DECATUR, Ala. – Parts of the economy are still playing catch-up following disruptions from COVID-19. The lumber industry cannot keep up with demand and locally it is having a domino effect that is impacting construction.
Lumber mills like Littrell’s can’t process their product fast enough to keep up with demand. Trucks will show up and ask the mill for whatever they’ve got, often leaving with small loads.
For homebuilders, the nightmare is real. According to Littrell’s, building estimates change daily. Sometimes doubling within hours.
“Let’s say we had a house package we had furnished, and it was $35,000. We ran a new quote the other day it’s now $60,000,” said Rich Littrell, a co-owner of Littrell’s Lumber.
Despite the potential of losing money, Littrell has a message he believes needs to be heard.
“If you do not have to start that house, I would not do it,” said Littrell.
You’ll hear that from lumber mills and distributors across the U.S. But why?
Littrell says many mills closed for a few days or weeks despite being considered “essential”. Then, Littrell says the masses came looking to start their quarantine projects.
“Let’s say we sell a trailer load of treated lumber a week. We got up to selling a trailer load a day,” said Littrell.
You might be thinking, isn’t Littrell making good money? The answer is not what you would expect. He’s facing higher costs up front paired with the constant change in prices.On top of that, Littrell says the increased workload on the mill has caused several mechanical breakdowns.
“We can’t get out of it. Even though a lot of the mills are back in production, we can’t get caught back up,” said Littrell.
With no way of catching back up, Littrell thinks the only way to slow things down is for winter to be strong enough to cut down the amount of projects, thus allowing supply and demand to even out.
Littrell says he’s started to see people coming from Nashville to find lumber. Those customers told Littrell it was more affordable for them to drive several hours south to get his product.