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Examining 15 Common Column Terms

A column, be it on a front porch, grand entryway, or other covered overhang, seems like it should be an uncomplicated way to add some elegance to a project. With all the strange terminology and different expressions thrown around it sometimes can feel like that is not the case. We are here to assure you that a column is a simple way to immediately dress up your project. The list below outlines 15 of the most common terms regarding columns. While we are looking from the aluminum column perspective, many of these terms are universal to all column varieties. If you are looking to add an extra layer to your project, check out our list of 20 common railing terms….and if you are ready to dig extra deep don’t forget our list of 12 key construction terms.  

Column: An upright pillar, generally cylindrical or square, supporting an overhang, arch, or other structure. Can be made of numerous different materials but most commonly are found as aluminum, fiberglass, stone/concrete, PVC, or wood.

Cap/Capital: A generally square item that fits around, and attaches to, the top portion of the column. The cap/capital serves multiple purposes including: completing the architectural look of the column, keeping dirt and unwanted debris from falling inside the column, and adding a decorative element to the column (if desired). 

Base: A similar item as a cap/capital except that it is intended to be placed at the bottom of the column instead of the top. Oftentimes a base and cap can be interchangeable in terms of their position. 

For an indepth look at Superior caps and bases, click here for Square Columns and here for Round Columns

Column Stave: A full length section of column that snaps together (or is alternatively fastened) with other 2-4 similar sections to create the full column. A column may be sent as staves in order to prevent shipping damage and maintain wrap-around capabilities 

Column Profile: The shape and style of a column. Most manufacturers will have several different options to guarantee a good fit in the architectural environment they will be placed in. Superior Aluminum has four profiles – Square Fluted, Square Panel (sometimes referred to as recessed panel), Square Smooth, and Round Fluted. 

Square Fluted

Square Panel

Square Smooth

Round Fluted

Wrap-Around Column: Columns assembled at the time of install can be utilized as wrap-around columns. The staves snap or join around an existing structure to fulfill one of two purposes:

  1. Cover an existing support that the property owner no longer wishes to showcase
  2. Use a different or existing material as a load-bearing structure and cover it with a more architecturally pleasing column

Any column intended to be utilized as a wrap-around column MUST be paired with a wrap-around cap and base.

Load-Bearing: Refers to a column’s ability to support weight. Many columns are load-bearing, with the general exception of PVC, vinyl, and some thinner-wall aluminum columns. If a column is not load-bearing, it must wrap-around a structure which is. All Superior Aluminum columns are load-bearing by design.

Nominal Diameter: The measurement the column or cap/base is listed as. May not be the same as the actual diameter for architectural and structural reasons. When referencing a cap and/or base this number dictates which size column the item should be paired with

Actual Diameter: The actual measurement of the column or cap/base. Can be measured both as inside diameter or outside diameter. May not match the nominal diameter for architectural or structural reasons

Maximum Square Encaseable Dimension: The maximum size of existing structure that can be wrapped-around by the corresponding column size. For example, a 6” wide Square Fluted column has a max square encaseable dimension of 4-5/8” meaning any structure at or below this diameter is able to be wrapped-around by a 6” Square Fluted Column. 

Load-Bearing and dimension data for Superior Aluminum Columns can be found here for Square Columns and here for Round Columns

Safety Factor: The published load-data of a column generally is less than the actual data which tests show is the absolute maximum weight a column can hold. The difference in the maximum and published data is the safety factor. All Superior Aluminum columns have a safety factor built in

Astragal: An accessory piece, generally for smooth profiles, that creates some texture in an otherwise flat column

Panel Inserts: Separating devices used to add depth or a unique look to a panel/recessed panel column

L-Bracket: A 90-degree bracket that enables a column to easily be fastened to the structure it is supporting at both the top and bottom.

Bearing Plate: A metal plate which sits between the column and the structure it is supporting to take pressure off of support area. A common example is a bearing plate being utilized so that an aluminum column does not dig into a vinyl porch

Whether you are talking aluminum columns or an alternate material, columns offer support for a roof or overhang in your project…. just as we are ready to offer you support. Confused by anything above? We are happy to help answer any questions you may have regarding your next home improvement project, simply give us a call at 800-548-8656 or contact us here

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