Home improvement terminology, USA vs UK

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Hey buddy! (Good afternoon old chap!)

Home improvements remain similar in both the UK and America but words used by contractors and tradesmen vary wildly between the 2 countries, which side of the pond are you on?

The media always go on and on about our “special relationship” with our friends across the ocean in America, but apart from speaking the same language, how different are the common words and phrases our tradespeople are likely to use during their working day?

I spent some time many years ago working in the USA and my first few weeks on site were confusing to say the least, but I was just some limey (!) and my fellow contractors taught me all I needed to know, in between taking the mickey out of my accent!

Regardless of that, our blog gets thousands of visitors from the USA each week so I thought if I published this handy guide (which will be added to over time), maybe we can put to bed some misunderstandings between the nations?

You may be surprised at how different, and confusing the English language can be!

We often get asked questions on our Facebook page about various DIY issues, and often when someone American asks a question, I have to think really hard about what words to use.

After all if I told an American they need to “get their builder in to replace the timber next to the slates on the gable end”, they will wonder what the hell this limey is going on about.

Here are some phrases that you would hear uttered by your local home improvement company here in the UK, and the equivalent words in the USA. This also includes a smattering of words we use in England to describe various bits of our homes, and the equivalent American English counterpart.

cowboy builders

UK                                    USA (in italics)

  • General builder (UK English): General contractor (American English)
  • Building regs: Planning codes       ”                       ”
  • Dry lining: Drywall
  • Casement window: Awning window
  • Artex: Popcorn ceiling
  • Loft or attic: Crawlspace
  • DPM (damp proof membrane): Blackerboard
  • Plasterboard: Sheetrock
  • Render: Stucco
  • Roofline or fascias: Roof trim
  • Pre-cast concrete panels: Cement board
  • Bay Window: Bow window
  • Roof tiles/slates: Shingles
  • Pilkington glass: ClarityOne glass
  • Architrave: Moulding
  • Dado rail: Chair rail
  • Tongue and groove: Clapboard
  • Drainpipe: Downspout
  • Gutters: Raincatchers (Eavestrough in Canada)
  • Cladding: Siding
  •  Sealed unit window: Fixed Lite
  • Glass slats (opening for ventilation): Jalousies
  • Foundations: Footings
  • Rough cast mortar finish: Parging
  • RSJ or lintel: Girder
  • Opaque window (often in a bathroom): Obscure window
  • Sliding patio doors: Picture windows
  • Curtains: Drapes
  • Timber (wooden planks): Lumber
  • DIY store: Hardware store
  • Crack filling: Caulking
  • Repossession: Foreclosure
  • Garden: Yard
  • Skirting board: Baseboard
  • Tap (e.g. bathroom): Faucet
  • Dust sheets: Drop cloths
  • Load-bearing wall: Bearing wall
  • Terraced house: Row house
  • Flat. Apartment
  • Maisonette: Duplex
  • Planning permission: Building permit
  • Listed building: Historic building (NRHP)
  • Snagging list: Punch list
  • Major alterations: Remodelling
  • Specification or plans: Scope of work
  • Facade: Veneer
  • Window frame: Window case
  • Planning law: Zoning

Do you know of a word we have missed out?

Then let us know by sending us a message. I hope you found this resource useful and please do us a favour (or a favor?) by sharing with others! Thanks


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