Your guide to home renovation terminology you need to know

Home renovation terminology, custom design bathroom vanity

Are you planning a home renovation or remodeling project? How exciting! (And do let us know if you need an experienced home renovation partner). 

If this is your first time renovating, you will quickly learn that the process comes with a language of its own. From discussing design plans with professionals to understanding contracts and permits, familiarity with home renovation terminology can help reduce potential confusion and overwhelm as you go through the process. 

Whether you’re planning a minor upgrade or a major overhaul, here are some essential home renovation terms you need to know to ensure a smooth and successful experience: 


  • Abrasion wear: Distress or blemishes on a surface due to friction.
  • Accent color: A color that contrasts other colors in a room to create a visual focus.
  • Accent lighting: Lighting that highlights specific decor or structural elements.
  • Alcove: A small recess in a room, often used as a lounge area, such as a reading nook.
  • Allowance: Budget set aside for a specific finish or selection.
  • Antique finish: Wood staining or weathering used to make an object appear aged.
  • Arched window: A window shaped with a rectangular bottom half and a rounded top half.
  • Awning window: A window hinged at the top, allowing it to swing outward.


  • Backfill: Gravel or soil filled around the home’s foundation.
  • Backsplash: Strip of material, often tile or marble, behind a kitchen sink and counters.
  • Baluster: Pillar used to support a railing; can be both decorative and functional.
  • Baseboard: Wood molding covering the joint between the wall and the floor.
  • Bay window: Window that projects outward from the wall, often with three sides at 120-degree angles.
  • Bid: A written offer detailing the services of the renovation company and the price they will charge.
  • Blue porch ceiling: The practice of painting porch ceilings blue has its roots deeply embedded in Southern folklore and tradition.
  • Bow window: Similar to a bay window but often with five sides instead of three, creating a less angular design.
  • Built-in: Cabinetry permanently attached to a wall.

Here’s an example of a haint blue porch ceiling from a Southern Coastal-style home we built in Waterman’s Bluff

Porch Ceilings Blue


  • Ceramic tiles: Clay tiles hardened in a heating process, often decorated with shapes or glaze.
  • Change order: Modification to the original contract made in writing, often resulting in changes to price, timeline, or other elements.
  • Colorfast: The degree to which a pigment, paint, or dye maintains its color despite aging and exposure to light.
  • Construction contract: A legal document detailing the work to be done, including specifications, pricing, payment schedule, and warranty information.
  • Covenant: Rules set forth by the community prohibiting certain changes to the appearance of a home.


  • Designer: Artist or artisan who conceptualizes design plans.
  • Double glazing: Window that uses two panes of glass with gas between each pane, improving efficiency and heat retention.
  • Double hung window: Window with two vertically sliding sections, opened by sliding the bottom section up or the top section down.
  • Dry rot: Decay of wood caused by fungal growth in poorly ventilated areas.
  • Drywall: Material used to create ceiling and wall surfaces, offering versatility in construction.


  • Earth tone colors: A relatively neutral color palette using desaturated greens, browns, and grays for a natural or organic look.
  • Eggshell finish: Paint finish between matte and semi-gloss.
  • Energy Star products: Appliances or products proven to meet standards set by the EPA


  • Finishes: The final surface treatments applied to various architectural elements, such as walls, floors, and fixtures, including paints, stains, varnishes, and sealants, to enhance aesthetics, durability, and functionality. View our Finishes & Accents gallery. 
  • Finish coat: The final coat for a wall, defining the luster of the surface.
  • Fixture: Functional, non-furniture items such as sinks, bathtubs, toilets, etc.
  • Flat paint finish: A dull finish, also known as matte finish.
  • French doors: Doors with glass panes throughout most of the surface.

We love the beautiful blue French doors of Modern Farmhouse One. 


  • Glass tile: Durable and easy-to-clean material often used in kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Gloss finish: Highly reflective finish, easier to clean than matte finish.
  • Grouting: Filling the spaces between wall and floor tiles to secure them to the base.
  • Granite: Stone material often used for countertops, offering durability and variety in colors and patterns. Check out our Kitchen Inspiration Gallery


  • Hardwood flooring: Durable flooring of wood with a urethane finish, available in various species and patterns.
  • Hearth: Floor in front of a fireplace, often made of brick or stone.
  • Hopper window: Window jointed at the top, opening inward and into the home for ventilation.


  • Insulating glass: Window or door glass with gas sealed between panes, improving energy efficiency.


  • Jamb: Lining of a doorway or aperture, bearing the weight of a door.


  • Labor hour: Timeframe and equivalent cost by which a single person works on a renovation.
  • Limestone: Stone material sometimes used as a countertop; susceptible to wear, especially from acids.
  • Load bearing wall: Wall supporting other elements of the structure, removal of which requires alternative support.


  • Main vent: Central vent through which all other vents are connected.
  • Marble tile: Porous stone tile with a swirling pattern, suitable for floors and walls.
  • Matte finish: Flat, non-reflective surface, contrasted with glossy finish.
  • Molding: Ornamental detailing, applied at the top or bottom of a wall.


  • Neutral colors: Colors of various shades of gray for a versatile and timeless look.
  • Niche: Recess in a wall, used for displaying objects or as a sitting area.


  • Panel: Large piece of wood used as a decorative feature on a wall.
  • Parquet: Wood flooring panels arranged in a geometric pattern, offering a unique aesthetic.
  • Payment schedule: Agreed-upon timeline of payments based on project milestones.
  • Permit: Government-issued document allowing for renovations, ensuring compliance with regulations.


  • Quote: Final price presented by the contractor for materials and labor.


  • Rendering: A detailed, photorealistic illustration or digital representation of a proposed renovation project, providing a visual preview of the final outcome
  • Remodeling contractor: Oversees a construction project, managing team members and materials.
  • Resilient flooring: Engineered flooring made of both natural and synthetic materials, offering durability and ease of maintenance.
  • Rough carpentry: Structural carpentry focused on roofing, framing, and form work.

Here’s a rendering showing what a home we’re building will look like when it’s complete:


  • Schematic: Rough line drawing of a room, displaying its shape and dimensions.
  • Scope of work: Detailed list and description of renovation work to be done.
  • Subcontractor: Hired by the general contractor to perform specific tasks within the renovation project.

You may also be interested in: Is it better to renovate or build new? 


  • Tile: Ceramic, porcelain, or stone material used for flooring and walls, offering durability and versatility.
  • Transom window: Thin, horizontal window above a door, allowing additional light into a room.
  • Trim: Finishing element including moldings for interior and exterior surfaces.


  • Walk-through: Final inspection of the renovation project to ensure all work has been completed to satisfaction.
  • Weatherization: The process of making a home more energy-efficient by sealing air leaks, adding insulation, and upgrading windows and doors to minimize heat loss or gain, improving comfort and reducing energy costs.
  • Window treatments: Coverings applied to windows for privacy, light control, and aesthetics.

Learn more about the Zip System we use for weatherization:


Are you ready to turn your house into the home of your dreams?

We’re here to help you every step of the way with our free Home Renovation Checklist. 

Home Renovation Checklist

We hope that familiarizing yourself with these essential home renovation terms makes you feel better equipped to communicate effectively with contractors, make informed decisions, and navigate the renovation process with confidence. 

At John Merrill Homes, we understand that starting a home renovation can be daunting. That’s why we’re here to guide you every step of the way. From initial consultation to final walkthrough, we’re committed to turning your renovation dreams into reality. Get in touch to learn more about our home remodeling and renovation services

Interested in the latest design essentials, premium materials, and trending colors? 

Download our 2024 Interior Design Lookbook now!

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