Ottawa

Decks, fences and other pandemic projects lead to local lumber shortage

First, it was TP flying off the shelves during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it's PT — or pressure-treated wood, say contractors and local businesses.

Pressure-treated wood and cedar both in short supply in Ottawa

Mark Priddle, co-owner of The WoodSource in Manotick, shows off his empty shelves that would normally store cedar and other types of lumber. Two or three truckloads are brought in each day, Priddle says, but they're gone by the end of the week. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

First, it was TP flying off the shelves during the pandemic.

Now, it's PT — or pressure-treated wood — that's been disappearing from lumber yards around Ottawa.

Blaire Cabelguen has been a contractor for 10 years, and said COVID-19 has caused one of the busiest summers he's seen.

"Everybody's been at home, so I guess it's time to finish off that 'honey-do' list," Cabelguen said.

Cabelguen said he's seen a 70 to 80 per cent increase in the number of clients he's had compared to last summer, mostly people wanting work done on their decks, kitchens and bathrooms.

"We basically had to tell them that now we're booking into the winter because, you know, at this point we're turning away customers because we just can't handle the workload."

Tracking down pressure-treated wood — which uses chemicals and pressure to make planks more resistant to the elements — has been particularly difficult, he added, with most store shelves "pretty well bare."

Blaire Cabelguen says business is booming this summer as people tackle home improvements like new decks and fences, but that's led to a run on certain types of wood. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Travel budgets going toward home improvements

The high demand has been especially noticeable at The WoodSource in Manotick, where they've seen a shortage of both pressure-treated wood and cedar, which doesn't need to be treated.

"A lot of people got stuck at home for two to three months or longer because of COVID-19. So a lot of people who maybe had trips planned, that budget went towards home renovation, making their backyard better," said co-owner Mark Priddle.

Everyone who had a project hanging over their head for the last two years, they're like, 'Well, I have time at home, I'm going to do it this year.'- Mark Priddle

"When they're stuck at home, they have somewhere to hang out and just enjoy the summer."

Those higher prices are being driven by a lack of supply and the fact the B.C. government set a higher stumpage fee — a fee individuals and companies pay to harvest lumber on crown land — early in the pandemic, but Priddle said demand hasn't decreased.

He said his company has seen a 40 to 50 per cent increase year-over-year on home renovations, and a 200 per cent increase in the number of calls they've been receiving since the pandemic began. 

"Everyone who had a project hanging over their head for the last two years, they're like 'Well, I have time at home, I'm going to do it this year,'" said Priddle. "So that's where the demand has come from it seems."

Mark Priddle, co-owner of The WoodSource, says he's seen an increase in demand for certain types of wood. Contractor Blaire Cabelguen says his business can hardly keep up with people’s home renovation requests. 1:00

'Frustrating but understandable'

That describes Bruce Goodman, who's been building cedar planter boxes for his wife during the pandemic.

Goodman said he visited three different lumber stores in one day, only to return empty-handed. Eventually, he was able to find a workaround: buying scrap wood from one store.

"I waited. I scavenged. I had some old bits and pieces that I was able to use," he said.

"It was a little frustrating, but understandable. I know that a number of the mills were closed down, including those in the west, in B.C., where the western cedar comes from. So it's understandable that there wasn't much available."

Bruce Goodman made this planter box out of wood scraps after he couldn't find cedar planks at three different Ottawa retailers. (Supplied by Bruce Goodman)

Priddle compares what's happening now with lumber to what happened early on with toilet paper — a run on supplies and contractors buying up whatever does make it into the yard.

"We're seeing a little bit of that right now, where consumer behaviour is driven somewhat irrationally."

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