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Common Terms

Common Terms and Phrases Defined for use in Construction Consulting and Forensics.


A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z


ACCESS/ACCESSIBILITY:  A way of getting near, at, or to something or someone; a way of being able to use or get something.

ACCIDENT:  A sudden event (such as an earthquake) that occurs by chance, is not planned or intended, and causes damage, injury or death.

ADVISE:  To give an opinion or counsel, or recommend a plan or course of action; also to give notice. To encourage, inform, or acquaint. It is different in meaning from “instruct” or “persuade.”

ADA– AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990:  The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[4] which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal.


ARBITRATION: The submission of a dispute to an unbiased third person designated by the parties to the controversy, who agree in advance to comply with the award—a decision to be issued after a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.

AWARD:  To concede; to give by judicial determination; to rule in favor of after an evaluation of the facts, evidence, or merits. The decision made by a panel of arbitrators or commissioners, a jury, or other authorized individuals in a controversy that has been presented for resolution. A document that memorializes the determination reached in a dispute.  Awards in construction disputes often include a dollar amount, time period and other agreed upon specifics.




CAUSE:  That which produces an effect, in our usage:  That which produces damage.   In our usage distinct from and often coupled with ORIGIN above.

CLAIM:  An assertion of the truth of something, typically one that is disputed or in doubt and a demand or request for something considered one’s due. Formal request as in an insurance claim or legal pleading/filing of lawsuit.

CODES:  A systematic collection of laws or statutes.  For example, among others, much of our work pertains to:

B – General Building Contractor, Business & Professions Code, Division 3, Chapter 9. Contractors and

California Code of Regulations, Title 16. Division 8.  Contractors State License Board

Enforced by:  Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors’ State License Board.

COEFFICIENT OF FRICTION:  The ratio between the force necessary to move one surface horizontally over another and the pressure between the two surfaces.

COMPACTION:  Related to SETTLEMENT below.  The process in which a stress applied to a soil causes densification as air is displaced from the pores between the soil grains.  Normally, compaction is the result of heavy machinery compressing the soil, but it can also occur due to the passage of (e.g.) animal feet.

COMPLIANCE:  Conformity in fulfilling official requirements.

CONSULTANT:  A person who gives professional advice or services for a fee.

COST ESTIMATE:  Estimation is the process of calculating an approximation of the cost to repair damaged property that is reliable even if input data may be incomplete, uncertain or unstable. The value is nonetheless usable because it is derived from the best information available.

COST TO REPAIR:  The cost to repair a damaged or destroyed item of property.

CONSTRUCTION:   The act or process of building something (such as a house or office building); the business of building things; the way something is made.

CUPPING:  “Wavy” appearance of solid or engineered hard wood flooring.



DAMAGE: Physical harm caused to something in such a way as to impair its value, usefulness, or normal function.

DEFECT:  A deficiency in the design or construction of a building or structure resulting from a failure to design or construct in a reasonably workmanlike manner, and/or in accordance with a buyer’s reasonable expectation. The most dangerous defects have the capacity to fail, resulting in physical injury or damage to people or property.

DEFENDANT:  The person, company or entity defending or denying; the party against whom relief or recovery is sought in an action, lawsuit or insurance claim.

DISPUTE:  Disagreement, argument or debate; to question the truth or validity of a claim or response to a claim.


EIFS: Exterior Insulation Foam System

ENVELOPE, BUILDING:  The building envelope (or building enclosure) is the physical separator between the interior and the exterior environments of a building. It serves as the outer shell to help maintain the indoor environment (together with the mechanical conditioning systems) and facilitate its climate control.

EXPERT:  One who has special skill and knowledge (in a specialized field), that knowledge being obtained from either education, training, personal experience or a combination of these.

EXPERT WITNESS:  One who by reason of education, or specialized experience possesses superior knowledge respecting a subject about which persons having no particular training are incapable of forming an accurate opinion or deducing correct conclusions.



FORENSICS:  The application of the principles and practice of construction and proven testing methods to the elucidation of questions before courts of law. Practice by legally qualified licensed contractors who are experts in their field by skill, education, training and experience and who have experience in the courts and an understanding of jurisprudence. A construction forensic consultant engagement may require investigations, studies, evaluations, advice to counsels, reports, advisory opinions, depositions and/or testimony to assist in the resolution of disputes relating to property, casualty, and liability related cases before courts, or other lawful tribunals.



HABITABILITY:  Suitable to live in.  In this condition a property must meet all city or governing municipality requirements as a habitable dwelling. Operable plumbing, electricity, locking doors and windows, and passing certain required pest inspections are some of these requirements. Specific rules for determining habitability often vary from location to location. Yet, at the appropriate city agency or department, all requirements must be readily available.

HAZARD:  A danger or risk; a chance of being injured or harmed, a possible or by experience and calculation a probable source of danger.

HUMAN FACTOR:  A multidisciplinary field incorporating contributions from psychology, engineering, biomechanics, mechanobiology, industrial design, graphic design, statistics, operation research and anthropometry. In essence it is the study of designing buildings, spaces, equipment and devices that fit the human body and its abilities. The two terms “human factors” and “ergonomics” are essentially synonymous.


IN SITU:  A Latin phrase that translates literally to “in position.”  In our field, in situ means to examine the phenomenon exactly in place where it occurs (i.e. without moving it to some special medium).  In situ testing is commonly used to determine cause, origin, duration of “cupping” wood floors.

INDUSTRY STANDARDS:  Generally accepted requirements followed by the members of an industry; a set of criteria within an industry relating to the standard functioning and carrying out of operations in their respective fields of production; Only the best processes, designs and products become industry standards.

INSPECTION:  To examine carefully and critically, especially for flaws; to review or examine officially.  Construction inspections are usually either visual or intrusive/destructive.  Ex.:  A wall is opened and then restored to the condition in which it was found.

INSURANCE APPRAISAL:  Property insurance provision allowing either the insurer or the insured to demand a binding appraisal of damaged property in the event of a dispute as to its value and establishing the required appraisal procedure.

INSURED:  The policyholder – the person(s) protected in case of a loss or claim.

INSURER:  The insurance company.

INVESTIGATE:  To inquire thoroughly into a situation or problem, especially for defects in a structure or path of travel; examine systematically, in order to discover the facts usually of cause, origin, duration and cost to repair.



KINESIOLOGIST:  A specially trained person who studies anatomy, physiology, and mechanics of body movement, especially in humans and applies the principles of kinesiology to the evaluation and treatment of muscular imbalance or derangement.


LIGHT LEVEL:  A measurement of the perception of light.  Light level testing can be done during daylight or at night time.

LIQUEFACTION:  Related to SETTLEMENT below.  Settlement of the ground in areas underlain by loose saturated sand/silt during an earthquake event.


MAINTENANCE:  The process of maintaining or preserving something, or the state of being maintained.  Ongoing house/building maintenance enhances property value, creates safe and functioning habitability, may prevent collateral, sudden and incidental damage from occurring such as in the case of a broken water heater.

MOISTURE:  Water or other liquid diffused in a small quantity as vapor, within a solid, or condensed on a surface.



ORIGIN:  The point or place where something begins, arises, or is derived. In our usage distinct from and often coupled with CAUSE above.

OPINION:  A belief or conclusion held with confidence, usually substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.  A judgment based on special knowledge and given by an expert.  May also be in the form of an estimate.

OSHA: Occupational Safety and Health Administration – a government agency in the Department of Labor to maintain a safe and healthy work environment


PLAINTIFF:  A person who or, company or entity which brings an action; the party who complains, sues, or files and insurance claim and so named on the record.

PLANS (aka BLUEPRINTS or CYANOTYPE):  A drawing or diagram made to scale showing the structure or arrangement of something; a method or program in accordance with which something is to be done or accomplished.    Specifically, a contact print of a drawing or other image rendered as white lines on a blue background, especially such a print of an architectural plan or technical drawing.  Today, PLANS are usually a mechanical drawing produced by any of various similar photographic processes, such as one that creates blue or black lines on a white background.

PRE-ACQUISITION:  Prior to purchase, in our case of a structure (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.)

PREMISES LIABILITY:  Coverage for all sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay because of bodily injury or property damage, and sometimes other wrongs, to which an insurance policy applies.



REGULATIONS:  Official rules or laws that say how something should be done; decisions or parts of decisions by local, state, or federal building authority that contain significant legal or policy determinations.  See CODES above. A rule of order having the force of law, prescribed by a superior or competent authority, relating to the actions of those under the authority’s control.

REAL ESTATE DISCLOSURE:  Disclosure of hazardous or defective conditions on real estate is regulated by state law. The law usually requires that potential buyers be told all material facts about the condition of a property for sale. That disclosure has included whether the property is within earthquake fault zones, seismic hazard zones or wildland fire areas, in which fire protection falls under the jurisdiction of the state, a flood hazard area as designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or a dam inundation area — land that could potentially be flooded after a dam failure. Defects listed on a disclosure form may also include appliances, electrical system, water and sewer system, roofing, structural and foundation problems, moisture, and others. Real estate agents may also be required to disclose whether they represent the interests of the buyer or seller.

Latent defects are problems with the property that the buyer customers or buyer agents aren’t able to discover through a normal inspection. Some states interpret latent defects to mean structural items and safety items. Structural items are things like problems with the foundation. The disclosure laws typically require material defects to be disclosed. The word material, in this case, means important. A latent defect, is generally one important enough to affect the decision of the average buyer to buy the house. Disclosure of environmental risks, particularly the ones that pose health hazards, may also be information that you have to disclose. A leaking underground oil tank or the presence of a nearby nuclear power plant has to be disclosed to the buyer customer.

REMODEL:  Changing the use of a space or spaces.  Broadly used to describe any kind of change to an existing house or other structure. Technically, it’s more accurate to say that remodel means to change the character of a house or a portion of a house. So when you convert a den into a master bedroom you’re remodeling the den. When you combine a kitchen and dining room into one large eat-in kitchen you’re remodeling the kitchen and dining room (this is an extremely popular type of project in our office right now.)

RENOVATE:  Make a space new without changing its use.  A much more specific term than remodel. It means, quite literally, to make new again. An out-of-date kitchen, updated with new finishes and fixtures, has been renovated. Replacing old windows with new ones is a renovation project.

REPORT:  A spoken or written account given of a particular matter, esp. in the form of an official document, after thorough investigation or consideration by an appointed person or body.

RESOLUTION:  The action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.

RESTORATION:  Return a space to its original use and/or appearance and character.   The opposite of renovation. Instead of updating, you’re making the house like it was before (i.e., you can do a historic restoration but not a historic renovation.)

Even if you convert existing spaces back to their original use, you’re still restoring the original rooms.  Removing vinyl siding and fixing up the original wood siding and trim is a restoration project.


SAFETY:  The condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury.

SCOPE:  The extent of the area or subject matter that something deals with or to which it is relevant.  Plans and specifications for constructing, altering or creating a new structure or part of a structure.

SLIP, TRIP & FALL:  Slip: When there is too little friction or traction between your feet (footwear) and the walking or working surface, and you lose your balance.

  • Fall: Occurs when you are too far off your center of balance.
  • Trip: When your foot (or lower leg) hits an object and your upper body continues moving, throwing you off balance.
  • When you step down unexpectedly to a lower surface (Misstep) and lose your balance, e.g., stepping off a curb.
  • What causes a slip and fall?
  • 3 Forces
  • Friction – walking surfaces, soles of your shoes
  • Momentum – Involves speed and size; the bigger you are the faster you are moving, the greater chance you have of losing your balance.
  • Gravity – without support gravity causes things to fall towards the earth.

SOLUTION:  A means of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation.  The correct answer; products or services designed to meet a particular need.

SPECIFICATION (aka SPEC):  Technical standard; a detailed, exact statement of particulars, especially a statement and/or schematic (drawing) prescribing materials, dimensions, and quality of work for something to be built, installed, or manufactured.

A single item or article that has been specified. An exact statement of the particular needs to be satisfied, or essential characteristics that a customer requires (in a good, material, method, process, service, system, or work) and which a vendor must deliver.  Specifications are written usually in a manner that enables both parties (and/or an independent certifier) to measure the degree of performance.

SPF: Spray Polyurethane Foam

STANDARD OF CARE:  Is determined by the standard that would be exercised by the reasonably prudent manufacturer of a product, or the reasonably prudent professional in that line of work; determines the level of negligence required to state a valid cause of action.  The showing of ”reasonable care” and performing the “level of skill and diligence those in engaged in the same profession would ordinarily exercise under similar circumstances.”

SUBROGATION:  The substitution of one person or group by another in respect of a debt or insurance claim, accompanied by the transfer of any associated rights and duties.  A term denoting a legal right that is reserved by most insurance carriers. Subrogation is the right for an insurer to pursue a third party that caused an insurance loss to the insured. This is done as a means of recovering the amount of the claim paid to the insured for the loss.

SETTLEMENT – dispute:  Resolution of conflict, usually through a compromise between opposing claims, sometimes facilitated through an intermediary.  Dispute resolution processes, such as litigation or arbitration, in which a judge, jury or arbitrator determines the outcome.  Consensual processes, such as collaborative law, mediation, conciliation, or negotiation, in which the parties attempt to reach agreement.

Not all disputes, even those in which skilled intervention occurs, end in resolution.

“Settlement” in construction disputes involving an insurance carrier often refers to an agreed upon AWARD (see above).

SETTLEMENT – earth:  A geologic hazard, one of several types of adverse geologic conditions capable of causing damage or loss of property and life; mass movement in a gradual manner.

SUBSIDENCE:  Related to SETTLEMENT.  Sinking mass movement occurring in relatively rapid fashion; roof collapse or breakdown of a subsurface cavity such as a cave; sags and sink holes.


TESTING:  An assessment intended to measure construction or other property related defects.  Various visual, intrusive, monitored and other methods of testing occur in construction FORENSICS (see above), application of any specific testing method will depend on the unique of each client’s circumstances.




WATER INTRUSION:  Typically occurs due to a construction defect allowing water to penetrate into a structure or behind outside cladding resulting in water damage and potentially mold growth; often found at building openings such as doors and WINDOWS and at one or several of many other sources. Synonyms: moisture intrusion, water egress.

WRONGFUL DEATH:  The taking of the life of an individual resulting from the willful or negligent act of another person or persons.


XACTIMATE/EXACTWARE(R):  Claims and construction software estimating program.



These terms were gathered from various sources, if you find any inaccuracies, please let us know!

Sources:  The American Institute of Architects,;; Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Ed.; Black’s Law Dictionary “The Law Dictionary” on line;; California Department of Insurance,; California Department of Real Estate,; Contractors State License Board,;; FindUs;; The Free Dictionary by Farlex,;;;, Merriam-Webster online;;;;;