Basic Home Construction Vocabulary

The “language” of architecture — especially when we’re talking about home design — doesn’t have to be difficult to understand.

There are some things that can’t be simplified, however. The pieces and parts of a building have names, and we’ll all communicate better if we use the same terms to refer to them.

Some are a little arcane to be sure, but at the other end of the scale, you and the builder will both be confused when you say you don’t like that “thingy” on the roof.

Let’s cover a few “outside parts” here, and tackle “inside parts” in a future blog.


Roof Shapes and Parts

Roofs are either flat or not flat. Flat roofs are called — flat roofs. Non–flat roofs are called pitched roofs.  See how easy this is?

Describing pitched roofs gets a little more complicated, but there are two basic kinds: gable and hip. Gabled roofs have a “triangle” at the ends; hipped roofs look more like a pyramid.

There are hybrids and combinations of these two basic types, but they’re less common, so I’m not going to bother you with them here.

You know what the peak of a roof is — it’s the very top. When the roof peak is a level, horizontal line, it’s also called a ridge.


A hipped roof may have a ridge at the top, or may come to a point. But at the corners, there are more ridges, running at an angle, up to the ridge at the top. Those “angled ridges” are called hips. Go figure.

All roofs have some sort of edge at the bottom; when that edge is level, it’s called an eave. When the edge is the end of a gable, it’s called a rake.

Learn to identify a gable roof, a hip roof and a few roof parts, and your builder or new home consultant will be impressed.

Window Styles and Parts

Most American homes have one of two basic windows styles:   “double-hung” or “casement.”

Double-hung windows are the ones that slide up and down; there’s a top half and a bottom half, and both are moveable (if only the bottom half moves, it’s a “single-hung” window). Double-hung windows are most often found on houses with an American colonial heritage.

Casement windows are hinged on one side like a door and are usually operated by a hand crank. They’re more appropriately used on homes based on European styles.

Other common residential window styles include awning (hinged at the top), sliding and fixed, but no matter the style, all windows have a few basic parts in common.

The moveable part of any window is called the sash; this is separate from the frame, which is attached to the house. It’s possible to repair a window by replacing the sash and leaving the frame intact.

A pair of casement windows, mulled together

The top of the frame is called the head; the bottom, the sill; and the sides are called jambs.

And those bars in the middle of the window, what you probably call grids (that’s OK, by the way), those are also called muntins. Muntins are often confused with mullions, which are pieces that join two separate window units together.


Got it?  Casually drop a few of those terms next time you meet with your builder; he’ll think you’re pretty cool for speaking a little of his language.

And maybe that will convince him to work a little harder to speak yours.