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Building terms and definitions

These definitions will help you understand common building terms.




  • Any construction or change to a building or facility that increases its external dimensions and cubic contents.


  • Land that can be sold separately under section 8A of the Sale of Land Act 1962 without being subdivided.


  • A change to the appearance, function, size or capacity of a building or facility.


  • Means approved by the relevant building surveyor.


  • A person who is registered under an architects’ registration Act and qualified to practice architecture, including the design of buildings and administration of building contracts.



  • An open or covered platform attached to an upper floor of a building, projecting from or recessed into the face of the wall and protected by a railing or balustrade; accessible from an adjacent room.


  • A protective guard rail to prevent people falling, at the edge of a stair, landing or a platform, with closely spaced infill such as balusters from the handrail down to the floor


  • The Building Code of Australia.

Building Act 1993

  • A legal enactment by a parliament that specifies the procedures to be used in the building control process, outlines the functions and composition of the controlling body or bodies, and grants power to create subordinate regulations, ordinances or by-law.

Building Appeals Board

  • An independent statutory body established under the Building Act 1993 that seeks the best possible building outcomes for the building industry and the community as a whole. It is empowered to determine any matter relating to the Building Regulations 2006, the Building Code of Australia and specified provisions of the Building Act 1993.

Building Commission

  • Provides industry leadership and regulates building quality.

Building inspections

  • Assists builders, contractors, and owners by ensuring that construction projects meet building regulations and codes of practice. Inspections assess design documentation and make on-site inspections during building work, checking that proper methods and materials are used. Inspection results are reported to the building surveyor.

Building Notice

  • The first step in the enforcement process, and also a written notice, requesting the owner to ‘show cause’ why certain actions should not be carried out.

Building Order

  • The second step in the enforcement process, and a direction to carry out work, to ensure a project complies with the Building Regulations 2006.

Building permit

  • A written approval from a registered building surveyor certifying that your plans comply with the Building Regulations 2006.

Building Practitioners Board

  • An independent statutory body established under the Building Act 1993. It oversees the quality and standard of professional services in the Victorian building industry, administers a registration system, and monitors the conduct and ability of registered building practitioners. The Board registers individuals, not companies or businesses. For more information, visit the Building Commission website.



  • A roofed, open or semi-enclosed structure for sheltering of motor vehicles, attached to, next to, or near a house.

Certificate of Compliance

  • A certificate in engineer’s design relevant to the job address, which accompanies the engineer’s drawings, computations and specifications. This certificate ensures that the design work complies with Australian standards and Building Regulations 2006.

Certificate of Consent

  • A written approval from the Building Practitioners Board that enables you to obtain a building permit and carry out domestic building work as an owner-builder on your own land.

Certificate of Final Inspection

  • Demonstrates that a building, other than a dwelling, has been inspected and passed, according to the Building Regulations 2006. It is obtained once the final inspection has been inspected and passed.

Certificate of Title

  • A Certificate of Title is an official record of land ownership that can include information about mortgages, covenants (restrictions), caveats and easements.

    A complete Certificate of Title must include:

    • Registered Search Statement containing information relating to:
    • land description
    • registered owners
    • covenants/encumbrances
    • Title/Plan Diagram
    • Restrictive Covenant - a written agreement between the seller and the purchaser of a piece of land restricting what the land can be used for

    To obtain a Certificate of Title, visit the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure website.

Clear to the sky

  • An unroofed area or an area roofed with a material that transmits at least 90 per cent of light.


  • The achievement of performance criteria described in a regulation or other statutory requirement. This is usually demonstrated by a compliance or approval certificate.


  • An agreement entered into between two or more parties that involves an exchange of specified goods and/or services for specified financial reimbursement or other considerations.



  • A horizontal platform attached to, or forming part of, a building.


  • The complete or partial taking apart and removal of a building or structure, by pre-planned and controlled methods or procedures, and normally carried out before redevelopment work.

Detached dwelling

  • A free-standing residential building.


  • An entrepreneurial organisation or individual who purchases land for subsequent subdivision, and/or development, and sale on a unit basis.

Detached dwelling

  • A free-standing residential building.

Domestic dwelling

  • One or more buildings which, in association, constitute a single dwelling, being:

    • a detached house, or
    • one or more attached dwellings, each being a building, separated by a fire-resisting wall, including a row house, terrace house, town house or villa unit, which is not located above or below another dwelling or class of building other than a private garage. (BCA Class 1m, 1a or 10a)


  • Designs and develops working drawings (plans).


  • Documents presenting information in pictorial form with or without text, including plans, sections, elevations, projections or perspectives of elements, and their location, interrelationships and sizes.

Dual occupancy

  • The sharing of a single residential site by two independent households, sometimes housed in separate buildings.


  • A building or a part of a building intended for use as a residence by a single household.

Dwelling unit

  • A self-contained suite of rooms, including cooking and bathing facilities and intended for long-term residential use. 



  • An area of land, or part of an allotment, reserved by law for a specific purpose, such as access, drainage reticulation, or municipal services.


  • A view of the façade of a building or an object, and the drawn projection of the façade or object. 


  • Helps protect the safety and health of people in buildings and public places, promote cost-effective construction, and resolve environmental and energy issues.


  • The removal of earth or rock to previously determined excavation lines and levels, to form a hole for the structural supports/floors of a building below ground, or a trench for services.


  • An addition to a building to enlarge its covered floor area. 



  • A restricting structure or screen placed on boundaries of an allotment or an enclosure of open areas to maintain privacy and/or security, or to define that boundary.

Final Inspection Certificate

  • Indicates that a structure other than a dwelling has passed the Building Regulations 2006. It is obtained once the final inspection has been inspected and passed.



  • An enclosed structure for the secure storage of motor vehicles. Domestic garages may be distinguished as ‘single garage’ for 1 vehicle, ‘double garage’ for 2 vehicles, and ‘triple garage’ for 3 vehicles.


Habitable room

  • A room in a house, flat, or other residential building designed and used for normal domestic activities. It includes bedroom, living room, lounge room, music room, television room, kitchen, dining room, sewing room, study, playroom, family room and sunroom.



  • A person authorised to regularly inspect the contract works, or a part of the works, for compliance with legal or contractual requirements (especially to ensure contract documents are being followed).


Major domestic building contracts

  • Required if you engage a building practitioner or tradesperson to carry out building work valued at over $5,000.

Mandatory inspections

  • Are required:

    • before placing a footing
    • before pouring an in situ reinforced concrete member nominated by the relevant building surveyor
    • on completion of framework
    • on completion of all building work

Municipal Building Surveyor

  • Issues building permits and has extensive additional functions related to community safety, and the administration and enforcement of building legislation in their municipality.


Occupancy permit

  • Attained for new dwellings once the final inspection has been approved. It indicates that the building can be occupied.


  • A building not intended for human habitation but forming an accessory to the principal use of associated buildings including a: 

    • carport
    • garage
    • machinery room
    • farm building
    • shed
    • greenhouse
    • public toilet
    • private swimming pool


  • When a habitable room window or raised open space of a building on an allotment provides a direct line of sight into a habitable room window, or on to a secluded private open space, of an existing dwelling on an adjoining allotment.


  • When a building reduces the sunlight to a recreational private open space of an existing dwelling on an adjoining allotment, to the extent that less than the required minimum area of the recreational private open space has less than 5 hours of sunlight between 9am and 3pm on 22 September.


  • A person who carries out domestic building work on his or her own land, who is not in the business of building.


Party wall

  • The wall between two adjoining buildings or occupancies, which provides common structural support and fire separation.


  • An unroofed structure over a path, terrace or patio, supported on posts or columns.

Private building surveyor

  • Independent professionals with the same power to issue building permits and occupancy permits as municipal building surveyors.

Private open space

  • Private open space refers to:

    • an unroofed area of land
    • a deck, terrace, patio, balcony, pergola, verandah, gazebo or swimming pool

Property Information

  • Report that provides information for permits issued in the last 10 years and details of any overlays (i.e. flood prone) on that property.

Protection of adjoining property

  • Must be provided in respect of an adjoining property, before and during the carrying out of any building work, if required by the relevant building surveyor.

Public buildings

  • An assembly building including a trade workshop, laboratory or the like, in a primary or secondary school, but excluding any other parts of the building that are of another Class. (BCA Class 9b)



  • A person accepted by the relevant authority as qualified to design, construct (or install), or supervise the erection of, buildings or services; usually recognised by a certificate of registration.


Recreational private open space

  • Any part of private open space on an allotment that is:

    • at the side or rear of an existing dwelling on the allotment
    • within the front setback of an existing dwelling on the allotment
    • screened for at least 90 per cent of its perimeter by a wall, fence or other barrier that is at least 1.5m high
    • has no more than 25 per cent of its area open
    • primarily intended for outdoor recreation activities

Report and Consent Approval

  • A Report and Consent Approval – is provided by your council – and is required for works that involve a variation to the Building Regulations 2006.

Retaining wall

  • A wall built to hold back a mass of earth or other solid material behind it, and designed to resist lateral pressure and overturning forces from the retained material. 


Safety barrier

  • A fence, wall, gate or screen, including doors, windows, locks, latches, hinges and self-closing devices attached to them.


  • A horizontal distance from a boundary or building.

Site coverage

  • That part of an allotment which is covered by buildings, expressed as a percentage of the area of the allotment.

Six Star Energy Rating

  • All new houses in Victoria must include a greater range of energy-efficiency and water-saving features, improving occupant comfort and reducing the cost of energy bills.

Spa pool

  • A water-resisting structure for use by a number of people, which has a facility for heating the water within it and injection air bubbles or jets of turbulent water.

Stormwater information

  • A report that indicates the location of the point of stormwater discharge from an allotment, either within the allotment or at the allotment boundary. This report must be obtained for a building permit application where the building work includes a stormwater drainage system.

Street alignment

  • The horizontal shape of the boundary between the road reserve and the adjoining land.

Strip footing

  • A footing or rectangular cross-section, poured in a continuous horizontal strip for placement under a length of wall.

Structural reinforcement

  • Reinforcement, including reinforcing steel and pre-stressing tendons, provided for crack control or to resist forces caused by in-services loading, and thermal and shrinkage movements.


  • A construction, not necessarily roofed, which performs a function or functions requiring rigidity, such as a bridge or a mast. 


  • The horizontal surface on which the underlay or floor covering is to be laid. 

Swimming pool

  • An artificial basin for recreational or competitive swimming and other aquatic activities such as wading, paddling, and water sports. 

Swimming pool fencing

  • A childproof enclosure for private outdoor swimming pools required by legislation. 



  • An open or partly open portion of a house or building, or a roofed space attached to a building outside the principal rooms, and covered either by the main roof or a separate, lower roof.



  • Includes roof skylight, glass panel, glass brick, glass louvre, glazed sash, glazed door, translucent sheeting and any other building material that transmits natural light directly from outside a building into a room.