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Building Glossary

Australian Height Datum (AHD): The AHD is a vertical datum used for measuring elevations and heights above sea level in Australia. It is based on the mean sea level at a specific location, known as the "benchmark", and is a reference point for sizeable interconnected drainage systems. Its primary use is for surveying, science, mapping, and civil engineering projects.


Asbestos: Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral widely used in building materials in the past due to its heat resistance and strength. However, Asbestos exposure can cause serious health problems, such as rare cancers.


Asbestos is still present in older structures in Australia due to its past. The Australian government has implemented strict regulations and guidelines for the safe removal and disposal of Asbestos. It is vital to be aware of the potential presence of Asbestos in older buildings and to take proper precautions if found.


The Australian Standards: The Australian Standards are a series of documents that provide guidelines and specifications for various products, services, and systems in Australia. These standards cover a wide range of industries and sectors, including construction, engineering, health care, information technology, and more. 


They are developed and maintained by Standards Australia, an independent, non-government organisation responsible for setting and promoting standards across the country. Some of these are voluntary, others are referenced in laws and regulations, and many organisations use them to demonstrate compliance and quality.


Authorities/Consent Authorities: In the building industry, a "consent authority" is typically a government agency or department responsible for issuing building permits and ensuring that construction projects comply with relevant building codes, zoning regulations, and other laws and standards. This can include issues including structural safety, fire protection, energy efficiency, and accessibility.


Balustrades: A railing consisting of a vertical post and a horizontal rail, used as a barrier or decoration along the edge of a balcony, terrace, bridge, stairway, or other raised structure. They are commonly used for safety and to add visual interest to a structure. They are controlled closely by the Building Code of Australia.


Barges: A roof barge is a structural element that extends from the edge of a roof to provide additional support to the roof. It is also a decorative element, often made of wood or other decorative materials.


Building Code of Australia (BCA): The BCA is a set of national standards that regulate the design and construction of buildings in Australia. It is divided into several volumes, each covering specific aspects of building design and construction, such as fire protection, structural design, and energy efficiency. 


The BCA is updated regularly to ensure that it remains current with the latest building codes, standards, and technologies. It's also used with other relevant codes and standards, such as the National Construction Code (NCC).


Bricklayer: A bricklayer is a tradesperson who specialises in constructing and repairing structures made of brick, concrete blocks, and other masonry materials. Also, see Mason entry.


Brick Veneer:  It is a building construction in which professionals apply a thin layer of bricks to the exterior surface of a building. This uses a non-structural outer layer of bricks (the veneer) applied to a structural wall made of a different material, such as concrete or wood. The brick veneer provides a decorative and protective covering, thermal insulation and structural stability.


Building Approval: Also known as a building permit, it is a document issued by local government authorities that allows the undertaking of construction or remodelling work on a specific property. It is a legal requirement to obtain a building permit before starting any construction to ensure that the proposed work meets local building codes and safety standards. Also, see the Construction Certificate entry.


Building Drawings: Building drawings, also known as construction drawings or blueprints, are detailed technical plans that show the layout, design, and specifications of a building or structure. They are used by architects, engineers, contractors, and other construction professionals to communicate the design and construction of a building.


These drawings are also submitted for approval by authorities to gain permits and approval to proceed with construction.


Computer-Aided Drawings/Documentation (CAD): CAD is computer technology used to create and manage technical drawings and documents. CAD software allows engineers, architects, and other professionals to create detailed, accurate drawings and designs for editing, sharing with others and plotting on paper.


Cement: Cement is a binding material used in construction that sets and hardens to bind other materials together. It is typically made by heating a mixture of limestone and clay or other materials to a high temperature and then grinding it into a fine powder. This powder is mixed with water to create a paste and is a key component of concrete or mortar.


Chipboard & Particleboard: Chipboard and particleboard are engineered wood products made from small wood chips and particles bound together with adhesives. Each is made from small wood particles glued together under high pressure and heat to create a dense, uniform material. The boards range from a few millimetres thick to 35mm with a length of 1800x900 to 3600x1800.


Colorbond: Colorbond is pre-painted steel used for roofing, cladding, and fencing in Australia and New Zealand. It's known for being durable and resistant to weathering. The steel is coated with a layer of zinc and then painted with a layer of coloured paint, which helps to protect the steel from rust and corrosion. 


Complying Development: Complying development is a streamlined planning and building approval process for certain types of low-impact development in Australia. It allows for the approval of certain types of development, such as single dwelling houses, minor additions to existing buildings, and some commercial developments by complying with specific pre-determined standards and conditions. The approval is given by a private certifier rather than a local council. 


Concrete: Concrete is a construction material made up of a mixture of aggregate (such as gravel or crushed stone), water, and cement. Concrete can be poured into forms to create various structures, such as foundations, walls, and floors and sets rock hard.


Construction Certificate: A Construction Certificate is a document issued by a local council or, in some states, a private certifier. It certifies a proposed development that complies with the relevant building codes and regulations. The certificate is issued after a development application, and the plans have been reviewed and approved. It confirms that the plans and specifications submitted with the application comply with the BCA and any relevant planning controls.


Contracting: Building contracting refers to legally binding a contractor to carry out construction work on a building project. The terms of the contract typically include the scope of work, the materials to be used, the completion date, and the project's cost. 


The contractor manages the construction process, including hiring subcontractors and overseeing their work. A building owner is known as the Principal, the builder the Contractor. Agreements are only sometimes in writing and can be informal verbal agreements.


Cornices: A decorative architectural feature that projects from the top of a wall. It is typically made of stone, wood, or plaster and is used to add visual interest and conceal the edges of a roof or other structure. They are also used to improve the water-resistance of a building by directing water away from the walls.


Corrugated Iron/Steel: A building material made from sheets of iron or steel pressed and folded into a series of parallel grooves and ridges. The fluted shape provides structural strength and stability while allowing the material to be easily bent and shaped. Corrugated iron is often used for roofing, siding, and other exterior applications and is known for its durability and resistance to weathering.


Cost Plus: This is a pricing method where the builder charges labour and material at a cost, with an additional fee for project management services and administration.


Damp Proof Courses (DCPs): DCP is a barrier in a building's construction designed to prevent the passage of moisture from the ground into the building's interior. These are typically made of plastic, bitumen, or lead and placed in the masonry or foundation of a building. The purpose of a DPC is to protect the building from damage caused by rising dampness, which can lead to mould, rot, and other issues.


Demolition: The process of tearing down or partially dismantling a structure or building. 


Design Drawings: These are visual representations of a proposed building, structure, or product and are created by architects, engineers, or designers. These drawings communicate the design intent with detailed information on the project's layout, dimensions, materials, and construction methods. Design drawings can include floor plans, elevations, sections, and details. They may be done by hand or using CAD software.


Development Application: A request for permission to construct, alter, or demolish a building or use land in a specific way. These applications are typically submitted to a local government or planning department and must adhere to specific zoning and building regulations.


Double-Hung Windows: These windows have two sashes (the part of the window that holds the glass) that move up and down. Often used in residential buildings, they are opened from the top or bottom to provide ventilation. 


They typically have a balance system that holds the sash in place, allowing it to be easily opened and closed. Some double-hung windows also can tilt in for cleaning. 


Drainer: A licenced installer of drain pipes and other such fittings.


Eaves: The edges of a roof that extend beyond the exterior walls of a building. They're usually on pitched roofs, and their primary purpose is to protect the walls of the building from rainwater and snowmelt. The eaves also provide shade for windows and walls, which can help to reduce the amount of heat that enters the building.


Elevations: Refers to architectural drawings that show the vertical dimensions of a building or structure.


Electrician: A licensed tradesperson specialises in the electrical wiring of buildings, stationary machines, and related equipment. They install, maintain, and repair electrical systems, including lighting, power, and communication systems. With knowledge of electrical code, they may also design and plan the layout of electrical systems.


Energy Conservation: Energy conservation is the practice of reducing energy use to conserve resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Environmental Planning Acts: A framework for protecting and managing the environment through creating plans and policies at the local, regional, and national levels. These acts typically establish procedures for environmental impact assessments, land-use planning, and public participation in decision-making to balance economic development with the conservation of natural resources and to protect public health and safety.


Facias: Horizontal boards or panels that are fixed to the front edges of the roof rafters and the beams of a building, typically serving as the base for the guttering system and as a decorative feature.


Fibrocement: This is a building material made of cement and cellulose fibres, used primarily for roofing and siding, known for its durability and low cost. It was once made with asbestos, but given its carcinogenic material, it's made using less dangerous fibres.


Fibrous Plaster: A building material made from a mixture of plaster and fibres, such as horsehair or wood, used for casting decorative mouldings and for creating smooth, hard surfaces on walls and ceilings.


Fixing Out: The process of installing or attaching fittings to internal and external aspects of the home.


Formwork: A temporary structure or mould used to support the wet concrete and its reinforcement until it hardens and gains enough strength.


Footings: The foundation element of a building that transfers the structure's load to the ground. Typically made of concrete, stone, brick or steel, they provide a stable base for the construction and help distribute the structure's weight evenly across the ground. 


French Doors: A pair of doors with glass panes extending the entire length of the doors. Sometimes known as French casements.


Geo-Technical Engineer: A consultant specialising in the investigation and reporting of the condition of substrate ground.


Goods & Services Tax (GST): A consumption tax of 10% imposed on most goods, services, labours and materials associated with altering or building a home in Australia.


Hardboards: Commonly known as Masonite, these are high-density engineered fiberboard made up of compressed wood fibres and commonly used for flooring, cabinetry, and construction.


Hardwood: A type of wood derived from deciduous trees (oak, apple, & ash) and is known for its durability and strength, often used in construction, furniture and flooring.


Head: Refers to support for the topmost part of a structure, such as a window frame or door.


Heritage: Refers to the cultural and historical inheritance passed down from previous generations, such as monuments and buildings. A house listed as heritage means that it has official recognition by a government agency or other organisation as having cultural, historical, or architectural significance and is therefore protected from alteration or demolition.


Heritage Consultants: Professionals specialising in assessing and preserving historic buildings, sites, and landmarks. They provide research, documentation, conservation planning, and project management services to ensure that heritage properties are protected and preserved for future generations. These professionals include private consultants, architects, advisors and LGA officers.


Heritage Qualifications: While there are no current nationally registered heritage consultants, some groups claim to monitor the qualifications and experience of such consultants. However, finding an independent heritage consultant can be challenging. 


Heritage Reports:  Documents that provide information about the historical and cultural significance of a particular place or site. They typically include information about the site's history, the architectural and design elements present, and the cultural and social significance of the site. They may also include recommendations for preserving and protecting the site and any potential impacts that a proposed development project may have on the site.


The responsible authority will require such a report, whether it supports approval or not.


Hydraulic Engineer: A hydraulic engineer designs, develops and maintains systems for the control, storage, and transport of water and disposal systems for waste liquid.


Internal Linings: Are materials applied to the inside of a structure or walls to protect it from corrosion, abrasion, or other forms of damage.


Jamb: The vertical framing on the sides of a door or window opening that forms the boundary of the opening and supports the lintel or header.


Laminated Plastics: Laminated plastics consist of multiple layers of plastic that bond together to create a robust, durable and versatile material. This laminate is often referred to as Formica & Laminex.


Local Environment Plans (LEPs): A document prepared by local councils in Australia to guide land use and development within their area. These provide a clear and consistent framework and ensure the completed development protects the environment.


Local Government Authorities (LGAs): The level of government responsible for providing a range of services to communities within a specific geographic area.


Lump Sum Firm Price: Where a contractor agrees to complete a project for a fixed price, regardless of any changes that may occur during the project.


Mason: A skilled tradesperson who specialises in the construction and repair of structures made of brick, concrete, stone, and other masonry materials. 


Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF):  A engineered wood product made from wood fibres glued together under high pressure and heat. Used primarily for furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and millwork.


Metric: A standard of measurement used within the Australian building industry. It can refer to a system or set of rules for measuring something or a specific unit or measurement within that system. 


Mullion: A vertical or horizontal structural element divides adjacent window units or panels in a window or door frame.


Natural Materials: Natural materials are derived from nature and have not had significant alteration by human activity. Examples include wood, stone, cotton, wool, leather, and silk. They are often used in construction, are renewable and biodegradable, and usually have a lower environmental impact than synthetic materials.


Particleboards: A type of engineered wood product made from wood chips, sawdust, or other small wood particles that have been bonded together with a resin. Used in construction and furniture-making as a cheaper and more uniform alternative to solid wood. They are available in different densities and thicknesses.


Principal Certifying Authorities (PCAs): Individuals or organisations authorised by a local government in Australia to certify that a building or development complies with the relevant building codes and regulations. PCAs are responsible for issuing Occupation Certificates, which are required before occupancy of a building or development takes place.


Pitched Roofs: The type of roof with a slope or incline, with two sides that come together at a peak or ridge. The slope of a pitched roof is often described as the ratio of the rise (vertical distance) to the roof's run (horizontal distance).


Plans: Architectural drawings and specifications that show the layout and design of a building. They typically include floor plans, elevations, and sections and may include electrical, plumbing, and HVAC plans. Building plans are used by architects, engineers, and builders to construct a building and by building departments to ensure it meets local codes and regulations.


Plasterboard: Also known as drywall or Gyprock, it is a construction material used to finish interior walls and ceilings. It's made of gypsum (a soft sulphate mineral) sandwiched between two sheets of heavy paper. Usually available in thicknesses of 10, 13 or 16mm.


Plumber: A skilled and licensed tradesperson specialising in installing, repairing, and maintaining plumbing systems. These systems include the pipes, fixtures, and appliances used to transport water and dispose of waste in buildings.


Plywood: An engineered wood product made by layering thin sheets of wood veneer, called plies, together with the grain of each ply perpendicular to the one below it. This construction method, known as cross-graining, helps reduce the wood's shrinkage and expansion, making it more stable and less likely to warp.


Prefabrication: The practice of assembling components of a structure in a factory or other manufacturing site and then transporting the complete assemblies to the construction and installation site.


Pressed Bricks: A type of brick made by compacting clay or other ceramic materials in a mould under high pressure. The resulting bricks are dense, uniform in shape and size, and have a smooth surface. Pressed bricks have been used for centuries and are still commonly used in construction today.


Prime Costs: Refers to the costs of a construction project, including the cost of labour and materials. These costs are directly related to the project's production and are considered "prime" or "direct" costs because they can be easily traced to the specific project or task for which they were incurred.


Provisional Sums: Provisional sums are estimates of the cost of certain items or services included in a construction contract but still need finalisation. These sums cover expenses incurred during the construction process, but for which the exact cost has yet to be discovered. The actual cost of these items or services will be determined at a later date, and any differences between the provisional sum and the actual cost will be adjusted in the final contract.


Ranch Style: A long and simple home, usually two rooms deep and single-storey.


Rectangular & Square Hollow Sections: Formed by welding or extruding two-dimensional flat steel plates to create a hollow, three-dimensional shape. These sections are available in various sizes and thicknesses and can be made from various materials, including carbon steel, aluminium, and stainless steel. They are commonly used in the construction of buildings.


Retaining Walls: Structures built to hold back soil or rock from a building, roadway, or other infrastructure, designed by a qualified engineer. Used in areas where the land's natural slope is too steep to support the weight of the soil or rock. Made from various materials, including concrete, stone, wood, and steel. They are often used in landscaping and gardening to create level terraces or to hold back soil in a hillside garden.


Rise & Fall: In building contracts, rise and fall refer to the adjustment of contract prices due to changes in the cost of labour, materials, or other expenses that occur after signing the contract. Including rise and fall clauses protects the contractor and the owner from unexpected cost increases or decreases throughout the project.


Rising Damp: The term describes the upward movement of water through the porous materials of a building's walls and floors. The water is typically drawn up from the ground by capillary action and can cause damage to the building's structure and finishes. Rising damp is most common in older buildings with solid walls but can also occur in buildings with crawl spaces or basements.


Sarking: The layer of material applied to the underside of a roof or wall that provides an additional layer of insulation and protection from the elements. Made from waterproof and breathable materials, such as a synthetic or natural membrane.


Scantling: Refers to the size, shape and arrangement of wooden framing. It's the dimensioning of wood cut into specific lengths or shapes for construction or other purposes.


Sections: Description of a drawing cut through to show the structural fabric of a building and internal elevations.


Services: Includes water supply, electricity, internet connections, gas and more that many homes use for modern living.


Schedules: Information to communicate requirements around a specific project, e.g. Purchases, applications, activities, window schedules, lighting and more.


Shadow Diagrams: An important tool used to measure and analyse the solar exposure of a building or structure. They can provide valuable insight into how sunlight will interact with a building over a day, season, or year. Shadow diagrams are particularly useful when architects, engineers, and urban planners need to understand the effects of sun-angle on a particular design.


Sill: Part of the bottom of a door frame of a window.


Skillion Roofs: Characterised by a single-sloped roof, also referred to as a lean-to. They create an angular, contemporary look where the rafters don't meet a continuous ridge.


Solid Masonry: A construction technique that uses mortar and stone blocks to create walls, arches, vaults, or other structures. Solid masonry provides a strong and durable structure with excellent thermal insulation properties. Typical in residential homes and commercial buildings alike.


Specifications: These are the written aspect of building documents that provide qualitative information.


Statements of Environmental Effects (EISs): A written statement about the proposed development's impact on the environment. Usually 2 to 3 pages in length.


Steel Decking: High-performance galvanised steel sheets used as a no-piercing, low-pitch roofing structure.


Steel Fabricator: A professional who cuts, forms, welds, supplies, and erects steel structural elements of a building.


Stile: A sash window or panelled door frame member with a vertical edge.


Structural Engineer: A consultant who designs, develops and evaluates the infrastructure surrounding us. They play a crucial role in designing, constructing and maintaining buildings and other structures. Structural engineers ensure that projects are safe, reliable, cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing to all involved parties. Also, prepare reports where required.


Structural Steel: It is a metal optimised for building construction— generally a carbon steel that contains iron and carbon. Structural steel usually has a carbon content of up to 2.1% of its total weight, making it less pliable or less likely to bend or warp when pressure is applied.


Subcontractors: A tradesperson contracted as part of a larger job to complete a specific aspect of the project for the builders e.g. electricians, painters etc.


Sub-Floor Framing: The sub-floor provides a stable surface for your finished floors and walls and involves laying down 2x4 or 2x6 joists on 16-inch centres over a sheet of plywood. The wall plate should support the end joints of each beam at each end of the room.


Superintendence: A person, usually an architect, administers a contract that allocates roles to a superintendent.


Suppliers: A business or individual who supplies goods.


Surveys: The accurate measurement and recording of property. Undertaken by builders or architects, the land is pegged out, and buildings are accurately located relating to marking contours, boundaries, site levels etc.


T&G Flooring: Tongue and groove flooring are where wooden panels have a groove down one side and a tongue along the other. The tongue and groove meld together for a tight fit. It strengthens the floor and reduces dust and bugs from entering from the floor.


Tendering: This is a key process in procuring goods, works and services in both the public and private sectors. It is generally a competitive process whereby potential suppliers submit bids for consideration by the buyer to carry out the project. The tendering process ensures value for money and provides transparency, fairness and equal opportunity for all bidders.


Termites: Termites are social insects that live in colonies in the ground. They feed primarily on wood and can damage a home relatively quickly. They are often considered pests and are controlled by various methods, including chemical treatments and physical barriers such as galvanised steel caps.


Terracotta: A ceramic material made from clay that has been fired at high temperatures and used for making traditional roof tiles.


Title Referencing: Based on the Torrens system, where a unique reference number is allotted to land.


Trusses: Trusses are a structural element commonly used in construction, particularly in building roofs and bridges. Made of triangular units connected to form a rigid framework, the trusses allow them to distribute weight effectively and resist bending, making them a strong and efficient structural solution.


Vaulted Roofs/Ceilings: A vaulted roof is an architectural structure with curved or arched ceilings.


Verges: Describes the edge of a sloping roof.


Waste Management Plans: Some regions require submitting a waste management plan with the development application. These plans must be committed to when removing building waste.


Weatherboards: This is a type of siding used for residential and commercial buildings. Made from long, narrow wooden boards around 200 wide & 25 thick, they overlap to create a continuous barrier against the elements. The overlapping design allows water to run off the surface, which helps to protect the building from water damage.


Wire-Cut Bricks: Wire-cut bricks are created by cutting a mass of plastic clay into individual bricks using a wire. This method of brickmaking is also known as "extrusion." The bricks are then dried and fired in a kiln to harden them and have three or more holes.


Wrought and Cast Iron: Wrought iron is made by heating iron ore and hammering it into shape. It is a malleable and ductile material, which can be bent and shaped easily. Wrought iron is also relatively low in carbon content, which makes it more resistant to rust and corrosion. It is often used in decorative applications, such as fencing and gates, and structural applications, such as bridges and buildings.


Cast iron, on the other hand, is made by melting iron and pouring it into moulds to solidify. It is a brittle and hard material, which makes it less malleable than wrought iron. Cast iron has a higher carbon content, which gives it a higher melting point and makes it more brittle. It is commonly used in industrial applications such as pipes, cookware, and machinery.

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