Sebastian's Technical Glossary

Building pathology & construction technology, architecture, civil, structural, forensic, mechanical, pavement and materials engineering with elements of testing and quality science.

Online mostly American English/French/Romanian

By A. Sebastian

© 1995 - 1998 A. Sebastian. All rights reserved.

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Glossary on Construction and Building Pathology

First and foremost, this is a construction dictionary with English explanations. Given the difficulty that faces the Romance language speaker to relate to technical English (and the other way around), whenever possible, the corresponding equivalents are given (where genus choices are possible, only the masculine is shown). Some reference standards are also indicated. If you have a better translation, please e-mail it to us for consideration / inclusion / credit.

Items currently in the works may show in italics.


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C concrete/mortar/grout
Ch chemistry
P paints/coatings
M masonry
R roofing
T testing
Th technology
Tr transportation/pavement engineering
W wood, timber [v] verb
[n] noun



AASHTO American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

Abnormal Failure Artificially induced malfunction/failure of a component

Abrasion (F abrasion, R abraziune, frecare)Wear or removal of the surface of a solid material as a result of relative movement of other solid bodies in contact with it (BS CP3)

Abrasion resistance (R rezistenta de frecare) Ability of a construction element to resist mechanical abrasion such as foot traffic and wind blown particles which tend to progressively remove materials from exposed surfaces such as roofing the membranes

Absolute Pressure Transducer A transducer that has an internal reference chamber sealed at or close to 0 psia (full vacuum) and normally provides increasing output voltage for increases in pressure

Absolute Pressure Gage pressure plus atmospheric pressure

Absorbtion (F absorption, R absorbtie) entry and/or retention (of a fluid) into the bulk of a solid material by virtue of the porosity / capilarity (BS 892)

Acceleration (R acceleratie) The first derivative of velocity with respect to time. Units expressed in "g"

Accelerometer A transducer which converts mechanical motion into an electrical signal that is proportional to the acceleration value of the motion; it measures acceleration or gravitational force capable of imparting acceleration

Accuracy (R exactitate)The combined error of nonlinearity, repeatability, and hysteresis expressed as a percent of full scale output

Accuracy vs. Precision (R exactitate si precizie)If the actual value is 5.321 and you say that it is 5.30, then you are precise to 3 places but inaccurate by .021. If a value is represented as a bullseye on a target, a group of guesses or measurements represented by closely grouped points have a high degree of precision. If that group is near the center, it is highly accurate as well. On a bullseye, think of accuracy as how close to the center your arrow hits, and your measurement of precision as how closely you can group your shots

Acrylic resin One of a group of thermoplastic resins formed by polymerization of esters or amides of acrylic acid; used in concrete or masonry construction as a bonding agent or surface sealer.

A/D Converter (also mentioned as 'A/D' or 'ADC') analog-to-digital converter. An instrument which converts real-world analog signals into a digital format that can be processed by a computer

Adhesion (F adésion, R adeziune, aderenta, lipire)The force that resists the separation of two bodies in contact (BS 5168)

Admixture (F adjuvant, R adaos) C A material, other than aggregate, cementitious material or water, added in small quantities to the mix in order to produce some (desired) modifications, either to the properties of the mix or of the hardened product (BS 4049)

Adsorbtion (F adsorption, R adsorptie)Attachment of a substance to the surface of a solid by virtue of forces arising from molecular attraction (BS 892). Retention (of water vapor) as a surface layer on a material

AEC (US) Atomic Energy Commission, 1947-1974. Broken up in 1974 into the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Later ERDA became the Department of Energy

Aluminum ("aluminium' in Canada and most Europe) (R Aluminiu) symbol Al, most abundant metallic element in the earth's crust. The atomic number of aluminum is 13; the atomic weight is 26.9815. Aluminum is a lightweight, silvery metal. In contact with air, aluminum rapidly becomes covered with a tough, transparent layer of aluminum oxide that resists corrosion. Aluminum is never found as alone but commonly occurs as aluminum silicate or as a silicate of aluminum mixed with other metals. Expensive to refine, these silicates are not useful ores. Bauxite, an impure hydrated aluminum oxide, is the commercial source of aluminum and its compounds. A low-cost technique dating from the 1880s is still the major method of production. Aluminum weighs less than one-third as much as steel. Its high strength-to-weight ratio makes aluminum useful in many applications

Ambient (F ambiant, R ambiant, inconjurator)Surrounding. Usually used in the context of environmental conditions, eg. temperature or noise (BS 4275)

Ambient Compensation The design of an instrument such that changes in ambient temperature do not affect the readings of the instrument

Ambient Conditions (R conditii inconjuratoare) Conditions around a transducer (pressure, temperature, etc.)

  • ~ Pressure Pressure of the air surrounding a transducer
  • ~ Temperature The average or mean temperature of the surrounding air which comes in contact with the equipment and instruments under test

    Anchor (F ancrage, R ancora) Device providing a fixing to a solid surface

    Anemometer (R anemometru) Instrument for measuring and/or indicating the velocity of air flow

    Anion (R anion) Negatively charged ion (Cl-, NO3-, S2-, etc.)

    ANSI American National Standards Institute: this organization represents the United States in the ISO (International Organization for Standardization)

    Application Program Computer program that accomplishes specific tasks, such as word processing

    ASME American Society of Mechanical Engineers

    Asphalt (R Asfalt) Black petroleum residue, which can be anywhere from solid to semisolid at room temperature. When heated to the temperature of boiling water, it becomes pourable. It is used in roofing materials, surfacing roads, in lining the walls of water-retaining structures such as reservoirs and swimming pools, and in manufacturing floor tiles. Asphalt should not be confused with tar, a similar looking substance made from coal or wood and incompatible with petroleum derivates

    ASTM American Society for Testing and Materials

    Atomic Number (symbolized Z) (R Numar Atomic)The number of protons in a nucleus. It determines the chemical properties of an element

    Atomic Weight (R greutate atomica) The nominal atomic weight of an isotope is given by the sum of the number of neutrons and protons in each nucleus. The exact atomic weight differs fractionally from that whole number because neutrons are slightly heavier than protons and the mass of the nucleus is also affected by the binding energy

    Auto-Zero Automatic internal correction for offsets and/or drift at zero voltage input

    AWG American Wire Gage

    AWS Automated Weather Station measures environmental factors such as air temperature, relative humidity, rain, wind, ground temperature, solar radiation and air pressure

    Axial Load (R incarcare axiala) Load applied along or parallel to and concentric with the primary axis


    Background Noise -T The total noise floor from all sources of interference in a measurement system, independent of the presence of a data signal

    Bearing (F porteur, R reazem, suport, baza) The linear or areal dimension over which a higher component transmits load to a lower component

    Bedding (F scellement, R baza, pat) A layer, usually of concrete or mortar, for providing continuous support to such items as bricks, slabs, pipes (BS 892, 5385). VAR. to embed (F sceller)

    Blackbody A theoretical object that radiates the maximum amount of energy at a given temperature, and absorbs all the energy incident upon it. A blackbody is not necessarily black. (The name blackbody was chosen because the color black is defined as the total absorption of light energy)

    Bleeding (F ressuage) C: The separation of water from an unhardened mix (BS 4049). P: The process of diffusion of a soluble colored substance from, into, and through a paint or varnish coating from beneath, thus producing an undesirable staining or discoloration (BS 2015). Used similarly to refer to the transfer of soluble material from bitumen impregnated roofing materials, in lime-rich water, causing staining of soffits of concrete slab roofs

    Blister (F poches d'air, R basica, umflatura) A local separation of a surface layer causing a raised area on the surface with a cavity below, usually happening in flat roofs

    Bond (F adhérence, R aderenta) Adherence between materials such as bricks/mortar, or plies of felt, or between felts and other elements of roof systems, which use bitumen or other materials as the cementing agent

    Bridge (R Punte) Wheatstone bridge configuration utilizing four active strain gages

    BTU (btu) British thermal units; the quantity of thermal energy required to raise one pound of water at its maximum density, 1 degree F. One BTU is equivalent to .293 watt hours, or 252 calories. One kilowatt hour is equivalent to 3412 BTU

    Building Envelope cladding + roof system


    Capillarity (F capillarity, R capilaritate) Absorbtion of a liquid due to surface tension _ "rising damp" (R Igrasie) in walls is caused by capillary rise of the water in small pores of the walling materials

    Carbonation (F carbonatation, R carbonare, carbonatie) C: The transformation of the free alkali and alkali-earth hydroxides existent in the cement matrix into carbonates, due to a reaction with carbon dioxide available in the atmosphere.

    Cell Test cells of 500 feet length are constructed for various combinations of bituminous, concrete and aggregate. They represent a wide range of pavement types with varying combinations of surface, base, subbase, drainage and compaction

    Cladding (F bardage, R vener, although the cladding/air barrier concept is not normally used in Romanian construction) The external covering to the frame or structural walls of a building or structure (BS 5168). The veneer is non- loadbearing, and as such it is designed to carry only its own weight (dry and/or wet), and a limited number of loads such as wind and seism. In relationship with the structure it encloses, it can be either fully bonded or sepparated by an air barrier

    Condensation (F condensation, R condensatie) Precipitation of liquid from its vapor resulting from lowering of the temperature under constant pressure, especially the deposition of water from warm moist air on to a relatively cold surface (BS 5643)

    Corrosion (F corrosion, R coroziune) Deterioration of a metal by chemical or electrochemical reaction with its environment (BS 3660). Occasionally used, incorrectly, to apply to non-metallic materials, eg. concrete

    Crack (F fissure, R crapatura) Linear discontinuity produced by fracture (BS 499). Elongated narrow opening. Synonyms can include: break, split, fracture, fissure, separation, cleavage, in various applications

    Crazing (R paienjenis de crapaturi) Network of surface cracks (BS 3446). Used generally to describe surface cracking of concrete surfaces and paint film. Also used specifically to describe the fine network cracking of ceramic glazes by, for example, differential thermal expansion between glaze and tile body, or moisture expansion of the body

    Creep (F fluage, R curgere lenta) Slow deformation of a stressed material at temperatures which may be within or above the normal working range of the material (BS 1755)

    CRREL USACE/Cold Regions Research Engineering Laboratory (great institutution, although strangely enough it is located in Western NH)


    Dampness (F humidité superficielle, R umiditate, umezeala, igrasie) Condition of being slightly wet: usually not so wet that liquid water is evident, eg. wetness caused by condensation on a porous substrate or water transmitted up a porous wall by capillarity

    DCP (Dynamic Cone Penetrometer) Instrument used to measure the strength of soil and granular materials used in roadway construction

    Decomposition (F décomposition, R descompunere) The separation of a material into elements or parts

    Defect (F défaut, R defect) The non-conformity of the result of a test with the specification for a characteristic (ISO 2071). In Building Pathology, used sometimes almost as a synonym of 'fault' or 'failure', but preferred meaning is to indicate only a deviation from some (perceived) standard which may, but will not necessarily result in a failure

    Delamination (R destratificare) The breakdown of a material by separation of the layers of which it is composed

    Deterioration (F détérioration, R deteriorare, stricare) A reduction in ability to perform up to the anticipated standard

    Deviation (F ecart) Divergence of the value of a quantity from a standard or reference value (BS 5233). Used generally to indicate a divergence from what was originally intended.

    Dipstick The dipstick is an instrument used to calculate the elevation profile of the road.

    Drainage It is an important aspect of controlling water flow in your homes. Drainage issues normally happen because standing water or what we see as "little puddles" are kept intact and form pools within parts of your house. Other drainage problems could be a result of soil that is marshy or a rainy weather like in Sydney, Australia. When water has difficulty to drain correctly, your building is in danger. The water will simply sit and saturate the earth, your roof, your walls or your floor always leading to stains, leaks, rust that can slowly ruin parts of your home.

    Sydney's drainage problem can be worse

    Water ruining or destroying the building can be the worst enemy of engineers and plumbers alike. A leak may cause pipes to spew pools of water, to break open roofing, initiate rust in metal parts and chipping walls that disintegrate causing an ugly stain or worse these whole parts of your home could fall down if seeping water is continued to be ignored. Also, water can seep deep into rug and wood flooring behind the wall, leading to potential mold growth. Some molds can be hazardous to your health, especially if you have small kids. Water may also wreak havoc on the exterior of a home too. When water outside of a house accumulates, it is usually because of drainage issues.

    Poor drainage can also result in plumbing problems that can result in damage to property. A professional plumber in a big city like Sydney is the right person to call when drainage problems are at hand. They can effectively identify the cause of any drainage problem and pipe blockages that are often the root cause of any water damage in the building. Even when water damage is not there yet, regular plumbing maintenance is the key to avoid future hassles of poor drainage and plumbing disasters

    Durability (F durability, R longevitate) The quality of maintaining satisfactory aesthetic, economic, and functional performance for the useful life of the structure

    Dynamic Sensors traffic triggered sensors


    Efflorescence (F efflorescence). White salts brought to the surface of porous building materials by water movement (BS 4049)

    Embedded Strain Gauge A sensor that measures static and horizontal strains in concrete and asphalt layers by means of five different models placed in various locations and orientations.

    Exfiltration (R prelingere) Leakage out of a material or structure


    Failure (F défaillance, R distrugere, dezastru, pierderea functionalitatii) The termination of the ability of an item to perform a required function. See defect & fault

    Fatigue (R oboseala) The weakening of a material caused by repeated or alternating loads; may be used in conjunction with either static or dynamic loading (BS 2787)

    Fault (F 1.imperfection, vice, R 1.defect, 2.falie) 1) Any defect which impairs normal operation (BS CP1013); 2) geologic discontinuity where seismic events start. See failure & defect

    Faultmeter A Georgia Digital instrument that measures vertical displacement between joints with a digital readout. Measurements are positive or negative and be recorded for a number of joints

    FHWA (US) Federal Highway Administration

    Fissure (F fissure, R fisura, crapatura) crack or split

    Fracture (F fracturer, R fractura, rupere, ruptura)[n or v] To make or become discontinuous otherwise than by cutting. Usually of relatively brittle materials

    Fungus (F moisi, R fungi, ciuperca, mucegai) A plant growth obtaining its nutrition by breakdown of organic matter, usually associated with the presence of dampness, eg. in timber. The plants are characterized by the absence of chlorophyll (BS 4261)

    Fungal growth (F moisissure). mold. Upward movement of soil (ground) or of a structure which it supports

    FWD (Falling Weight Deflectometer) Instrument that determines the structual condition of each pavement layer.


    Grout extremely fluid mixture of sand and gravel; ASTM C476, ACI530.1/ASCE6/TMS602


    Honeycombing (F caverneux) usually used to refer to a defective condition in concrete. The concrete contains interconnecting large voids due to loss or lack of mortar

    Horizontal Clip Gauge Tr: sensor that measures the width of concrete joint openings.


    Infiltration (F infiltration, R infiltratie) leakage into a material or structure; water ingress

    Integrity (F bon état, R intregime) in Building Pathology: soundness, with no part or element deficient in performance

    Inquiry (R ancheta, cercetare) Official, or semi-official, examination of a case, with the aim of establishing cause, blame, etc.

    Interstitial occurring within the thickness of some material element. usually used in the context of 'interstitial condensation' which means condensation which occurs within the thickness of a building element or within its component materials


    Joint (F joint) (construction -, expansion -, control -) Position where two or more building materials, components or assemblies are put together, fixed or united, with or without the use of extra jointing products (BS DD22)


    Limit state (F etat limit, R stare limita) State at which performance criteria are just met

    Loss Consequences of a defect or failure, expressed in terms of costs, injuries, loss of life, etc.

    LTPP Long Term Pavement Performance

    LVDT Linear Variable Differential Transformer. A sensor consisting of two components anchored at different levels to measure the relative vertical deflection of pavement layers

    LVR (Low Volume Road) 2.5 mile loop where controlled truck weight and traffic volume simulate conditions on rural roads


    Maintenance (F maintenance, R intretinere) combination of any actions carried out to retain an item in, or restore it to, an acceptable condition (BS 5405)

    Masonry (R zidarie) the science, art, craft and trade of building in natural or artificial stone. The term is often extended to work in brick and tile. Ancient examples of immense irregular blocks of stone, laid together without mortar, have been found throughout Europe, Americas, Africa, and Asia. The ancient Greeks and Romans developed masonry techniques that are still used today. Rubble masonry uses irregular and coarsely jointed quarried or field stone. Ashlar masonry contains carefully worked stones set with fine, close joints. Either kind of masonry may be laid with or without mortar

    Mildew (F mildiou, R mucegai)mold whenever it occurs on fabrics, leather, etc.

    Mold, Can/Brit: mould (F moisissure, feutrage de champignons de petite taille, R mucegai). Woolly or powdery fungal growth that forms on the surface of materials in damp, stagnant atmospheres

    Mortar (R mortar) mixture of lime and/or cement with sand and water, used either as a binding material for bricks and stone or as a plaster


    Neutron Probe Sensors that measure the total, frozen and unfrozen, moisture content in the pavement structure


    Open Standpipe Pipe that has been placed vertically into the ground to measure the water table level.


    Pave Tech Van Vehicle with three cameras that record video images of the pavement surface, pavement profile, rutting and faulting. Performance (Fr.: Performance). A quantitative expression of behaviour related to use (BS 4949)

    Piezo Accelerometer Sensor that measures the vertical acceleration of concrete slabs under dynamic loadings. The resulting data, when integrated twice, yields deflections

    Pore Water Pressure Gauge Sensors that measure static and and dynamic soil pore water pressures using two different models

    Preservation (F préservation, R refacere) The technology of protecting wood from deterioration by living organisms by application of chemical wood preservatives (BS 4261)


    Regulations (F réglementation, R ordin, detalii de aplicare a legii) Requirements laid down by law (eg. Government enacted Building Regulations) or which satisfy the law in some respect

    Rehabilitate Extensive maintenance intended to bring property or building up to current acceptable condition, often involving improvements (BS 3811)

    Renovate (F rénover, R (a) renova) Generally used to mean 'restore'

    Repair (R (a) repara, reparatie) to restore an item to an acceptable condition by the renewal, replacement or mending of decayed or damaged parts (BS 3811)

    Restore (F restaurer) to bring back an item to its original appearance or state (BS 3811)

    Restraint (R constringere, legatura) the partial or total restriction of movement. A device which produces this effect

    Resistivity Probe sensors that measure depths of freezing and thawing fronts in the pavement structure

    Rutting Dipstick a manually operated device used to record transverse profiles for the bituminous cells

    Resistivity Probe sensors that measure depths of freezing and thawing fronts in the pavement structure


    Settlement (F tassement, affaisement, R tasare) Downward movement of the soil or of a structure which it supports (BS 892)

    Shrinkage (F contraction, R contractie) Decrease in length or volume

    Soil Pressure Gauge Sensors that measure static and dynamic stresses, both vertical and horizontal, in soils and other unbounded layers.

    Spall (F eclat, R spartura superficiala, tandara) A flaky fragment, usually produced by a blow, or by the action of weather or pressure

    Spalling (F eclatement, R spargere superficiala, fragmentare; spall=aschie, tandara) detachment of fragments, usually of flaky shape, from a larger mass by a blow, or by the action of weather or pressure; chipping of stone, masonry or concrete (BS 2787)

    Split (F delitement, clivage, R crapatura, clivaj) Break in a material, approximately parallel with the natural grain or cleavage of the material

    Stain (R pata) [v, n] To discolor. An uncontrolled discoloration, usually on concrete, masonry, and wood

    Static Sensors Those sensors that generate data at 15 minute intervals Examples are weather sensors, etc.

    Stitching [M restoration] insertion of new bricks to replace existing damaged bricks


    Thermal shock (R Soc termic) force, arising out of thermal expansion or contraction, which causes disruption of a material on sudden heating or cooling

    Thermohygrograph (F Thermohygrographe) Device that measures and records simultaneously air temperature and relative humidity (BS 5643)


    USACE US Army Corps of Engineers

    Upstand Portion of roof covering turned up against a vertical surface, yet not necessarily tucked into a groove (BS 2717)


    Void (in the context of cellular materials, such as concrete) cavity formed either intentionally or unintentionally (ISO 1382)


    Warp (F Voilement, R Deformare, Distorsiune) Change from a straight or true plane condition

    Water vapor (F Vapeur d'eau, R vapori de apa) creates a pressure just like any other gas. Cold air has a relatively low vapor pressure, while warm air (with larger amounts of water vapor) has a greater pressure. The difference in pressure cause the vapor to penetrate building materials in the direction from high to low vapor pressure

    Wrinkle (F Ride, R rid) slight ridge caused by folding, rumpling or creasing. In roofing may refer to the common wrinkled pattern that forms over the joints of insulation in insulated roof systems. buckling

    Weather (R Vreme, Climat) To degrade under the action of the weather. Also used to describe the inclusion of a slight slope to throw off rainwater, eg. on a sill

    Weathering (R for 1: Imbatrinire) 1) Action of weathter in producing degradation; aging 2) Alternatively used as a noun to describe a slight construction slope designed to throw off rainwater


    Yield (F limite elastique, R limita elastica, It.: Snervamento) permanent deformation which a material undergoes when it is stressed beyond its elastic limit



    A. Sebastian: "Essential Construction & Architectural Engineering Dictionary"

    Webster, formerly known as a "Dictionary of the American Language" (whatever that might mean)

    American Heritage Dictionary

    Encarta, a barely passable product from a much less than passable corporation

    Echo-Eurodicatum: although sliding down fast, it is still the power house to beat in web multilingual dictionaries (

    TechDico, Logos (

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