The price of lumber has had a roller coaster of a year.
After reaching a historic spike in late summer, lumber prices in the U.S. rebounded back to lows that they haven’t seen in months around mid-November. But — prices are starting to creep back up.
These spikes threaten the affordability of building new homes and threaten the housing sector, which is at the forefront of the country’s economic recovery.
Charlotte County building contractor T.J. Thornberry of Thornberry Custom Builders said that despite the spike in prices, it didn’t halt the industry.
“They’ve pretty much hit their peak,” Thornberry said. “The pandemic has some level of responsibility but it’s a culmination of things — tariffs with Canada, manufacturing capacity with the pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes.”
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the composite price of random lengths of framing lumber was at its highest in mid-September at about $950. In mid-April, the price was around $350, and it inched up every week until mid-September, when it hit its climax.
After the mid-September climax, prices drastically dropped and fell back down to about $550 in mid-November. But since then, they’ve started to rise again.
The latest price reported by the NAHB on Dec. 18 was $750 — which is still very high compared to years past.
Working together with the NAHB, almost 100 lawmakers sent a letter to President Donald Trump imploring him to address the price hikes that the organization says are threatening the housing market.
“These sharp increases are challenging, especially in light of the ongoing housing affordability crisis,” the letter states. “In response to these obstacles, we ask your administration to bring all stakeholders to the table and work to find a solution to address lumber scarcity and subsequent price spikes that ensures everyone’s needs are met.”
Bill Truex of Truex Preferred Constructions, like Thornberry, also attributed the price spike to the pandemic and Canadian tariffs. He said a friend building a house had to cough up $30,000 extra due to the increased lumber prices.
However, on Dec. 1, the U.S. Commerce Department reduced duties on shipments of Canadian lumber into the United States from more than 20% to 9% on softwood lumber shipments from Canada into the U.S.
While it’s a positive development, “more needs to be done,” said NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke in a statement.
“Everything that goes into building a home is not getting any cheaper,” Thornberry told The Daily Sun. “It’s not just one aspect like lumber, although lumber has been the most extreme in a short period of time.”
The biggest problem locally, builders say, is the lack of qualified workers to fill positions.
“We just don’t have enough workers in our area,” Truex said. “We were short on workers before the pandemic and the demand for them has not gone down.”
Focus is being shifted to bringing the youth into the construction industry, Truex said, but there’s not much of a coordinated recruitment effort.
The Punta Gorda metro area had the second-fastest annual job growth rate in mining logging and construction (+9.8%) in October compared to all Florida metro areas.
“Labor has been an issue since the Great Recession,” Thornberry said. “We lost every bit of a generation of young people coming into the trades. We’ve been dealing with that since the recession — it’s nothing new as far as I’m concerned.”