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Construction industry faces lumber shortages as home improvement spikes during COVID

Canadians have been using their increased time spent at home to improve their backyards, basements, bathrooms and everything in between
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Thousands of Canadians have been using their increased time spent at home to improve their backyards, basements, bathrooms and everything in between. And the construction industry overall has been feeling the effects.

“Everybody’s fixing up their backyard or fixing up their decks, doing home improvement projects. It’s great to see, but it does put a lot of pressure on the retail lumber market,” says Scott Smith, president of the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association.

Smith also oversees the building of dozens of homes each year as president of Rooftight Construction.

There’s 34 homes under construction right now all at the same time, so we’re flying along,” he tells NEWS 95.7’s The Todd Veinotte Show.

Smith says the demand for various products fluctuates almost daily, meaning a product could jump drastically in price almost overnight.

“Every day there seems to be a new story of something. Yesterday was cabinet doors, the day before was interior doors,“ he says.

One of the main shortages has been plywood, which Smith says is due to production levels.

“The plants are working at best 50 per cent capacity if they’re event working, so when demand goes up and supply goes down, it creates a perfect storm for inventory.

The other main product in short supply has been pressure treated wood from large retailers. “The big box stores and the stores that we buy from have sold five months worth of inventory in one month over COVID,” says Smith.

Other items are also seeing delays in production due to the impacts of COVID on the workforce and the economy.

“Anything that’s produced in the US right now, especially like the mid-West, where COVID’s really hitting hard, is becoming a problem,” he adds.

But Smith says himself and other construction companies have been thinking outside the box to get supplies and make sure they still deliver homes on schedule.

“I always tell people that are asking me, cause this week I’ve gotten a lot of calls, just do better planning.,” he explains. “There’s more than one place to buy your lumber or buy your cabinet doors or buy your whatever.”

For his company, overcoming the shortage has involved calling up friends as far as British Columbia to ship supplies here.

“I would just call five or six builders that I know, ‘Who needs plywood? How much do you need?’ Let’s all put some money in a pot to truck this plywood across the country, and it’s actually cheaper,” says Smith.

Although some companies have reported turning down work due to limited supplies, Smith says there’s always a way to get the job done, it just may involve getting creative.

“I can’t imagine turning down work because you can’t get material. It’s just not that bad,” he says. “There are certain things you can’t get your hands on, things have spiked in price, but there’s options.”

Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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