A Quick and Dirty Guide to House Terminology

Posted by Dallas Luxury Realty on Friday, June 1st, 2012 at 5:55am.

If you're in the market for a home, or you're fixing up yours to sell, chances are pretty good you'd like to know what "that sticky-outy bit" or "that thing with the holes" or "those parts that go down" are called. We've put together a list of the commonly sought-after (and often misnamed) parts of a house, so your REALTOR® doesn't have to dust off Ye Olde Book of Architecture just to understand what you're trying to say.

  • Stair stringer. Also known as stringer board or just string, this is the portion of the staircase that runs the length of the side of the stairs. Technically, there are two stringers, one on either side, but if the staircase is against a wall, you'll typically only see one stringer. The riser of the stair is the vertical part you might accidentally stub your toe on as you walk up the staircase, perpendicular to the tread of the stair, where you'd tread, obviously. Another fun fact: the space underneath a staircase is called a spandrel. Usually this is used as a spot for storage.
  • Antique Door KnockerFlashing. No, we're not talking about the time-honored frat boy tradition, this is good clean weatherproofing. If you watch a lot of home improvement shows, you'll know that flashing can sometimes be improperly installed. Some older homes have no flashing at all, and/or use some very creative, yet effective, materials. Absent or flimsy flashing is not usually a terribly expensive, or difficult, thing to remedy, however, and a good inspector will let you know if any of the flashing in your potential home (or the home you're hoping to sell) is not up to snuff.
  • Chair rail vs. wainscoting. These two items are often confused with one another. Nowadays entirely decorative, chair rail, also called a dado rail, had a legitimate use when walls were finished with fragile plaster. These strips of moulding, installed at around 36" from the floor around the perimeter of a room, were used to protect the walls from contact with chairs and other furniture. Oftentimes, skirting board is used below chair rails to offer even more protection. Wainscoting (or beadboard) is another term now used for the panelling often seen with chair rails, although this traditional feature was originally intended to insulate rooms in stone buildings.
  • Chimney breast. The most basic explanation of this term is that it is what is directly above the fireplace. In other words, it is the interior portion of the chimney that projects over the firebox and out into the room. The chimney jambs are the parts of the chimney that surround either side of the fireplace, supporting the breast. The hearth, is of course, the horizontal portion of the fireplace that forms the part of the floor directly in front of the fire box. This is usually made of stone, brick, tile, or other fire-proof materials, although with the advent of electric/ornamental fireplaces, sometimes the hearth is made of wood or is entirely non-existent.

Hopefully these terms will come in handy the next time you view homes, or perhaps they'll allow you to more easily express to your REALTOR® the qualities you're searching for in your future house. If nothing else, using them at the next cocktail party you attend will make you look like you really know your stuff!

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