Lumber prices start to level off after skyrocketing this summer

Units of plywood stacked at a Haines hardware store.
Units of plywood stacked at a Haines hardware store. (Claire Stremple/KHNS)

There are a few jobs that have stayed steady through the pandemic, and contracting is one of them. But pandemic slowdowns in the supply chain mean the cost of doing business has gone up.

COVID-19 had a serious impact on the wood products industry down south. Mills and manufacturers closed for a while — or at least that’s what hardware store managers are hearing from suppliers.

“Demand started outstripping supply and causing the price of the product to go up,” said Robert Adams. He manages a Haines hardware store. He said prices started climbing as early as this spring, in April and May.

“Lumber started ticking up. Doug fir and hemlock, plywood started to follow and it’s been going up substantially,” said Adams.

It’s not just Haines. Lumber yards and hardware stores around the state say they’re having the same issue. Some have it worse than Adams — at least he can get lumber. Others aren’t always able to get certain items, like treated lumber.

Adams said the price of plywood has nearly doubled.

“Back in early April, February, April, it was about $19.99 a sheet. Right now we’re selling them for $35.50 a sheet,” he said, gesturing at a stack of exterior grade, half-inch plywood.

But Adams said people still buy it.

People like Haines contractor Carlos Jimenez.

“It happened slow. And then there was a really steep change a few months ago. Eyes didn’t pop out of my head. It just is what it is. I think the whole nation’s facing some tough times, and you just have to kind of roll with it,” he said.

Jimenez, who spoke to KHNS at the job site for a 2,000 square foot home overlooking the Chilkat River, said the prices have not slowed demand at all. Luckily, he bought the lumber for that job before prices ticked up. He said the difference could have been in the tens of thousands of dollars if he hadn’t.

“The customers ultimately have to, you know, bear the brunt of that cost,” he said. “Building is really strong right now, whether it’s people doing home projects, or looking for contractors.”

Jimenez said that even when the cost for new projects comes in higher, people are generally still up for it — even if the price jumps by a couple of thousand dollars.

Unemployment numbers are about double the state average in the Upper Lynn Canal, but some people still have work and still have money to spend.

“People are still working, they’re just working from home and they’re forced to spend a lot of time at home and now they wants some space,” Jimenez said.

“They want decks, lots of decks, additions, done a couple of those. And I think I think that’s really what’s driving it because people are spending more time at home than ever,” he said.

Prices have started to level off from their steady climb a few months ago, and the local demand will start to slacken as we head into winter.

But it’s not just lumber and plywood. COVID-19 shutdowns impacted many branches of manufacturing. Appliances have been hard to come by, and local automotive parts retailers report that suppliers can only fulfill about half of what they order.