SYDNEY — Downtime during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many home improvement projects and a massive lumber shortage across the province as a result.
“Whoever thought there’d be shortages of two-by-fours and pressure-treated wood?” said D.J. Syms, lumber manager of Wilson’s Home Hardware in New Waterford. “They have rail cars waiting in B.C. for lumber to come here and whatever is coming is presold. There’s a screw nail shortage believe it or not.”
Prior to December, Syms said they ordered more pressure-treated lumber than an anticipated need for customers of their New Waterford store as well as any customers sent out by their Sydney store. They thought they had enough supplies to last until the end of August.
“We were sold out probably about a month ago,” he said.
Another order for a further 55 lifts of wood since is almost gone, too.
“We probably could have used another 155 lifts,” he said. “It’s just absolutely insane what’s happening.”
The situation is a stark contrast from March when a state-of emergency was declared and they initially thought they’d have to close their doors.
Most of the staff went off work, only about half remained. In the meantime, they adhered to all the public health directives such as disinfecting carts, wearing masks and so on.
Instead of residents staying home, Syms said there was a total mass chaos of people knowing they wouldn’t be able to travel this year and deciding to use the funds for home improvement projects instead.
“Sales have been through the roof since.”
Now the challenge is the lack of any product tied to lumber including plywood, sheeting and even studs and screws. Right now they are waiting for another order of pressure-treated wood to come in as their supplier Marwood in New Brunswick cannot even get the lumber to treat it and their secondary suppliers are facing the same challenges.
Syms said they are also seeing customers they’ve never seen before, trying all the stores for products needed to complete their projects. They sold a woman in Mira some pressure-treated lumber to build a deck but don’t have the four-by-four posts, the main components on the sides,” he said.
The shortages are creating price hikes including the OSB board from $13 a sheet a month-and-a-half ago to $21 a sheet, which are not available anywhere.
“We still have a little bit of pressure-treated lumber but if someone came in today we couldn’t even give them quotes as the prices are changing daily.”
So busy, Syms said they’ve done about 50 garages there already.
“We usually do five or six homes a year,” he said. “We didn’t even do homes – we turned homes away — we were too busy. Now the guys who were doing homes were caught with their pants down because all the prices they were given are inflated 15-20 per cent and there’s no material to build.”
The hardware store does have some products for small do-it-yourself builds such as a garage or shed.
NEVER EXPERIENCED SUCH A LACK OF BUILDING SUPPLIES
Steve Shibinette, contractor sales for Gillis Home Building Centre in Sydney River, said the huge shortage of lumber and other building supplies right now is something he’s never experienced before.
“I’ve been in building supplies for 35 years, I’ve never seen it like this,” he said.
When the pandemic first hit here, Shibinette said everyone realized they would not be able to travel this year.
“People can’t travel, everyone is using the vacation money they had put aside on their homes, their decks, their pools,” he said. “They are putting in new windows. It’s all creating a huge shortage.”
As with all hardware stores now, Shibinette said it’s not only lumber that’s hard to get, but all kinds of building supplies and home improvement products.
“Even exterior paint and stains,” he said. “As quick as we get it it’s flying off the shelves.”
Shibinette said they are getting new product in every day. However, the shortage is also creating price increases.
“We’re trying to keep it as competitive as we can and to get everybody a little bit of whatever they need.”
BUILDS CONTINUE BUT SO DOES THE WAIT FOR SUPPLIES
An official with the Carpenter’s Union Local 1588, said the pandemic is causing delays with many project start dates.
Angus Darling, owner of East Isle Construction Ltd. in Coxheath, said they are continuing on projects, including a huge addition project in Big Pond underway, but the situation is causing delays on all building supplies.
“Windows …. we normally would have gotten something ten days ago and we only got them this morning and siding we were supposed to get it last week, we’re hoping to get it Friday. Everybody is just so busy.”
Recently speaking to a local building supplies company, Darling said he was told they were having the busiest year in 15-years and in one day alone four to five weeks ago, did $1 million in sales.
The problem is across the province. Darling said officials with a Cape Breton truss plant told him they even they got a call from a guy in Yarmouth who wanted to buy roof trusses.
“He said, “I don’t care how much it costs to get them here because in Halifax we have to wait four-to-six to eight weeks to get a set of them.”
However, Darling said there are some improvement projects people could still tackle right now, such as kitchens.
“I can order laminate kitchen countertops Wednesday and have them here the following Wednesday,” he added.
HOUSING STARTS IN NOVA SCOTIA
Kelvin Ndoro, Market Analyst for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, said housing projects in Nova Scotia are continuing to a varying degree during the pandemic.
“We have heard anecdotes from home builders on how the productivity of projects would have been impacted by challenging supply chain distributions, the slow pace of permitting, inspections, and rigorously applying social distancing guidelines,” said Ndoro, in an email response to questions.
Ndoro said it’s difficult to ascertain the overall impact of these challenges to the current level of housing starts, though.
Nonetheless, construction is higher so far this year in most of Nova Scotia after accounting for lower apartment and row housing starts in Halifax.
The year-to-date housing starts are down 38 per cent in Halifax while they are up 53 per cent in the rest of the province.
There have been 172 housing starts of all types in Cape Breton so far in 2020, compared to 56 in 2019.
Ndoro said the decrease in Halifax is due to a decline in construction of apartment and row houses.
In the rest of Nova Scotia, construction of single-detached houses is at a similar level to last year and has increased for all other dwelling types. Apartment and row housing construction has seen a significant increase in the rest of Nova Scotia relative to the first six months of 2019.