The Lumber Conundrum (And How it Affects Us)

July 13, 2021

If you've been to a hardware store recently, you are likely to have noticed an unsettling trend. No, it's not the resurgence of mauve and avocado bathroom fixtures, but something lurking a few aisles over: Lumber.

Over the past year, lumber prices skyrocketed a whopping 377%. To put that into perspective, it costs the same amount of money to frame two homes now as it did eight homes in May 2020. This dramatic increase in cost has not only foiled the plans of homeowners across the country hoping to complete projects on existing houses; it has severely hampered our ability to construct new Habitat builds.

But before we get to that, what exactly is going on with the lumber industry? It's complicated.

How We Got Here

The majority of softwood lumber used for construction in the United States comes from Canada. In 1982, the U.S. government implemented tariffs on Canadian lumber, kicking off something of a trade war between our two countries. Despite these ongoing disputes and renegotiations, lumber costs remained relatively predictable over the resulting years. That was until April 2017, when the United States ramped up the tariffs on Canadian lumber to over 20%. Volatility in the market forced many sawmills to close and the supply of lumber coming to the United States to drop.

Now, let's throw in a pandemic.

Labor shortages caused by the onset of COVID-19 made it nearly impossible for the already-struggling sawmills to keep up with the demand for lumber. And that demand was only going to grow. Millions of house-bound Americans became eager to dive into renovation projects as work-from-home orders carried on. In addition, record-low mortgage rates led to an explosion of home buying across the country, including new home builds. With less and less lumber to go around for construction, prices continued right on through the roof.

The Impact on Our Work

Lumber price is generally represented by USD per 1,000 board feet (bd ft). Before this crisis, this usually stayed somewhere between $200 and $400 per 1,000 bd ft. In May, however, that number hit $1,635, an all-time high.

Even though prices have come down slightly since May, it now costs us approximately $15,000 more to frame one of our houses than it did before the spike.

How You Can Help

We exist because we believe in affordable housing for hardworking people. During our 42 years serving the Denver metro area, we have had the joy of helping more than 1,000 families achieve first-time homeownership, and in turn, seen how these new homes transformed their lives. We have no plans of stopping or even slowing down, but now more than ever, we need you to help keep this mission alive by joining our Wall Builders Drive.

We are asking you to partner with us to raise $20,000: enough to fully frame one new Habitat home in Denver. This price includes all lumber, sheet, and roofing materials.

Donate Now

Here is a breakdown of exactly what your dollars can do:

  • Raise an interior wall: $140*
    *Price based on a 10' wall with 2x4 and 2x6 lumber

  • Raise an exterior wall: $340**
    **Priced based on a 10' exterior wall with 2x4 and 2x6 lumber and OSB wall sheathing

  • Build a bedroom: $500

  • Help build a room: $50 - $100 - or any donation amount of your choice

The need for affordable housing in Denver is as great as it's ever been, and we're grateful for your continued support and faithfulness to that call. This is a chance to stack hands and show up in a significant way as one family, for one family.

So let's build some walls!

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