An educated shopper is a smart shopper, especially in the home improvement world. As you interview potential contractors, being able to understand the terminology they use can help you avoid miscommunication and ensure a smoother remodeling experience.

Here’s a glossary of common terms used by builders and remodelers:

• 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.

• Building permit:A document issued by a governing authority, such as a city or county building department, granting permission to undertake a construction project.

Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR): A professional designation program offered through the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers Council™. CGR remodelers must take a specified number of continuing education courses and must comply with a strict code of ethics.


Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS): The CAPS designation was developed by the National Association of Home Builders and AARP. CAPS professionals meet the home modification needs of homeowners who want to continue living in their homes safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability level.

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 any changes in cost.


Draw: A designated payment that is “drawn” from the total project budget to pay for services completed to date. A draw schedule typically is established in the contract.

Lien release: A document that voids the legal right of a contractor, subcontractor or supplier 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 sub-contractor or supplier. If a subcontractor or supplier signed a lien release, then this lien cannot be enforced.

Plans and specifications: Drawings for the project, and a detailed list or description of the known products, materials, quantities and finishes to be used.

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