As lumber prices soar, retailers become the bearer of bad news
Art Hicks in Witless Bay says it's depressing to see customers hit with sky-high prices
At Home Hardware Building Centre in Witless Bay, just south of St. John's, owner Art Hicks is at his wit's end.
Every day, he has to deliver the bad news to customers about what it will cost to repair their patio, fix their fence or even build a house.
"It's very depressing. I've been at it 12, 13 months telling people, listen, material is still increasing," said Hicks. "It's not nice. It's putting a different feeling to it."
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the price of lumber has gone up dramatically. In most cases, Hicks says, costs today are three to four times what they were before lumber prices started climbing in 2020.
"And it's constantly, constantly rising. Every week we're getting new numbers, and it just keeps increasing."
Even though his business depends on lumber sales, Hicks says he's been advising people to put off building projects where they can. But he says that some people cannot afford not to build.
WATCH | Art Hicks explains how the price of lumber has soared, and some of the reasons why:
"We're after telling people not to build, but people have to," he said. "People need their fences repaired, people need to build a home, people need to shingle, they need to do repairs. It's just going to cost them a lot more money. I just feel for them."
How much is that plywood in the window?
Looking around his lumber yard, Hicks can quote huge price changes on nearly every item he sells.
"The customer last year were paying $3.39 retail for a piece of two-by-four pre-cut. And if we bring in more inventory, it's probably going to be more like $13 a pre-cut. Locally cut in Newfoundland."
Then there's OSB, or oriented strand boards, brought in from another province. "That went from, like, $13 last year [to] $62 a week ago."
Plywood has tripled, from $21 to $65 — if you can get it.
"Probably three months for delivery to get, if we can get. Pressure-treated [lumber] is very hard to get, and those numbers have gone up dramatically as well."
Customers with must-do jobs have little choice but to grumble and swallow the hefty costs.
Trevor Poole, for instance, arrived at the shop to pick up a single sheet of plywood for some repairs on his boat. He says the price at the register was $73.
"Extreme, isn't it? I wouldn't want to build a house," said Poole. "I need to get it, so whatever the price is, you got to pay to have it. I guess that's how it is."
Pandemic driving prices
Like so many of the big changes in the past year, Hicks said, there's one big factor behind the surging prices.
"The pandemic is after driving it because of shortages of workforce," he said. "People just can't go to work, because buildings, their staff are cut down because of social distancing in areas that got hit with the COVID. And that just puts pressure on everybody else."
Hicks says retailers have no choice but to pass on increased costs to their customers. He said some people have taken his advice and held off on building projects. But he feels bad for those who can't.
"Young couples that have to build are just going to pay a lot more money. And I just pity them, because it's not going to help those people at all. The younger generation? It's just costing them more money."
Hicks doesn't think the high lumber prices will get cut down any time soon.
"I think we're in for a rough year this year, and maybe even next year before it's all straightened away. And it could be even longer than that."