April 15, 2024

Thrive Insider

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The Weird and Wonderful World of Home Improvement Jargon

Planning and implementing home improvements can be both exciting and overwhelming. The excitement comes from the increased enjoyment and resale value of the home, while the feeling of overwhelm can come from the sheer amount of work involved.

For some people, the fact that they have never heard many of the home improvement terms they need to know adds to the initial frustration. This post defines several of those terms to help those new to home improvement feel more confident about the work they are undertaking.

Building Code

Local, state, and federal agencies set minimum building codes that all individuals and businesses must abide by when working on home improvement projects. Homeowners should check with their local city government to determine if they need any type of building permit before commencing the work.


This term refers to horizontal overhangs of residential roofs and include the non-sloping edge that extends beyond a vertical wall.


Homeowners always have the option of hiring one or more contractors to help them with a project. Knowing the different types of contractors ensures that they hire the most appropriate person for the job. The three different types include:

  • General Contractor: This person assumes responsibility for the planning and execution of a project as well as supervising other contractors. The general contractor may or may not perform some project tasks themselves.
  • Specialty Contractor: Completing work in certain areas of home improvement such as plumbing, electrical, or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) requires contractors to have a specialty license. Homeowners must also arrange for separate inspections when hiring a specialty contractor to perform work in these areas.
  • Subcontractor: General contractors sometimes hire subcontractors with special tradesman experience, such as painting or carpentry, to complete specific tasks on a project.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)

This term is critical to know when making home improvements that involve electricity. A GFCI shuts off a circuit when it detects an electrical current traveling through or towards an unintended and potentially dangerous path.

PVC Piping

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes have multiple uses, with the most common one being as an alternative to spare the expense of copper piping in plumbing.

Window-Specific Terms

Working with windows for the first time is like hearing a sub-language within a language. Here are the definitions of five commonly used terms when referring to windows:

  • Argon Gas or Krypton: To improve energy efficiency, window manufacturers include non-toxic spacers made of argon gas or krypton to replace air trapped between two windowpanes.
  • Casing: Window casing, which homeowners may also hear described as molding or trim, surrounds the window between the jambs and wall.
  • Header: The header runs horizontally and forms the top portion of the window frame.
  • Jamb: A jamb is the vertical side of a window.
  • Sash: The sash of a window acts as its frame.

Although the language of home improvement may not come naturally, the good news is that plenty of online resources exist to get up to speed before the project officially gets underway. Contractors are often willing to help their clients learn the lingo as well.