Glossary

We’ve learned a lot in the past six months, including a lot of jargon:

  • Alarm system: Being legally robbed to protect yourself from being illegally robbed.
  • Back-prime: The tedious and thankless job of painting the backs of boards, in the hope that your house will survive the next natural disaster.
  • Bath: a bathroom, not a bathtub. (The sink is called the lavatory.)
  • BIBS: Blow-In Blanket System. Probably the most expensive way to insulate your home, and therefore the one recommended most by contractors.
  • Blueboard: Used in place of lath, it is a moisture-resistant form of drywall that is then coated with plaster. It has no character, but the finished product looks the same. Future renovators will laugh at us.
  • Board: A 1″ thick piece of wood (e.g. floorboard, baseboard). Can be any width or length, but can’t be thicker than one inch. A 2×4 is not a board.
  • Casement: A window that swings out rather than slides up and, if it’s big enough, can be considered a secondary exit for building code purposes.
  • Casing: The molding around a jamb; it is programmed to self-destruct when removed.
  • Chase: The near-criminal act of cutting a hole in something to put something else.
  • Checking (aka alligatoring): What happens when you have too many layers of paint. Get yourself a good sander.
  • Sander: Someone (besides yourself) willing to spend weeks on end stripping old paint
  • Chimney cap: What you need to keep birds, squirrels, raccoons, and rodents out of your chimney.
  • Cornice: The bit between the eaves and the soffit, I think. Not really sure.
  • Fascia: What you have if you don’t have a cornice.
  • Demolition: The act of removing 20 years’ worth of water-damaged plaster, ugly wallpaper, walls that need to be moved, insulation saturated with rodent waste, outdated plumbing fixtures, and all of the plaster in the attic because your contractor wants to replace your 200-year-old roof joists with green wood from The Home Depot. Be sure you protect the floors first.
  • Dentil: A pattern of notches in the molding; makes painting a joy.
  • DIY: see “false economy.”
  • Dry rot: A fungus that eats wet wood; your worst nightmare next to foundation problems.
  • Drywall: A new wall system that doesn’t include wet plaster; hence it is “dry.”
  • Eaves: The part of the roof that sticks out over the walls in order to drip rain on you.
  • Envelope: The outer shell of the house, used by the insulation contractor in discussing the infiltration and exfiltration with the R-rating to convince you to buy the BIBS system. He will neglect to mention that most of your heat loss is through the windows.
  • Existing wall: What the contractor uses to write notes on.
  • New wall: What the contractor calls six 2x4s nailed to the floor
  • Fenestration: A set of windows. Next time you see a Colonial house with 6-over-6 windows and appropriately-sized shutters, you can impress your spouse by saying “Look at that beautiful fenestration.”
  • Fixtures: Anything not included in the contractor’s quote.
  • Flashing: Metal strips that seal the joint between masonry and roofing. (You thought I was going to say “see plumber’s crack” didn’t you?)
  • Flue liner: A flexible metal pipe installed in a chimney to avoid chimney fires. Voice of experience: An 8″ flue liner will not fit in a 7″ flue.
  • Frame: A series of joists, plates, studs, braces, headers, and sills.
  • Glazing: Putting lights in the sash with points and putty. (i.e. fixing windows)
  • Grading: See “strip mining.”
  • Gutters: Contraptions used to catch leaves before they fall harmlessly to the ground
  • Heat pump: An extremely efficient heating method, which we are not using.
  • Steam: An extremely inefficient heating method, which we are using.
  • HVAC: High Velocity Air Conditioning. (There is no such thing as Low Velocity Air Conditioning, so it’s just really pompous.)
  • Joists: Horizontal beams which everyone will tell you always run in the same direction; do not listen to this.
  • Ladder jacks: An insane method of scaffolding made by holding a horizontal ladder between two vertical ladders.
  • Lath: Originally, small strips of scrap wood that provided a base for plaster. Later, a metal screen that served the same purpose. Today, Blueboard is used. Unfortunately, not many funny things you can say about lath.
  • Light: Glass in a window; often counted as in “six-over-six” or a “four-light transom.”
  • Line set: Two pipes that connect the outdoor air conditioner (or compressor) to the indoor evaporator (or air handler). The “liquid line” is smaller than the “suction line.”
  • Lintel: A stone header at the top of a roof or window which displaces the load. When looking at an old stone house, look for lintels in the middle of nowhere to indicate where an old window or door was.
  • Load-bearing: What plumbers cut chases into.
  • Keystones: A poor man’s lintel. An arch of smaller stones was used instead of a single piece; the keystone was the center stone which, when driven in, held the rest of the arch in place through compression.
  • Mansard: A flat roof with very steep sides; makes for a much nicer attic than (our) gable roof
  • Mantel: The wood (or marble) panel around a fireplace. A full mantel goes from floor to ceiling. Hopefully, your grandparents didn’t apply marble-like wallpaper to their mantel.
  • Mortar: A mixture of water, sand, and cement used to hold things together. See “pointing.”
  • Mortise-and-tenon: The art of joining two pieces of wood by creating a tongue (the mortise) and a hole (the tenon). To check an old door, look at the edge–you should see the end of the tongue for each panel.
  • Parging: To plaster. (See photo, below.)
  • Permit: Zoning, Building, Occupancy, Parking, Stormwater, Well, Septic, Land development, you name it. Unless your brother-in-law sits on one of the local committees, don’t even think of restoring an old house.
  • Plans: What you paid good money to have an architect draw up, and paid more money to have the contractor scribble all over. Note that every contractor will want his own set of plans to scribble all over.
  • Pipes: copper, cast iron, black iron, pex, PVC, heating, plumbing, etc.
  • Plumb: A very recent phenomenon, unheard of 50 years ago.
  • Pointing: To fill in the space between stones with mortar. Note that the color, thickness, and shape of the mortar is the difference between a professional job and the mess you just made.
  • Powderpost beetles: Self-explanatory. Much less destructive than carpenter ants or termites, but over 200 years the damage can add up.
  • Preparation: The reason you hire a contractor, because anyone can apply the paint.
  • Punky: Soft or rotted, as in “this window is punky,” or “this beam is punky,” or “this door is punky,” or a hundred other things the contractor looked at.
  • Radiators: Large, ugly, problematic, and potentially unsafe heating method that all historic specialists will try to convince you to keep.
  • Renovation vs. Restoration: Something people who have never done either like to argue about.
  • Risers: To a plumber, it’s the hot water supply; to the carpenter, it’s the back of a stair. Don’t worry, the plumber and carpenter will never talk to each other so there is no chance of confusion.
  • Rosebuds: The marks a hammer makes when it hits something it shouldn’t, like a floorboard. Old hand-forged nails used to be called “rose-head” for the same reason.
  • Safety equipment: What the contractor knows he should be wearing. Includes safety glasses, mask, gloves, long pants, and thick-soled shoes.
  • Sash: The window frame without the glass. Old windows had true dividers, because the glass could not be made in large sheets. Today’s windows have large glass and fake “muntins” (dividers) which look good from about 50 feet away, and cause for pointing and laughing any closer than that.
  • Double-hung sash: A simple name for a complicated set of lights, cords, and weights that you will never, ever, be able to re-assemble.
  • Shutters: Practically, a set of panels used to protect windows during a storm. Aestetically, a set of panels that set off the window. Popularly, a set of panels that could obviously never close to cover the window they are mounted on. See “eyesore.”
  • Sill: The bottom of a door or window; it is the opposite of “header.” (Beneath the sill is the apron.)
  • Sistering: Nailing a piece of wood onto another piece of wood because it is soft, punky, split, or, in the case of our contractor, just because it’s old.
  • Soffits: The underside of the eaves. Please don’t ask me why someone had to come up with a new name for this.
  • Split-system: The act of cooling the first floor from the basement and the second floor from the attic. Works well if you don’t have a 12″ thick stone wall running down the center of the house like we do.
  • Stain: Oil mixed with dirt. When finished staining, you seal it to protect it from dirt.
  • Storm windows: A second window that goes against the first to make an early (but effective) version of dual-paned windows.
  • Studs: The wooden posts you hope your wife is referring to when she’s 3,000 miles away and surrounded by a dozen men who do everything she asks.
  • Subcontractors: See “herding cats.”
  • T&G: Tongue-and-groove, a method of installing hardwood floors to ensure they can never be taken up again without extensive damage.
  • Toenail: Driving a nail in at an angle. It has nothing to do with your anatomy.
  • Vinyl windows: Eyes with no soul. See also vinyl siding and vinyl flooring.
  • Wallpaper: A wall covering that is difficult to put on and impossible to take off.