Glossary of Terms A-H

This glossary of terms provides explanations of technical and construction language. This resource can be used by program directors and members of the local program's facility planning team.

Listed below are terms, phrases, and definitions used by architects, engineers, contractors, and managers in the performance of a construction project. This listing may be used by non-construction professionals as a guide of understanding the terminology of a construction/renovation project.

A | B| C | D | E | F | G | H


Abate or Abatement: To remove material.

Abstract of Title: An outline history of the ownership of a parcel of land, from the original grant, with changes in title, and with a statement of all mortgages, liens, encumbrances, affecting the property.

Acceptance Test: A test conducted by a purchaser (or his or her agent) to determine if the material, devices, or equipment delivered conforms to the purchase contract specifications or the product supplied by the vendor.

Access: A means of approach, e.g., a road, street, or walk.

Accessible: Allowing physical contact, as by means of an easily removable cover or door, or a part of the building structure or finish materials. Providing access to a fixture, appliance, or piece of equipment; removal of a cover, panel, plate, or similar obstruction may be required.

Accident: A sudden, unexpected event identified as to time and place.

Acre: A unit of land measurement equal to 43,560 square feet or 4046.85 square meters; 1 square mile (2.59 square kilometers) equals 640 acres.

Activity: In CPM terminology, a task or item of work that must be performed in order to complete a project.

Activity Duration: In CPM terminology, the amount of time estimated as required to accomplish an activity.

ADD.: On drawings, an abbreviation for addendum.

Addendum: A supplement to bidding documents, issued prior to the submission of bids, for the purpose of clarifying, correcting, or adding to the specifications previously issued.

Addition: A floor (or floors), a room, wing, or other expansion to an existing building. Any new construction which increases the height or floor area of an existing building or adds to it (as a porch or attached garage). An amount added to the contract sum by a change order.

Additional Services: The professional services may, upon the owner's request or approval, be rendered by the architect in addition to the basic services identified in the owner-architect agreement.

Additive Alternate: An alternate bid resulting in an addition to the same bidder's base bid. Same as alternate bid.

Administration of the Construction Contract: Same as construction phase; administration of the construction contract.

Administrative Authority: The individual, official, board, department, council, or leader established and authorized by a political subdivision created by law to administer and enforce the provisions of the code.

Advertisement for Bids: The published public notice soliciting bids for a construction project. Most frequently used to conform to legal requirements pertaining to projects to be constructed under public authority, and usually published in newspapers of general circulation in those districts from which the public funds are derived.

A/E: Abbreviation for architect-engineer.

Agency: A relationship by which one party, usually the agency, is empowered to enter into binding transactions affecting the legal rights of another party, usually called the principle, as for example, entering into a contract or buying or selling property in someone's name or on someone's behalf. An administrative branch of government.

Agent: One who is empowered to enter into binding transactions on behalf of another.

Agreement: An arrangement indicating the intent of a contract but not necessarily fulfilling all the enforceable provisions of it. A meeting of minds. A legally enforceable promise or promises between two or among several persons. On a construction project, the document stating the essential terms of the construction contract which incorporates by reference the other contract documents.

Agreement Form: A document setting forth in printed form the general provisions of an agreement with spaces provided for insertion of specific data relating to a particular project.

AIA: Abbreviation for "American Institute of Architects."

All-in Contract: Same as turn-key job.

Alterations: Remodeling.

Alternate Bid: The amount stated in the bid to be added to or deducted from the amount of the base bid if the corresponding change in project scope or alternate materials and/or methods of construction is accepted.

American Bond: Same as common bond.

Application for Payment: The contractor's written request for payment of amount due for completed portions of the work; may include, if the contract so provides, materials delivered and suitably stored pending their incorporation into the work.

Appraisal: An evaluation or estimate (preferably by a qualified professional appraiser) of the market or other value, cost, utility, or other attribute of land or other facility.

Approved: Referring to materials, devices, or construction accepted by the authority having jurisdiction, by reason of tests or investigations conducted by it or by an agency satisfactory to the authority, or by reason of accepted principles or tests by national authorities or technical or scientific organizations.

Approved Equal: Materials, equipment, or method approved by the architect for use in the work as being acceptable as an equivalent in essential attributes to the material, equipment, or method specified in the contract document.

Approving Authority: The individual agency, board, department, or official established and authorized by a political subdivision which is created by law to administer and enforce specified requirements.

Arbitration: The binding resolution of disputes by one or more neutral persons, as a substitute for judicial proceedings; may be invoked only by agreement of the parties to the dispute, but such agreement may be arrived at before there is an actual dispute, for example, through a clause in a contract.

Architect: A person trained and experienced in the design of buildings and coordination and supervision of all aspects of the construction of buildings.

Architect-Engineer: An individual or firm offering professional services as both architect and engineer; terms generally used in government contracts, particularly those with the federal government.

Architect's Approval: The architect's written or imprinted acknowledgment that materials, equipment, or methods of construction are acceptable for use in the work.

Architect's Scale: A scale having graduations along its edges so that scale drawings can be measured directly in feet.

Architectural: Pertaining to architecture, its features, characteristics, or details.

Architectural Drawing: One of a number of drawings prepared by an architect for a construction project, e.g., plans, elevations, and details.

Architecture: The art and science of designing and building structures, or large groups of structures, in keeping with aesthetic and functional criteria.

Area Method: A method of estimating probable total construction cost by multiplying the adjusted gross floor area by a predetermined cost per unit of area.

Article: A subdivision of a document.

Assessed Valuation: The value of a property as determined by a recognized legal entity for real estate tax purposes; often this valuation is less than the true market value of the property.

Assessment: A tax, charge, or levy on property.

Assessment Ratio: Of a property, the ratio between its market value and its assessed value.

Assignment: The transfer of a legal right.

Attorney-in-Fact: A person authorized to act for or in behalf of another person or organization, to the extent prescribed in a written instrument known as a power of attorney.

Authority: Same as administrative authority.

Authority Having Jurisdiction: A federal, state, or local entity having statutory authority. In many instances, the delegated agent assumes the role of the authority having jurisdiction.


Base Bid: The amount of money stated in the bid as the sum for which the bidder offers to perform the work, not including that work for which alternate bids are also submitted.

Base Bid Specifications: The specifications listing or describing only those materials, equipment, and methods of construction upon which the base bid must be predicated, exclusive of any alternate bids.

Base Services: The services performed by an architect during the following five phases of a project: schematic design, design development, construction documents, bidding or negotiation, and contract administration.

Bid: An offer to perform the work described in a contract at a specified cost. A complete and properly signed proposal to do the work. Competition for a job based on lowest cost to do the work. Bids are generally cost specific, based on the cost of labor, materials, profit, and overhead. Bids are normally not negotiated and cannot be changed once accepted by the owner. Bids are time sensitive and are generally good for 30 to 60 days after the bid opening.

Bid Bond: A form of bid security executed by the bidder as principal and by a surety.

Bid Date: The date established by the owner or the architect for the receipt of bids.

Bidder: One who submits a bid for a prime contract with the owner, as distinct from a sub-bidder who submits a bid to a prime bidder. A bidder is not a contractor on a specific project until a contract exists between him/herself and the owner.

Bid Documents: The advertisement or invitation to bid, instructions to bidders, the bid form, and the proposed contract documents including any addenda issued prior to receipt of bids.

Bidding or Negotiation Phase: The fourth phase of the architect's basic service, during which competitive bids or negotiated proposals are sought as the basis for awarding a contract.

Bidding Period: The calendar period beginning at the time of issuance of bidding requirements and contract documents and ending at the prescribed bid time.

Bidding Requirements: Those documents providing information and establishing procedures and conditions for the submission of bids. They consist of the notice to bidders or advertisement for bids, instructions to bidders, invitation to bid, and sample forms.

Bid Forms:A form furnished to a bidder to be filled out, signed, and submitted as his or her bid.

Bid Guarantee: Same as bid security.

Bid Letting: Same as bid opening.

Bid Opening: The opening and tabulation of bids submitted by the prescribed bid time and in conformity with the prescribed procedures.

Bid Price: The sum stated in the bid for which the bidder offers to perform the work.

Bid Security: The deposit of cash, certified check, cashier's check, bank draft, money order, or bid bond submitted with a bid and serving to guarantee to the owner that the bidder, if awarded the contract, will execute such contract in accordance with the bidding requirements and the contract documents.

Bid Time: The date and hour established by the owner or the architect for the receipt of bids.

Bona Fide Bid: A bid submitted in good faith, complete and in prescribed form which meets the conditions of the bidding requirements and is properly signed by someone legally authorized to sign such bid.

Bond: A financial guarantee by a surety company that work will be completed as described in a contract.

Bonding Capacity: An indication of a contractor's credit rating.

Bonus and Penalty Clause: A provision in a construction contract for payment of a bonus to the contractor for completing the work prior to a stipulated date, and a charge against the contractor for failure to complete the work by such stipulated date.

Boundary Survey: A mathematically closed diagram of the completed peripheral boundary of a site, reflecting dimensions, compass bearings, and angles.

Builder's Risk Insurance: A specialized form of property insurance to cover work in the course of construction. Also called property insurance.

Building Area: The total area of the site which is covered by buildings as measured on a horizontal plane at ground level.

Building Code: A collection of rules and regulations adopted by authorities having appropriate jurisdiction to control the design and construction of buildings, alteration, repair, quality of materials, use and occupancy, and related factors of buildings within their jurisdiction.

Building Inspector: A member of a building department, usually of a municipality, who inspects construction to determine if it conforms to both the requirements of the building code and the approved plans.

Building Permit: A written authorization to an applicant for a specific project allowing him or her to proceed with construction; granted by the authorized agency, a tribe, or local municipality, having jurisdiction after plans have been filed and reviewed.

Building Rehabilitation: The returning of a building to a useful state by repair, alteration, and modification.

Building Restoration: The accurate re-establishment of the form and details of a building, its artifacts, and the site on which it is located, usually as it appeared at a particular time.

Building Restriction: Any one of a number of restrictions, imposed on the construction of a building or the use of land. Also known as restrictive covenant.

Building Services: The utilities and services supplied and distributed within a building generally related to the building environment.

Building Site: Same as site.


Cash Allowance: An amount established in the contract documents for inclusion in the contract sum to cover the cost of prescribed items not specified in detail, with provision that variations between such amount and the finally determined cost of the prescribed items will be reflected in change orders appropriately adjusting the contract sum.

Certificate for Payment: A statement from the architect to the owner confirming the amount of money due the contractor for work accomplished or materials and equipment suitable stored, or both.

Certificate of Insurance: A memorandum issued by an authorized representative of an insurance company stating the types, amounts, and effective dates of insurance in force for a designated insured.

Certificate of Occupancy: A document issued by governmental authority certifying that all or a designated portion of a building complies with the provisions of applicable statutes and regulations, and permitting occupancy for its designated use.

Certification: A declaration in writing that a particular product or service complies with a specification or stated criterion.

Change Order: A written order to the contractor signed by the owner and the architect issued after the execution of the contract, authorizing a change in the work or an adjustment in the contract sum or the contract time as originally defined by the contract documents; may add or subtract from or vary the scope of work. A change order may be signed by the architect alone (provided he or she has written authority from the owner).

Changes in Work: Changes ordered by the owner consisting of additions, deletions, or other revisions within the general scope of the contract, the contract sum, and the contract time being adjusted accordingly.

Clerk of The Works: Same as project representative.

Closed List of Bidders: Same as invited bidders.

Closed Specifications: Specifications stipulating the use of specific products or processes without provision for substitution. Same as base bid specifications.

Code: A legal instrument adopted within a political jurisdiction that prescribes the minimum acceptable levels of the design, construction, installation, and performance of materials, components, devices, equipment, appliances used in a building, or building system and/or subsystem.

Code of Practice: A technical document setting forth standards of good construction for various materials and trades.

Community: A people having common rights, privileges, or interests, or living in the same place under the same laws and regulations.

Compensation:Payment for services rendered or products or materials furnished or delivered.

Completed Operations Insurance: Liability insurance coverage for injuries to persons or damage to property occurring after an operation is completed but attributed to that operation; does not apply to damage to the completed work itself.

Completion Bond, Construction Bond, Contract Bond: The guarantee of a bonding company that a contractor will perform and deliver the work contracted for free of all encumbrances and liens.

Completion Date: In the contract documents, the date of substantial completion of the work.

Completion List: Same as inspection list.

Comprehensive General Liability Insurance: A broad form of liability insurance covering claims for bodily injury and property damage which combines under one policy coverage for all liability exposures on a blanket basis and automatically covers new and unknown hazards that may develop; automatically includes contractual liability coverage for certain types of contracts.

Comprehensive Services: Professional services performed by the architect in addition to the basic services in such related areas as project analysis, programming, land use studies, feasibility investigations, financing, construction management, and special consulting services.

Conditions of the Bid: Conditions set forth in the instructions to bidders, the notice to bidders or advertisement for bids, the invitation to bidders, or other similar bid documents prescribing the conditions under which bids are to be prepared, executed, submitted, received, and accepted.

Conditions of the Contract: Those portions of the contract documents which define, set forth or relate to contract terminology, the rights and responsibilities of the contracting parties an of others involved in the work, requirements for safety and for compliance with laws and regulations, general procedures for the orderly prosecution and management of the work, payments to the contractor, and similar provisions of a general, non-technical nature.

Consent of Surety:Written consent of the surety on a performance bond and/or labor and material payment bond to such contract charges as change orders or reductions in the contractor's retainer, or to final payment, or to waiving notification of contract changes.

Construction: All the on-site work done in building or altering structures, from land clearance through completion, including excavation, erection, and the assembly and installation of components and equipment.

Construction Bond: A completion bond.

Construction Budget: The sum established by the owner as available for construction of the project; the highest acceptable bid.

Construction Cost:The cost of all the construction portions of a project; generally based upon the sum of the construction contracts and other direct construction costs; does not include the compensation paid to the architect and consultants, the cost of land, right-of-way, or other costs which are defined in the contract documents as being the responsibility of the owner.

Construction Documents: The working drawings and specifications.

Construction Documents Phase: The third phase of the architect's basic services. In this phase, the architect prepares from the approved design development documents for approval by the owner, the working drawings and specifications and the necessary bidding information. In this phase, the architect also assists the owner in the preparation of bidding forms, the conditions of the contract, and the form of agreement between the owner and the contractor.

Construction Inspector: Same as project representative.

Construction Loan: A loan to builder for a short-term, financing construction prior to permanent financing.

Construction Management: The special management services performed by the architect or others during the construction phase of the project, under separate or special agreement with the owner. This is not part of the architect's basic services, but is an additional service sometimes included in the comprehensive services.

Construction Phase - Administration of the Construction Contract: The fifth and final phase of the architect's basic services, which includes the architect's general administration of the construction contracts.

Construction Survey: Same as engineering survey.

Consultant: An individual or organization engaged by the owner or the architect to render professional consulting services complementing or supplementing the architect's services.

Contingency Allowance: A sum designated to cover unpredictable or unforeseen items of work or changes subsequently required by the owner.

Contingency Agreement: Any agreement under which the rights or obligations of a party are subject to the happening of stated contingency.

Contract: A legally enforceable promise or agreement between two or more persons.

Contract Administration: The duties and responsibilities of the architect or consultant during the construction phase.

Contract Bond: Same as completion bond.

Contract Date: Same as date of agreement.

Contract Documents: Those documents that comprise a contract: owner-contractor agreement, conditions of the contract, plans and/or drawings, specifications, all addenda, modifications, and changes together with any other items stipulated as being specifically included.

Contracting Officer: The person designated as the official representative of the federal government with specific authority to act on behalf of the government in connection with the project.

Contractor: One who undertakes responsibility for the performance of construction work, including the provision of labor and materials, in accordance with plans and specifications and under a contract specifying cost and schedule for completion of the work; the person or organization responsible for performing the work and identified as such in the owner-contractor agreement.

Contractor's Affidavit:A certified statement of the contractor, properly notarized, relating to payment of debts and claims, release of liens, or similar matters requiring specific evidence for the protection of the owner. Same as non-collusion affidavit.

Contractor's Estimate: A forecast of construction cost, as opposed to a firm proposal, prepared by the contractor for a project or a portion of a project.

Contractor's Liability Insurance: Insurance purchased and maintained by the contractor to protect him or her from specified claims which may arise out of or result from his or her operations under the contract, whether such operations be by him/herself or by any subcontractor or by anyone directly or indirectly employed by any of them, or by anyone for whose acts any of them may be liable.

Contractor's Option: A provision of the contract documents under which the contractor may select certain specified materials, methods, or systems at his or her own option, without change in the contract sum.

Contractor's Proposal: Same as bid.

Contract Sum: The price stated in the owner-contractor agreement, which is the total amount payable by the owner to the contractor for the performance of the work under the contract document; can be adjusted only by a signed change order.

Contract Time: The period of time established in the contract documents pursuant to other agreement between the parties, or by operation of law, within which the work must be completed.

Contractual Liability: Liability assumed by a party under a contract by express language, implication, or operation of law. A "hold harmless" clause.

Cost Breakdown: Same as schedule of values.

Cost-Plus-Fee Agreement: An agreement under which the contractor or the architect is reimbursed for his or her direct and indirect costs and in addition, is paid a fee for his or her services. The fee is usually stated as a stipulated sum or as a percentage of cost.

CPM: Abbreviation for Critical Path Method.

Critical Path Method:CPM, a system of project planning, scheduling, and control, which combines all relevant information into a single master plan, permitting the establishment of the optimum sequence and duration of operations; the interrelation of all the efforts required to complete a construction project are shown; and indication is given of the effort which is critical to timely completion of the project.


Damages: Same as liquidated damages.

Date of Agreement: The date stated on the face of the agreement. If no date is stated, it may be the date on which the agreement is actually signed, if this is recorded, or it may be the date established by the award; also referred to as the contract date.

Date of Commencement of the Work: The date established in a notice to proceed or, in the absence of which notice, the date of the agreement or such other date as may be established therein or by the parties.

Date of Substantial Completion: The date certified by the architect when the work or a designated portion thereof is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the contract documents, so the owner may occupy the work or designated portion for the use for which it is intended.

Debt Service: The periodic payment of a loan, including both accrued interest and a portion of the principle.

Deduction: The amount deducted from the contract sum by a change order.

Deductive Alternate: An alternate bid resulting in a deduction from the same bidder's base bid. Same as Alternate Bid.

Deed: Any duly attested, written document executed under seal and delivered to effect a transfer, bond, or contract, such as a conveyance of real property or interest therein.

Deed Restriction: A limitation on the use of land, which is set forth in a deed conveying the restrictions.

Defective Work:Work not complying with the contract requirements.

Demolition: The systematic destruction of a building, all or in part.

Department of Housing and Urban Development: Same as HUD.

Deposit for Bidding Documents: Monetary deposit required to obtain a set of construction documents and bidding requirements, customarily refunded to bona fide bidders on return of the documents in good conditions within a specified time.

Design: To compose a plan for a building. The architectural concept of a building as represented by plans, elevations, renderings, and other drawings.

Design Development Phase: The second phase of the architect's basic services. In this phase, the architect prepares the design development documents consisting of drawings and other documents to fix and describe the size and character of the entire project as to structural, mechanical and electrical systems, materials, and such other essentials as may be appropriate; the architect also submits to the owner a further statement of probable construction cost.

Design Documents: Same as structural design documents.

Detailed Estimate of Construction Costs: A forecast of construction cost prepared on the basis of a detailed analysis of materials and labor for all items of work, as contrasted with an estimate based on current area, volume, or similar unit costs.

Developed Area: An area of land upon which improvements have been made.

Development: A tract of previously undeveloped land which is subdivided and provided with all necessary utilities, such as roads, water, electricity, and sewers.

Direct Personnel Expense: Salaries and wages of principals and employees engaged on a project, assignment, or task, including mandatory and customary benefits.

Document Deposit: Same as deposit for bidding documents.


Educational Occupancy: The use of a building or buildings for the gathering of groups of 6 or more persons for purposes of instruction.

Eminent Domain: The power or right of the nation or state to take private property for public use, usually with reasonable compensation to the owner.

Employer's Liability Insurance: Insurance protection for the employer against claims by employees for damages which arise out of injuries or diseases sustained in the course of their work and which are based on common law negligence rather than on liability under worker's compensation acts.

Engineer: A person trained and experienced in the profession of engineering; a person licensed to practice the profession by the authority in the area.

Engineering Survey: A survey conducted to obtain essential information for planning an engineering project or developing and estimating its cost.

Environmental Design Professional: The professions collectively responsible for the design of the physical environment for humans.

Environmental Impact Statement: A detailed analysis of the probable environmental consequences of proposed federal legislation, major federal actions, or large-scale construction making use of federal funds, likely to have significant effects on environmental quality; such a statement is required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

Estimate: Same as detailed estimate of construction costs. Same as statement of probable construction costs. Same as contractor's estimate.

Extended Coverage Insurance: Same as property insurance.

Extra Services: Same as additional services.

Extra Work: Any work not included in the contract documents; an extra.


Facility: The building(s), playground(s), parking area(s), and campus where the program or construction site is located.

Fee-Plus-Expenses Agreement: Same as cost-plus-fee agreement.

Field Representative: Same as project representative.

Field Supervision: That portion of the architect's supervisory work which is done at the construction site.

Final Acceptance: The owner's acceptance of a project from the contractor upon certification by the architect that it is complete and in accordance with the contract requirements; final acceptance is confirmed by the making of final payment unless otherwise stipulated at the time of making such payment.

Final Completion: The completion of work and all contract requirements by the contractor.

Final Inspection: The final review of the project by the architect prior to issuance of the final certificate for payment.

Final Payment: Payment made by the owner to the contractor, upon issuance by the architect of the final certificate for payment, of the entire unpaid balance of the contract sum as adjusted by change orders.

Fire and Extended Coverage Insurance: Same as property insurance.

Fixed Limit of Construction Cost: The maximum allowable cost of the construction work as established in the agreement between the owner and the architect. Same as construction budget.

Force Account: A term used when work is ordered to be done without prior agreement as to lump sum or unit price cost thereof and is to be billed for at cost of labor, materials and equipment, insurance, taxes, etc., plus an agreed percentage for overhead and profit.


General Conditions: That part of the contract documents which sets forth many of the rights, responsibilities, and relationships of the parties involved. Same as conditions of the contract.

General Contract: Under the single contract system, the contract between the owner and the contractor for construction of the entire work.

General Contractor: The prime contractor who is responsible for most of the work at the construction site, including that performed by the subcontractors.

Generally Accepted Standard: A specification, code, rule, guide, or procedure in the field of construction, or related to construction, recognized and accepted as authoritative.

General Requirements: The title of division 1 of the AIA's uniform system for construction specifications, data filing, and cost accounting.

Guarantee: A legally enforceable assurance of the quality or duration of a product or of work performed.

Guaranteed Maximum Cost: An amount estimated in an agreement between the owner and contractor as the maximum cost of performing specified work on the basis of cost of labor and materials plus overhead expense and profit.

Guaranty Bond: Same as bid bond. Same as labor and material payment bond. Same as performance bond. Same as surety bond.


HUD: The abbreviation for "Department of Housing and Urban Development."

Glossary of Terms A-H. The National Head Start Facilities Assistance Desk. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. n.d. English.

Last Reviewed: March 2012

Last Updated: September 3, 2015