Building, Contract & Building Terms


ANGLE OF REPOSE: The angle of repose, or critical angle of repose is the steepest angle of descent or dip relative to the horizontal plane to which a material can be piled without slumping.

ARCHITECT: A qualified person who is registered with the Architects Registration Board of Victoria to provide building design and contract administration services. 

BUILDER WARRANTY INSURANCE:  Now known as Domestic Building Insurance.

ANGLE OF REPOSE: The angle of repose, or critical angle of repose is the steepest angle of descent or dip relative to the horizontal plane to which a material can be piled without slumping.

ARCHITECT: A qualified person who is registered with the Architects Registration Board of Victoria to provide building design and contract administration services. 

BUILDER WARRANTY INSURANCE:  Now known as Domestic Building Insurance.

BUILDING CONSULTANT: An expert experienced in designing and/or constructing buildings. Before you engage a building consultant, ensure they have relevant experience and qualifications to complete the work you want them to do.

BUILDING CONTRACT: A legal document under the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995 that forms an agreement between the builder and consumer about home building, renovating, extensions and repairs. It must be written in English, usually includes plans and specifications required for most domestic building work over $10,000 and should be signed by both parties.

BUILDING INSPECTOR: A person registered with the Victorian Building Authority as a building inspector. This person may operate as a private or council building inspector and is qualified to inspect buildings to ensure compliance with the Building Act 1993 and the current building regulations.

BUILDING PERMIT: Written approval from a registered building surveyor that shows your plans fit in with building regulations. This permit is required before works can start. Public building surveyors may be contacted at your local council, and private ones through telephone directories or professional associations.

BUILDING PRACTITIONERS: Includes building surveyors, building inspectors, draftspeople, engineers engaged in the building industry, commercial and domestic builders, demolishers, people who erect temporary structures, and quantity surveyors. Architects may be referred to as building practitioners if they are registered with the Architects Registration Board of Victoria and carry appropriate insurance.

BUILDING PRACTITIONERS BOARD: The Building Practitioners Board has been abolished and its functions and powers transferred to the Victorian Building Authority (VBA), including registering building practitioners, issuing certificates of consent to owner-builders, and supervising and monitoring practitioners' conduct and capacity to practise. For more information, visit the VBA website.

BUILDING REGULATIONS: Building regulations outline the standards for buildings in Victoria. The regulations are created under the Building Act 1993 and administered by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA). For more information, visit the VBA website.

BUILDING SURVEYOR: A person registered with the Victorian Building Authority as a building surveyor. Qualified to issue a building permit, inspect for compliance with the Building Act 1993 and building regulations and issue occupancy permits or certificates of final inspection, which mainly relate to health, safety and amenity requirements. Building surveyors do not supervise work or compliance with the contract.

CERTIFICATE OF FINAL INSPECTION: Issued by the building surveyor after final inspection of a renovation; it shows building work approved by the permit is completed. This is essential for the future sale of the home. There may still be associated works in the contract, such as paving and landscaping, that are incomplete. You are not required to make your final payment until all work under the plans and specifications is complete, despite receiving the certificate of final inspection.

COMPLETION: The point at which works to be carried out under the contract have been completed in accordance with the plans and specifications, and the building owner has received a occupancy permit or certificate of final inspection.

COMPLETION DATE: The date when building works are completed, according to the contract.

DATUM: A predetermined level on a site from which all other levels are established.

DEFECTS: Work that is in breach of the contract by failing to maintain a specified standard or quality, or is a breach of any implied warranty.

DEFECTS LIABILITY CLAUSE: A clause in a domestic building contract that gives the builder three, six or nine months to fix defects arising out of contracted works. The defect liability period should not be used to fix defects known at the time of completion – these should be fixed so that completion has been reached before the final payment is made.

DOMESTIC BUILDING CONTRACTS ACT 1995: Sets out minimum terms and conditions for domestic building contracts and implied statutory warranties for all contracts. It sets out specific requirements for major domestic building contracts (over $10,000) provides frameworks for paying deposits and stage payments, and for resolving domestic building disputes. This Act is administered by Consumer Affairs Victoria.

DOMESTIC BUILDING DISPUTES VICTORIA (DBDRV): An independent government agency that provides free services to help resolve residential domestic building disputes.

DOMESTIC BUILDING INSURANCE: Previously known as builders warranty insurance. Domestic building insurance (DBI) taken out by the builder for works over $16,000 (except for tradespeople who do not require registration where works cover only one trade). DBI only covers you if your builder has died, is insolvent or has disappeared. In these cases it covers structural defects for six years and non-structural defects for two years. The builder must be eligible for domestic building insurance to be registered. Your builder should provide you with a certificate of currency for an insurance policy that applies to work on your home.

DRAFTSPERSON / DESIGNER:  A person registered with the Victorian Building Authority to provide drafting and associated services.

EASEMENT: An easement is a section of land registered on a property title, which gives someone the right to use the land for a specific purpose even though they are not the land owner. An example is a shared driveway. There are also certain statutory easements which are not registered on your title, such as power or telephone lines, or drainage easements. If you wish to build over a statutory easement, you will need to get consent from your local council. For other easements, you will need to get consent from whoever the easement is vested in.

ENGINEER:  A person registered with the Victorian Building Authority as an engineer who is qualified to undertake the design, documentation, supervision, inspection and certification of buildings.

FITTINGS:  Items, for example garden ornaments, lighting or air conditioners which can be removed without damaging the property.

FIXTURES:  Items such as basins, toilets, baths, built-in wardrobes and kitchen stoves that are attached to the property and cannot be removed without causing damage.

FOUNDATION DATA:  A report on the results of soil tests done on your site before building commences. This information recommends the depths of the stumps or type of slab or strip footing needed. The contents of the report will affect your design and the cost of construction.

LIQUIDATED DAMAGES: Damages paid by the builder for expenses incurred by the owner if the home is not completed within the time stated in the contract. Examples include rent, travel and other out-of-pocket expenses.

OCCUPANCY PERMIT:  Issued by the building surveyor after final inspection of the home; it shows that the building is safe and suitable for occupation. This is essential for the future sale of the home. An occupancy permit does not necessarily mean that all building work is finished: there may still be associated works in the contract, such as paving and landscaping, to be completed. You are not required to make your final payment until all work is complete, despite being given an occupancy permit.

OWNER BUILDER:  Someone who carries out building on his/her property. Owner builders are not in the business of building. An owner builder must obtain a certificate of consent from the Victorian Building Authority in order to obtain a building permit to carry out domestic building work valued over $16,000.

PLANNING PERMIT: A permit obtained from the local council that relates to the zoning and use and development of land (for example, residential or commercial). This is not always required but if it is, it must be obtained before you can be given a building permit.

PLANS: Drawings of the design of a home or renovation completed by a designer/draftsperson, architect or builder. These should be signed by the builder and consumer and be part of the domestic building contract.

PRIME COST ITEM: A fitting that is part of the contract, but the specific type of item has either not been selected, or its price is not known at the time the contract is entered into. The builder needs to make a reasonable allowance for the supply and delivery of these items in the price included in the contract.

PROFESSIONAL INDEMNITY INSURANCE:  Insurance carried by a member of a profession or industry body such as a prescribed building practitioner or building lawyer. It is designed to protect the consumer from loss owing to acts or omissions by the professional acting on his or her behalf.

PROGRESS PAYMENTS: Also called stage payments, required on completion of each stage of building under the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995. If, in unusual circumstances, an alternative payment process is agreed to, progress payments are required as stated in the contract.

PROVISIONAL SUM: A reasonable estimate of the cost of certain work if the builder, after making reasonable enquiries, cannot give a definite price when the contract is signed (for example, supply and installation of air conditioning).

REGISTERED BUILDER:  A builder registered with the Victorian Building Authority to complete limited or unlimited work. Membership of the Housing Industry Association or Master Builders Association of Victoria is not the same as registration.

SCOPE OF WORKS:  Plans and specifications showing what and how an owner wants to build. This should be included when getting quotes and be part of the contract. These should be sufficient for obtaining a building permit.

SOIL TESTS: Also called a geotechnical report, these are tests carried out on the site to find out the type of soil and the depth necessary for solid, stable footings. These will affect the design and cost of building your home (see also Foundation data).

SPECIALIST BUILDING LAWYER: A qualified lawyer who has experience in building matters.

SPECIFICATIONS: Detailed lists of specific building materials (usually described as an Australian Standard), appliances and fittings to be used in a building or renovation.

VARIATIONS: Changes agreed to by the owner and builder made to the building plans and specifications within the contract, after the contract has been signed.

VICTORIAN BUILDING AUTHORITY (VBA): The VBA registers and regulates building practitioners (including registration and licensing for works over $10,000) and plumbers. For more information, visit the VBA website.

VICTORIAN CIVIL& ADMINISTRATIVE TRIBUNAL (VCAT): VCAT is an independent appeal body that may require mediation and tribunal hearings to resolve disputes between consumers and building practitioners/tradespeople. For more information, visit the VCAT website.

VICTORIAN MANAGED INSURANCE AUTHORITY (VMIA): The VMIA offers domestic building insurance (DBI) for builders in Victoria, which provides cover to homeowners for incomplete or defective building work. Builders in Victoria must take out DBI, also known as builder’s warranty insurance, for work valued at more than $16,000. For more information, visit the VMIA website.

VOLUME BUILDERS: Companies that build large numbers of houses based on display home models.

ZONES:  Permissible uses of land and requirements for planning permits are set out in zones of the relevant planning scheme. Contact your local council for information about zones in your area.


A Dictionary of Building Terminology

ABUTMENT: That part of a pier or wall either end of an arch, beam, or bridge which resists the pressure of a load.

AGGREGATE: The crushed stone or alternative substance contained in concrete.

AIR BRICK: Ventilation built into brickwork to provide ventilation through the wall.

ALLOTMENT: A building site

APEX: The highest point of a gable.

ARCHITRAVE: A moulded section covering the joint between window and door frames and the wall lining

BACKFILL: To fill the earth, any remaining space after placing concrete, brickwork, timber, pipes etc in an excavation.

BAGGING – A method of finishing brickwork involving the application of a thin mortar slurry using a hessian bag or sponge. Can be painted over or left to fade in an oxide finish. Usually completed by the bricklayer. Bagging varies in texture & colour greatly and is not uniform like render.

BALUSTRADE – A series of vertical members supporting a handrail of a stair, landing, platform or bridge.

BARGE BOARD: The board covering the roof timbers on the gable or skillion end of a roof, fixed parallel to the roof slope.

BEAM: A horizontal load-bearing structural member.

BEARER: A member of floor framing, spanning piers and supporting joists.

BED JOINT: Horizontal joint in brickwork.

BENCHMARK (BM): A fixed point of reference, the elevation of which is known and referred to during levelling operations.

BOND: Pattern for laying bricks so that none of the perpends are in line in adjacent courses.

BRICK CONSTRUCTION: A construction where the external and internal walls are built of brick.

BRICK VENEER: Framed construction with an outside skin of brickwork tied to the frame.

BUILDING TRADES: The trades that play a part in the construction of a building (eg carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing, electricity, etc).

CAPPING: The uppermost part on top of a piece of work.

CAPPING BRICK: Bricks which are specially shaped for capping the exposed top of a wall.

CARPENTRY: Trade of preparing, cutting and fixing timber in building construction.

CAST IN-SITU: Concrete cast or poured in its permanent position in prepared forms (eg concrete steps, hearth slabs, floors, etc).

CAVITY WALL: A hollow wall, usually consisting of two brick walls erected 40 to 50mm apart and joined together with ties of metal.

CHASE: A rough groove or recess cut into a masonry wall for water pipes, conduit etc.

CIVIL ENGINEERING WORKS: Works comprising a structure other than a building and its associated site works such as a dam, bridge, road, etc or an operation such as dredging, dewatering, soil stabilisation.

CLADDING: Any material used to face a building or structure.

CONCRETE: Artificial rock of cement, sand and aggregate.

CONSTRUCTION JOINT: Joint which occurs because of the sequence of construction, unlike an expansion joint.

CONTOUR LINE: A line drawn on a site plan joining points of the same elevation.

CORNICE – A moulding placed at the junction between a wall and ceiling.

COUNTERSINK: A tapered recess, cut around a pilot hole for a screw, to receive the head of the screw.

COURSE: A single row or layer of bricks.

CRAZING: Fine cracks that may occur on plastered or rendered surface.

CROSS CUTTING: Cutting timber across the grain.

CURING: Treatment of concrete or cement rendering to facilitate hardening.

DADO – The lower portion of a wall above the skirting when finished in contrast to the remainder of the wall e.g. with wood panelling.

DAMP PROOF COURSE (DPC): A barrier, usually physical, built into masonry to prevent moisture migrating up from the ground or down from above, eg chimneys, parapets.

DATUM: A predetermined level on a site from which all other levels are established.

DEAD LOAD: A permanent, inert load on a building or other structure due to the weight of its structural members and the fixed loads they carry, which impose definite stresses and strains upon the structure.

DISTRIBUTED LOAD: A load spread over a surface expressed in kilograms per square metre, or along a length of member expressed in kilograms per metre.

DOOR FRAME: A frame into which a door is fitted.

DOOR HEAD: The upper part of the frame of a door.

DOOR JAMBS: The two vertical members of a door frame.

DOOR LEAVES: In wide openings, a door may be made up into two or more individual sections or “leaves”, which are hinged together.

DOWEL: A wood or metal pin used to strengthen a joint by its insertion partly into each of the

joined pieces.

DRESSED: Timber that has passed through a planing machine to produce smooth surfaces.

EAVE: The lower part of a roof that overhangs the walls.

EFFLORESCENCE: A white or coloured powder sometimes formed on the surface of masonry by deposit of soluble salts.

ELEVATION: A geometrical drawing of a facade of a building.

EXCAVATION: A hole made by removing earth.

EXPANSION JOINT: A joint in a building to permit thermal movement or creep.

EXPANSION STRIP: A soft, resilient material used to fill the void provided for the expansion and contraction of any two adjacent substances.

FASCIA: A board fixed horizontally to the lower ends of the rafters, to which guttering may be fixed. Also forms the outside board of a boxed eave.

FIBRE CEMENT: A product made of cellulose fibre, fillers, Portland cement and water.

FILLET: A small strip of wood or a flat moulding of small section.

FINISHES: The final applied coat or natural surface of a material used in walls, ceilings or floors of a building.

FLASHING: A strip of impervious material used to prevent the ingress of water between two surfaces.

FLUSH JOINT: To place two adjacent surfaces together in the same plane. To form an invisible joint between two such surfaces, eg sheets of plaster-board.

FOOTING: The construction whereby the weight of the structure is transferred from the base structure to the foundation.

FORMS: Prepared forms of timber or other material for the casting of concrete.

FOUNDATION: The ground upon which the footings of a building are constructed.

FRONT AGE: The line or lines marking the division between a building site and a street.

GABLE – The vertical triangular end of a building with a pitched roof, between the rafters from eaves level to the apex (ridge). It may be formed in brickwork or timber framed and clad with weatherboards.

GRADING: A classification of timber by strength requirement to perform a specific tasks.

GROUND PLAN (FLOOR): Plan view of a horizontal section of a building showing the layout of rooms on the ground floor.

HANDRAIL: Railing which serves as a guard and which is intended to be grasped by the hand to serve as a support.

HEADER: A brick laid with its short end to the face of the wall.

HIP: A slanting ridge formed by the intersection of two sloping roof surfaces at an external corner.

HIPPED ROOF: A roof with an end roughly pyramidal in shape, with surfaces sloping upwards from all three eaves.

HOT DIP GALVANISED: Process by which iron or steel is immersed in molten zinc to provide protection against corrosion while in service.

JOINERY: Doors, windows, cupboards, manufactured in a joiner’s shop.

JOIST: Ceiling Timber members spanning between walls or other supports, to which the ceiling battens or ceiling is attached.

KERFING: The process of cutting grooves of kerfs across a board so as to make it flexible for bending

KILN DRYING: Controlled seasoning of timber by use of kilns.

LEVELLING INSTRUMENT: Device consisting of a spirit level attached to a sighting tube and the whole mounted on a tripod and used for levelling a surface to a horizontal plane (eg dumpy level).

LINING: Internal covering to walls of framed construction.

LINTEL: Structural member or beam carrying loads over an opening.

MASONRY: Brick, concrete, stone, artificial stone or terra cotta laid in mortar.

MASTIC: A waterproof adhesive plastic compound.

MATRIX: The mixture of sand and cement that binds together the aggregate of concrete.

MILLED: Timber that has passed through a moulding machine and is of a specific profile.

MITRE: Half the angle of a joint.

MOISTURE BARRIER: Material which is used to retard the flow of vapour or moisture into floor or walls.

MOISTURE CONTENT: Mass of water contained in timber expressed as a percentage of dry wood fibre.

MONOLITHIC: Any structure made of a continuous mass of material or cast as a single piece.

MORTAR: A composition of lime and/or cement and sand mixed with water in various proportions.

MORTAR JOINTS: Types of joints in finishing the mortar in stone or brick work.

MORTISE: A recess in a piece of wood to receive a tenon or lock.

NEWELS: Posts placed at top and bottom of flights of stairs to secure handrails, strings.

NOGGING: A horizontal piece of timber fixed between studs in a framed wall.

NOMINAL SIZE: Sawn sectional size of timber.

NON-LOAD BEARING PARTITION OR NON–LOAD BEARING WALL: One which supports no vertical load except that of its own weight and merely defines spaces.

NOSING: A projecting edge of any flat surface (generally rounded in section), eg the projecting edge of a stair tread.

OFF FORM CONCRETE: Concrete which is formed by placing and stripping from formwork and has no other applied finish.

ORTHOGONAL PROJECTION: A drawing of the various views or sections of a building, so the projecting lines are perpendicular to the place of projection.

OUTSIDE FOUNDATION LINE: A line which indicates the location of the outside of the foundation wall for a new building.

OVERFLASHING: The flashing which is built into the wall surface and sits over the upturned apron flashing.

OVERHANG (ROOF): The section of a roof extending over the external wall (see Eaves).

OVERLOADING: Placing too heavy a load on a beam, column or floor.

PARAPET: Low wall at the edge of a roof, balcony, bridge or terrace.

PARTICLEBOARD: A manufactured material formed by bonding together flakes of wood and pressing them into a dense sheet.

PARTY WALL: The wall between two adjoining buildings but common to and used to advantage of both buildings.

PELMET – A built-in head to a window to conceal the curtain rod or to a sliding door to conceal the tracks.

PERGOLA: An open framework over a path, terrace or patio.

PERPENDS: The vertical joints in a masonry wall.

PIER: A vertical member of base structure.

PITCH: The angle of inclination to the horizontal of a roof or stair.

PITCH ROOF: The ratio of the height to span, usually measured in degrees.

POINTING: The completion of jointing between ridge or hip tiles with a matching colour after bedding of tiles or trowelling of mortar into joints after bricks have been laid to touch up.

RAFTER: A sloping member in a roof providing the principal structural support for the roofing material.

RAKED JOINT: A brick joint raked out by the bricklayer for a key for plaster or as a decorative finish.

RENDER: The covering of a brick wall with one or more coats of cement mortar consisting of Sydney Sand, cement and plasterers clay.

RIDGE: The highest part (apex) of a roof, which is usually a horizontal line.

RISER: The vertical face of a step in a stair flight.

SHORING: The temporary or permanent support of an existing building, often due to demolition or of footing excavation to prevent collapse.

SKIRTING: A wooden board fixed to the bottom of a wall at the junction of the floor to prevent damage to the wall or to conceal small gaps.

SLIP JOINT: A joint designed to allow movement between two members usually in the form of two layers of sheet metal with grease installed on top of a brick wall prior to installation of a concrete slab.

SPROCKET: A framing timber used in eaves construction.

STUCCO: Traditionally an external render to provide a decorative finish but now generally referred to as a fibro wall sheet with a decorative finish.

THRESHOLD: The step or sill at an external door of usually timber tile or brickwork.

UNDERPINNING: The construction of new footings or concrete piers under an existing footing to prevent its collapse or failure.

VALLEY: The meeting line of two inclined roof surfaces at a re-entrant angle.

WEEP HOLES: Vertical joints or perpends in brickwork left open above the flashing line to allow water from behind the wall to escape.

WINDERS: Wedge shaped treads in a staircase landing.

Z-PURLIN: A metal purlin with a cross section in the shape of the letter Z.

For a more extensive listing of Building & Construction Terminology, go to:

Victorian Building Authority  Australian Building Codes Board  Residential Reports or Housespect




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