting for, or purchasing, a home to be built for them by other qualified parties (Builders, Developers, Contractors, etc.). For them, this guide proposes to explain many typical conditions and details which will likely be encountered; thus providing an awareness and capability to evaluate progress and results.
This guide proposes to provide accurate and authoritative information regarding the subject matter. However, it’s sold with the absolute understanding that the author and publisher are not thereby rendering legal, architectural or other professional services.
We, the publishers of this site, accept neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused, or alleged to be caused, either directly or indirectly, as a result of the information contained herein.
- asphalt: A dark, tar-like bituminous material commonly used in house
construction for roofing, waterproofing, damp-proofing, exterior wall covering, and pavement.
- backfill: Earth or other material used to fill in around foundation
walls, usually built up to drain water away from the foundation.
- base molding: A decorative band of finish board used to cover
the joint between the wall and floor. Also called base board or base.
- building code: Minimum legal requirements for all aspects of construction,
established and enforced by local governments to protect public health and
safety. Building officials and others with firsthand knowledge of construction
practices establish these codes.
- cast-in-place: A term used to describe concrete that is poured
between wooden or metal forms to harden in place.
- cellulose: Recycled wood fiber used in house construction for
insulation and flooring material. Can be chemically treated with flame
- center beam: A wood or steel member that runs the length of the
first floor of a house and supports the house structure above it. The center
beam bears on the foundation wall at each end of the house and is supported
along its length by columns or piers.
- certificate: of occupancy A legal document, issued by a building
inspector, stating that a house has passed all inspections and is ready for
- chair rail: A band of molding applied at chair-back height along
a wall to protect the wall finish from chairs pushing up against it. Also
used as a decorative detail.
- circuit breaker: A safety feature for each electrical circuit
in the distribution panel. Should the demand for electricity on a particular
circuit become excessive, the circuit breaker automatically cuts the flow
of electricity through that circuit. The electrical circuit remains broken
until the circuit breaker is reset. Circuit breakers serve the same purpose
as fuses in older electrical circuits.
- collar beam: In roof framing, a horizontal piece that pro vides
structural strength by connecting opposite rafters.
- concrete: A mixture of Portland cement, sand, gravel, and water
that hardens into a rocklike mass.
- concrete block: Precast hollow or solid building block made of
cement, water, and aggregate, such as sand or gravel. Commonly used in
- cornice: On the exterior of a house, structural trim where the
roof and walls meet. Also called soffit when the trim overhangs the walls.
- crawl space: In houses without basements, the space between the
ground surface and the first floor sufficient to crawl around in for utility
installation and repairs.
- crown molding: A decorative molding used to cover the joint between
the wall and ceiling.
- distribution panel: A metal box through which all electrical wiring
passes, usually located at the juncture with the utility company line. The
panel distributes electricity to all usage points in a house by means of
circuits or sets of wires. This is where the circuit breakers are located.
Also called a breaker box.
- dormer: A projection built out from a sloping roof as a room extension
or for a window.
- drainage pipe: Plastic pipe or clay tile, sometimes perforated,
laid in the ground to carry water away from areas around the foundation.
Also called drain tile.
- drywall: Paper-faced gypsum board panels used in interior wall
finishing instead of plaster. Also called gypsum board or gypsum wallboard.
- duct, ductwork: Round or rectangular conduits usually formed of
sheet metal and used to transport heated and cooled air from heating and
cooling equipment to the various rooms in a house.
- eaves: The edge of a roof that runs parallel with the ground.
- excavation: Removal of earth or rock, as for the basement of a
- fiberglass: A nonflammable material made of glass fibers and used
in thick wool-like blankets as building insulation and as a reinforcement
in some plastic fixtures.
- flashing: Sheet metal or plastic used to cover joints
and openings in exterior surfaces of the house to protect against water
- footing: A base, usually made of concrete, beneath foundation
walls, columns, piers, and chinmeys. Designed to distribute the weight
of these elements to the soil, depending on the bearing capacity of the
- formwork: Support structure for freshly poured or cast in-place
- foundation: Part of the house that transfers the load of the house
to the ground, usually made of concrete.
- framing: The process of constructing the structural skeleton of
a house, usually made of wood or steel studs, beams, and joists.
- gable: The triangular end wall of a house that extends from the
eaves to the peak of the roof.
- grading: The preparation of a site by cutting, filling, or both
to accommodate construction of a house. Also, filling in with earth or other
material around a completed house at a slope to direct water away from the
- gutter: Metal, plastic, or wood channel at the eaves of a house,
usually sloped slightly to carry off rainwater and snow melt.
- gypsum board: Panels used in interior wall finishing,
consisting of mineral gypsum pressed between two layers of heavy paper.
Also called drywall and gypsum wallboard.
- heat pump: Combination heating and cooling equipment.
In winter, the heat pump extracts heat from outdoor air, which is circulated
through the house. In summer, the heat pump extracts heat from indoor air,
which is discharged outdoors. The cooled air is then circulated through
- HVAC: Common building industry abbreviation for heating, ventilation,
and air conditioning systems.
- inspection: Examination of work completed on a structure to determine
compliance with building code and other requirements.
- insulation, electrical: Any material used to cover electrical
- insulation, thermal: Materials used in house construction to retard
heat flow or protect against sound transmission or fire.
- joint compound: A pastelike material used to cover fasten ers
and joints in drywall for a smooth finish. Also called joint cement.
- joists: A series of horizontal parallel beams that support floors
- load bearing: Providing support for the weight of a house or other
loads such as people, furniture, and snow.
- masonry: General construction term for materials set in mortar,
including stone, brick, concrete, tile, and glass block.
- mechanical systems: General term for heating and air conditioning.
Sometimes also applied to include plumbing and electrical systems.
- molding: Wood, metal, plastic, or plaster trim used around windows
and doors, at the tops and bases of walls, along cornices, and for other
- mortar: A thick, pastelike material that hardens to bond masonry
units together. Usually made of a mixture of Port land cement, sand, lime,
- oriented strand board: A structural panel composed of layers of
sliver-like wood strands bonded together with resin. Each layer consists
of compressed strands oriented at 90 degrees to the previous layer.
- percolation test: A soil test used to determine the rate at which
water is absorbed into the ground. Results are used to establish the best
locations and required size for a septic field on a piece of property. Also
called a perc test.
- permit: A document issued by a local government agency al lowing
construction work to be performed in conformance with local codes. Work may
not begin until the builder has obtained the required permits, and each permit-issuing
agency must inspect the work at certain specified points during construction.
- plywood: A type of building material made by gluing three or more
thin layers or plies of wood together in panels. Plies are laid so that
the wood grain alternates 90 degrees with each successive layer. This
increases the plywood’s overall strength and counteracts shrinking,
swelling, and warping in each ply.
- polyethylene: A durable, pliable, waterproof plastic film used
as a moisture vapor barrier in house construction.
- polyvinyl chloride (PVC): Rigid, durable plastic material used
in plumbing for pipes and fittings.
- pressure treated: A process of forcing chemicals into wood to
prevent deterioration from rot, mold, termites, and other wood-destroying
- prints: Complete construction plans, drawn to scale, used by builders
and subcontractors to build a house. Prints usually include the site plan,
foundation plan and cross section, floor plans, elevations, building and
wall cross sections, mechanical systems, and special construction details.
Formerly called blueprints.
- R-value: A term that, when used with a number, indicates the level
of resistance to heat flow in a building material. The higher a material’s
R-value, the more effective insulation it provides.
- rafters: The structural members that form the legs of the triangle
created in roof framing. Rafters are joined at the peak of the triangle by
the ridge board and support roof sheathing and roofing materials.
- ridge board: The length of lumber at the peak of a roof to which
the upper ends of the rafters are fastened.
- rough-in: The stage of house construction that follows framing,
when the builder installs all systems that will be concealed behind the walls,
including plumbing, heating and air conditioning ducts, and electrical wiring.
- septic system: A sewage disposal system for individual homes.
A holding tank for raw sewage is installed in the ground, where bacteria
break down and liquefy the sew age. The liquid waste is then discharged
to a drain field where it slowly passes into the soil and is eventually
- setback: The minimum allowable distance between a structure and
its lot lines established by local zoning ordinances.
- sewer: A system of pipes carrying away storm runoff or carrying
sewage to a municipal processing plant.
- shake: Hand-split wood shingle.
- sheathing: Sheets of plywood, flakeboard, oriented strand board,
insulation board, or other materials used to cover the exterior of a
frame. A finish siding material is then applied over the sheathing.
- shingles: Roof or wall covering of asphalt, wood, tile, slate,
or other material applied so as to shed rainwater.
- siding: The exterior finish of a house applied over the sheathing
and generally made of wood, vinyl, steel, aluminum, or other durable, decorative
- sill: A wood support, usually a 2x6, laid flat on top of the foundation
wall and used as a base for floor framing; also called the sill plate. Also,
the member forming the lower side of an opening, such as a windowsill or
- slab: A flat layer of poured concrete.
- soffit: Exposed underside of a projecting building part such as
a roof overhang.
- stack vent: Vertical pipe in a plumbing drainage system, which
extends up through the roof to relieve pressure differences that could
otherwise siphon water out of plumbing traps in the house.
- stake-out: Measuring house dimensions on a lot in accordance with
the house plans and using stakes to indicate each corner.
- stucco: A cement plaster used as an exterior wall finish.
- stud: An upright wood or metal member used to frame walls and
- subcontractor: A person or company that contracts with the builder
to perform work on a specific part of a construction job, such as excavation,
plumbing, electrical work, or landscaping. Also called sub.
- subflooring: Rough boards, plywood, waferboard, or oriented strand
board installed on top of the floor joists, over which the finish floor is
- sump pump: Device used to remove liquid from a drainage pit or
- termite: A wood-devouring insect that can demolish the woodwork
of a structure.
- transformer: A device for increasing or decreasing electrical
voltage. Used by electrical utilities to convert high voltage levels to
120/240-volt service for houses.
- trap: In plumbing, a bend in a waste pipe designed to hold water.
The water acts as a seal to prevent insects and harmful sewage gases from
gaining access into a house.
- trench: A narrow excavation in the earth for the installation
of footings, pipes, drains, and electrical cables.
- trim: Finish details and materials, particularly moldings around
windows and doors; moldings at joints, intersections, and corners; and other
decorative work on the house.
- truss: Preassembled roof framing member, made of wood and commonly
manufactured in a triangular shape, that replaces ceiling joists, rafters,
and collar beams.
- underlayment: Moisture-resistant material, such as an asphalt-treated
paper, applied over roof and wall sheathing under roof and exterior finish.
Also a material used over subflooring to provide a smooth surface for a finish
- utilities: Services available to citizens of a community, such
as water, electricity, gas, and sewage disposal.
- vanity: A dressing table; also, a wash basin with an enclosed
- vapor barrier: Treated paper or plastic film that retards the
flow of water vapor.
- veneer: Any decorative, nonstructural surface layer.
- wallboard: See gypsum board or drywall.
- zoning: Division of a county or municipality into land-use categories.
Establishment of regulations governing the use, placement, spacing, and size
of land parcels and buildings in each category.