If Seattle had an official bird, it might be the crane. Well more than a dozen of them dot the downtown area with long arms and flashing lights above. West Seattle alone is about to have its third crane go up in the Alaska Junction. It’s a sign of strong commercial construction, but residential is also booming.
That is also a harbinger of the predictable roller-coaster of lumber prices that follows high activity in construction. Prices have actually already been up this year, per the National Association of Home Builders’ weekly board foot lumber price survey. Lumber hit a peak price the week of April 5th then plummeted in early summer, presumably because supply finally caught up with demand.
We are now on another upswing in prices with no sign of slowing and a 15% year over year increase. What does this mean for your project? Expect continued volatility in pricing–a lumber quote one month may not be the same the following month. This is something your contractor has zero control over, except that they may do enough business with their suppliers that the supplier will honor last month’s price.
What this means for contractors is a constant process of pricing materials rather than relying on recent knowledge of prices for estimating. Expect to see lots of quotes with caveats that the material prices are only good for a few weeks or a month.
Lumber isn’t the only material to have gone up this year. The tropical decking material Ipe went from around $9/sf last year in Seattle to $11-12/ft this year. Drywall prices went up at the start of year and insulation has risen over the course of this year as well.
The only thing to count on with construction material prices is that they will continue to act as the commodity they are: rising on high demand and falling when demand drops off. If you don’t want to follow board foot lumber prices, take your cue from the cranes: as long as they keep going up, expect lumber costs to be up as well.