Builders blame pandemic as lumber supplies drop and prices spike

As new home sales soared in the summer months, getting lumber to start and finish home construction has become a challenge.

The pandemic shutdown resulted in short supplies and high prices from lumber mills, and it’s affecting the construction industry from wood needed for framing to indoor trims.

“Last week I had a lumber package for a new construction house that was $20,000, and I had added 5 percent to the budget to compensate for the lumber increases because we’ve been hearing so much about them,” said Heather Ferrill, the owner of Ferrill Construction Company in Tampa. “So last week that lumber package went up to $38,000 in one week.”

That was much more than Ferrill ever thought.

“I guess at any given time there’s a certain amount of lumber on the ground ready to ship, and they’re just really behind in production. So, we really felt it last week,” she said.

Demand for lumber to use in new construction and do-it-yourself home projects rose even though production drastically slowed or even stopped at mills. The Florida Home Builders Association said the lumber also affects the buyer.

“Affordability is always an issue when we talk about home building,” said Michael Bourre, the president of the Florida Home Builders Association. “Over a $16,000 increase in the purchase of a single-family home and in townhomes or multi-family homes, we’ve seen over $6,000 increase just based on what’s going on with the lumber today.”

Construction leaders said two things would help builders and buyers.

“Increase production and then address the tariff that’s coming on Canadian lumber, and of course we’re hoping to see this relief come sooner rather than later,” said Bourre. He added that the mills are beginning to increase production to help balance the prices.

“Right now, they’re saying that people will lock prices in for three weeks. Some people only lock for seven days,” said Ferrill about her lumber orders.

For builders like Ferrill, she hopes the changing prices won’t last much longer.

“I’m scared if the lumber increases continue because it’s hard to compensate for them,” said Ferrill.

The FHBA said the price for lumber went from below $300 per 1,000 board feet in April to $934 in August. Builders said the lumber shortage could also make house construction take longer.