South Cariboo builders are busier than ever, despite a quadrupling of lumber prices over last year.
Some contractors in the region are booked for the entire year – scheduling into 2022 for new home builds – as the demand for housing in the region continues to climb.
In Williams Lake, construction projects run the gamet from home renos to multi-million-dollar construction upgrades and starts such as the B.C. government’s net zero carbon neutral project downtown, the new Chuck’s building on Mackenzie Avenue, the Williams Lake First Nations offices on Highway 97 and many, many more.
South Cariboo contractor Gordon Ross said both labour and building supplies are becoming harder to come by.
“In the big picture with house construction, it’s not just the lumber and sheeting that’s the issue,” Ross said. “We’re starting to see long wait times for a lot of other products as well – glass, PVC products, tubs and showers.”
Over the past six months, lumber prices have risen from about US$600 per thousand board feet to an all-time high of nearly US$1,700 in early May.
This time last year, the wholesale rate was hovering around US$400.
Theo Wiering, owner of Canada’s Log People Inc., said he has never seen the price jump as high as it did in the first half of this year, and chalks up the demand to a surge of would-be clients who held off last year during the first year of COVID-19.
“Last year, everybody held off building because of COVID, and the people that did hold off all came back in the winter as things started opening up again,” Wiering explained.
“We basically have two years of demand built into one year.”
The mountain pine beetle and subsequent closure of several mills throughout the province have also impacted supply, and Wiering estimates that translates to close to 250 truckloads of lumber per day missing from the supply chain.
The logs he uses for the homes his crew builds – the majority of which are shipped outside Western Canada – haven’t been as badly impacted by skyrocketing prices, he said.
“We’ve only had to increase our prices by about 15 to 20 per cent this year,” he said. “I think it’s going to settle down later in the summer and into the fall.”
While the climbing cost of lumber has affected the way Ohlund Construction quotes its customer base, the South Cariboo contracting company remains busy.
With a focus on larger build clients – most relocating from the Lower Mainland – Mike Ohlund said his customers haven’t been deterred by the higher costs.
“Most people don’t seem too concerned, they just want to get in line to build,” he said, noting he has turned away more business this year “than ever before.”
In January, Ohlund purchased a year’s worth of lumber, anticipating a busy few months and an uptick in supply costs.
“You do take a bit of a gamble doing that but in this case, it paid off,” he said. “Some things have doubled already from what we bought them in January.”
Ohlund said he has had to switch to open contracts when signing onto new jobs, given the uncertainty of lumber and other costs.
“You can usually plan to factor in and absorb some of the cost increases, but not a 200 per cent increase on lumber,” he said.
Although many in the construction business expect lumber prices to level off – over the past few weeks it has dipped as low as $1,200 per thousand board feet – Ohlund said he would like the government to intervene to prevent another meteoric rise in the future.
“I wish they could do more about it. All this timber comes from B.C. In my opinion, there should be some sort of law that if it’s coming from our province we should catch a break.”
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development told the Free Press via email that lumber prices are being driven up primarily by the U.S. housing market, and the current prices are a “bright spot for B.C.’s forestry sector after the COVID pandemic and a number of mill closures last year.
“The ministry does not set retail prices for lumber, retailers do,” said spokesperson Tyler Hooper. “Given the ongoing softwood lumber dispute, any intervention in market pricing would likely result in the U.S. government levying additional tariffs against Canada’s softwood lumber industry.”