A Simple Guide to Building and Construction Jargon For New Builds

  • Article by: Sally Wood

When it comes to building and construction, there are a lot of industry-specific terms and jargon thrown around that, if you’re not in the industry, you might not understand.


But knowing some of the basic terms and their definitions can help communicate your ideas and wishes to your builder and generally make the construction process a lot smoother.


Allowances: An estimated cost for a specific item within the construction project. For instance, there will be items you may not have selected yet before construction begins (like tiles or countertops). So, your builder will insert an ‘allowance’ for these items in the contract. This amount may vary.

As-built Drawings:
Original construction drawings will be revised to reflect any changes that have occurred during the construction process.

Asset Protection: Provides cover for any damage incurred to council assets during demolition and construction.

Backfilling: The refilling of trenches or holes that have been created in the excavation process.

Building Information Model (BIM): The computer model of a structure that includes the basic layout, as well as the minute details and measurements.

Building permit: A permit issued by local government authorities for the erection of a building or for structural alterations to a building. 

Bill of Quantities (BOQ): A contract that contains the list of materials required for a project and their price.

Building envelope: The designated area on your land where you must build your house, normally set down by the council of encumbrance.

Bushfire Attack Levy (BAL): 
Indicates the construction requirements for building within a medium threat Bushfire Prone Area. A BAL Report is triggered by the location of a property within the Bushfire Prone Area including the requirements for construction.

Certificate of Occupancy: Document issued by a building surveyor, which shows that the building is suitable for occupation. It is not evidence the building complies with the Building Act or building regulations.

Certificate of Title: Document issued by the Land Titles Office that confirms the registered owner of the land.

Contour Survey: A survey of the building site that identifies the amount of rise/fall represented by lines of equal level and relates to a datum (starting) point, normally a front corner.

Cooling off period: A time-frame during which a buyer can rescind a signed contract with little or no penalty.

Covenant: Also commonly referred to as the Design Guidelines, these are rules governing the style and design of the home to be built, usually set by the developer and/or council.

Cut and Fill: The method often used to provide a level area on a sloping site, where part of the sloping surface is cut away and used to provide fill on the portion of the slope immediately below it.

Design Guidelines: A set of guidelines created by the developer to achieve a certain look and feel or to enhance the natural environment. Created to provide guidance, enhance the quality of and achieve consistent outcomes for the estate.

Draw Schedule: This is also known as a Payment Schedule. Banks use a Draw Schedule to make payments to contractors and supplies at specific times during construction.

Easement: A restriction on the title to your land which means that part of the land is to be left free for some purpose. For example, land set aside for drainage and sewerage pipes.  It’s important to know where easements exist as their positioning can impact future building plans such as in-ground pools and building extensions.

Egress: An exit point to a structure, such as doors or windows. Regulations require a certain number of egress windows in certain parts of a home.

Facade: The outer front face of the home.

The amount of slope a block of land exhibits.

Grey Water: 
Domestic wastewater from bathroom fixtures (such as basins, showers and baths), laundry fixtures (such as clothes washing machines and laundry troughs) and kitchen facilities (such as sinks and dishwashing machines).

Land Title: 
A land title is an official record of who owns a piece of land. If the land is titled, it is ready to build on immediately (subject to the correct approvals). Untitled land should have an estimated title date (which is subject to change).

Handover: The time when the owner accepts possession of the house and makes payment of the handover claim, plus any balance of the agreement price in full.

An abbreviation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Penalty Clause: This clause imposes a fine on parties to a construction contract if the other party has not fulfilled their obligations under the contract.

Prime Cost: Used in quoting for the supply of items that do not have a confirmed cost yet. Does not include installation of the items.

Recycled Water: Class A recycled water has dual water supply pipes – one for drinking and one for Class A recycled water. Potable (drinking water) supply is for drinking, bathing and showering. Class A recycled water is the right water for toilet flushing, garden watering, car washing and domestic outdoor uses (excluding swimming pools and recreational toys). 

Reinforced Concrete: Concrete that has been strengthened by adding steel bars or mesh within it.

ResCode: Standards set for the construction of new dwellings, alterations and extensions to existing dwellings.

Rough-In: You can have a plumbing and an electrical rough-in. This is where wiring and pipes are installed, and are ready for inspection. This occurs after the framing is finished and before the plasterboard is installed.

Section: A model or drawing that shows the cross section of a construction, allowing you to visualise the layers of it from top to bottom.

Setback: A term used to describe how far from the boundary you have to build your home. This is set by the developer as per their plan of development approved by council.

Settlement: The occasion when ownership of a property passes from the vendor to the purchaser and the balance of the purchase price is paid to the vendor.

Shadow Diagram: A diagramatic representation of the shadowing effect on adjoining properties by the proposed new home.

Site Costs: Those costs that arise from placing a chosen home on your land and the cost of connecting to services. Includes levelling of the building area, connection of sewer and stormwater, removal of trees, piering under the slab, deep edge beams, connection to power, material handling costs etc.

Site Feature Survey: The process of creating a scale drawing of a building site showing easements, fall, service connection points and other pre-existing features.

Site Inspection: An inspection of your new building site to assess the typography, service locations and all characteristics that are to be assessed in preparing a quotation.

Site Preperation: Before construction can commence a Surveyor determines certain features of a site. This includes the location of services, fences, trees, pits, soil classification and slope.

Soil Classification: A system to gauge reactivity of soil. “S” means stable ground – not much expansion or contraction. “M” means moderately reactive soil – some expansion or contraction. 
“H” means highly reactive – large measure of expansion and contraction. These conditions are determined by engineers and foundation systems are designed to meet the appropriate classifications.

Soil Test: 
A test conducted to determine how a house must be built. Key reason is to establish how likely it is that the soil will move, expand and contract with different levels of moisture content.

Variation: An alteration to standard design or specification. Generally not accepted by the builder after Building Agreement signed.

Government regulations which may restrict or limit a construction project or how a property is used.


Published: 11/08/2020
Author: Sally Wood