Your house's anatomy: architectural terms

Ask homepainter Mar 11, 2020

Most homeowners are not architects, yet it’s helpful to be able to use the proper architectural terminology to describe your home. Knowing the official names for the parts of your house is especially useful when speaking with contractors who are doing work on your home.

What is considered trim?

Trim is the edging (officially called “molding”)  that surrounds openings in your home. The wooden part around your door frame and windows and the baseboard that runs along the bottom of walls are examples of trim.

What is a chair rail?

A chair rail is a type of trim that lines your wall. It is generally ⅓ of the height of your wall from the ground. Though it’s name may have come from a practical application - to keep dining room chairs from scratching the wall in tiny dining rooms - today it is merely an aesthetic feature. No longer is a chair rail only found in dining rooms, but all sorts of rooms, from bathrooms to family rooms and even bedrooms.

What is fascia?

Fascia is the edge of your room that runs vertically for a couple of inches directly below your gutter. The top edge of the fascia touches the gutter, while the lower edge connects to the soffit, which runs perpendicular to the fascia.

What is soffit?

A house’s soffit is often near the gutters. It is the horizontal, underside of the piece of roof that protrudes from the rest of the house.

Where is my window trim?

Window trim, also known as casing is the (generally wooden) molding that surrounds the perimeter of windows.

Siding versus paneling?

When we think of siding, the picture that generally comes to mind is lap siding. Lap siding is the type of siding on a house where the lowest piece is beneath the piece above it and so forth. On the contrary, panel siding is where the pieces of siding are flush with one another, rather than overlapping. Here are tips for installing either type of siding.

What is an overhang?

An overhang, also called an awning, is a cover that sticks out from the side of a home to protect items below it, such as doors and windows. Overhangs are particularly practical on doors so that homeowners can unlock their door in the rain without getting wet.

What is a dormer?

A dormer is a structure that protrudes from the pitch of a roof. Dormers are roofed and generally have a window component. Dormers are great for bringing light into a lofted region of the home.

What is a column?

Columns are vertical cylindrical structures that serve as support. They are commonly found on each side of a home’s front door, as well as in lines surrounding a porch.

Where is my widow’s walk?

Widow’s walks are flat, accessible areas of one’s roof. Often times, the widow’s walk has a cupola. Curious about the name? Check out some stories of where the term widow’s walk came from.

What is an egress window?

An egress window is found in basements. They are larger than typical windows found in window wells. The name comes from its use in non-residential buildings and means “exit.” Originally, these windows were installed as a fire escape, but today they are included in home to add more natural lighting to the below-ground portion of a home.


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