Building material terms: what do they mean?

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ October 5, 2012

How much do you know about building materials? When tackling a project around the home, you probably take a little time to consider whether you have the skills to successfully complete the task -- or at least you should. But what about the materials required for the job? They're as much an integral part of the project as the labor.

Getting the right products in the correct quantities on the job-site can make any DIY project easier and save trips back and forth to your local home improvement store. It can also help you reduce the cost of the job -- one of the primary reasons many homeowners take on DIY projects.

buy shingles in squares

How many squares of shingles do you need?

The language of building materials

Professional construction estimators spend many years learning their trade. While you may never have their knowledge, understanding how a few basic building materials are ordered can save a little embarrassment at the local home improvement store. After all, you want the salespeople to at least think that you're a seasoned DIYer with numerous project notches on your tool belt.

These building material terms -- along with how quantities are figured -- might help with your project:

  • Squares. Depending on your age, you may have used this term during your younger days. However, its meaning is a little different in the construction industry: a square is the amount of material required to cover 100 square feet of area. Many roofing materials and just about all exterior siding products are figured in squares.
  • Dimensional lumber. This is the wood that's used for heavy framing such as the structural components of a house or deck. Dimensional lumber is usually at least 1 ½ inches thick and can vary in width from approximately 4 inches up to about 12 inches. Common lengths run from about 8 feet up to about 20 feet, but longer pieces are available. Dimensional lumber is normally sold per piece.
  • Sheet. Plywood, composite board, and sheetrock are usually figured as to how many sheets will be needed for the job. In most cases a sheet is 4-feet-by-8-feet, but some varieties of sheetrock may be longer. The thicknesses of all three products can vary depending on their use.
  • Yard (concrete). While it could refer to the grass around your home, in the building material industry it's a term used for figuring concrete quantities. A yard of concrete is the amount needed to fill a cubic yard container. Even when pouring 4-inch sidewalks, the amount of concrete required is computed by the yard.
  • Yard (flooring). Just to keep things interesting, yard is also a term used to estimate many types of flooring -- although in this situation it's the amount of material needed to cover a square yard. Carpeting and vinyl are figured per yard, but hardwood and ceramic are estimated by square foot -- just to keep things interesting.

plywood sheets

Estimate plywood quantities by the sheet

Knowing these terms probably won't get you a job with a general contractor. However, they may make it a little easier to figure the materials required for your DIY project or read your contractor's estimate.

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