Learn the Lingo

Before you nail down your next home improvement project, learn the lingo. These common terms and definitions may help you avoid miscommunications with your contractor.

A specific dollar amount allocated by a contractor for specified items in a contract for which brand, model number, color, size, or other detail is not yet known.

A proposal to work for a certain amount of money, based on plans and specifications for the project.

Building Permit
A document issued by a governing authority, such as a building department, granting permission to undertake a construction project.

Call Back
An informal term for a return visit made by a contractor to repair or replace items the home owner has found to be unsatisfactory or that require service under the warranty.

Change Order
Written authorization to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract. The change order should reflect any changes in cost.

Cost-plus Contract
A contract between a contractor and home owner based on the accrued cost of labor and materials plus a percentage for profit and overhead. Also known as a time-and-materials contract.

A designated payment that is "drawn" from the total project budget to pay for services completed to date. A draw schedule typically is established in the contract.

Lien Release
A document that voids the legal right of a contractor, subcontractor, or supplier to place a lien against your property. A lien release assures you that the remodeler has paid subcontractors and suppliers in full for labor and materials.

Mechanic's Lien
A lien obtained by an unpaid subcontractor or supplier through the courts. When enforced, real property—such as your home—can be sold to pay the subcontractor or supplier.

Plans and Specifications
Drawings for the project and a detailed list or description of the known products, materials, quantities, and finishes to be used in the project.

Punch List
A list of items of work to be completed or corrected by the contractor, typically near or at the end of a project.

A person or company hired directly by the contractor to perform specialized work at the job site. Sometimes referred to as a trade contractor.