Know Your House Terminology

Home buyers and homeowners can be excused for not knowing the names of all of the parts of a house. A typical house contains more than 3,000 different components. You may hear people throwing around terms such as soffit, cornice and joist without knowing exactly what they are.

Here’s a primer on some of the components of a typical house from John A. Kilpatrick’s book Understanding House Construction, published by the Home Builder Press of the Washington D.C. – based National Association of Home Builders.

Molding is found both on the interior and exterior of houses. It is the wood, metal, plastic or plaster trim used around windows and doors, at the tops and bases of walls, along cornices and for other decorative details. Base molding is a decorative band or finish board that is used to cover the joint between the wall and the floor. It is also sometimes called baseboard. Crown molding is a decoration used to cover the area where the wall and the ceiling intersect. Flashing is sheet metal or plastic used to cover joints and openings in exterior surfaces of the house to protect against water leakage.

Framing is the structural skeleton of the house, usually made of posts, beams, studs, joists and trusses. The beams are members used to support the structure. For instance, the centre beam is a member that runs the length of the first floor of a house and supports the house structure above it. The post is a vertical support. The collar tie is a horizontal member in a framed roof that provides structural strength by connecting opposite rafters. Studs are the upright wood or metal members used to form the walls and partitions. Joists are the horizontal parallel components in floors and ceilings.

Cornices are found on the exterior of the house. They are the trim used to cover the area where the roof and the wall meet. A soffit is a special type of cornice that covers the exposed underside of a projecting house part, such as the exposed underside of part of your roof that extends a wall of your house. The eaves are the edges of the roof that run parallel to the ground. You put gutters along the eaves to carry off rainwater from the roof.

Moving up to the roof, the rafters or trusses are the structural members that form the legs of the triangle created by the framing. The ridge board is the length of lumber at the peak of the roof to which the upper ends of the rafters are fastened. A gable is the triangular end wall of a house that extends from the eaves to the peak of the roof. A dormer is a projection built out from a sloping roof as a room extension or for a window.

Not all houses have all of these features, and there are many house features that are not described above.