150% increase: Soaring lumber costs hitting York County builders

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Construction is underway at the future site of Comfort Zone Mattress on North George Street in York City, Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The business was displaced from its previous location in August 2019, due to a fire at Yorktown Mall. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The cost of lumber has increased 150% during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing builders to delay projects or abandon them altogether.

"I have several clients that are building, and the cost since January has gone up simply because of the cost of lumber," said Tina Llorente, the president of the Realtors Association of York & Adams Counties. "It's adding a significant average of cost of the home."

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the average benchmark price for raw lumber generated by industry leader Random Length has increased by 150%. 

To put that into perspective, the average price for eastern spruce-pine-fir — one of the most common building materials used to frame a house — is roughly $1,000 per 1,000 board feet in 2021. Last year, the same building material cost contractors about $420 per 1,000 board feet, according to David Logan, the director of tax and trade policy analysis for the National Association of Home Builders.

Bryan Irwin of R. Packer Construction cuts plywood at the future site of Comfort Zone Mattress on North George Street in York City, Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The business was displaced from its previous location in August 2019, due to a fire at Yorktown Mall. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Prices spiked after lumber mills curtailed operations as the pandemic set in, and other factors also came into play, he said.

"This surge in 'do-it-yourself' demand really led to increased orders from big box stores as people were doing more projects while they were at home," Logan said.

As a result of the increased costs, professional projects for contractors have been delayed or abandoned entirely, he added.

Ken Simonson, the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, said he's never seen anything like the current demand and pricing for raw lumber.

"There's little these contractors can do to accelerate or get around these problems," Simonson said. "If you can't get the steel or lumber, it's not going to get the project finished."

In addition, products such as household appliances have experienced backlogs in delivery. 

Shawn Sheely, left, and Bryan Irwin, both of R. Packer Construction, work at the future site of Comfort Zone Mattress on North George Street in York City, Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The business was displaced from its previous location in August 2019, due to a fire at Yorktown Mall. Dawn J. Sagert photo

One contractor Llorente is working with, for example, ordered appliances for their client even though they haven't started moving dirt yet. 

Simonson also said materials and products aside from lumber have been delayed upward of 30 weeks. Steel, plastics and vinyl wraps have been "unattainable," he said.

Contractors have incurred price increases on other building materials because of an uptick in demand and delayed shipping times, Simonson added.

In an effort to aid builders, the Associated General Contractors of America has been working with the National Association of Home Builders to lobby for a removal of tariffs on Canadian lumber. 

The Trump administration imposed a tariff of 24% on Canadian lumber in 2017, according to The New York Times. In November, the U.S. Commerce Department slashed Canadian lumber tariffs to 9% in an effort to alleviate increased prices.

Simonson and Logan both said they are unsure when the increased prices of lumber will settle.

"It will be a mix of supply and demand adjustments," Simonson said. "It's clearly going to take time."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.