How to speak ‘builder’! Construction terms to know


When you start working on a renovation or building project, you realise fairly quickly that builders sometimes seem to speak their own private language. It can be a bit intimidating to stop them mid flow to ask what they’re talking about, so here’s a handy guide to some commonly used building phrases by Alix Davis from Buildbox.


When preparing a quote or estimate, builders will make an allowance for items for which there is no set price. This includes things like electrical, tiling, lighting. Once you’ve agreed to that allowance, that’s how much money you’ve got to spend on that item – if you spend more than that, you’ll need to pay for it. Which will obviously affect your budget. So make sure you look closely at allowances – the builder might have allowed $1000 for a bath, when you’ve really got your heart set on that gorgeous $2000 model you saw in the showroom last week. You’ll be up for the $1000 difference in cost.


BASIX stands for the Building Sustainability Index and is part of the planning process in NSW. It’s designed to reduce water and energy consumption in homes. You can complete a BASIX assessment online and if you’re working with an architect, they should organise that for you. You need to have your BASIX certificate before you begin applying for permits and approvals.


Otherwise known as a Construction Certificate, this an approval that makes sure your plans comply with the Building Code of Australia and any other relevant standards. You’ll get a CC after your project has been approved, and before you start construction.


Cost-plus is one of the most common ways that builders price up a job. They’ll give you an estimate of what they think the job will cost (based on their experience, knowledge, your plans and scope of works) – and then you’ll pay for the time it takes, plus the cost of any materials. Sometimes this can turn out cheaper than you expected and sometimes, if unexpected problems arise, it may cost more than estimated.


A Development Application (DA) is when you submit all your plans and documents to your local council for planning approval. The larger the project, generally the longer this process takes although most councils are trying to improve their turnaround times. You can prepare a DA yourself, but it’s often prepared by the design professional working on your job (architect, building designer etc). The cost to submit a DA depends on the size of the job but in NSW it includes council fees, a long-service levy, various contributions and you may require other reports (like a dilapidation report) and that’s on top of whatever you’ve paid the architect. On a large renovation ($800,000), to get through to the DA stage could cost between $50,000 and $80,000.


In builder language, D&C stands for design and construct and is generally used by builders who both design and construct homes – like small-scale project home builders.


This is is another way that builders quote a job, but this time they’ll give you a firm price, that only changes if you make changes after the price has been agreed. Builders will usually only agree to a fixed price if you have an extensive scope of works and they are able to foresee possible problems. A fixed-price quote is most common if you are building an entirely new house.

Prime cost items

This is actually the fun stuff as prime cost items are the fixtures and fittings – tiles, kitchen joinery and appliance, flooring, bathroom fittings, light fittings. Much more exciting than watching a slab get poured.

You’ll get the hang of builder lingo before you know it and if there’s anything you’re not sure about – make sure you stop them and ask for an explanation. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, especially when it comes to a major investment like a building project.

Buildbox provides building and renovation costing services to homeowners. Using the latest in 3D estimating software and combining our vast residential building experience, Buildbox is able to provide detailed building and renovation costings against approved plans or at the concept plan stage. Visit them here or call JD on 0414 939 100 to discuss your building and renovating plans and how you can take control of your budget right from the start.


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