Building & Renovating

20 Common Construction Terms, Decoded

Don't get lost in translation with your foreman and avoid mistakes with this handy, on-site guide by a project manager

Photography: Pexels

If you've done a few home improvement projects with the help of a trusted carpenter or contractor, chances are, you've heard words that may seem "alien" to you. Are you familiar with kapak, nagbubuntis, and wala sa hulog? Knowing these terms by heart can help you oversee a renovation as well as save on cash. Get started with this list:

Construction Terms and Their Meanings


Commonly understood in inches, it means a half-inch, a half-foot, or 0.5.

Workers say this when they do measurements and surveying on-site. This is essential for precise measurements, which translates to accurate fittings in construction projects.

Builders and carpenters use medya when measuring and surveying on-site. They use this particularly for tasks that require precision, such as fitting doors, windows, or other fixtures.

Porma or formwork

This is a structural term that refers to the (usually) phenolic plyboard that is used to mold concrete structural beams and posts. The plyboards are kept in place by a temporary wooden substructure until the concrete dries.


In construction, porma is critical for creating the desired shape and structure for concrete elements. It provides temporary support until the concrete cures and gains its structural integrity.


It refers to the slope of the drain on the wet areas of your home; usually in the bathrooms and kitchen. This slope allows the water to run straight to the drain. In effect, it prevents water buildup and ensures proper drainage. It also prevents issues like water pooling and damage due to moisture.


The hollow sound that you hear when the tile adhesive and cement were not applied properly during the installation of tiles (ceramic or porcelain); this means there are air pockets underneath the tile.

Keep this from happening by tapping the corners and middle part of the tile with a coin. If you hear the kapak, you have to re-install the tile. Failing to properly prepare the surface before tile installation is one of the most common mistakes that lead to kapak (air pockets).

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If you’re considering going the DIY route during tile installation, ensure that the substrate is clean, level, and free of debris before applying adhesive and tiles.

Hulog or Nasa Hulog

When the walls are vertical and aligned. To check this, carpenters use a level bar and plumb to ensure that walls are straight and properly aligned during construction or renovation projects.


The nylon used to ensure that the wall and architectural finishes like tiles and cladding are properly installed and aligned. Because installing this can be a tedious process, it’s quite tempting to skip this step. Therefore, one of the common mistakes that happen when one doesn’t use tansi is incorrect alignment of the architectural finishes like tiles. This can then result in an uneven appearance.


It means a board-up or false wall to cover imperfections on the application. It’s also used to hide the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical pipes on the soffit (the underside of an architectural structure like an arch or balcony).


Tambol usually serves as a temporary solution to cover imperfections and conceal mechanical, plumbing, and electrical pipes. In effect, it enhances the aesthetics of a space. Aside from looks, contractors and builders use tambol to hide structural elements that might be inconvenient when exposed.


The wastage from the tiles, stone, and other architectural finishes and materials. Therefore, minimizing cerrujo is essential for cost-effective construction. Builders and project managers usually track this to reduce material waste, save costs, and minimize environmental impact by optimizing material usage.


This is also known as the miter joint. A miter joint is formed when two pieces of wood or other material is cut to an angle of  90° and the line of junction bisects this angle, forming a corner or kanto. A kanto-mesa is crucial for creating neat, seamless corners and angles in various woodworking and construction projects.

Carpenters and DIY enthusiasts use this to ensure a precise fit for items like picture frames, cabinet corners, and trim work.


Rodelang Bakal

The metal trowel used for finishing on the walls. This tool is also used to smoothen the applied plaster or concrete and eventually achieve a polished surface. If you’ve never used this tool before or just a tad impatient while handling it, you may end up having rough wall surfaces. When this happens, just continue to smooth out the problematic areas until you can see no trace of the rough areas.


The honeycomb air pockets that appear on the surface of the concrete if it’s not applied correctly. If your floor has ampao, then they have to re-apply the concrete and smoothen it out properly. Another cause of ampao is inadequate concrete application. If you’re considering applying concrete by yourself, follow the recommended mixing and pouring techniques to prevent this issue.


To put everything in order and/or in-place. This usually happens before a turnover, or before the workers pack up and go home for the day. This is important to ensure that all the items used during the day are well accounted for. This can also be an indicator of the project’s overall progress. When everything is assessed and listed out, it’s easier to secure the site to prevent accidents and unauthorized access.



The application of plaster to the walls; can also mean skim-coating.

If you’re a beginner with this technique, it’s quite inevitable to have inconsistent application of plaster and end up with an uneven wall surface. In this case, you need to practice until you further refine how you do it. 


The vernacular term for the railing and balustrade of the stairs.

Gabay plays a critical role in ensuring the safety of stairs, balconies, and elevated areas by preventing falls. Architects and builders incorporate this into the design of staircases and elevated platforms to achieve combined elements of functionality and aesthetics.


This refers to the nailhead of the common carpenter's nail. It's essential to examine this surface and ensure that the nails are properly hammered and concealed in construction and woodworking projects for a neat and safe finish. In the construction scene, carpenters and builders use punsol to secure materials together discreetly. In effect, it provides structural stability without compromising the appearance.



These are rebar ties, which are used to tie together the reinforcement bars which will be poured with concrete. Improperly tying these to reinforcement bars affect the overall structural integrity of the building or home.


It means putty that is used to fill the holes and cracks of a surface to ensure a smooth finish. Incorrect application of putty can lead to an uneven or rough surface. To prevent this, you have to sand down the area for a polished finish.


The unevenness of the surface when it's supposed to be flushed and even; normally used in concreting works.

Leaving the unevenness on the surfaces meant to be flush and even can make the area rough, which can be a concern if you plan to paint over the surface. It may also be an issue if you need to have something installed there. To prevent this, you have to pay close attention to leveling and smoothing surfaces during concreting projects.



It means piling of materials in a pallet to keep the materials organized on-site. This is crucial for maintaining an orderly, efficient, and safe construction site. In addition, contractors and construction teams do this to improve workflow on-site.


It refers to the pattern used for cutting. This term is commonly used by furniture manufacturers.

Plantilla, also sometimes known as pamplantilya, helps ensure accurate and consistent cutting of materials. In the long run, it reduces waste and errors. Furniture manufacturers and carpenters use this tool to trace and cut materials precisely. As a result, they obtain well-fitted components for their projects.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to understand construction terms?

Understanding construction terms is crucial because it allows homeowners, contractors, and builders to communicate effectively during construction or renovation projects. It helps ensure that everyone involved has a clear understanding of the tasks, materials, and processes involved, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and mistakes.


Who are the people who usually use these terms?

Construction terms are commonly used by various professionals and individuals involved in the construction industry. This includes carpenters, contractors, architects, engineers, construction workers, and even homeowners overseeing their own projects.

Will the staff in hardware shops have trouble understanding me if I use these terms?

In general, staff in hardware shops are familiar with common construction terms and can assist customers who use them. However, it's a good idea to be clear and specific when communicating to ensure you get the right materials or tools. If you're unsure, you can always provide additional details or ask for clarification.

What are the origins of these terms?

The origins of construction terms can vary. Many of these terms have evolved over time and are influenced by local dialects, traditions, and practices in the construction industry. Some terms may have cultural or historical significance, while others are specific to certain regions or trades within the construction field. Understanding the origins of these terms can provide insight into the history and practices of construction in a particular area or community.


This article first appeared in an issue of Real Living magazine. With reports from Nica Jose.

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