By The Honest Carpenter | Ethan Daniel James | 11/5/2018

The construction industry is full of jargon and technical language. Much of it is only relevant to builders and tradespeople. But, there are several terms that every homeowner should know and understand!

This short article from The Honest Carpenter and Lisa Ellis & Company will lay out 5 of the most important construction terms that you might have overlooked.

 1. Flashing

Flashing is perhaps the most frequently heard—and misunderstood—word in all of construction. It also happens to be one of the most important elements in your home!

Flashing is a phrase used to describe a system of barriers that protect the most sensitive parts of your home from water intrusion. These barriers usually come in the form of thin sheet metal, or heavy butyl rubber tape.

Because flashing is often hidden by siding, trim and roofing materials, homeowners tend to not even notice it. But, peel back the layers of your home’s exterior and you’ll find it spliced into nearly every nook and cranny!

For instance, the tops and perimeters of doorways and windows are always heavily flashed. Also, any place where a roof meets a sidewall—or something penetrates the roof from below—will be an important flashing point.

These hidden flashing layers help channel water past these vulnerable areas, ensuring that, if water does get beneath the exterior cladding, it can’t seep its way into the home interior where it will inevitably cause rot.

Next time you see a house without its “clothes” on (siding, trim, shingles), look for bent metal and thick tape in its corners and around its edges. That’s flashing!

2. Footings

Footings are another unseen but utterly essential element in construction. Indeed, footings are the component responsible for holding up your entire home.

Footings are basically a series of thick concrete pads that your house rests on. They are usually installed a foot or more beneath the surrounding ground level, where they can sit on harder packed soils below the frost line.

Because of their deep placement and rectangular shape, footings are extremely resistant to movement or breakage. Thus, they provide a very firm, stable surface for foundation walls, and the lumber framework on top of that.

(Footings are actually ubiquitous in all types of construction. Whether you are building a house or a massive skyscraper, you will inevitably need to dig out and pour footings at the outset of the project. The scale, reinforcement and shape of those footings may vary, but the basic concept behind them will always remain the same.)

If you own or are buying an older home, keep an eye out for cracks and splits in the foundation walls. These may be signs that your concrete footings have become compromised over time.

In some cases, these issues can be addressed. But be warned: foundation repairs are some of the most expensive projects you can tackle in a home!

3. Joists

The vertical framing members in walls – known as “studs” – are easily recognizable to all homeowners. But, few people can seem to identify their horizontal counterparts: “joists.”

Joists are the framing members that create our floors and ceilings. They are long pieces of lumber turned over sideways and stood up on their edges. They usually rest on stud-framed walls or foundation walls at either end. By spanning the distance between these outer points, joists act like bridges over that open space, allowing us to have hollow rooms above and below.

Major problems can arise in a home when joists either break or begin to rot out. Too much weight positioned in the center of room can crack the joists in the floor. Or, leaky plumbing can cause water to congregate in concealed spaces between floors, slowly rotting out joists over time.

In both of these cases, floors and ceilings may need to be opened up in order to get to the source of the problem. (Rooms with compromised or broken joists should be avoided altogether until repairs are carried out!)

Advancements in modern construction have brought major changes to joist technology. In addition to traditional solid lumber, alternatives called “I-joists” and “open-web trusses” are now commonly being used all over the country.

If you’re buying a new home or having one built, ask your realtor or builder what kind of joists are being used. The different alternatives each have their advantages and applications.

4. Fascia

Of all the exterior components on a house, perhaps none is more prone to rot and damage than “fascia boards.”

Fascia is the wide trim that sits just beneath the overhanging edges of shingles at the roofline. Fascia trim typically runs the entire perimeter of your home, turning up and down the various gables and following the straight runs at the lowest points of the roof.

Because fascia boards sit so close to the wet surface of the roof (and because gutters are attached directly to them), they are prone to soaking up water and slowly deteriorating. This can lead to further problems when that water is wicked back into the rafter framing, or into the “soffits” under the eaves.

Inspect your house frequently for signs of fascia rot. Dark blotches in the wood, or streaks and staining on the surface, are a pretty clear sign that you have a problem developing.

The sooner you catch it, the better.

Fascia boards can be replaced with PVC material, which is impervious to rot. Also, metal “drip edge” can be installed on the upper edge of fascia, beneath the shingles, to help kick water away from the surface of the trim.

5. LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber)

Laminated Veneer Lumber is one of those technical achievements that solved multiple problems at once and changed the construction world for the better.

LVLs are essentially long, thick pieces of plywood that are used as structural supports in residential and commercial construction. Because of their wood-and-glue composition, they are almost as strong as steel, but as easy to cut and install as typical lumber.

While LVLs were technically invented in the World War II era, they didn’t come into common production and usage until the 1980’s when concerns over timber depletion inspired engineers to go searching for alternatives to solid lumber.

Like other types of plywood and strand board, LVLs are glued up from numerous smaller pieces of wood and wood veneers, much of it unusable elsewhere. Their efficient manufacturing both reduces waste and creates a product unmatched in strength and versatility.

I mention them here because LVLs often play a critical role in both new construction and remodeling projects.

Modern homeowners have grown fond of airy rooms, spacious pass-throughs and open floor plans. In the vast majority of cases, LVLs are the lumber that provides structural support for these unfettered indoor spaces.

LVLs can act as a massive set of shoulders holding ceiling and floor weight above a room. By joining LVLs together, and pairing them with custom metal hardware, they can be used to span crazy distances—sometimes upward of 20 feet!

So, if you’re looking to knock out that kitchen wall and open up floor space, LVLs may be the material for the job. Just remember, you’ll first need a structural engineer to sign off on plans for LVL usage!

Ethan Daniel James is a Homeowner Consultant and professional carpenter in Raleigh, NC. In 2018, he founded TheHonestCarpenter.com, an online service helping people nationwide get their most important home-related questions answered by a trade expert. Just visit The Honest Carpenter to reach out to him or book a consultation!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *