The Wates Group recognises that the construction industry can be difficult to navigate and understand. It has a language all of its own! It is for this reason that we have taken the time to unravel some of the mysteries and invite you to explore this vibrant, professional and challenging industry. Take the confusion out of construction jargon. What exactly are people talking about on site?

Click on a letter to jump to that section of the glossary.


A/C – an abbreviation for air conditioner or air conditioning.

Acquisition – the first stage in a building’s life cycle, including land purchase, consultations, briefing, design and construction.

Aggregates – graded stones and gravel mixed with cement and water to make concrete.

Appliances – electrical equipment such as fridges, computers, TVs etc that are used in homes and offices.


Bid – a formal offer by a contractor, in accordance with the design and specifications for a project, to build all or a phase of the project at a certain price, in accordance with the terms and conditions stated in the offer.

Biomass – living materials. If we talk about biomass as a fuel, this means plant materials like wood or jute.

Blackjack – bituminous liquid compound that is applied to concrete areas to provide a waterproofing barrier.

Bricky – a bricklayer

Brownfield (see also Greenfield) – Brownfield development involves building a project on land that has already been developed or built on in the past. This might entail the demolition of an existing building on the land to make way for the new project. It may also mean dealing with contamination of the land and waste products, particularly from industrial processes, before the new building can be started, and may include the removal of existing infrastructure.

Building regulations – the legal rules that set standards and performance requirements for design and construction, so that buildings are safe and suitable for people to use.


Carbon Emissions – the carbon dioxide and methane that are given off because of mankind’s activities, such as burning fuel for power, heat and transport, or creating waste.

Carbon footprint – a measure of the level of carbon emissions caused by a person, home, building, community, nation or continent.

CDM 2007 – the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 are the health and safety laws that ensure that building designs and construction sites are safe.

Chippy – a qualified/ training carpenter/Joiner

Clients – a 'client' is anyone having construction or building work carried out for them. This could be an individual, partnership or company and includes property developers or management companies for domestic properties.

Commissioned – services such as heating, plumbing and electrical systems must be commissioned by testing them to ensure they are safe and work as planned, before the completed building is finally handed over to the client.

Concept – the overall idea for a new building or development.

Conduit - plastic or metal tubing or small ducts that contain wiring or pipes.

Consultation – asking people what they think.

Contract – a legal document that explains the terms of an agreement (what each side promises to do), WHAT is to be done, HOW much will it cost, WHEN will it be done, WHO does it, WHO is it for and WHO pays?

Curtain walling – glazed panels that are used to form the external covering to a building.


D.P.C – Damp Proof Course. A water impervious layer built into walls and around door or window openings in walls to prevent water penetration or rising damp from the ground. Usually made of bitumen felt or plastic, sometimes slate or dense engineering bricks are used.

D.P.M – Damp Proof Membrane. A water impervious layer laid under ground floors or basements to prevent water from the ground soaking up through the floor.

De-commissioning – the work done when a building is taken out of use.

Ducting – large metal tubing that carries air for ventilation/heating/cooling within a building.

DQI – Design Quality Indicator. Process for assessing building designs at all stages of a project, at briefing/consultation, design, construction and after the building has been completed and is in use. The DQI was developed and is run by the Construction Industry Council.


Efficient – something is efficient when it wastes very little energy (a machine or house) or materials (a building process).

Embedded carbon – the carbon dioxide that was emitted because of all the work done to make a building, including obtaining or making the materials, transport and construction.

Environment – the natural world around us, from which we get all the resources that we need to live, or the internal environment of a building, temperature, humidity, air movement etc.


Facilities management – company or people who manage the operation of a building in use for the owner or occupiers, such as arrange cleaning and maintenance, and operate the heating systems.

Food miles – the distance that food has travelled from its source to where it’s sold. This means from where it was grown, to where it’s processed and then on to the retail outlet. This can be translated into carbon emissions as a measure.

Forks – forklift machine for transporting loads and delivery of materials around a site. Also indicates a person who operates the machine.

Functionality - how well something works as intended.


Ganger – working supervisor for attendant labourers.

Global warming – the rise in global temperatures caused by mankind adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Greenfield (see also Brownfield) – Greenfield development takes place on land that has not been built on or developed before.

Greenhouse gas – a gas, like carbon dioxide or methane, which traps the sun’s energy and so warms the earth.


Hazardous – dangerous to people or to the environment.


Impact – the effect caused by an action (what happens as a result of something else).

Inclusive – for everyone in a community, not just a few.

Infrastructure – the roads, cables and pipes that bring services and transport from place to place.

Interior – the inside of a building.

ISO14001 – an international standard that helps organisations to manage and reduce their effects on the environment.

ISO9001 – an international standard for quality management systems.


Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) – an independent company that creates standard contracts for the construction industry to use.


Landfill – waste products and materials taken to landfill sites for disposal by burial in the ground.

Legislation – laws and regulations set by the government, the European Community or other statutory body.


National framework – organisations with large building programmes sometimes set up frameworks. These could be for design services and also for construction services. A framework is a pool of companies who can complete the work for the organisation. Entry to the framework might be via a bid or tender, and then projects are allocated to the members of the pool for completion. This again may be by competitive selection.

Non-hazardous – not dangerous to people or the environment.

NVQ – National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are work-related, competence-based qualifications. They reflect the skills and knowledge needed to do a job effectively, and show that a candidate is competent in the area of work the NVQ framework represents.


Operation – the ‘active’ part of a building’s life cycle, when it is in use.

Outcome – the result or product of something happening or an activity.


Perimeter – the boundary of an area (its outside edge).

Piling – piled foundations are used to transfer the loads from the structure of the building to the bearing stratum located at some depth below the ground surface. Piles can be drilled, reinforced and concreted, or ready formed for driving into the ground.

Piling rig – machine used to drill or drive piles.

Planning application – the documents that are sent to the local authority/council in order to get permission to build something new.

Policy – written guidelines on how a company (and its employees) should act.

Principal contractor - a 'principal contractor' (defined under the CDM Regulations) has to be appointed for projects which last more than 30 days or involve 500 person days of construction work. The principal contractor's role is to plan, manage and co-ordinate health and safety while construction work is being undertaken. The principal contractor is usually the main or managing contractor for the work.

Priority – the most important thing.

Process – a series of actions taken to get a result.


R.C. Frame – traditional reinforced concrete construction method for buildings, composed of columns, beams and floor slabs. Some parts of the frame can be made off site (precast) and then assembled on site. The floor slabs can be made on site from a variety of materials including in-situ concrete construction, precast concrete, or composite floor construction.

Refurbish – restore a building to good condition so that it can be used again.

Reinforcement – steel rods embedded in the concrete structure of a building to give it tensile strength.

Resources – the different things we take from the natural world, including timber, rock, minerals, energy (from fossil fuels) and water.

Retrofit – fit new services or finishes into an existing building, to improve it or change its use.

RIDDOR – reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995


Shuttering – (or formwork) timber/steel/plastic panels/materials used to construct the moulds for columns, beams and walls, to enable concrete to be poured into them to cure (set). Once the liquid concrete has gone off (set), the shuttering is removed (struck) and disposed of responsibly.

Setting out – method of positioning the building works on a site in accordance with the design drawings and specifications.

Sparks/Sparkie – a qualified or training electrician.

Specification – a detailed description of the requirements for a new building, such as how many people it should house, what it is made of, how it should be perform, what standards it should comply with etc.

Spread – a qualified plasterer.

Stakeholder – someone involved in, affected by or impacted by the building project. This could be the client, the user, the builder, designer, council officer, a passer by in the street.

Subcontractor – a subcontractor is hired by a general contractor to perform a specific task or part of the building work as part of the overall project.

Sustainable – a resource is sustainable if we use it at the same rate as it is naturally renewed. An action or process is sustainable if it does not harm the environment.

Sustainable development – building new communities that will last, and which do not harm the environment in the long term, and provide suitable social and economic conditions.


Technology – man-made products or equipment that are used in a building, like air conditioning, insulation, double-glazing or heat pumps.

Tender – a formal offer by a contractor, in accordance with the design and specifications for a project, to build all or a phase of the project at a certain price, in accordance with the terms and conditions stated in the offer.

Thermostat – a device that senses the temperature in the room or area and switches a heating or cooling system on or off.


Utility – electricity, gas, phone lines and water that are used in a building.


Visibility – a plant operator’s ability to see what’s going on round them.