DominicroundDominic Delfino • 

Construction terms are as diverse and abundant as the types of trades you’ll encounter on the jobsite. We believe that team communication becomes more cohesive when you know exactly what your teammates are talking about, which is why we’ve highlighted a number of common construction terms and phrases you’re likely to hear on-site. This post focusses on terms specific to heavy civil work, and is part of a Fieldwire blog series for industry newcommers and students. With that said, here are 25 heavy civil terms that you should keep in your tool belt!


  • Abutment: Supporting structure at each end of a single span bridge. Types of abutments vary based on geotechnical, geographic, and constructability factors.
  • Backfilling: This is to refill excavated trenches or holes with the material dug out of it.
  • Beam: A sturdy piece of timber or metal, usually horizontal, with a main function to support loads such as the roof or floor above.
  • Cantilever: A beam which is securely supported at one end, and hangs freely at the other, like balconies that have no pillars or columns supporting them.
  • Clear and Grub: The process of removing vegetation and material from land in the construction area. This prepares the site for excavation and grading work to take place.
  • Cofferdam: A structural enclosure installed to retain water in damp soil or bodies of water. The cofferdam is installed and water is pumped out of the enclosure to provide a dry and safe work environment.
  • Critical Lift: Per OSHA 1926.751, a lift that (1) exceeds 75% of the rated capacity of the crane or derrick, or (2) requires the use of more than one crane or derrick.
  • Damp Proof Course: Usually abbreviated as DPC, this is a watertight layer applied to masonry to prevent moisture rising up from the ground.
  • Datum: Also known as Datum Point, this refers to any elevation taken as a reference point for leveling.
  • Derrick Barge: Also known as a crane barge. These floating cranes lift large loads while on water. These are great for offshore construction use.
  • DLB (Dig, Lay, Burry/Backfill): Term used in underground construction that describes the activity of utility installation. Dig/excavate dirt, lay your utility line, and backfill.
  • Embankment: An elevated landmass made of compacted soil or aggregate. Embankments help create roads and level surfaces for slabs or levees.
  • Falsework: These are the temporary structures that are built to hold and support cast-in-place concrete during pours and while it cures to strength.
  • Grade and Compact: The process of leveling out an area of land and exerting force using heavy equipment to stabilize the soil or aggregate.
  • Hip Roof: A roof where all four sides slope down towards the walls.
  • Kip: A unit of force or weight, equal to 1,000 pounds, used to measure engineering loads.
  • K-Rail/Jersey Barrier: A precast concrete barrier that comes in 10’ or 20’ lengths. These are used to separate traffic, protect traffic from a leading edge, or designate the construction zone.
  • MSE (Mechanically Stabilized Earth) Wall: A wall system consisting of vertical panels and horizontal straps backfilled with aggregate or soil. MSE walls allow for easier and quicker installation than traditional cast-in-place methods.
  • Pile: Usually, a long structural member driven into the ground to act as support for a foundation or wall. There are many forms of pile that differ by material, shape, and size.
  • Post-Tensioning: A method for prestressing (strengthening) concrete whereby cables are pulled or the concrete is jacked up after it has been placed.
  • Shoring: Temporary structural support for underground excavation to prevent soil movement or collapse. Shoring is used when you can no longer excavate to your maximum allowable slope.
  • Shotcrete: Concrete that is shot onto a reinforced surface, usually wire mesh, by way of air pressure and hose. Shotcrete is a typically installed on soil nail walls.
  • Strut: A structural member, usually inclined and shorter in length, used to resist axial force.
  • Toothing: When alternating bricks are left projecting from walls in order to bond with future work.
  • Tremie Concrete: Concrete that is designed to be poured underwater through a gravity feed system. This method is often used to create underwater foundations as well as seal cofferdams and caissons.

These are just some of the most common terms you’ll encounter when dealing with heavy civil firms. Understanding each of them will make communicating with your teammates much easier. After all, boosting communication is something Fieldwire is very passionate about!

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