Pandemic Spurring DIY Projects, Driving Up Lumber Prices

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Since bottoming out in early April, wholesale lumber prices have soared 50 percent. At $523 per thousand board feet recently, they were well above last year’s level.

Sawmills, which slashed production in the spring in anticipation of a painful recession, found demand for lumber holding up better than expected, thanks in part to home improvement projects inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With people stuck at home and unable to get out and travel, they’ve been putting a lot of energy into projects around the house,” said Shawn Church, editor of Random Lengths, a lumber industry newsletter. “This has created quite a strong demand for fencing, decking [and] treated lumber that the do-it-yourself sector is known for.”

Just as food service companies accustomed to supplying restaurants have struggled at times during the pandemic, lumber companies are also making adjustments because homeowners have different needs than professional construction crews.

“The do-it-yourself sector is also called the ‘over-the-shoulder’ trade,” Church says. “With that image in mind, you see a lot of shorter-length lumber — eight- and 10-footers.” In other words, whatever fits in the back of a personal pickup or SUV.

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LendingTree says requests for home-improvement loans were up nearly 8 percent in a recent month compared to a year ago. There’s also been a surge in Google searches such as “How to build a deck” and “How to build a shed.”