Lumber mania is sweeping North America

“When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, many people in the lumber industry assumed business was about to go sour. Millions of people were out of work, businesses across the country were shuttered, and the country was in a recession. And so, producers reacted accordingly.

 “They really dialed back, thinking that demand would fall, and the reality is that demand never slowed,” said Dustin Jalbert, senior economist and lumber industry specialist at Fastmarkets RISI.

 Instead, things sped up. People stuck at home because of Covid-19 shutdowns across the country decided it was a good time to take on home improvement projects repairing and remodeling their homes — they put up fences, added on decks, built out offices, refinished basements. The DIY trend helped drive stellar sales numbers at stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Many of those who weren’t busy fixing up their homes went looking for new ones. And where they couldn’t find preexisting homes, they started to build. Whatever initial slowdown there may have been in construction pretty quickly subsided. “Us being capitalist America, if people want to buy a house because they want to move out of the city and move to the suburbs, someone will build it for them. They’ll figure out a way,” said Michael Wisnefski, CEO of MaterialsXchange, an online marketplace for lumber and plywood.”  

“demand isn’t just surging in North America; it’s also up overseas, which further strains the industry.”

“Finding lumber workers was challenging pre-Covid-19; during the pandemic, it’s been even harder. Sawmills have had a hard time staffing up and adding shifts, not only because of Covid-related restrictions and safety measures but also because a lot of people don’t want to work those types of jobs. Some people Ispoke with suggested expanded unemployment insurance, which adds an extra $300 a week onto state benefits until September 6, may also be a factor — though, of course, sawmills are making so much money now they might be able to afford to pay workers more and court them back.”

“He notes that many people just don’t understand how hard it is to get a sawmill up and running. “They’d like to see our industry respond to these prices and make new lumber, but a new sawmill today is $100 million, it takes two years to build, and there’s no guarantee you’re going to have the raw materials to run it.” Plus, who knows how long this current surge will last.”

“For his part, Barber, in Canada, isn’t seeing much of a bump in his paycheck. “The price of lumber has gone way up, the mill’s making a lot more money, but they’re not paying us any more,” he said. “It’s funny how that works.””

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