Lumber costs

Demand for lumber rose in 2020, which is creating higher prices at the lumberyard. 

If you walk through a lumberyard this month in anticipation of building a home, addition or shed, be ready for sticker shock. Prices on plywood, chipboard and studs are noticeably up, and the average price of lumber overall has almost tripled since Covid hit just over a year ago.

The National Association of Home Builders notes that just since last summer, the price of 1,000 square feet of framing lumber has increased from $450 to $1,050. For new home construction across the country, this translates into approximately a $24,000 increase in the price per single family home.

Why the extra expense? One reason is an unexpected demand for wood this past year. After the lumber industry set the supply output of dimensional lumber in anticipation for the 2020 building season, there seemed to be a run on the building supply stores by do-it-yourself builders. Kids home doing online school after the 2020 spring break, parents needing new office space, and possibly an increase of items on to-do lists may have ramped up this demand by homeowners.

Unfortunately, the dimensional lumber supply shortage may not lessen this building season due to labor bottlenecks and not enough lumber mills able to start up this past half year to keep up with demand. Also, an increased demand in wood pulp by the packaging industry as a result of the uptick on online deliveries and an active new construction housing market due to low mortgage rates both have seemed to increase the overall demand for wood.

An unfortunate result of these rapid increases in prices is that overdue home repair projects that may make a home more healthy may be now put off. Even families who may want non-lumber building materials to improve energy efficiency, such as windows, doors, insulation, etc., or change their interior décor may experience similar shortages of materials. This may cause homeowners to hold off on home improvement projects though they may have seen the need for repairs during this extended time at home. 

Nonetheless, here are some possible options for projects on your property this summer:

• Compare the price of metal studs to dimensional lumber studs for additions.

• If you do not have to match dimensions of an existing structure for an addition or are building a shed, check out the pricing of rough-cut lumber from a local mill.

• Investigate the price difference in substituting studs with metal roof sheeting for projects merely needing containment, like raised garden beds.

• Keep an eye out for availability and prices of used plywood and repurposed materials available at online resale sites like Craigslist and Marketplace.

While some residents may be apprehensive with the increasing prices to work on their home, remember that the increased use and possible uptick in occupant hours in home due to schools and workplaces being closed this past year may warrant action sooner than later. Improving ventilation for better indoor air quality and making sure that safety items, such as smoke detectors, are properly working may be at least as important as extending the square footage of your home or putting on a new room.

Art Nash is the Extension energy and radon specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 907-474-6366 or by email at alnashjr@alaska.edu.