Lumber has become harder for businesses such as Siwek Lumber and Millwork in Jordan

Lumber has become harder for businesses such as Siwek Lumber and Millwork in Jordan to source since the pandemic shut down the lumber mills and people began spending more on home improvement projects. Siwek’s team in Jordan, from left to right, include John Heiland, Lindsey Walerius, Dave Siwek, Jason Pranghofer, and Mark Bartels.

Toilet paper and paper towels might be more plentiful now than a few months ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic is still causing shortages in many places of our everyday lives, including at the lumber yard.  

The National Association of Home Builders recently said the spike of softwood lumber prices has caused the price of an average new single-family home to jump by $16,148 since April 17. The price of an average new multi-family home has similarly increased by $6,107.

The group's website attributes the rise to insufficient domestic production and tariffs on Canadian sources. It says the price of lumber has "staged a staggering increase in recent months, rising roughly 80% since mid-April to an average price above $600 per thousand board feet. This increase will add thousands of dollars to the cost of a typical newly-built home, thereby constraining housing supply, exacerbating affordability woes and limiting housing’s economic impact."

Dave Siwek, of Siwek Lumber and Millwork in Jordan,  said the shortage became noticeable about two months ago when prices started climbing, first with treated lumber, and then the rest followed. Lumber has become harder for businesses like Siwek to source. He said he used to go to one supplier before the pandemic; now they go to six.

Siwek said the spike really hasn't affected trusses or prefabricated pieces; it's more the raw materials. He also attributes the spike to slowdowns at lumber mills in Canada and the southern United States. Lumber mills "weren't deemed essential" so they shut down and with the announcements that elected leaders were making about estimated death tolls, they weren't going to risk it, he said.

But since local residents weren't leaving their homes to go to work anymore, they were spending more time in their homes, and they found additions and changes to make to their homes. Siwek said demand increased, particularly in the early days of the pandemic.

"Early on, it was really busy," he said.

Overall, Siwek said the pandemic hasn't affected his business like it might have done to others. He said his business operates a hardware store as well as a lumber yard and credits the diversification for keeping his business open for 87 years.

According to information provided by Siwek, prices for SPF studs - Spruce Pine Fir - per board foot began to take off in June. Similarly, prices for Oriented Strand Board, which is a type of engineered wood similar to particle board, and plywood also began to skyrocket in the past few months.

Gary Crosby, of Gary Crosby Construction of Belle Plaine, said the lumber shortage also means a longer wait for supplies. He said what once took three weeks to get now arrives in eight weeks, and the prices are higher, adding about $12,000 to the cost of a new home.

Like Siwek, Crosby is also seeing more remodeling taking place in the Belle Plaine area. He said the pandemic is good in the short-term because it means more work but thinks it might be bad in the long term because there might not be any more work afterwards. He said he's never seen a situation similar to the present one. Crosby has been in business in the Belle Plaine area for 30 years.

"We're giving this virus a lot of credit in how we're handling it," he said.

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