New Home Construction Glossary of Terms

Building a new home can feel daunting, especially when there are so many trade terms to learn, understand and remember. At Maine Source, it is our goal to make the home buying and building process as simple and streamlined as possible. So, here is a list of common, practical home building terms – and their definitions – that we hope will be helpful as you move through the process.

Modular Home

Using the same materials as site built homes, modular homes are built in factories and in multiple sections. These sections are then transported to the site of the home and placed onto the home’s foundation by crane. These homes are built in a controlled environment without exposure to weather or the elements during construction. Because they are not subject to the elements, you avoid delays due to bad weather. They can be built faster, more efficiently, safe, and to a higher quality than site built homes.

Manufactured Housing / HUD code housing – Department of Housing and Urban Development / Mobile Homes

Manufactured homes (also known as mobile homes) are built completely off site – in a controlled environment – and delivered to the site after the home is complete. HUD code houses are set on slabs instead of a foundation.

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF)

Insulated concrete forms are foundation forms made of polystyrene or polyurethane. Considered a green method of construction, ICF’s are more energy efficient than standard foundation construction methods. They are also easier to setup as they are lighter and fit together much like Legos.

Site Built/ Stick Built Homes

A site built or stick built home may have components of the building built off site but the vast majority of the project is done on site. The home is erected, framed, and finished by workers using stock materials. Site built/stick built homes are an alternative to manufactured and modular homes.

Stick Frame/ Wood Frame Homes

A stick frame or wood frame home has its frame crafted entirely out of wood. Exterior and interior walls are made of wood.

On-Demand Water Heating

On-demand water heating provides an alternative to hot water storage tanks in the home. The system uses an electric or gas fired heating element to heat up cold water when hot water is requested from your sink, dishwasher, shower or other hot water source. On-demand water heating systems create a small footprint compared to full size water heaters as they are predominately wall mounted systems, and they are more energy efficient than standard hot water heater tank systems. These systems typically cost more up front, but less over the lifespan of the unit, lasting roughly 20 years or double the lifespan of a conventional unit.

Geo-Thermal Heating (see heat pump)

Geo-thermal is a method of heating or cooling by tapping into the Earth’s underground naturally stored energy. Geo-thermal is used to heat your home in the winter and cool your home in the summer. The energy is clean and renewable and cuts energy costs by eliminating the need for heating oil.

Passive Solar

Passive solar uses the natural energy characteristics in materials and air created by exposure to the sun. Strategically placed windows, building orientation, and open floor plan layouts combine to utilize the sun’s energy for heating or cooling a living space.


Off-grid refers to housing outside the bounds of the power grid – the linked system that delivers electricity. Off-grid homes eliminate most or all utility bills when they utilize solar, wind, and alternative energy sources.


The R-value of an object represents the thermal resistance of that single object. Everything has an R-value, and the closer the value is to zero, the faster heat transfers through the object. This relates to gaining heat as well as losing heat in a space.


The U-factor coincides with R-values and represents the thermal resistance of assembled objects such as multi-paned windows, insulated walls, roofs or anything that has more than one material through which heat is transferred. The U-factor is determined by taking the reciprocal of the sum of the materials in the assembly. U= 1/Sum of R values

Vapor Barrier

A vapor barrier is any material used for damp proofing – typically a foil or plastic sheet that prevents moisture from moving through the walls, floors, or ceiling. When installed correctly, vapor barriers keep moisture either in or out of the building.

ERV Unit

ERV stands for Energy Recovery Ventilation, which is an air-to-air heat exchanger. These units use exhaust temperature to your advantage to transfer both temperature and moisture. Heat is recovered from the exhaust gasses and transferred back into the system. In summer months the exhaust temp is cooler than the ventilation air, and in winter months the exhaust temp is warmer than the ventilation air, providing an extremely efficient and effective system.

HRV Unit

HRV stands for Heat Recovery Ventilation. These units apply the same concept as ERV units, but they do not transfer moisture.

Heat Pump

A heat pump is a device that provides heat energy from a source called a heat sink. They are designed to move heat energy opposite to the direction of spontaneous heat flow by absorbing heat energy from a cold space and releasing it to a warmer space, and vice-versa. Heat pumps do not require fuel to operate; they run off of electricity and are extremely energy efficient.

Mini Split Air Source Pump

Mini split air source pumps are ductless, small wall-mounted systems that can be retrofitted to houses with non-ducted heating systems such as baseboard (hot water heat), space heaters, and radiant heat. These units consist of one main outdoor condenser/compressor unit and one or more indoor, air-handling units depending on how many separate zones you want. Each zone has its own thermometer. With a small footprint and flexible interior design, these indoor handling units can be installed anywhere they fit, suspended from the ceiling, wall mounted in a closet, etc. Homeowners can easily add more indoor air-handling units for future additions to the building. They only require a small hole into building from the outside unit to interior units, preventing intruders from entering a home through window-mounted air conditioners and “through the wall” mounted systems.

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