The 5 Most Common Items Found in Contractor Lingo

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Every industry seems to have its own lingo.

Lawyers have legalese (ugh!). Surveyors speak of chains, pins and rods. Medical professionals seem to speak another language all together.

We real estate investors also have our own lingo. Words such as deed, parcel, lease, cap rate and cash flow are fairly common to us. As investors though, we often need to learn and understand the lingo of other professions. And, since many of us deal or plan to deal with distressed properties in need of extensive repair, contractor lingo is not a bad thing to learn.

Just like everyone else, contractors can often speak in their own lingo. Many times we may have heard the words before, but since we did not or do not deal with those items every day, we never really understood them.

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The 5 Most Common Items Found in Contractor Lingo

But learning the lingo can really make your job as an investor much easier. It’s like you and your contractor will be able to speak the same language. And, by knowing and speaking the same language, there is a much smaller chance for errors and misunderstandings later on down the road.

1. Roofers Speak in “Squares.”

A square is a 10 x 10 square foot area or 100 square feet. When getting a roofing estimate, a contractor will tell you how many squares of shingles are needed.

Related: The Investor’s Guide to Working with Contractors

2. Carpet and Padding Measurements

Carpet and padding is generally sold by the square yard, not the square foot and these numbers can be easily confused. To determine square yards simply measure the square feet and divide by 9.

3. Electric Service

The power lines running to your property generally attach above your roof through a weatherheard. These lines then feed into an electric meter and a circuit breaker panel. All of this taken together is called your electric service.

4. Circuit Breakers and Amps

Circuit breaker panels (and older fuse boxes) are often defined by amps. Amps are simply a measurement of the amount of power available. The lower the number, the less power you have available.

Older homes with older panels may only have 60 amps of service. In newer homes the standard is somewhere between 150 and 200 amps. Older homes generally do not have enough amps in their panels to serve all of the modern amenities like clothes dryers, air conditioning and other electric appliances. Often, the entire electric service has to be upgraded to accommodate modern amenities.

5. HVACs

HVAC people speak in tons. Tons describe the cooling capacity of an air conditioning system. As a general rule, 1 ton will cool about 500 square feet. So if you have a 1,500 square foot home, you will need to install a 3 ton system. Of course the more tons you need, the more expensive the system.

Related: 5 Tips for Installing an HVAC System

Of course there is much, much more. The above are only examples to get you thinking about the jargon you may need to learn.

What other contractor jargon should a real estate investor know?

What have I left out?

Be sure to leave your comments below!

About Author

Kevin Perk

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.


  1. I’m not a contractor but as a commercial building chief operating engineer deal with them on a daily basis. This is only a fraction of the language each of these contractors use every day. As a future real estate investing hopeful, I would be more than happy to help anyone who uses or needs a contractor or even offer my services as a project manager. I have a bigger pockets pro account and I have over 15 years experience in the field.

  2. “Proper vents” in the attic. I used to think it referred to properly venting the attic, but it’s actually an insulation product that allows ventilation from the soffit vent to the ridge vent.

  3. Good read Kevin, if one is new to the rehab game or working with contractors, it can be confusing and intimidating. Contractors pick up quickly if there customers are novices. I have always said that buying a home is fairly easy, selling a home is fairly easy too. The hard part is the renovation. The rehab is where the profit or cash flow is lost and most certainly where the most frustration can occur. In our business, since the profit can be lost or gained in the rehab, we all want work done cheap with quality. My first few years in the business, I could not find both. But after years in the business, I finally gave up finding a contractor who can do this and assumed that role myself. It took years though to find guys to work hard though and do a good job. But as I learned more about the business, I learned how expensive it is to be a contractor and carry the property Workers Comp insurance and General Liability and licenses, not to mention regulation by the EPA. About 25% of the total job could go to insurance and overhead depending on what is done. Most contractors want to put a 20% margin on their work after cost, which is reasonable. So keep that in mind when you ask for a quote and it seems high. But for those who need to hire a contractor, here are some other lingo and phrases used by Contractors! BTW — my comments are not knocks on Contractors–but you do get what you pay for. I have hired a great contractor for my personal residence to do numerous upgrades over the past couple of years–but he is not cheap, but totally worth it! Unfortunately he would be way to expensive to hire for a rental or flip project!

    Roof flashings are the items installed around the pipe penetration coming through the roof. Contractors will call them “pipe boots” or “roof jacks.” Also, if there is a leak, some will want to apply caulk, sealant or other mastics to make the repair on a cracked rain collar. Don’t let them do this–these items seal from the bottom, not the top.

    Although not used or approved in the 2 markets I operate within (Little Rock and Memphis), some houses are vented through the use of Air Admittance Valves (AAV’s) instead of venting through the roof. In addition to homes, AAV’s are seen in mobile homes–contractors love to call these things “Cheater Vents.”

    Contractors will refer to joining PVC and CPVC pipe as “gluing it together” or “pipe glue.” They are not gluing anything together, they are joining through Solvent Pipe Cement which makes a solvent weld.

    Cleanout’s. Most homes should have them, it provides access to the DWV (Drain, Waste and Vent) system. If they replace the cleanout cap, some contractors will refer the cap as a “Test Cap” or “T-Cone.”

    Use a “45”, “Y” or “T”. These are all pipe fittings whose shape resembles the name.

    Change Order — a excuse they will use because they were off on there estimate or missed something in their initial evaluation. Avoid these at all cost!

    “We are going to be out of here by Friday” — Add 3 days on to that.

    “I did not make anything on this” — No different then when the car lot says they are selling you a vehicle at cost. That is there problem, not yours.

    “I will meet you at the property at ____” — Add 30 minutes on to that!

    “I need a material draw before I can do any other work” — There credit is to crummy to go anywhere and buy anything.

    “The item is on backorder.” — They forgot to order it

    “This is as about as good as I can make it.” — They don’t know how to do it.

    “This is fine for a rental property.” — A excuse to accept my poor workmanship.

    “I can get started on _____” Add a week to that.

    “We will do what we can.” — You will be disappointed soon.

    Lastly, if one contractor follows behind the work of another contractor, they will criticize there work and tell you how they would have done it better.

    Normally when you hear contractors talk about dope, it is plausible to think they are talking about something else. But dope is something they will put on pipe threads to make a seal in between the threads.

    Kevin — sorry for the long follow up and I am not trying to hijack your blog. I just felt I had some comments that the BP community would find helpful!

  4. Brian Levredge on

    You could add “rough ins” depending on the level of rehab you are doing. This describes the rough phase of plumbing, electric, and HVAC. These are done (and typically inspected) prior to closing the walls up. It also a pretty prominent item on any draw schedule-another popular term.

  5. Jessica Sorensen on

    I’m having trouble logging in from my mobile, but wanted to add… Don’t forget about the landscaping! Most bulk landscape materials (mulch, gravel, even concrete) are ordered by the cubic yard. A good rule of thumb is a 1/4 yard equals one full wheelbarrow. And if your contractor doesn’t keep a neat and orderly job site, expect to lose about a yard all over the street!

  6. Will Kirk

    This is very simple. The explanation is a Homeowner see’s one thing and a contractor sees it in his vision. Unless the Homeowner explains in depth just what they want, (diagram it) the contractor will build it as it is normally done. The Homeowner and Contractor must work closely together in understanding every detail.

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