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Newsletter #230

New House Building Terminology

New House Building: Money Saving, Convenience and Healthy House Tips

James Todd
October, 2004

All past newsletters are archived online at:



  1. Understanding Building Terminology
  2. First of a series on Septic systems
  3. Driveways - Concrete, Asphalt, interlocking brick or stone
  4. Thought for the Day
  5. Subscription Information
Please forward this newsletter to anyone whom you think may be interested!

1. Understanding Building Terminology

Terminology used by builders and people in the building trade can be complicated and downright confusing, especially if you have no idea of what they are talking about! How many of our readers know what ABS is, what a Cripples might be or what a z-RidgeTM is? Have you been speaking with a builder or a foreman on the site of you new home and felt like he was speaking another language?

If you find yourself in this situation, you may be missing something important that the building foreman is trying to tell you and worse it may cost you a lot of money if you do not take the time to clarify what exactly he or she is saying to you.

If we return to our original question, “ABS - A type of black plastic pipe commonly used for waste water lines” is a fairly common term used by many trades on constructions sites. You may have already known what this term referred to.

Cripples on the other hand may be less obvious to the reader, since we found at least two different definitions: “Cripples - A pipe for conducting rainwater from the roof to a cistern or to the ground by way of a downspout.” Or “Cut-off framing members above and below windows.” Depending on whom you were talking to you might need to clarify if they are referring to a down pipe or cut-off framing members!

z-Ridge(tm) - " A product designed to cover the ridge line of a roof, designed by Elk Roofing Products(r)" gives the roof lines more character

There are many sources of various building terminology available on the Internet. We have included several sites at the end of this article for your reference. This is such a vast subject; that the reader may not want to spend too much time learning all of these definitions and details. Instead we suggest that you bookmark these sites for future reference and any time you are about to begin a project, or have a need to understand a particular subject, you can go quickly to one of these sites.

In addition some definitions are based on the manufacturer’s product description, so don’t be surprised if you do not find every item defined in these web sites. Sometimes you will need to go to the manufacturer’s web sites to review specifications and the description of a product. This is also a great place to begin, if you and your builder are discussing a specific product that will be used on your new home. Virtually all manufacturers will post descriptions and specifications for their products on their corporate web sites.

As a final comment, if you do not understand what the builder is recommending, ask the builder for information and spend the time to research the product to ensure that it will meet the application that you intend it to be used for.

Some Useful Links

Hampton Homes Building Terminology & Definitions

MIT Libraries

Home Building Terminology

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2. Septic Systems - The Basics

This is the first in a multi-part series on septic systems.

Septic systems are necessary when there are no community sewers to remove human waste and other wastewater from your home. The rules for septic systems vary greatly from community to community, so talk to your local community offices to get the details.

Septic Systems are relatively simple, and very efficient. The effluent from your house includes human waste from toilets, and gray water from baths, showers, sinks and laundry. This effluent is gravity fed within your dwelling via a large drainpipe, which is typically 4" in diameter. This drain pipe exits the house and connects to a large holding tank (1000 gallons or more), made of concrete, steel or plastic, usually buried 1 to 3 feet underground, about 10 feet from your dwelling. Bacteria processes the waste entering the tank producing gas, which vents through the system, fats, liquid, and solids. These layers are very distinct within the tank: the scum layer on the top, the liquid effluent layer in the middle, and the sludge at the bottom. There are usually baffles or chambers in the tank, which prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank. The gases are primarily methane and hydrogen sulphide.

The piping is arranged so that the liquid layer drains downhill out of the tank to a network of perforated pipes or clay tile, 4 to 6 feet below grade, on a specially layered combination of gravel and soil called an absorption field or leaching bed, where the liquid safely dissipates. This entire bed, which can be several hundred square feet, is normally covered with a soil barrier, then sand, then soil, and finally topsoil and grass. All these components are important parts of the system.

A properly designed and maintained septic system will safely and completely treat your wastewater for 30 to 50 years.

Note that eave trough drainage, pool drainage, sump pumps, sidewalk and road run-off should never be tied into your local septic system. Backwash from your water softener is not septic and can be drained to other than your septic system. However, if the water softener backwash is less than a hundred gallons a week, your septic system may be the most convenient drainage system. Rather than using kitchen garbage disposal unit with your septic system, consider installing a composter in your backyard.
Next edition we will cover Septic System Sizing and Septic System Maintenance.

Some useful links to check out

How Stuff Works


Clean Solution (alternative)

3. Driveways - Concrete, Asphalt, Interlocking Brick or Stone

Virtually any type of material can be used to install a new driveway in just about any climate. Preparation must be varied depending on the temperature variation between summer and winter and the type of soil the driveway will be constructed on.

There are a number of criteria that many clients will want to consider when selecting the type of driveway that they will have installed on their property. For example, overall cost of the installation, the time it takes to install the driveway, the length of time the driveway will last assuming normal use, colour retention time, flexibility retention over time, impact of de-icing salts in cold climates, tendency to shift over time, repair and maintenance requirements, and the overall primary criteria will of course be “how will it look when finished and also 10 years from now?”

All designs have standard construction approaches, which will be varied to withstand climatic conditions of extreme heat as well as extreme cold. You should discuss this with your contractor to ensure that they are aware of what is required in your location. A reputable driveway builder will be well informed.

The fundamental requirement, regardless of what type of driveway you chose, is to ensure that you have an adequate base to support your driveway material and that there is proper drainage. Depending on the state you live in and the type of soil you are dealing with, you may want to install sub grade material from 4 inches to 12 inches thick. This may seem to be extreme, however in situations with solid soil conditions, 4 inches of crushed rock may be sufficient, where as in soils that are less stable you may need up to 12 inches of crushed stone. Consult with an experienced driveway contractor in your area, to assess the proper depth of crushed stone.

Finally select a driveway that will enhance the beauty of your home. This is up to individual taste of course, however you can request a driveway contractor to prepare designs for you and also to either show you pictures of completed driveways or even take you to visit several driveways that he or she would recommend. The advantage of visiting several homes, is that you will not only have some idea of what the finished product might look like, but also you can review the quality of the work of the contractor that you are considering.

There are also unusual designs that you may consider such as colourful brick, durable grass, nubby pebbles and concrete bands. These are just a few different types of designs found on one of the web sites found below, which provide additional information. Don’t be afraid to search for other types of designs and experiment.

Some useful links to check out

Concrete Driveways

Great Ideas for Driveways

Driveways with Style

Pavestone Plus

4. Thought For The Day
People will be more impressed by what you finish than by what you start and never complete.

5. Subscription Information
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