Old House Glossary

Adjustable-rate mortgage: A loan in which the interest rate wanders up and down according to the current inflation rate.

Amperage: The strength of an electrical current, measured in amperes

Apron: The flat, horizontal member of a window, under the sill

Baluster: An upright support for a rail in a balustrade

Balustrade: A row of balusters topped by a rail

Beam: A long timber used as one of the primary horizontal, supporting members of a building

Bracket: An overhanging member projecting from the wall to support a vertical load or to strengthen an angle; also used for decorative effect

Capital: The topmost part of a column

Casing: The enclosing frame around a door or window opening

Caulk: A waterproof, soft, pliable material used to seal joints and cracks against water or air leakage

Circuit breaker: Similar to a fuse, but unlike a fuse, contains a switch so that it can re-establish the flow of electricity instead of burning out. See also Fuse

Cornice: The top, horizontal, usually projecting member of a wall

Crawl space: In houses without basements, the area beneath the house between the floor and the ground, usually at least 24 inches high

Damper: A movable plate in a chimney, which when opened permits smoke and fumes to be drawn through the flue to the outside, but which when closed reduces the rush of cold air into the house

Dormer: Upright, roofed projection on a sloping roof, usually containing a window

Downspout: A vertical pipe, usually connected to the gutter, which carries rain down from a roof

Eave: The lower portion of the roof that overhangs the wall

Fascia: A horizontal piece covering the joint between the top of a wall and the eaves

Fixed-rate mortgage: A loan in which the interest rate and thus the monthly payment remain the same over the time of the mortgage

Flashing: A sheet metal used to waterproof roof valleys or the angle between a vertical wall, such as a chimney, rising out of a roof

Flue: Passage in the chimney through which smoke and fumes from the fireplace travel

Foundation: Supporting member of the wall, constructed usually of concrete, brick, stone, or concrete block

Fuse: A disposable contact consisting of a thin wire element; used in an electric service panel to permit electricity to flow through, but to burn out and deactivate lithe circuit is overloaded. See also Circuit breaker Gable: The triangle formed by the sloping lines of the roof from the eaves to the ridge

Gambrel roof: A roof with two slopes of different pitches on each side of the ridge

Gingerbread: Pierced, curved decoration fashioned by a jigsaw or scroll saw, often used under the eaves of roofs, both on the main house and on porches

Glazing compound: A pliant material used to hold a pane of glass in a window sash

Gutter: A trough, either built into or attached to the eaves to catch and carry off rainwater

Hipped roof: A roof with slopes on all four sides

Jamb: Upright member that forms the side of a door or window opening

Joint compound: A premixed, plaster-like material used for patching holes in plaster walls and covering seams and nail holes when installing wallboard

Joist: Small horizontal timbers laid parallel from wall to wall to support a floor or ceiling

Latex paint: A synthetic rubber- or plastic- and water-based paint

Mansard roof: A roof with two slopes on all four sides, the lower slope being much steeper than the upper

Molding: A projecting, decorative strip

Nosing: The rounded front (and sometimes side) edge of a stair tread that projects over the riser

Pier: Stout, vertical, structural support, often made of bricks laid chimney-style

Pitch: The degree of slope of the roof. Pitch is measured in inches rise per foot of run. E.g., a 45-degree roof has a 12-inch rise.

Plasterboard: See Wallboard

Plinth: The lowest part, or base

Pocket doors: Large, sliding doors typically used in late nineteenth- century houses between such rooms as hail and parlor or parlor and dining room, and fashioned so as to slide into the wall

Post: A vertical supporting member of a building

Primer: A base coat that prepares the surface for the finish coat of paint

Putty: A pliant material consisting of hydrated lime and water

PVC: Polyvinyl chloride; white- or cream-colored plastic plumbing pipe; CPVC is the commercial, more expensive, and better-quality type

Rafter: One of a series of parallel beams that establish and support the pitch of the roof from ridge to wall

Railing: A horizontal member of a balustrade

Remodel: Modernize and improve an existing structure with little regard for its original character. See also Renovate; Restore

Renovate: Modernize and improve an existing structure while at the same time maintaining as much of its original character as possible. See also Restore; Remodel

Restore: An attempt to return a building to its exact condition at some point in the past, even lilt means losing many modern conveniences. See also Renovate; Remodel

Ridge: The topmost horizontal line where the upper slopes of a roof meet

Riser: The vertical member between two stair treads

Roll roofing: A roofing material made of asphalt-soaked felt with a gravel surface, available in a long sheet, usually 1 yard wide and 36 feet long

Rubble: Unshaped stones used to form an irregular wall surface

Sash weight: Part of the mechanism of double-hung windows, which supports the weight of the sash and maintains it at a desired height; weights usually hang over pulleys on the end of sash cords or sash chain

Sash: The part of the window framing that holds the glass; sometimes refers to the entire movable part of the window

Self-tapping screws: Phillips screws with sharp points and deep grooves in their Phillips head slots so that they can be driven with a cordless screwdriver. They are called self4apping because they will pierce even soft tin without a starter hole

Sheetrock: See Wallboard

Shim: A thin, often tapered piece of wood used to fill a space to level

Siding: The outside skin of a frame building

Sill: A horizontal timber that's usually the lowest supporting member of a building; the lowest supporting member of a window casing

Soffit: The area of the roof that extends over the walls of the house; also referred to as the overhang or the eaves

Soil pipe: A pipe for carrying off waste water from the toilet

Stool: A finish piece of molding installed on top of the windowsill and extending beyond the window casing

Stringer: A horizontal, supporting member

Stud: One of the smaller uprights in the frame of a building, to which sheathing, paneling, or lath is applied

Subfloor: The wooden base that's attached to floor joists in preparation for finish flooring

Sump pump: A water-removal pump located in the basement

Tread: The upper, horizontal portion of a step

Tuck-point: Process of partially removing old mortar from masonry joints, cleaning the joints, and applying new mortar to them

Valley: A diagonal trough formed where two sections of the roof join at right angles

Wallboard: A board used as a substitute for plaster, consisting of a hardened gypsum plaster core bonded to a fiberboard or paper protective covering. Also known as plasterboard, or by the trade-name Sheetrock


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