Pressure treated lumber demand spikes

Homeowners putting up new decks during the COVID-19 crisis has contributed to a shortage in pressure treated lumber products.

A massive wave of  DIY projects from homeowners during the COVID-19 pandemic has lead to pressure treated lumber selling faster than dealers and suppliers can keep up with demand.

As the COVID-19 crisis expanded, mills slowed production while treaters re-examined their contracts with lumber producers. Essentially, both sides of the pressure treated production equation did not want to get caught with too much supply during the pandemic.

But supply is now the issue as both mills and treaters can’t put enough pressure treated materials into the market.

“The demand went through the roof but there was not enough timber to be had,” Stephen Sallah, president and CEO of LBM Advantage told HBSDealer. “Even at full capacity, the mills are having trouble keeping up right now.”

Sallah says that just about every phone call he has with a member dealer of LBM Advantage in recent weeks includes a request for assistance in obtaining pressure treated lumber.

And that’s because homeowners remaining at home during the pandemic turned their attention to DIY projects including new decks, replacement decks, and fencing, among others.

“Just about every dealer is having trouble with pressure treated lumber,” said Angie Maxwell, manager of treated and engineered lumber at LBM Advantage. “I have been selling treated lumber for 34 years and in all of my years I have never experienced anything like this.”

In many cases, pro dealers have both a primary and secondary source for treated lumber. But due to supply restraints, those sources are only selling to their primary customers.

As is always the case with supply and demand, shortage lead to spikes in pricing too. Pressure treated lumber is no different. 

Industry pricing experts say the cost of pressure treated 2x4s has increased by as much 80% or better in the past three months with decking boards shooting up by about 75%. During the same span, the cost of 4x6 and 6X6 pressure treated lumber is up nearly 50%.

“Overall, DIYers and homeowners have been using this time to work on their decks, sheds, and pergolas but the category with the largest growth during this time has been treated lumber and treated fencing,” said Sarah Mellema, 84 Lumber public relations manager.

“Everyone has had some shortages, and we’re no exception; however, we’ve been able to stay well-stocked because of our strong long-term partnerships with our treated lumber vendors,” Mellema noted.

Based on incoming quotes at 84 Lumber stores, the pro dealer saw a 138% increase in requests for pressure treated lumber in May 2020 compared to May 2019 and a 93% increase in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

Regarding incoming quote requests from homeowners, inquiries at 84 Lumber for treated lumber is up more than 170% in the past two months while fencing and shed requests have increased nearly 150%. 

Have you tried to buy a pressure treated playset lately? You can’t find one. And requests are up more than 300% at 84 Lumber, the company said.

A recent survey by Bank of American found that 70% of Americans were working on home improvement projects during the COVID-19 crisis with more planned for 2021. 

Beckerle Lumber in Rockland County, N.Y. said decking product sales are going particularly strong this year. But Beckerle has back orders for pressure treated. When HBSDealer spoke with the dealer earlier this month, company president Larry Beckerle told us that he expected a fresh shipment delivered that day to be gone by the next day. 

Mid-Cape Home Centers, in an email to its customers, said treaters have been playing catch up all month. "The supply of southern yellow pine to treat appears to be recovering, however, the last month has seen extraordinary demand for treated lumber. The progress they’ve made in producing more treated lumber has been outpaced by new orders for their products, so lead times are growing. Virtually all widths and lengths are affected."

In a normal cycle, the traditional outdoor DIY season begins a downturn after July 4. That means dealers begin to reduce their inventory of pressure treated products.

But not this year. 

“With price increases, you don’t want to get overzealous and have a lot of high price inventory around,” Maxwell said. “But we are having a very different conversation with our dealer members now.”

While pressure treated volume increases are in the double digits at LBM Advantage in the past few months, there is also a point of frustration for dealers who are missing out on sales

“Dealers could sell more if they had the materials, treaters could sell more if they could get it from the mills,” Maxwell said.