Construction workers

Construction workers continue work on the Halifax County Courthouse on Friday.

The construction business is booming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local contractors say lumber is a precious commodity these days, with high demand driving up costs.

“New construction and remodel is up,” said Troy Clem, owner of Troy Clem Construction and Restoration of South Boston. “You would think everything would’ve come to a halt during the pandemic and it’s exactly the opposite.”

According to an article published Sept. 15 on the National Association of Home Builders website, “Lumber Prices Continue to Price Home Owners — and Builders — Out of the Market,” lumber prices increased 14.9% in August, marking the largest four-month gain since that type of data was first recorded in 1949 and the second-largest jump since seasonally adjusted data became available in 1975.

Many corporate lumber mills decided to shut down until they could gauge the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, people with spare time on their hands doing Do-it-Yourself home improvement projects during the shutdown flocked to building supply stores remaining open during the pandemic such as Lowe’s, which some say is what saved the construction industry and what allowed lumber mills to remain in operation.

Some lumber mills such as Morgan Lumber Company has maintained its productions during the COVID-19 pandemic, supplying raw lumber to a treating plant in Moneta, which in turn supplies treated lumber to Lowe’s in South Boston.

An item in high demand, treated lumber has become an elusive building supply.

“Treated lumber has been sold out several times. You couldn’t get it,” said Marshall Slayton, owner of Slayton Construction Company in South Boston. “Now it takes two months to get it in if you have to order it.”

Slayton attributed the rising cost of lumber and decrease in supply to the temporary shutdowns of lumber mills due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent hurricanes.

Clem estimated the different grades of plywood had “more than doubled” over the past couple of months, while the cost of other building materials such as shingles and sheetrock had increased “15 to 25%.” The contractor said materials such as appliances, windows and doors take four to six weeks to arrive after he places the order, and HVAC (heating and cooling) equipment is also in limited supply and hard to get in stock.

“You have to plan further ahead,” Clem said. “It certainly hurts the short-term projects when you can’t get certain items in stock.”

Clem added the rapid, steep rise in cost of building supplies also has made it difficult to hold a price for a house.

“Any building supply company (typically) would hold a price for 30 days. Now, they’ll say, ‘That’s today’s price’,” Clem explained.

Clem and Slayton both said they are staying busy with building projects.

The local contractors say the projection is for the cost of lumber to finally start inching downward after being at record prices for the past three months. Slayton says he has heard there will be a “significant drop” in the cost of lumber this week, but that remains to be seen. Clem commented he believes lumber prices have reached a plateau and will decline by Christmastime.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.