What's the Difference? Precise Terminology for the Home Inspector
What's the Difference? Precise Terminology for the Home Inspector October Home Inspections 866 628-1084
What’s the Diff? Series
Precise Terminology for the Home Inspector

by Arlene Puentes, October Home Inspections

What's the Difference Between Cement And Concrete?

Cement is one of the ingredients in concrete. It is an adhesive that, when mixed with water, hardens through a chemical reaction (called hydration). Concrete is what is created with cement, water and aggregates (sand, stone or similar). So we always see a concrete side walk or poured concrete walls or slabs. We never see a cement walk, wall or slab.

What you need to know: Unless you're sure of your audience or are making a joke, don't use the terms interchangeably. It aggravates masons and allows smart aleck home inspection colleagues to smirk at you and say, "You mean concrete, don't you?"

What's the Difference Between Mortar And Concrete?

Mortar is a cement/sand/water (and usually lime) mixture designed for laying up masonry units like cement block, stone or brick. Mortar is "sticky" so it adheres to the block, stone or brick. Concrete is designed to stand alone.

What you need to know: You tell your home inspection client, "This foundation needs pointing." Your client asks, "You mean I should put cement in between the stones?" You say, "No. Not cement, not concrete. Mortar. And make sure it's a proper mix. Do your research. Refer to a professional mason if necessary. An improper mix can damage a foundation." And then, if you're talking about an older home refer your clients to The National Park's Service Preservation Briefs Number 2, Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Masonry Buildings at http://www.cr.nps.gov/hps/tps/briefs/brief02.htm

What's the Difference Between Masonry And Concrete?

Masonry, also known as stonework or brickwork, is made up of relatively large units (stone, bricks, blocks, etc) which are bound together by mortar into a monolithic structure. Concrete is made of cement, aggregates and water and is set into place to create a structure without units.

What's the Difference Between Cinder Blocks and Concrete Blocks?

Cinder blocks haven't been mass produced in about 50 years. These blocks are made, of course, from cement, water and aggregates. When coal was commonly used for fuel there were a lot of cinders available and cinders were used as one of the aggregates in making the blocks. So, strictly speaking, a cinder block is a building block made of cement, water and aggregates that include cinders. A concrete block, what we have seen since the 50's, does not contain cinders. Other widely used terms for these blocks are concrete masonry units, CMUs, grey blocks, building blocks and architectural units.

What you need to know: It's not necessary to correct your home inspection clients. If the house is younger than 50 years old you know they're probably not cinder blocks but it doesn't matter unless you sense that your client likes that kind of word information. It is a commonly used term and you're not going to explain things any better to them by correcting their terminology.

All text and photos © Arlene Puentes
Do not copy


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A Check and a Crack in a Wood Framing Member?
Yankee Gutters and Built In Gutters?
A Ridge Beam and a Ridge Board?
A Joist and an I-joist?
Stucco and EIFS and Fiber Cement Siding?

Building Science Research and Information

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