Restoration Glossary

Term Definition
Alligatoring

Alligatoring describes a particular way in which exterior paint can fail. Alligatored paint on the exterior of a house is caused by heavily built-up layers of paint that become brittle. Over time, successive layers of paint dry out, and small cracks in the paint layers (called crazing) develop. These breaks in the protective paint coating allow moisture to penetrate through to the underlying wood, which then swells with moisture, causing the paint layers above to crack further. Larger stress fractures in the paint film develop and the paint surface cracks into small, uneven boxes that resemble alligator hide.

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Barge Board

Barge board, also sometimes known as verge board, is an exterior trim board covering a rafter which extends beyond a gable wall along the edge of the roof from gable peak to eave. It is often embellished and decorative. Use of ornate barge boards is a particularly common and distinctive feature of Carpenter Gothic and Gothic Revival homes from the mid-nineteenth century.

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Beaux Arts
The Beaux Arts style is based on French architecture of the late 19th century. Beaux Arts buildings are usually of light-colored masonry and often display classical detailing such as columns or pilasters. While they have many of the same details found on other classically inspired buildings, Beaux Arts buildings are characterized by their preponderance of surface decoration, which can include decorative garlands, floral patterns, or shield motifs. Roof-line balustrades of masonry are also common.
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Belvederes

A small, square cupola that functions as a lookout tower, located at the top of a building. Belvederes are characteristic of Italianate houses.

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Board-and-batten

A wooden siding treatment in which wide, vertically oriented boards are separated by narrower strips of wood called “battens,” which form the joints between the boards. 

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Bungalow

A Bungalow is a type of house which became popular in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century and often exhibits Craftsman stylistic details (thus the term Craftsman Bungalow). Bungalows are typically modest in size and one-and-one-half stories tall. Other commonly found features include: raised foundations, simple floor plans, deep porches, and gently-sloped roofs with wide overhangs.

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Cape Cod

A Cape Cod house is distinguished as an architectural style in that a type or form relates to the shape of the house and may be constructed using details of one or a combination of various styles. The Cape Cod house type is typically modest in size, one-and-one-half stories tall and two rooms deep. Other typical features include: steeply pitched gable roofs; large central chimneys; and minimal roof overhangs. A “full cape” is typically five bays wide with a symmetrical façade.

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Casement Window

A window frame that is hinged on one vertical side, and which swings open to either the inside or the outside of the building. Casement windows often occur in pairs.

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Casing

Casing is the wooden trim piece that “frames” the inside or outside opening of a window or door. Most often, and nearly always in the major rooms in a house, interior window and door casings have a decorative molding profile; typically, less important rooms in the house will have a simpler molded, or a plain, flat board, casing.

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Chevron

A design that incorporates a pointed shape similar to an accent mark, common to Art Deco architecture.

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Colonnade

A range of columns that supports a string of continuous arches or a horizontal entablature.

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Corbel

A corbel is a projecting block, usually made of stone, supporting a beam or other horizontal member. Corbelling is a technique whereby brick or masonry courses are each built out beyond the one below in a series of steps. This was a popular method for creating vaulted ceilings, particularly in churches or cathedrals.

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Corinthian Order

A variation of the Ionic order, and the youngest (dating from the 4th century B.C.E.) of the three basic orders of classical Greek architecture (the others being the Doric and the Ionic orders). The Corinthian column was the showiest of the three basic columns, with a tall acanthus leaf capital, a molded base, and a slender, fluted shaft. The Corinthian order was utilized in ancient Greece almost exclusively for temple interiors, but became very prominent in ancient Rome, due to the ancient Romans’ taste for excessive ornamentation, particularly in architecture. Ever the imitators, but rarely the inventors, the ancient Romans grafted the volute scrolls of the Ionic order onto the capitals of the Corinthian order to result in the Composite Order.

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Cornice

The cornice is the topmost, projecting component of the three elements that make up a classical entablature (architrave, frieze, and cornice). In builder’s parlance, cornice describes any projecting decorative element at the roof line of a building.

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Crenellations

A sequence of alternating raised and lowered wall sections at the top of a high exterior wall or parapet. Crenellations were originally employed for defensive purposes (one could hide behind a raised wall section, while shooting down at enemies from over a lowered wall section), but were later used for decoration. Also known as a battlement.

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Cupola

A cupola is a small and typically domed structure on the top of a building. Cupolas may also crown a larger roof or dome and may be used to provide light or a look-out point. Cupolas are often decorative and are usually are found on large public buildings. 

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Dentil

A dentil is a small, square block that is used in a sequence along the lower edge of a cornice. Most elements of the classical orders are believed to derive from functional, structural building components of ancient masonry construction, and dentils are thought to have been the ends of rafters. As one of the easiest architectural details to construct, the “dentilated cornice” (a simple cornice with a row of dentils running below it) is also one of the most frequently used architectural elements in house construction and shows up in houses from 1750 to the present.

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Doric Order

The oldest (dating to the 6th-century B.C.E.) and plainest of the three basic orders of classical Greek architecture (the others being the Ionic and the Corinthian orders). In ancient Greece, the Doric order was the masculine, and the most preferred, order. A Doric column is stout, with a fluted shaft (ideally, with 20 flutes), a plain capital, and no base. In ancient Rome, the Doric order was often replaced with the “Tuscan” order indigenous to the Italian peninsula; it consisted of an unfluted shaft, a simply molded capital, and a base.

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Dormer

A dormer is a vertical projection in a sloping roof with a roof of its own. A dormer contains an opening, usually a window, allowing light into the second story or attic story of a building.

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Dutchman

A dutchman is a builder’s term for a piece of wood used to patch a missing or damaged section of wood “invisibly,” i.e., so that the patch piece will not be evident once finished or painted. A dutchman could be required to fill in the location of a missed lock or knob on a reused door, for example, or to repair a section of damaged flooring.

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Eave

An eave is the part of the roof that extends out past the side walls. The edge of the roof is a complex bit of carpentry which includes the soffit (the underside of the eave) and the fascia (the vertical edge of the eave). The fascia and soffits can decay when gutters are not kept free of leaves and debris.

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Efflorescence

Efflorescence is a white, powdery substance of soluble salts that appear on the face of bricks or concrete as moisture travels through masonry; the salts remain as a residue on the surface once the moisture evaporates. This residue is harmless and can be removed with a stiff brush and water.

Efflorescence can be, however, an indication of rising damp, a destructive process where moisture from the ground is drawn up (or wicked) into a masonry wall if the wall is not protected with an intervening layer of impervious material, such as slate, tile, building felt, or metal. An experienced masonry contractor should be consulted to determine the best way to correct rising damp.

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Façade

The façade is the front or primary elevation of a house, and usually contains the main entrance.

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Fascia

A fascia is the upright flat trim board enclosing the end of a rafter or eave.

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Flashing

Flashing is made of sheet metal or another impervious material. Its purpose is to prevent water from penetrating a building at a joint or angle, generally on the roof. The most common locations for roof flashing are at valleys (where two downward sloping roof planes meet), chimneys, eaves, rakes, ridges, roof-to-wall intersections, and at roof penetrations such as skylights, stovepipes and vents. Flashing must be durable and rust-resistant. Traditionally, materials such as copper, leaded-coated copper or lead are used for flashing.

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Foursquare

An American Foursquare is a building type which was popular from the mid-1890s through the 1930s. Its boxy, yet roomy design was well suited to small city lots. Typical features include: a simple boxy shape of two and a half stories, simple four-room plans, low-hipped roofs with deep overhangs, large central dormers, and full-width porches with wide steps along the front elevation. Foursquare homes were dressed up with features of various architectural styles, including; Queen Anne (bay windows or gingerbread trim), Mission (stucco siding and roof parapets), Colonial Revival (pediments or porticos) or Craftsman (exposed rafter tails, sloping/battered porch columns, and interior carpentry details such as built-ins and boxed beams.

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French Drain

A French drain is a shallow linear trench, following the perimeter of the building four to six feet away from the foundation, lined with gravel and occasionally with a perforated plastic pipe that collects and directs water away from the house.

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Frieze

A frieze is the portion of the Classical Entablature between the cornice (above) and the architrave (below).

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Gable

A gable is the upper portion of a wall at the end of a roof or dormer; most often it is triangular.

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Gallerie

A wide, wrap-around covered porch lined with columns on one side, and common to French Colonial architecture of Louisiana. A gallerie connects interior rooms together, much like a hallway.

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Gingerbread

Wooden architectural ornament popular with American folk houses in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the Stick Style. Gingerbread often took the form of scalloped or zig-zag-edged clapboards, which were often painted in contrasting colors. At times, gingerbreading could be superfluous and almost gaudy, with excessive frills and curlicues. The widespread use in the mid-19th century of the jigsaw – a hand tool consisting of a handle attached to a small, thin blade – made gingerbread decorations readily available to home builders.

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Girt

A girt is a horizontal beam, used to connect and reinforce vertical posts in a timber frame. In two-story construction, a girt is the horizontal beam at the mid-point of the structure, also helping to support the floor of the second story.

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Hipped Roof

A hipped or hip roof is one that slopes towards the peak from all four sides. The most common hip roof type has a ridge over a portion of the roof that creates two triangular sides and two polygon sides on the roof. The pitch of hipped roofs is often low. Also common with hipped roof construction are large overhanging eaves.

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I-House

A house type or form brought over by colonists from England, the I-House was common in English communities. Defined by its tall, thin profile, common features include: two-story construction; side gable roof orientation; a rectangular, one-room-deep floor plan; and a symmetrical design with a central entry and three to five bays.

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Ice Dam

Ice dams form when snow lying against the roof is melted by attic warmth from below rather than from the sun’s warmth from above. If water on the roof cannot drip off the eave because the gutter is blocked by leaves, ice, or snow, the water may re-freeze and push water up under the roof shingles and into the sheathing, soffit, and wall cavity. When ice dams form, water is forced inside and can flow down the interior walls, damaging decorative finishes. Plastic sheeting placed under the attic eaves may catch water and minimize interior damage. Ice dams often form on the north slope of a roof since this slope receives limited sunlight during the winter. Clearing an ice dam is difficult and dangerous as it requires accessing the ice dam and chipping a hole through the overlying blockage to let the water out.

There are several ways to prevent or lessen the occurrence of ice dams. Using a special long rake, snow can be raked off the eaves after each major snowfall to keep gutters free of overlying ice and snow. Alternatively, eave flashing, such as a course of roll roofing or rubber membrane ice shield installed under the roofing shingles, can prevent water infiltrating the roof sheathing. Finally, unheated portions of the attic can be air-sealed and then vented to keep household heat from warming the underside of the roof; opening attic windows or adding soffit vents, or vents in the gable ends of the house may be needed to cool the attic sufficiently.

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Ionic Order

The second-oldest (mid-6th – 5th century B.C.E.) of the three basic orders of classical Greek architecture (the others being the Doric and the Corinthian orders). In ancient Greece, the Ionic order was the feminine order, and the most appropriate for temples constructed in homage to goddesses. In ancient Rome, the Ionic order was much more prominently utilized than the Doric order. An Ionic column is tall and slender, with a fluted shaft of 24 flutes, a capital with prominent volute scrolls, and an elegantly molded base.

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Italianate
The Italianate style is considered the most common architectural style of Midwestern downtown commercial centers. It is most easily identified by projecting cornices supported by decorative brackets (often found in pairs), tall narrow windows capped by decorative stone or metal moldings, and elaborate cast-iron storefronts.
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Joinery

Woodworking joints in carpentry.

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Joists

Regardless of the framing type, floors in a house are supported by joists, long timbers that span the distance from an outside wall to a partition or interior wall and support either the floor boards, in the case of timber-framed houses, or the sub-flooring and flooring in braced, balloon, or platform framed houses.

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Lath

Lath is attached to the framing of interior walls and used as a backing to support plaster walls and ceilings. Wet plaster is pushed through spaces between the pieces of lath to form keys. It should not be confused with lathe, which is a tool used in woodworking.

Historically, three types of lath have been used in house construction: 1) eighteenth and nineteenth century wood lath, thin strips of wood installed horizontally between major framing elements and with spaces between the strips into which plaster could be pushed; 2) metal lath, a late nineteenth century innovation whose mesh structure provided a multiplicity of small openings for keying the plaster, and 3) rock lath, or gypsum/plaster board lath, a two by four inch perforated gypsum board introduced in the early twentieth century to which plaster would be keyed.

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Lintel

A lintel is a horizontal beam spanning the top of a door or window.

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Loggia

A loggia is a recessed portico, or internal room, with pierced walls open to the elements. Italian in origin, a loggia is often a gallery or corridor at ground level (sometimes higher) along the façade of a building open to the air on one side where it is supported by columns. A loggia is accessed only from the outside, and was commonly used as a place of leisure.

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Mansard Roof

A  mansard roof has two distinct slopes on all four sides. The upper portion is hipped, has a very low slope and is often not visible from the ground, while the lower portion is very steeply pitched and is often pierced by dormers. This type of roof got its name from the architect Francois Mansart, who popularized the design in France during the 1600s. In the United States, mansard roofs are generally a component of Second Empire style buildings, popular during the nineteenth century.

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Mantel

A mantel is the framework surrounding a fireplace. More elaborate versions are called a frontispiece or chimneypiece and may include a paneled section above the fireplace called an over-mantel. The woodwork surrounding a seventeenth, eighteenth or early nineteenth-century fireplace is an important indicator of its period of construction.

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Molding

Moldings (also often spelled in its British version moulding) are decorative pieces added to structural elements (such as cornices, capitals, bases, door and window jambs, etc.) to introduce aesthetic variation. Traditionally of wood, moldings can have profiles that are curved, rectilinear or a combination of the two. Molding profiles in old and historic houses, found on decorative paneling, door and window surrounds and door panels can be an indication of the period of construction for these elements.

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Mullion

A mullion is a large vertical framing member (either of wood or stone) that separates multiple windows or panels of glass in a window. Mullions are often confused with muntins, which separate individual panes of glass in a window sash.

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Muntin

A muntin is the small wooden bar that divides a window sash into smaller divisions (which are called “lights”). By contrast, a mullion is a much larger bar, usually one that divides one window from another window in a group or row of windows (windows in groups of two or more are said to be mulled together, for example). Muntin profiles, their size and appearance may be useful as an indication of the period of construction for the window in which they are found.

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Neo-Classical
The Neo-Classical style is based on the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Common features include a symmetrical façade, columns, pilasters, quoins, pediments, and entablatures consisting of a cornice, dentils, and a frieze. Sometimes the style includes the use of a dome.
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Oriel

A projecting window of an upper floor, supported from below by a bracket.

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Pagoda

A tiered tower with multiple roof layers, constructed about a central axis pole. Indigenous to Asia (particularly to China, Japan, and Korea), and typically located there within Buddhist temple precincts, pagodas were built as decorative garden structures in the United States and Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, when exoticism in architectural ornament was highly fashionable. 

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Palladian Window

An arched window immediately flanked by two smaller, non-arched windows, popularized by Andrea Palladio in northern Italy in the 16th century, and frequently deployed by American architects working in the American Georgian and American Palladian styles in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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Pediment

A pediment is a triangular decorative element whose moldings define the end or front-facing gables on a roof or porch; decorative pediments can also be used to define the top of a window. The profile of a pediment is an indication of not only a building’s architectural style, but also its period of construction.

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Pilaster

A pilaster is a shallow section of a round column or of a flat pier that is attached to a wall as part of the decorative detailing of the structure.

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Porte-cochere

A porte-cochere is a French term which literally translates to carriage porch. It is a structure over an entry or entry porch that extends over a portion of the driveway. It was intended to be a covered area under which a carriage or automobile could be driven so riders could enter or exit the vehicle protected from the weather. Porte-cocheres are often associated with Colonial Revival architecture.

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Preservation

Preservation is the most conservative approach to the treatment of buildings. It aims to maintain a structure and all of its elements as they are. Therefore, preservation entails repair of elements rather than replacement, including those elements that may not be original.

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Quoins

Quoins are large stones or rectangular bricks or pieces of wood used to accentuate the corners of a building.

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Rafter

Rafters are the slanting members of a roof, extending from eaves to the ridge of the roof.

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Rake

The rake is the angled slope at the edge of the roof; the rake molding is the molding that follows the edge of the roof slope.

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Restoration

Restoration is the process of repairing and renewing a building so as to bring it back to a specific time period, usually the most significant point in its history. This can mean removing later elements and additions which may have gained significance.

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Romanesque Revival

Romanesque Revival (also called Richardsonian Romanesque) for the Boston architect who developed the style in the 1870s. More common for public buildings than homes because of the expense of solid masonry construction.

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Roofing felt

Roofing felt is a type of tar paper made from glass fibre or polyester fleece impregnated with bituminous material, produced in roll form, and used in roof construction.

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Saltbox

The term saltbox is used to describe a particular roof shape common during the seventeenth century in New England. Saltbox houses were 1 ½ to two stories tall with a one-story shed addition off the back. An efficient way to add more space, the rear gable roof plane was simply extended across the shed addition at the rear, creating the “saltbox” shape, so named because of the similarity in shape to wooden lidded boxes used to hold salt. In the south, saltbox houses are also referred to as catslides.

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Sash

A sash is used to describe the portion of a window consisting of the frame holding the glass panes, as opposed to the window frame proper which holds the sash and fits into the wall. Sash may be fixed or movable, and hung in different configurations such as: sliding or swinging casements; double hung; or single fixed.

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Setback
The minimum open space to be provided between the front line of a building or structure and the front lot line
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Sheathing

Sheathing generally refers to the heavy, rough boards that cover the timber frame of a mid-eighteenth through early-twentieth century house and to which the exterior siding is attached. Today, Plywood, introduced in the 1920s, is used for sheathing in house construction. Sheathing, which can be attached to the frame diagonally, but most often runs vertically on the wall, stiffens the frame and provides additional protection against wind and water infiltration.

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Shed Roof

A shed roof, also referred to as a lean-to, is a roof defined by its single face sloping down in one direction. It is generally the least expensive and easiest type of roof to build. For this reason it was often used for sheds. 

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Shingles

Shingles are a type of exterior sheathing used both on roofs and as a siding material. Shingles may be made out of a number of materials including wood, slate, asphalt, vinyl, or asbestos (note asbestos shingles were common during the early twentieth century but are no longer manufactured).

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Siding

Siding is the material used to cover the exterior of a house. Clapboards and shingles are the most common wooden materials used for siding. Many variations in the dimensions and applications of wood siding are possible, including shiplap, tongue-and-groove, drop (or novelty), flushboard (both horizontal and vertical), and board-and-batten.

Historically, the materials used for clapboards included cedar, oak, white pine, redwood and Douglas fir. Most clapboards today are of western red cedar. Shingles have historically been produced from white and red cedar and cypress. 

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Slate

A finely-grained, foliated rock, native to Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New York, and found in many colors. Slate has been used to roof buildings in the United States since the colonial era.

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Soffit

A soffit is the underside of an overhanging roof.

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Spalling

Spalling is a word used to describe a form of masonry or brick deterioration in which exterior portions of the material break away from the surface. This type of deterioration has several causes, including when moisture trapped inside the masonry unit expands and contracts due to freeze/thaw cycles, or by salt crystals wicked into walls when dissolved in water. Spalling may also occur as a result of mortar that is harder that the brick or stones set in it. Any movement in the wall (from vibration, thermal expansion or settling) causes failure in the weaker brick or stone instead of the mortar. For this reason, it is critical when re-pointing a historic masonry wall that a soft lime mortar be used. It is easier to re-point a building than to replace failed bricks or stone.

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Stain

Stain is an alternative coating material to paint for finishing and protecting exterior siding on a house. Solid-color stain is the typical material used over new siding and in new construction today, and, because it is easier to re-coat than paint and requires less exacting surface preparation, is an appealing alternative for old house owners. However, the use of solid-color stains, which are basically thinned-down paints, may not be compatible on previously-painted wood surfaces.

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Stucco

A plaster used as a coating for walls and ceilings, and often used for decoration; it is common to many parts of the world, particularly to the Mediterranean region and to the regions of the United States once colonized by Spain.

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Studs

The studs in the house frame are those upright pieces of the framing that run between the sills, at the ground floor framing, girts, the horizontal framing members at the midway point of a two-story house, and the plate, the topmost horizontal framing member at the roof line. Studs, usually spaced sixteen inches apart (or with their centers 16 inches apart) make up the structure of the wall to which wallboard, or historically, paneling or lath and plaster, is applied.

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Terrace

An outdoor extension of a building, situated above the ground level, and open to the sky.

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Timber Framing

Timber framing was the standard method of constructing the structure of a house from the seventeenth century into the nineteenth century. Consisting of heavy oak, pine, chestnut or spruce timbers hewn or sawn from logs and mortised-and-tenoned together, the timber frame is a signature element of pre-industrial house construction. First Period (1630-1725) timber-framing methods relied on techniques established in the framed houses of sixteenth-century England, but by the early-eighteenth century, timber-framing methods had become normalized around a system that, except for a gradual diminishing in the dimensions of the timbers used, and an increase in the use of mechanically-worked timber, did not change significantly until the introduction of the balloon frame in the mid-nineteenth century

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Transom

A transom is the bar between the top of a door and the window above it. Transom windows may be rectangular or fan-shaped. Transoms can be found above both exterior and interior doorways and are practical as well as decorative, allowing more light and adding ventilation into interior spaces.

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Tuck-Pointing

Tuck-pointing is a term often used interchangeably with re-pointing or pointing. However, the term is used to describe a specific method of finishing mortar joints developed in the late eighteenth century in England. In an effort to create the impression of a fine joint, bricks were laid in mortar of a matching color and flush with the exterior face of the brick. Then, a thin strip of mortar in a contrasting color (usually white) was laid in the still wet mortar joint. From afar, this gave the impression of more expensive and well-formed brickwork. Another, less sophisticated technique was to draw a thin line (called a tuck), into flush-faced mortar.

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Tudor Revival
The Tudor Revival style is inspired by English architecture of the 16th century. The signature characteristics include high-pitched gable roofs, projecting gables, and exposed stucco and faux timber framing.
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Turret

A small tower that pierces a roofline. A turret is usually cylindrical, and is topped by a conical roof.

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Valley

A valley is formed when two roof planes meet to form a concave angle. This connection is often vulnerable to water penetration and should be bridged with flashing.

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Vapor Barrier

A vapor barrier is a waterproof material used to prevent or retard moisture from traveling between an interior and an exterior surface. Vapor barriers are installed on interior walls to protect them from condensation or, in new construction, beneath a concrete slab or underneath siding as a wind and moisture break.

A major source of ambient moisture in historic houses is dirt cellar floors: installing a vapor barrier on a dirt cellar floor will reduce moisture throughout the building. Polyethylene sheeting is recommended. Seams should overlap six inches and outside edges should extend six inches up the wall. Placing bricks along the floor at the foundation will secure the vapor barrier. Opening cellar windows, using screens to prevent small animal and insect intrusion, will provide further ventilation during good weather.

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Veneer

A veneer is a thin layer of material adhered to a backing of a less expensive material. For example, wood veneer is a thin layer of wood adhered to a backing (of plywood or a similar material) used to imitate solid wood. Stone veneer is similarly a thin layer of stone covering a layer of a less costly material (such as poured concrete or concrete block) and is intended to imitate solid stone.

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Veranda

An open, roofed porch, usually enclosed on the outside by a railing or balustrade, and often wrapping around two or more (or all of the) sides of a building.

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Vernacular

In architecture, vernacular is used to describe construction without those stylistic elements of design that are used for aesthetic purposes beyond functional requirements. Vernacular architecture is characterized not only by the lack of a specific “style” but also by its use of locally available resources and materials, and building techniques that are part of local tradition

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Victorian Era

The reign of Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which commenced upon the coronation of Queen Victoria on June 20, 1837 and concluded upon her death on January 22, 1901 (Victoria was also crowned the Empress of India on May 1, 1876). These years marked the height of both the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution, when the United Kingdom became a global power, and its culture, including its architecture, assimilated influences from all over the world.

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