Nfld. & Labrador

As lumber prices soar, retailers become the bearer of bad news

At Home Hardware in Witless Bay, owner Art Hicks is at his wit's end. For more than a year, he's been advising customers to delay building projects, due to the soaring costs of lumber. But now, he says, there are some people who can't afford not to build.

Art Hicks in Witless Bay says it's depressing to see customers hit with sky-high prices

Art Hicks, owner of Home Hardware Building Centre in Witless Bay, is tired of giving customers bad news about how much lumber costs these days. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

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:

Soaring lumber prices cut deep for customers, depress retailers

1 year ago
Duration 2:44
Art Hicks at Home Hardware in Witless Bay is tired of giving people bad news about how much their building projects will cost this year.

"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."

At Witless Bay Home Hardware, the price of a single 2x4 has shot up from approximately $3.39 last year to $13 this year. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

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."

The cost of a single sheet of OSB — oriented strand board — has risen from about $13 in 2020 to $62 now. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

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."

Trevor Poole picked up a single sheet of plywood to do some repairs on his boat. The price? $73 at the register. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

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."

A single sheet of plywood cost around $21 last year. Now it will set you back around $65. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

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Zach Goudie is a journalist and video producer with CBC in St. John's.

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