Supply chain issues still affecting Highlands construction

After a whirlwind second half of 2021, where the cost of lumber and other essential building materials practically doubled in a matter of weeks, prices have fallen more in-line with pre-pandemic levels this year, according to Kim Emmerson, owner of Haliburton’s Emmerson Lumber.

An increased supply of popular woods such as spruce, pine and cedar has helped to stabilize the market in recent months, a much-needed correction according to Emmerson after many contractors suffered a challenging building season last year.

But things are far from perfect, he added.

“If you were trying to compare the market with a year ago, then it is definitely better. But have the issues been solved? Not a chance,” Emmerson said. “Right now, it depends on the item. Sometimes things are available and sometimes they aren’t. The fundamentals of the business, being lumber and plywood, that’s quite available now. And it has dropped in price back to pre-COVID levels too.”

Supply chain issues and increased demand last year saw prices skyrocket, with a common 2 x 4 western spruce-pine-fir selling for as much as $1,300 (USD) per thousand board feet in the spring – nearly twice the previous 52-week average of $773.

As of June 22, that same order would run $630 according to the Canadian Forest Service.

Costs of other products, especially those made out of plastic, remain quite high, Emmerson said. And the products themselves can be difficult to find.

“PVC is still quite elusive and can be a challenge to get. Manufactured goods are still taking a long time to come in, too. For instance, windows – you could be waiting up to 16 weeks for an order to arrive,” Emmerson said. “Before COVID, if you wanted a window, you could get one quite easily within a month. Now you’re waiting at least four times that long.”

While last year’s issues in the supply chain could be largely attributed to a lack of products, this year it seems there’s a shortage of delivery options. Many trucking companies are reporting major labour shortages, meaning there are fewer drivers on the road.

“It ebbs and flows. For instance, copper wire wasn’t available for months and months, but now we have quite a lot. ABS pipe is starting to come in now, but that wasn’t available for a long time last year,” Emmerson said. “Items such as manufactured floor joists are very scarce right now, very difficult to find.”

Steel remains in short supply too, and has proved the exception to the rule as far as price corrections go.

“The price of steel has gone berserk,” Emmerson said. “A lot of that has to do with supply. There are still problems with containers coming in from the east. That’s proving to be a pretty significant issue for the industry.”

Emmerson said he isn’t expecting a major shift in lumber prices or availability again this year.

“There’s lots of supply right now, and there’s somewhat less of a demand from what we saw last year because of rising interest rates, and the higher cost of living. Gas prices have had a bad effect, I think,” Emmerson said. “Last year was kind of like a perfect storm. There were lots of people coming up here, looking to do work on their property, but because of everything that was going on in the world [suppliers] couldn’t keep up… Things have somewhat gotten back to normal now.”