FAQs - Hound's Corner

Welcome to The Hound’s Corner! Over the years, we have had several greyhounds that enjoyed their second careers as ambassadors for ESPA Architects. These talented hounds, in a short period of time, gained an understanding of the construction industry. Our greyhounds were good at noting when our clients had a confused look on their faces when certain building descriptions or architectural terms were used. So they collected a list of terms and developed some definitions to help people understand some of the lingo used in an architect’s office. Please check in on us once in a while for new architectural terms and definitions!


When you walk through a door opening, you may notice a shiny piece of metal on the floor. I found out from my friends that this is called a threshold, saddle, or sill. I have to admit that I like to give them a good sniff to see who has been coming and going through the door opening. Although I‘m a sighthound, my nose can tell me about the coming and going. A threshold is a horizontal piece of metal, wood, or stone at the bottom of a door frame that helps straddle the gap between the interior and exterior of a building. There are many theories as to why we call it a threshold; the one I like is that in medieval times it meant to pound one’s feet (thresh). I notice many people stomp their feet before coming into our office (that's how I know where folks have been). I walk through many doorways and notice that some thresholds are simple, while some actually have raised sections to help keep water and air from coming under the door. So, next time you walk through a door, clean your feet before entering, and don’t trip on the threshold.

One lazy afternoon, I was enjoying a good nap when I heard a client ask about the thingamabob on the side of a door frame. It got my attention as to what is a thingamabob, and I discovered there are many parts to a door opening or, as my friends call it, a door frame. The top of the door frame is called the head, and the sides are referred to as jambs. Along the jamb’s surface, there is a thin projection from the jamb to help stop the door—called the door stop (thingamabob). The jambs of the door frame are where door hinges and strikes are mounted. I also found out that door frames are constructed of steel, wood, or aluminum. Frames can come to the building site in one piece, or a kit of parts, but no matter what you make a door frame out of, the parts of the frame remain the same.

One of my favorite hobbies is to look out the windows at our office to see what’s going on in the world and to alert my friends when guests are coming to the door. I’m still trying to remember that glass is a hard surface I can see through, but cannot go through. Also, my friends tell me that I leave my nose prints on glass—which they have to clean. Did you know that parts of a window are very similar to the parts of the doorframe? The top of the window is called a head, and the sides of the window are called jambs, and the bottom of the window is called a sill. Windows that open have a sash which is where the glass fits into the window frame, and muntins are used to support smaller panes of glass. Windows can be made out of many different types of material; the most common are wood, aluminum, or steel.

Did you know there are several different types of glass, depending upon where is it is used in the building? I heard the term float glass used the other day and was not sure if that meant the glass floated without a frame. I found out that float glass is perfectly flat and made brilliantly clear by a process that was developed almost 40 years ago by glass manufacturers. Float glass is made by pouring molten glass onto the surface of molten tin. And, did you know glass is a solid, super-cooled ceramic material made from sand, soda, and lime? Another glass type I heard mentioned is tempered. Tempered glass is heat-treated for increased resistance to impact stresses; it is 3 to 5 times stronger than regular glass and pulverizes into small pieces when broken. You can find tempered glass in doors or other areas where people might run into it. I’ve noticed when staring out our front door that you can see a white etching on the glass (at dog nose level) telling you it is tempered glass.

I have been known to dig in the dirt looking for that rabbit I was chasing after he has disappeared into a hole. I discovered that the top layer of dirt is easy to dig, but when I get below that top layer, it can get a bit harder to dig out. My friends tell me it looks like I am creating soil boring or test pits. I researched about soil boring and discovered that soil boring is when you pull a core out of the earth to determine the composition of the soil, and based on the information from these borings, determine the type of foundation a new building will need.

During my walks with my friend, we pass many buildings made of brick, and I like to examine the handiwork of the brick masons. In doing this, I’ve noticed white “powder” on the outside walls. My research has indicated that this white powder is called efflorescence. Efflorescence is crystallization caused by water-soluble salts which come to the surface when water evaporates from the brick. My friend tells me that efflorescence usually means water has found its way into the wall and to correct this problem, you can clean the wall with a mild detergent to remove the white powder, but you also need to find where the moisture is coming in.

Just because you do not see a pitch or slope on a roof does not mean it is flat. I have discovered that roof structures can be flat and the slope toward a roof drain is created by tapering the roof insulation. Or, the structure may be sloped with the roof drain at the lower end of the structure. To direct water between drains, they install what is called a cricket—not a bug, but a peaked structure made of rigid insulation that drives water toward a drain. Since I am a sighthound, I did notice that whether the slope is created by roof insulation or the structure itself, the slope is usually a quarter inch per foot. So the roof may appear to be flat, but there is slope for the water to drain away. 

Just the other day, my friend was correcting one of our clients when he say he wanted a “cement” driveway for his business. I was able to eavesdrop on the conversation (they think I am asleep, but I am listening). Cement (Portland cement) is one of the components of concrete along with sand, gravel, and water.  It is a pourable mix that hardens into a super-strong building material. Did you know that concrete was used by the Roman Empire over 2,000 years ago? Our client inquired about Portland cement, and my friend explained that it is manufactured from lime, silica, iron oxide, and alumina with gypsum to control the setting time. The ingredients are ground and burned to form clinkers which are later pulverized to make cement. I also discovered that the mixture of the components can determine the strength of concrete, but that information is for another day (a dog has to get his naps in when he can).

I heard a client ask the other day if their structure required radon protection. I had to do some digging, and I discovered that radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that is not produced as a commercial product. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas and comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of radium. It is usually found in igneous rock and soil, but in some cases, well water may also be a source of radon. As my friend explained, the level of radon depends on where you live. Some areas in the western and northern counties of North Carolina have been noted for high potential of radon. If you are planning to build in an area where radon could exist, it is best to incorporate radon-resistant features in the building. A simple way to prevent radon from entering a structure is to have a continuous vent made of PVC with an outlet pipe buried below the floor and continuing up through the roof. This creates a passive system or draft pipe to drawn the gas from the soil and away from the interior; a fan can be added to increase the venting of the gas.

Did you know that there are parts of a brick? The most common brick is called standard or standard modular, and the long side of the brick is called the face. This side is the pretty side of the brick, and it can have a sand finish, a textured, or even a smooth finish. The top and bottom of the brick are called the beds, and the side opposite the face is called the side. The smaller rectangular portions of a brick are called the end and cull. I also found out that the holes in the brick are called cores or frogs. During my walks, I noted that brick can be used in different patterns, and there are different sizes of brick. I will be doing some more research on those subjects for another article.

During one of my walks around town on nice sunny day, I noticed  a window that looked foggy, like it had water on the glass when the window frame looked dry. So, I wondered what caused this. I discovered that what I was looking at was condensation inside an insulated glass window which was caused by the failure of the seal between the panes of glass. This failure allowed moist air to collect between the glass panes, where it condensed. Over time, the condensing and drying out of the window can leave mineral deposits on the glass creating a hazy, foggy appearance. My friend was telling a client the other day that when the seal fails, it is best to have the insulated glass panel removed and replaced or have a glazing company that specializes in repairs to foggy windows remove the moisture, clean, and reseal the window.

I was listening to my friend explain to one of our clients that even though their building had a limited amount of wood in it, they would still need to protect the foundation and floor slab from termites. He was explaining that termites eat cellulose found in dead plant material and wood. There are several types of termites, and those commonly found in this area are Subterranean and Drywood. Subterranean termites usually live in mounds of soil, building elaborate tunnel systems and mud tunnels through which they access above-ground food sources. Drywood termites usually live within the wood studs of a wall or piece of furniture. When I chow down on a rawhide bone or a bowl of food, everyone can hear me, but I discovered that you cannot hear termites eating, and a colony of termites can cause a lot of damage to a home or business before you know it. My friend told our client that termite colonies are everywhere, and it is best to treat the soil during construction by a licensed exterminator and to have an experienced pest control company conduct yearly inspections of their building to make sure that termites are not feeding on their building. Also, check around the building to see if there are any mud tunnels, wood that sounds hollow when you tap it, or cracked, bubbling paint—these are all indications that you might have termites.

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