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Home Inspections Glossary of Terms

A

AMPERE (AMP):
A unit of electrical current


APERTURE:
A gap, hole or opening
AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interruptor): An electrical safety device, usually in the form of a
special circuit breaker, that detects a “fault”, or abnormal condition in a circuit, and
instantaneously cuts off power to that circuit, to prevent fires.


ASBESTOS:
A naturally occurring mineral fiber used as building material for its resistance to heat,
sound dampening, and other industrial applications. However, due to its ability to cause
multiple illnesses, any asbestos removal should be done by professionals.


AWNING WINDOWS
A window with hinges at the top allowing it to open out and up


B

BASEBOARD:
A molding that covers the lowest part of an interior wall, typically made of wood or vinyl


BASEBOARD HEAT:
An in-room heating system that runs along the base of the wall and is either electric or
hot water powered


BREAKER BOX (Often referred to as the electric panel):
A box containing the primary distribution point for electricity in your home, and the
circuit breakers.


BUILDING CODE:
Regulations, either local, state or federal, that specify the standards for building design,
materials, construction and alteration in order to ensure stable and safe structures. The
Wisconsin rules governing Home Inspection do not intend that Home Inspectors be
experts in building codes, or that Home Inspectors would enforce them.


BUCKLING:
The warping or bending of floor boards or other building materials that is often the
result of moisture contact or damage


C

CASEMENT WINDOWS:
A window where the hinges are on the side of the frame allowing the window to open out


CAULKING:
The process and material used to fill and seal gaps, joint, seams and cracks around a
variety of building materials, such as windows, doors and showers


CIRCUIT BREAKER:
A switch that will automatically cut electricity to a given circuit when a sudden change in
conditions is sensed such as a malfunctioning appliance


CLASS B DOOR:
A fire rated door with a 90 minute resistance to allowing passage of fire between two
areas


CPVC:
Chlorinated PVC piping that is both flexible and temperature resistant making it ideal to
act as water pipes in a home


CRAWL SPACE:
A confined area underneath a home or a roof that allows wiring and plumbing access


CUT-OFF VALVES (Shut-off valves):
A device that will restrict or shut off the flow of water at a certain point, such as behind a
toilet, without turning off water to the entire property


D

DAMPER:
A device that regulates the air flow to different areas of your home. Also a device in a
fireplace or chimney that opens or closes to regulate the flow of exhaust.


DISPOSER:
An appliance affixed to the underside of your sink that grinds food before it enters your
plumbing to reduce clogs


DORMER:
A roofed structure, often used to create a window and more useable space in an attic,
that projects through the sloping roof


DOUBLE HUNG WINDOW:
A window in which both sashes tilt and slide allowing both windows to be opened for
better ventilation and easier cleaning


DRYWALL:
A board of plies of gypsum and other materials commonly used as wallboard


DUCTWORK:
A network of ducts that carry air from the central heating/cooling system through the
home

E

EAVES:
The part of the roof that meets or overhangs the walls of a building


EXHAUST FAN:
Creates airflow in the interior by extracting air and venting it to the outside


F

FLASHING:
Sheet metal (or vinyl, asphalt, or rubber) that prevents water from entering the
structure at roof joints


FLUE:
A duct that directs smoke and waste gases outside, such as in fireplaces


FOOTINGS:
Concrete set into a trench or hole to support the foundation of a structure


FORCED AIR FURNACE:
A system that creates heat which is then transferred to air and circulated through vents
to heat the home


FOUNDATION:
The base of a structure which supports the load above and transfers it to the ground


FUSE BOX:
A metal container which houses the fuses which regulate the current in the home


G

GROUND FAULT INTERRUPTER (GFI):
A quick acting safety device that breaks a circuit in the event of a malfunction, to
prevent shock.


GUTTER/DOWNSPOUT:
A metal or plastic channel supported at the eaves to direct water away from the
foundation of a structure


H

HEARTH:
The fireproof lower floor of a fireplace usually made of stone or brick. The portion that
extends out into the room is called the “hearth extension”.


HEAT EXCHANGER:
A metal chamber within a furnace that heats the air for the home


HEAT PUMP:
A reverse cycle refrigeration unit that both heats and cools

HOT WATER HEATING SYSTEM:
A home heating system that uses a boiler as a heat source in conjunction with a pump to
circulate hot water through the home


HVAC:
Heating, ventilating and air conditioning system


I

INSULATION:
Any number of materials, such as fiberglass, cellulose and foam that are placed or blown
into walls, ceilings or crawl spaces to reduce heat energy loss


J

JOISTS:
A horizontal structure of beams or timbers used in framing a floor or ceiling


L

LATHING:
Thin strips of wood used as a base for plaster for interior walls and ceilings in buildings
usually before 1940.


LEAD:
A hazardous material if ingested or inhaled that was historically used in paint and pipes.
The local environmental protection agency should be contacted regarding laws,
handling and disposal

M

MASONRY:
Construction using stone, brick, tile, cement or other highly durable materials


MEMBER:
Elements of the framing and foundation of a structure that serve as the nailing base,
such as studs


MORTAR:
A bonding paste used to construct stone or brick structures or to fill the gaps between


MOLDING:
Strips of decorative wood or other material used to cover joints between surfaces such
floors and walls


P

PARAPET WALL:
A barrier which is an extension of a wall at the edge of a roof, terrace or balcony that
serves as protection from sun or rain

PARQUET FLOORS:
Small pieces of wood or veneer laid on a floor in a decorative mosaic pattern


POINTING UP (tuck pointing):
Replacing the external mortar between bricks


POLYBUTYLENE:
A type of water piping used in some homes from the 1970s to the 1990s that is prone to
leaking and sudden failure

R

R-VALUE:
An insulation material’s resistance to heat transfer. The greater the r-value, the greater
the insulation power


RADIANT HEATING SYSTEM:
A heating system that uses electricity or hot water to supply heat directly to a panel
installed on the wall or ceiling or to a floor to heat the home


RADON:
A naturally occurring radioactive gas that is colorless and odorless, and can cause lung
cancer with prolonged exposure. Radon should be tested for in homes and the state
radon office contacted regarding mitigation. Some Home Inspectors offer testing as an
added service.


RAFTER:
Structural beams or timbers that support the covering for the roof, running from the
exterior wall of the home to the peak


REGISTERS:
Part of an HVAC system that helps regulate air flow by utilizing moveable parts that
allow it to be opened and closed


RETAINING WALL:
A vertical structure that supports a soil mass at the different levels on the two sides of
the wall


S

SASH:
The moveable frame of a window that holds the glass and slides


SETTLING:
The gradual lowering of a home over time due to shifting soil


SHINGLE:
Thin pieces of wood, slate, metal, fiberglass, asbestos, or other material used as a
covering for roofs or other surfaces of the home


SIDING:
Exterior finishing material, such as vinyl, aluminum or wood, covering the walls of the
home


SILL:
A piece of wood, stone or metal at the base of a window or doorway to drain water


SLAB:
A single layer of concrete foundation upon which a home is built, having no basement or
crawl space


SOFFIT:
The building material bridging the gap between the roofline and the exterior walls of the
home


SOLAR HEAT:
The collection of solar energy used to heat a home, either through windows or actively
through a solar collector


SUMP PUMP:
An electric pump used to remove ground or rain water from the sump pit, often located
in the basement, to the outside of the home


T

THERMOSTAT:
A electric or analog device that keeps temperature within a limited range


THRESHOLD:
The strip of wood, stone or other building material that forms the bottom of a doorway


U

UREA FORMALDEHYDE FOAM INSULATION:
A type of expanding foam insulation that was mixed-in-place and sprayed into homes
built mostly before the 1970’s. This insulation can emit formaldehyde which, in large
concentrations, is known to have health risks.


V

VERMICULITE:
A type of loose fill insulation that resembles shiny kitty litter, used in the 1040s and
1950s. It is a mineral that is mined from the ground. It is assumed to contain asbestos
until tested and proved otherwise. There is a national fund to help pay for removal.


W

WEATHER -STRIPPING:
Long, thin strips of materials that are used to seal gaps in openings in the home to
prevent water, snow, etc. from entering the home


WINDOW WELL:
The open subsurface arc that is maintained between a basement window and the
surrounding soil


Z

ZONED Heating /Cooling system:
A system that allows designated parts of a building to be heated or cooled
independently.