Construction shortage: home improvements strain supply

By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
July 22 2020

GUYSBOROUGH – About to start a staycation on your back deck only to discover the boards have rotted? The odds are not in your favour if you want to get it fixed this year. Some construction supplies, pressure treated wood in particular, are in very short supply throughout Atlantic Canada. The Journal turned to regional and local suppliers to determine the cause of the backlog on orders.

One of the largest suppliers of building materials in eastern Canada is Kent Building Supplies, a subsidiary of the J.D. Irving Company. Mary Keith, Vice President of Communications for Irving told The Journal in an email interview that, “the supply issues are the result of increased consumer/contractor demand and this is a challenge for both US and Canadian home improvement stores (not just Kent).

“During COVID-19 we have seen an increase in the number of DIY home improvement projects…At the same time we also serve contractors involved in larger construction and renovation projects. We value and work hard to provide quality products and service to both.

“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,” Keith wrote, adding that plywood deliveries are expected in a four to five-week timeframe.

In the shiretown of Guysborough, Bob Cook owns and operates the only building supply store, a franchise of Home Hardware. Cook’s been in business for over 34 years, recently entering the building supply side of the market when he moved location from the shopping plaza in Guysborough to a larger store with a large lumber barn in West Cooks Cove.

“Right now, they are telling us you are probably looking at three months from time of order to delivery for lumber because of shortages,” said Cook, adding, “Treated wood, from what they are telling me, is basically impossible to get unless you have previous commitments. It’s basically impossible.”

The reduction in local supply is due in part to a misreading of market trends and uncertainty about what the government would do when the pandemic hit in March. “I had been ordering wood when the pandemic started but then I pulled back because they were telling us we could be closed at any given time because the government may not see us as an essential service. We were told not to order at that time and to wait. By the time we decided we would move forward, shortages were hitting.

“Crews stopped cutting wood, mills stopped buying…and people, about the second week of April, decided ‘We’re home,’ and they started doing renovations. And that is when the big demand started. Here in Nova Scotia it is a two-prong effect because Northern Pulp closed. There is not as much wood being produced, so sawmills are running short of logs. Most can’t get enough,” said Cook.

The hardware store is a hive of activity and Cook tells his customers, “They’ll just have to be patient and wait…You can go anywhere in the province and they’ll all tell you the same thing.”

“They’re cleaned out of treated wood. Anybody that had any, it is pretty well gone and there is only a minimum production. One treated wood facility has told us it would be Christmas before they’d even accept an order,” said Cook, which means Santa might be bringing you the wood to fix your deck.

In his many years of business, Cook has never seen anything like this before. “This is altogether different. There are production problems because a lot of the plants have had to almost retool because of the spacing for people in them. This meant that the supply side got challenged. On this end, people were told to stay home and when they stayed home, they were looking for things to do. I had one person in who said she was painting her house because, she said, ‘I got shack whacky and wanted something to do.’ I think as time goes on, you’re going to see more and more commodities that will become tight.”

Local contractor Danny Procure, proprietor of D. Procure Construction, said the shortages haven’t affected his business to date. “We are still getting our supplies. I just got a complete house package for framing arrive today,” he told The Journal on Friday.

“There are certain items that are not available such as pressure treated material and actual plywoods, OSB (oriented strand board, also known as particle board) is still readily available but plywoods are not. Pressure treated is really the biggest thing that is giving us trouble,” said Procure.

In terms of the pace of work here, Procure said, “It’s been busy but nothing out of the ordinary. We’ve always been busy. It’s the same as any other year.”