Lumber prices on the rise throughout suburbs

  • Builders across the country are grappling with a lumber shortage.

    Builders across the country are grappling with a lumber shortage. Associated Press, 2019

  • A lumber shortage has caused a spike in prices.

    A lumber shortage has caused a spike in prices. Associated Press, 2015

 
 
Updated 5/14/2021 4:09 PM

Soaring prices for lumber and other materials have led builders -- both large organizations and do-it-yourselfers -- to change their plans or pay far more than expected.

Jen Parks, the executive director of the Chicago Habitat For Humanity, said leaders of local chapters throughout the region have had to face hard choices about the scope of their summer building projects.

 

"We are extremely concerned about this," Parks said. "We are keeping a close eye on this because, as a nonprofit fueled by philanthropic dollars, we may have to alter our plan if they keep continuing to rise."

Parks said her organization has not yet needed to reduce homebuilding plans, but she fears that might happen should prices continue to rise. She said the organization has already made two bulk lumber purchases in an attempt to lock in prices.

The supply issues go beyond lumber. Propane prices are up 30% this year from last, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The cost of paint has risen monthly 5% to 9%, according to the American Coatings Association.

Bottlenecks have occurred in part because companies were caught flat-footed by the speed of the economic recovery from the pandemic and consumers with stimulus checks to spend. With everyone now ramping up at once, manufacturers, shipping firms, miners and agricultural companies can't keep up, according to The Associated Press.

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Extreme weather is to blame as well. An ice storm in Texas led to a shortage of resin, which is used to make many types of plywood. Hurricanes in the East and tornadoes in the West hurt supplies as well. And the cost of shipping has increased in part because the nation's ports are at capacity, and large tanker ships are having to wait weeks before getting unloaded.

Tom Archambeau, who handles purchasing at Heller Lumber Co. in Arlington Heights, said the prices for lumber have increased during each of the last 27 or 28 weeks. Archambeau said the prices of plywood and similar pressed-wood boards are up as much as 600% from two years ago.

Archambeau said several mills closed down last spring as a precaution during the pandemic, and the lumber supply dropped. But it didn't take long before people staying home during the pandemic started buying lumber to work on projects around their homes.

"Last year it slowed down for two months, and then homeowners started coming in," Archambeau said. "We went from a contractor-based yard to a homeowner-based yard."

As restrictions have loosened, larger building projects have resumed. Contractors are back, and demand shot through the roof, Archambeau said.

"It's crazy. I've never seen anything like it," Archambeau said. "It's not just people playing games with numbers; it's real."

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