Soaring lumber prices leave cottage builders in a bind

Wood factory stock and lumber board with nature business export Photo by Foryoui3/Shutterstock

Lumber has joined the ranks of housing and hospitality as markets upended by the coronavirus pandemic. The price of lumber has doubled sometimes even tripled, in value since the start of the pandemic, leaving many cottage builders and renovators with a shocking bill for simple raw materials.

“When the contractor showed up and said ‘Well here’s the estimate on the wood,’ I almost fell out of my chair,” says Laurence Bishop, who is renovating his cottage in the 1000 Islands overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, Ont. “It’s really made me think about alternatives and certainly think about changing the timelines in which we want to do this now. ”

Laurence Bishop’s cottage in the 1000 Islands. Photo by Laurence Bishop

The pandemic saw the suspension of many lumber mills, while people flocked towards their new home purchases or cottages. As people nested and prepared for stay-at-home life, home renovation projects drove the demand for lumber. The result is a warped supply chain and sky-high prices.

Bishop is having his cottage lifted in order to replace the front room floor that had suffered water damage. He said his contractor couldn’t give him an exact price for the 400 square-foot room, but a rough estimate landed around $40,000. But Bishop says this price could potentially jump up to $60,000 depending on the volatility of lumber prices.

Photo by Laurence Bishop

He had also planned on having a deck and two-door garage constructed. “With the current pricing we’re operationally looking at changing that whole thing now,” he says. Now, he’s considering using composite material for the deck and pushing timelines back.

With the surge in prices, renovators like Bishop are largely left bearing the brunt of the cost, while contractors are caught in an uncomfortable middle.

“It’s not only just lumber, its steel, basically any building component right now has skyrocketed in price,” says Andrew Pearson, a project developer and estimator for Gilbert+Burke, an Ontario-based contractor.  For instance, Pearson says a 2×4 plank of wood used to cost around $4 and it’s currently almost $9, and a sheet of 1/2 in tongue and groove plywood is currently priced at $82, when before the pandemic it would cost under $30.

“When you’re trying to acquire a new job, obviously the price is going to be a shocker to the client,” he says. “But on top of the increased prices, the lead times on specific materials has increased drastically, so you have to plan further into the future.”

When Pearson has presented the shocking estimates to his clients, he says they’ve had to make the tough decision of either footing a heavy bill or waiting until the prices subside. When the market prices will correct is uncertain, but many experts estimate it won’t be anytime soon, possibly taking until 2022.

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