Do you speak fluent builder?


When you start working on a renovation or building project, you realise fairly quickly that a builder 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, I thought I’d provide a handy guide to some commonly used building phrases. Rosetta Stone isn’t offering a course yet, but I think they should!


Allowance – 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.


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.


CC – 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 and knowledge) – and then you’ll pay for the time it took, 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.


DA – a Development Application 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.


D&C – when JD first started talking about these I was horrified – I mean ladies, you know what I was thinking? Right? 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.


Fixed-price – this 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.


Have you been bamboozled by builder talk? What phrase are you still curious about? Did you have a secret language when you were little?


  • Denyse Whelan Blogs

    I read this with interest, open-mouthed at the possible DA costs on $800K project and nodding my head at other sections. We built an architect-designed house with a builder/friend (the term friend is no longer part of the relationship for reasons way past the experience) and my hub as the supplier/installer of the kitchen, laundry, vanities because he was a kitchen specialist at the time. We learned that the builder regretted his fixed price contract and even though the house was beautiful and built to what we thought was our dream house…..we ended up selling due to my husband’s failing health & winding up of the business some 3 years later. We did build once more, however, a very simple project house with no input from us other than to add ‘variations’ where we upscaled some of the fittings. Living in a rental now on the central coast, we have no idea when we will buy next but it wont be without a lot of research and is more likely to be a sort of fixer-upper which my hub can do over time. Denyse #teamIBOT

  • Renee Wilson

    I’ve learnt a lot along the way. My husband was a carpenter and is still in the building and design industry. I remember when he was building in the UK he had to learn some hand signals to work with the crane driver. He would come home and teach me. So funny!


      Hi Renee – too funny! Languages within languages. And my sister reminded me today that doctors are even worse – who know what they’re talking about!

  • EssentiallyJess

    I would have been horrified with D and C too! It makes me wonder what a (male) builder would think if he heard it in a hospital. 🙂

  • Robyna | the mummy and the minx

    When I worked in IT in the late 90s we definitely had our own lingo going on. Before the days of ubiquitous technology, the acronyms were almost impenetrable 🙂


      TLAs were rampant!I work in media and am grateful that mostly we talk in plain English. Although the advent of digital is definitely changing all that! Thanks for visiting!

  • Fahad Raza

    Nicely done Alix. I should be doing the same at my blog as well. SEO and Adwords lingo needs a bit of explaining every now and then.


      Thanks Fahad!! Set some time aside for explaining the world of SEO to mere mortals like me! Cheers, alix

  • Kit@lifethroughthehaze

    Thanks for this Alix I have bookmarked it in case we ever actually do anymore building!

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