An educated shopper is a smart shopper. This especially holds true in the world of hiring and working with contractors to make home improvements.

As you interview potential contractors, being able to understand the terminology they use can help you avoid miscommunication and ensure a smoother remodeling experience. For more information, visit


Here’s a glossary of some common terms to help you understand the language of your remodeling project:

• Allowance:A specific dollar amount allocated by a contractor for specified items in a contract for which the brand, model number, color, size or other details are not yet known.

• Call-back: An informal term for a return visit by the contractor to repair/replace items the homeowner has found to be unsatisfactory or that require service under the warranty.

• Change order: Written authorization to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract. The change order should reflect changes in cost.


• Cost-plus contract: A contract between a contractor and homeowner based on the accrued cost of labor and materials plus a percentage for profit and overhead — also known as a time-and-materials contract.

Lien release: A document that voids a contractor, subcontractor or supplier’s legal right to place a lien against your property. A lien release assures you that the remodeler has paid subcontractors and suppliers in full for labor and materials.

Mechanic’s lien:A lien obtained by an unpaid subcontractor or supplier through the courts. When enforced, real property — such as your home — can be sold to pay the subcontractor or supplier. If a subcontractor or supplier signed a lien release, then this lien cannot be enforced.

• Punch list: A list of work items to be completed or corrected by the contractor, typically near or at the end of a project.


Karen Nakamura is CEO of the Building Industry Association of Hawaii.