Back in June, I told you about the cavalcade of trucks supplying America’s reopening. I told you then of my trip up the East Coast “Especially noticeable was the vast number of trucks carrying lumber to mills and job sites.”
In the Wall Street Journal, Ryan Dezember explains why lumber companies can barely keep up with demand, writing:
“A lot of saw mills closed up shop and moved into doing maintenance and repairs, figuring demand would drop with people losing their jobs and watching their spending,” said Leroy Ball, chief executive of Pittsburgh’s Koppers Holdings Inc., which makes chemicals used to treat wood for decks, fences and utility poles. “What happened was just the opposite.”
Lumber and plywood started flying off shelves.
“People didn’t go on vacation,” said Leiby Wieder, who manages Tri-State Lumber in Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Greenpoint neighborhood. “They stayed home and built decks, they built fences, they built pergolas. Anything and everything.”
Harvard University’s closely followed forecast of home-renovation spending predicted a slowdown in a market that for years has been a bright spot in the economy. But the model couldn’t have predicted a pandemic that kept Americans at home for months. Mill orders backed up.
“Demand from our home-center customers at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Menards has been as strong as we’ve ever seen, and we can barely keep up,” PotlatchDeltic Corp. Chief Executive Michael Covey told investors in June. The Spokane, Wash., company’s stud mills in Minnesota and Michigan were particularly stressed, he said.
In most states, home construction was deemed essential and allowed to continue throughout the shutdown. Work slowed due to social-distancing rules and delayed permits and inspections. But by May construction was booming again. Historically low mortgage rates enticed buyers. Lockdown-weary city dwellers sought suburban living and big landlord companies built houses expressly to rent.
Mills ramped back up and the logjam in the supply chain moved from white wood, which is fresh cut from timber, to so-called green wood, which is treated to last outdoors on patios and along railroads.