Demand for lumber sparks shortage, high prices

‘If you can source it , you’re seeing influxes and price increases anywhere between 10 and 40 per cent’ 

Stephanie vanKampen · CBC News · Posted: Jul 20, 2020 6:00 AM AT | Last Updated: July 20

Construction in P.E.I. continues to boom, both big commercial and residential projects. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

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The lumber yard at Spring Valley Building Centre may look full, but Mike James, president of the centre, says he normally should have three or four times the amount of treated lumber that he currently has.

Still, more than a dozen trucks bring loads of lumber every day from wherever James can find it. He’s spending 12-14 hours a day just managing his inventory and trying to find more.

He’s had to look to Western Canada and even the United States to source lumber and other building supplies. 

‘It’s booming’

“It’s booming right now,” said James. 

“Our guys come in at 5:30 in the morning, get the trucks ready to go for delivery, and sometimes we’re delivering until 8 or 9 at night.” 

Lumber and other building supplies are being sold as fast as they can get delivered at Spring Valley Building Centre. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

The supply shortage is a result of a combination of factors. Some manufacturers are limiting operations due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Meanwhile, people stuck at home during the lockdown decided to invest in home renovation projects. That, in addition to an already busy construction industry in Prince Edward Island, have contributed to the issue. 

“The big thing at the start of this, in the spring, was everybody decided to do a reno to a deck, to a fence, or put a pool in,” James told CBC.

“And that became a bit of an issue with supply with respect to treated lumber.” 

Short supply and high demand means a higher price

The price for certain types of treated lumber continues to rise. It means a slim margin for suppliers like James, who are trying their best to accommodate projects that were quoted before the pandemic. 

Mike James, president of Spring Valley and O’Leary Building Centres, says it’s very challenging to source lumber right now. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

“Believe it or not, we can only quote probably four or five days max to hold that price, just because of the supply issue,” said James. 

“And you don’t know when the price is going to stop.”

The price has risen between 10 and 40 per cent over the last few months, depending on the type of lumber. 

James has even had to hire five or six more employees to help deal with the increased deliveries. He told CBC it’s hard to find people to take the jobs. 

Shortage of lumber, shortage of labour 

According to the Construction Association of Prince Edward Island, some contractors are noticing some types of lumber are more difficult to find, but so far, the shortage hasn’t had a great impact on the industry. But construction companies are enjoying the huge demand for their work. 

“It means more business,” said Sam Sanderson, general manager with the association. 

“Many contractors are booking for 2021 and 2022.” 

Plywood and 2×6 lumber are some of the items becoming scarce. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Sanderson said the other issue is finding skilled employees to keep up with demand. He said there are currently about 500 jobs available in construction across the Island. 

One reason the lumber shortage isn’t being felt greatly by contractors may be because many bought all the lumber needed for a big project back in the spring, and already have it in hand. But that may change by September. 

“The fall is going to be the crystal ball,” said Mike James.

“Nobody really knows what’s going to take place.”

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