Renovation & Design

Contractor-speak: Learn to decipher it

Handout/It is important for homeowners to know the different terms contractors and sub trades use to fully understand the scope of the work being done on their home.

If you're going through a renovation or planning one, it helps to know the jargon contractors used by trades professionals, such as: 16 off centre, LVLs, HVAC and rough-in.

Contractors have their own language, and it's not always easy to pick up.

I still get blank stares from homeowners -- usually when I'm explaining how I'm going to frame their basement, carry structure after knocking down a wall, or pitch their roof. And it's not because they don't like what I'm saying -- they just don't know what I'm talking about.

I'm always telling homeowners to educate themselves. Learn what it takes to do the job right -- not to do it yourself, but so you know what's involved, how to manage your expectations and what to cover with your contractor. By doing this you also learn the language and terms contractors and sub-trades use.

Also, if you tell your contractor that you want a specific product or material, such as an ice-and-water shield as your roof underlayment instead of tar paper, that tells them you've done your homework. You know about materials and what a quality job looks like -- so they better deliver.

The more you know, the better positioned you are to speak to your contractor. So let me clear up some of the more common terms contractors throw around.

Studs -- cheesy jokes aside, studs refer to the lumber we use to frame walls, usually two-by-fours, which are really 1.5-by-3.5 inches. (Studs nowadays are about half an inch or a quarter inch smaller than what they are sold as.) There are also two-by-sixes and two-by-eights, which provide more room for insulation because the walls will be deeper or thicker.

LVLs -- stands for laminated veneer lumbers. These are really strong beams that can carry weight over longer spans. They're made of thin layers of wood held together with adhesives.

16 inches on centre -- contractors (or at least the good ones) say this a lot when it comes to spacing out the framing. Sixteen inches on centre means the studs in your framing will be separated by 16 inches from the centre of each stud, on the shorter side. Remember, the two-inch side of the stud faces outward, while the longer side creates the depth of the wall. That space is crucial for running any plumbing or electrical and for adding insulation.

R-value -- comes up often when we talk about insulation. R-value is a material's ability to resist heat flow, an ability that helps keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter. The higher the R-value, the better the material insulates.

Mechanics -- when a contractor tells you they are getting all the mechanics done they are talking about your home's electrical, plumbing and HVAC.

HVAC -- stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. An HVAC technician is the person you call when there's something wrong with your furnace or air conditioner, or if you think you're losing heat in your ductwork.

Rough-in -- contractors talk about "rough-ins" or tell you that they are at the "rough-in" stage. Rough-ins have to do with the mechanics of your home, so electrical wiring, plumbing lines, and vents and ductwork for the HVAC. It's everything that needs to go into your walls and floors so these systems work.

How do you know if the "rough-in" on your project is done? You will see electrical wires sticking out of your walls where outlets and light switches go. Or you will have plumbing lines sticking out of your wall where sinks, toilets, showers, tubs and washers will be installed.

Knowledge is power, whether it's your health, job or home. So if your contractor says something you don't understand, ask them to explain it. There are no stupid questions. A good contractor will be happy to explain their work, method and craftsmanship so you know exactly what you're getting and why. It's part of making it right.


-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Catch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit



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