Madison-area contractors adjust to booming business, scarce supplies and skyrocketing

He’s not exaggerating. These days, many lumber goods have a daily price, said Jay Armstrong, purchasing manager for Marling Lumber and HomeWorks. Items like decking, which would often keep the same price for a year, have already seen multiple hikes this year. 

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Lumber and building materials are stocked in the Marling Lumber and HomeWorks warehouse in Madison. Prices for many building materials, including lumber, have spiked since the pandemic began, forcing contractors to adapt.

Some distributors no longer publish prices at all, instead informing buyers like Armstrong that they’ll be charged whatever the going price is at the time of shipment. It’s a “sticker shock” situation, he said. Once, he asked for a quote, received it after business hours, and placed the order that same night. “The next morning, they said ‘Nope, it’s the next day, the price is higher.’”

In 2019, 1,000 feet of oriented strand board, or OSB, a manufactured panel similar to plywood, cost $175 at the mill. As of last Friday, it was around $1130, Armstrong said. 

“Think about that. That’s almost a six-time increase on that one product that’s a staple in every single building project.” 

Armstrong, who’s worked in the lumber industry since 1970, said he’d never seen prices rise for such an extended period. Each week, he receives “Random Lengths,” a report on the wood market. “I’m astounded. My jaw drops almost every Friday when I get the report. The amount that it keeps going up — it’s got to end some time,” Armstrong said.

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