The price of building supplies has risen through the roof in the past few months, and local retailers and contractors said they’re feeling the pinch.
“It’s not just lumber and plywood, but every product that contains raw materials,” said Mike Peeples, second generation owner of Peeples’ Building Materials in Pontotoc. “We’re talking about anything with metals, as well as oils and stains, vanishes, and paints. Almost all types of wood have increased in price, including spruce, general construction lumber, and premium grade lumber, like we sell, it’s all gone up.”
Plumbing expert Kurt Thompson said that a confluence of factors has driven the price of supplies so high that some contractors he serves have had to postpone projects.
“Almost everything we carry has poly packaging (polymerized plastic), including the casing and shell on Skill saws, almost everything on the shelves, even the soles of your shoes and the material in your car’s windshield--it all contains poly, and it’s gone sky high,” said Thompson, manager of Peeples’ Plumbing and Electric Materials.
Contractor Lee Plaxico said that the soaring cost of supplies has made it hard for him to offer cost-efficient services to his customers.
“I’m always honest with my customers, but the price of PVC pipe has doubled within the last year and half, so has copper, and water heaters go up on a week-to-week basis,” said Plaxico, who keeps six or even jobs going in the Pontotoc area on a weekly basis.
High supply costs have made it especially hard for Pontotoc Habitat for Humanity to continue serving those in need.
“I’ve been afraid that these escalating costs would drive us out of business,” said Habitat Executive Director Kim Easterling, whose non-profit has two homes under construction for partnering families.
“The rising cost of materials has become almost unmeetable, especially for an organization like ours, that depends on volunteerism and the generosity of donors to pay contractors,” said Easterling.
Lyle Harris, CEO of Behold Home Products in Pontotoc, said that escalating prices of raw materials have significantly impacted the furniture industry.
“Everything that we buy, including foam and plywood, has increased, and we’re doing our best to recapture as much of that as we can for our customers,” said Harris.
Cheap mortgages, a boom in home-building, and a large portion of the work force staying home with free time to do home improvement projects are among the factors that contributed to the skyrocketing prices of building materials, many analysts say. The COVID pandemic forced people to stay home, and with stimulus checks in-hand, they turned their attention to renovations. Thirty-year, fixed-mortgage rates fell under 3 %, nearing an all-time low. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the end of last year, new-build, single-family housing starts hit their highest rates since 2006.
A free-market economy should operate by supply and demand, but Peeples said he had doubts about the authenticity of the social contract. The volatility in the market reminded him of the circumstances under which his father started the family business in 1975, Peeples said.
“I sense the same lack of confidence in the economy,” said Peeples. “We’re experiencing the second year of artificially high prices. Look at the indicators. The demand for housing has gone up, but the building sector is equipped to handle it. Loggers are cutting just as many logs, but not getting paid more. We buy from our suppliers, who buy from the mills. It’s price gouging.”
Building studs, 2x4s, have gone up 300 %, Peeples’ said, from $3.79 per stud, to $11.37. Thirty-two board feet of plywood now costs $41.
“The price for blacking-in a house, framing it up, used to be $10-$15 per square foot, now its $40 per square foot,” said Peeples.
Plaxico echoed that concern.
“There’s no shortage of work, the market is still booming,” said Plaxico. “It’s just getting more expensive for us to build.”
Costs for plumbing are also skyrocketing. Thompson said that natural disasters were largely to blame. A fire at the Poly-America Plant in Grand Prairie, Tx., last year tremendously impacted the costs of packaging materials, Thompson said. Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm, pounded Louisiana in late August.
“One-hundred and eighty-three chemical plants were completely taken offline, most in Texas and Louisiana, and its been one train wreck after another,” said Thompson. The hobbled state of chemical plants has made things like PVC pipe more expensive. A 20-foot section of four-inch PVC used to cost $69, Thompson said. Now, it costs $96. “We sold it for $69 for years, and I’m doing all I can to keep the price down and stay competitive,” said Thompson. The poly coating on electrical wiring has also skyrocketed by 130 %, according to Thompson.
Harris at Behold Home said that soaring chemical costs are hitting the furniture industry hard, too.
“The resins used in making polyfoam, and many of the components that we use are increasing at every turn,” said Harris.
Production, packaging, and nearly every aspect of manufacturing is becoming more expensive, according to Harris.
“Even our overseas freight costs, to Asia, have quadrupled,” he said. “It seems like anything and everything we touch has gone up in price.”
Habitat for Humanity relies heavily upon donations, including building materials and labor, in order to construct affordable housing for qualified partners. Since contractors are feeling the pinch from escalating costs, donations are drying up, according to Easterling.
“Whereas we counted on donations, now it becomes a purchasing game, and its difficult,” said Easterling. “We were fortunate to have a home at 80 % completion, but its been sitting there for a while and has some work left to do.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, surging lumber prices have increased the cost of an average, new, single-family home by $35,872. The average cost of a Habitat home was $65,000 for a 1,300 square-foot home. That was before the current dilemma, when donations and volunteerism were robust. Pontotoc Habitat isn’t starting any new builds at the moment.
“We’re always prudent, but our selection criteria have changed because those with whom we partner to receive new housing have to have resources, like builders in the family, or other, outside means of help, a circle of people around them, to keep costs down and ensure that the build will be successful,” said Easterling. “We have to be really selective.”
As to a solution, Peeples said he was uncertain.
“It’s a blame game,” he said. “You look around, and there are lots of contributing factors.” Thompson was cautiously optimistic. “It’s going to take a long time to recoup from this, and I don’t know where the end is,” he said.
Easterling said she understood the plight that contractors are in, but Habitat’s mission continues.
“The spirit to donate and volunteer is still there,” said Easterling. “The need is great, and the help is getting smaller. We have to rally the troops.”