Nova Scotia

Lumber shortage raises big issues for construction industry

Both big and small construction companies are feeling the crunch of lumber supply issues in Nova Scotia. The industry has been overwhelmed by people doing home improvement projects during COVID-19.

Pressure-treated wood, plywood are especially hard to find

A lack of plywood could slow some new home construction projects this summer. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

There's a lumber shortage in Nova Scotia and it's forcing big and small construction companies to make some tough decisions on what jobs they can complete.

Some big construction companies are going to feel a lumber crunch this summer — the busiest time of year for their industry.

One of the reasons for the shortage is the industry has been overwhelmed with people doing projects during COVID-19.

"Like everything else with COVID, the plants were brought down to about 50 per cent efficiency and it takes a couple months for that to trickle on down," said Scott Smith, president of the Nova Scotia Home Builders' Association and the president of Rooftight Construction Ltd. 

"So when the production slows down but the demand for it speeds up, you're going to run into these bottlenecks."

COVID-19 is the reason behind a big spike in home improvement projects this spring. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Smith's company has been extremely busy over the last three months and currently have 34 new homes under construction in the Halifax area.

Pressure-treated lumber is especially hard to come by.

"In talking with my supplier about it this morning, they sold five months worth of pressure treated inventory in one month," said Smith. "It's everybody who has been home due to COVID and they're all fixing up their back deck and other projects and it's really hard to keep up with that demand."

Already some smaller contractors are feeling the effects of the lumber shortage.

Mark Wartak mainly does roofing and construction jobs in the New Glasgow area. He says the lumber shortage is coming at a bad time.

"Any contractor you talk to right now would tell you the same thing: it is way busier now than it ever has been," said Wartak. "I was just trying to think about what kind of jobs I could do that don't require timber."

Mark Wartak looks over his design plan to build a gazebo for a client. ( Mark Wartak Construction)

Wartak said he had been planning to build a small barn but that's now on hold.

He said he knows other contractors who are turning down jobs because supplies aren't available.

Kent running low on supplies

An email was sent to Kent Building Supplies sales associates last week.

"I just want to make sure everyone is aware of the current lumber and plywood market," stated Tim Liengme, district sales manager of Kent Building Supplies.

The notice made it clear there is a lack of wood products available.

"The huge sales increase has completely stripped the supply chain," the email stated.

Kent Building Supplies has informed some of their customers of a lumber shortage in certain items. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Plywood has also been in high demand over the last two months.

"There is no supply left in Atlantic Canada. Replacement from Western Canada is 5-6 weeks away ... Costs are through the roof."

Mary Keith, spokesperson for J.D. Irving Ltd., which owns Kent stores, said the email applies to most of the 49 stores in Atlantic Canada. She said the message was intended to support staff in their relationships with customers.

"It highlights challenges facing most home improvement stores right now — delays in securing supplies of plywood and pressure treated lumber," Keith wrote in an email.

"We are working to resolve the supply issue of plywood and pressure treated lumber as soon as possible and appreciate the patience of our local consumers and contractors."

About the Author

Paul Palmeter is an award-winning video journalist born and raised in the Annapolis Valley. He has covered news and sports stories across the province for 30 years.

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