Area not exempt from soaring lumber prices 

  • Mark Penfield of R.G. Penfield & Sons Inc. in his Greenfield workshop with some lumber. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Hamshaw Lumber employees David Flood and Adam Clement in the covered lumber building in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Hamshaw Lumber employees Adam Clement and Sam Costin help a customer load lumber in Orange. The price of wood has skyrocketed lately. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Lumber for sale at Hamshaw Lumber in Orange. The price of wood has skyrocketed lately. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Stacked lumber at Hamshaw Lumber in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2021 1:34:24 PM
Modified: 5/20/2021 1:34:21 PM

Douglas Hamshaw has been in the lumber business since 1967. Mark Penfield built his first garage in Greenfield with his brother when he was 12 years old. And Evan Jones is the ninth-generation owner of Cowls Building Supply in Amherst. But these three men say they have never seen anything like what has happened in their industry since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

The cost of lumber has skyrocketed, with prices double or triple what they were a year ago. National experts blame the spike on various factors, including halted production, catastrophic weather in parts of the country, and more people building or remodeling structures while stuck at home during the public health crisis.

As of Wednesday morning, Penfield said a 2x4x8 costs $8.76, having “been $3 for years.” He explained the price of ½-inch plywood has tripled to $60 and a sheet of ¾-inch AdvanTech tongue-and-groove subfloor has ballooned to $78 a sheet when it was previously $30 to $35.

Penfield, whose father started R.G. Penfield & Sons Inc. in Greenfield in 1970, mentioned other factors include the February ice storm that wreaked havoc on Texas, as well as continued unemployment benefits.

“A lot of people don’t want to come back to work,” he said, though this has been rebutted by some economists. “So, it’s a domino effect.”

Penfield also said interest rates are low, with people able to get a 15-year loan at 2.6 percent interest to complete a project, in turn increasing the demand for lumber.

Jones said virtually all building materials are increasing in price more than normal, though framing lumber and structural plywood are the most affected and they are the most difficult to acquire.

“It’s been quite a ride,” he said. “The lumber market historically has not had any steady price increases for 30-plus years, so we were long past due for something like this.”

Jones said he hasn’t had many projects put on hold or scaled back during the pandemic, but the most negative effect has been the added stress levels placed on his team. He said “a perfect storm of events” has included wildfires in parts of the country and a trickle-down effect in the supply chain after the flow of Egypt’s Suez Canal — one of the world’s busiest trade routes — was blocked by the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned Ever Given container ship for six days in March.

Additionally, Jones said demand is up because people have received stimulus money.

“The bottom line is our free-market system and the laws of supply and demand are in full effect,” he said. “The economy is strong, interest rates are low, and many people feel it is a great time to build or renovate, or add a deck on, or put a pool in.”

Though Business Insider stated Wednesday that lumber prices had fallen for an eighth consecutive day, Reuters reported the rates of building single-family homes in the United States fell more than expected in April.

These costs are frustrating Americans like Bernardston resident Richard DiGeorge. DiGeorge said he was excited about building a tool shed on his property until he found out about the “exorbitant” price of lumber. He said he has been told the uptick is caused by the pandemic, but he thinks corporate greed is also a factor, comparing lumber to the oil industry.

“It irritates the hell out of me what is going on with our country. Greed is going to kill this country,” said DiGeorge, whose son and grandson work as carpenters. “There need to be some checks and balances.

Douglas Hamshaw, who owns Hamshaw Lumber & Ace Hardware locations in Keene, N.H., and Orange, said any profit surges are going almost exclusively to lumber mills — timberland owners, loggers, transporters, retailers and builders.

“The demand is greater than the supply,” he said. “It’s been insatiable.”

Hamshaw said lumber consumption dropped heavily in the pandemic’s first few weeks, and mills reacted with laying off shifts and scaling back production only to soon learn demand would explode. Producers have been playing catch-up for a year, and there is no end to this in sight, he said.

“There is nothing in the next few months that would indicate we’re going to see a downturn in price,” Hamshaw added.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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