Yukon builders see 'through the roof' increase in lumber costs

Common products like plywood, 2x4 beams and even deck screws are becoming harder to find in Yukon, as builders are feeling the effect of a national trend. Some prices have also doubled as lumber costs break records.

National trend has an effect in Yukon, as builders wait weeks for plywood and other staples

Maxime Dugré-Sasseville uses a sawmill to square timber beam outside Whitehorse. Many North American mills curtailed production temporarily earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Builders and suppliers in Yukon say they're feeling the pinch of a national trend as some lumber prices have increased and even doubled, to record-breaking highs.

Some common wood products are also getting harder to find. 

Yukon's situation is the same as what has been seen elsewhere in Canada, as sawmills struggle to catch up with demand.

Rob Fordham, president of Kilrich Building Centres in Whitehorse, says this is unprecedented, at least in his career.

The Kilrich store in Whitehorse has run out of oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing, which is a common type of plywood. He says some customers can't believe it.

Rob Fordham, president of Kilrich Building Centres in Whitehorse, says this current situation is unprecedented, at least in his career. He says there's an element of guilt that comes with selling product for four or five times what it used to be. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

OSB sheathing "is a staple for any construction project," he said. "We've probably been out for 10 days and waiting for the sawmills to release product. It could be weeks before we see more."

Fordham says the store's lumber supply is good overall, because of orders made earlier this year.

Nevertheless, even the common 2x4 is getting harder to find. The store is also out of deck screws and some fasteners.

"There's a lot of disbelief that we wouldn't have a sheet of plywood or a box of screws, but I think it's common knowledge that we're experiencing the same issues across North America," he said. 

New supply could take a while to arrive.

"The mills are struggling to catch up. What would typically take two to three weeks to procure is now taking six to eight weeks," Fordham said.

The lumber yard at Kilrich Building Centres in Whitehorse is busy these days, as there is more demand for construction material. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

2 trends collide to raise prices

Fordham says two trends are colliding right now.

On the one hand, production is down. Sawmills in British Columbia, Alberta and elsewhere have been reducing their output and are already backordered.

On the other hand, demand is way up. Perhaps because of COVID-19, people are buying more construction material as they tackle home projects.

The result is a spike in prices.

"In the last six weeks we've seen anywhere from a 60 per cent to a 100 per cent spike in commodity prices. It's still going up weekly," Fordham said. 

The effect is primarily seen in softwood and items related to framing, decking and fencing,.

"Anything that is made out of a tree is through the roof," Fordham said.

An employee of Carpenter's Construction measures timber for a log home outside Whitehorse. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Smaller contractors fear big buyers will stock up

Some companies say they're worried that larger ones will make shortages worse by flexing their buying power to load up in advance.

Wayne Cunningham with Kareway Homes in Whitehorse says he's already seen this happening. 

"The bigger builders see the shortages and they buy everything in the store," he said.

John Vogt is part of a small two-person construction business in Whitehorse called Vogt Homes.

He thinks the shortages are likely to get worse before sawmills catch up, partly because of big buyers, and because it's human nature to run on supplies when there's fear of a shortage.

He mentions another recent shortage that happened during COVID-19.

"I think it's going to get worse. Once you get shortages you get companies buying more and more. Like toilet paper. I think we're at the beginning of backorders and people feeling the pinch," he said.

Matthew Carpenter (right) talks with home builder Olivier Goury as he picks up timber from Carpenter's Construction off the North Klondike Highway. 'It's really going to affect people's ability to complete projects they've started right now,' Carpenter says of rising prices. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Outside Whitehorse, off the North Klondike Highway, Matthew Carpenter and four employees are working on log homes at Carpenter's Construction.

Business has been good this year with six homes built.

Carpenter says he's lucky enough to have existing stock of timber, most of which he bought more than a year ago from northern B.C., as well as Haines Junction and Watson Lake, Yukon.

Nevertheless, he says, every project requires some purchases for building the floor, foundation and roof.

That means a rising price will have an effect.

"It's really going to affect people's ability to complete projects they've started right now," he said.