Lumber mania is sweeping North America

Contrary to what the memes might have you think, the driver of the truck in the above picture is not a billionaire. | Peter Gercke/picture alliance/Getty ImagesA lumber frenzy has taken over homebuilding, Home Depot, and the internet. For some people, the journey into America’s lumber crunch starts with the decision to build a new home, or at Home Depot, where the pandemic-driven home renovation craze has contributed to making basic materials pricey and hard to come by. For others, it starts with the memes. The price of lumber has soared over the past year, and it’s an incredibly hot commodity. The internet has taken notice. “Not even one police escort,” on person on Twitter quipped alongside a photo of a truck stacked with lumber rolling down the highway. Another snapped a picture of a pile of boards in a building, remarking, “Wow, neighbors just casually flaunting their wealth in the hallway.” Not even one police escort pic.twitter.com/WHy7LDTdEq— Brandon C. (@OffTheRunTrades) April 22, 2021 While the memes are a joke, the situation is real: Demand for lumber has exploded in recent months, and suppliers have struggled to keep up. Much of the industry has been on its heels since the Great Recession, and it slowed down production accordingly. Those sawmill closures and such aren’t easy to reverse, even if someone might have predicted things would pick up now. Prices have, in turn, skyrocketed. For years, the price of 1,000 board feet of lumber has generally traded in the $200 to $400 range. It’s now well above $1,000. (One board foot is 12x12x1 inches, and the average new single-family home takes about 16,000 board feet of lumber to construct.) A new house that would have cost $10,000 in wood to get off the ground a couple of years ago now costs $40,000 worth of wood — assuming, that is, you can even get your hands on the lumber. Most people in the sector expected that Covid-19 would induce an industry-wide slowdown, not an industry-wide boom. Many were caught flat-footed. “Not only has it surprised me, it’s just surprised the whole industry, how quickly we came roaring back. Housing and construction, repair and remodel, that’s where so much money was pointed by American consumers that the sheer scale of demand was hard to fathom,” Stinson Dean, CEO of Deacon Lumber, a lumber trading company based in Missouri, told me. In the middle of our call, he had to pause to make a sale. “I’m so sorry, everyone needs lumber, and I have it,” he said after putting me on hold. He explained it probably would have been cheaper for his client, in Texas, to buy the truckload of lumber he just sold them directly from a producer up in Canada, but that producer is sold out through May, and they needed the materials ASAP. “You can’t get anything prompt, and a lot of folks have just underestimated their inventory needs, so they need to lean on folks like me.” The lumber frenzy is part of a string of unexpected and strange developments in the Covid-19 economy. Before there was the great run on wood of 2021, there was the great run on toilet paper of 2020. The same lockdown boredom and extra cash that inspired some people to get into day trading animated people to decide it was time to fix up their homes. Those who fled cities decided not only to buy existing homes but also to build new ones. In recent days, I spoke with a dozen people across the lumber industry about the economics of the current craze and why lumber is so expensive and so hard to come by. Many were bemused that anyone was even interested. Panels and two-by-fours and studs are not usually the stuff of public intrigue. “I honestly don’t know what to make of it,” said Chace Barber, a Canadian logger and truck driver who’s become a bit of a lumberjack TikTok star in recent months, of his newfound internet following. “I guess I’ve been trying to explain as much about logging as I can.” It wasn’t a given that the TikTok crowd would be particularly into his line of work, but the memeification of lumber has certainly helped — not to mention that the 32-year-old Barber is quite attractive. (Though he says he doesn’t get as many DMs as you’d think.) Barber isn’t the only one who’s puzzled — at the cultural interest, and also the broader situation. Beyond a 2018 blip, the lumber industry hasn’t exactly been thriving lately. “Everybody’s hot and heavy about this business we’re in, and to us, it’s kind of funny, because this is a generational run,” said Chip Setzer, director of trading and growth at Mickey, a commodities trading platform. “I would venture to guess there’s nobody alive that has ever seen what we’re going through right now.” Hate your house in the pandemic? You’re not alone. Before we get further into the lumber industry crunch, it’s probably a good idea to explain how the flow of material usually goes: Someone cuts down a log in the forest, it gets put in a truck, and goes to a sawmill or panel mill to be processed into a finished product — a stic

May 3, 2021 - VOX
Contrary to what the memes might have you think, the driver of the truck in the above picture is not a billionaire. | Peter Gercke/picture alliance/Getty ImagesA lumber frenzy has taken over homebuilding, Home Depot, and the internet. For some people, the journey into America’s lumber crunch starts with the decision to build a new home, or at Home Depot, where the pandemic-driven home renovation craze has contributed to making basic materials pricey and hard to come by. For others, it starts with..