Construction ramps up during pandemic, but materials often hard to find
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While construction slowed down early in the pandemic, it has been “on steroids” since July even though materials and labor have often been difficult to source.
Construction has always been considered a critical business under various state health orders, but Routt County Building Official Todd Carr said building slowed down early in the pandemic through early May, traditionally large construction permitting months.
There were many delays in projects, something Carr attributes to uncertainty about the economy amidst the virus. But in June, residential construction started to pick up again.
“We not only came back from the three dead months we had, but we have now exceeded our projections for what we thought we would have been at when we did our budget in the fall of 2019,” Carr said. “Construction on steroids is what I would call it, ever since July.”
Some of the increase in construction now is likely due to projects that were put on hold earlier in the year, but there is also increased demand to move to a place like Steamboat Springs. Real estate sales have skyrocketed in Steamboat with the market having its best third quarter ever with over $430 million in sales.
Brett Shaw, owner of Timberline Contracting in Steamboat, said he gets calls from people every week looking for cost of living and building costs locally. He said these calls have been coming from all over the place with many from the Front Range, but some from out of state as well.
Sarah Fox, owner of Fox Construction in Steamboat, said she is hearing from friends who work for construction companies in Denver that their business is slowing down.
“Denver is slowing down, and Steamboat and other mountain communities are ramping up majorly because everyone is able to work remotely or realizes life is too short and are finding their way to get out of the city,” Fox said.
The high demand for construction and the delay in getting materials means that for someone looking to build a new house with Shaw, the project likely would not start for another year. He said it often depends on where the materials needed are coming from, as some places have reduced staffing capacity because of the virus.
“Our ability to acquire specific materials definitely has been an issue,” Shaw said. “There are different plants that have reduced staff, therefore they can’t meet the demand and then it’s prolonging how long it takes us to get things.”
A wide variety of products from dimensional lumber, siding products, electrical supplies and decking have all been tough to get Shaw said, and often are more expensive.
Fox said her company has tried to order things further in advance, but that does not always work. Delivery dates are moved back, products are backordered, and for many things, an estimated arrival time is not available. A refrigerator that was ordered for a house in June was only recently delivered.
“Usually you can coordinate things around the schedule,” Fox said. “It makes it a lot more challenging when you are just not sure when you will get stuff.”
But for some, it isn’t just materials that are in short supply but subcontractors as well.
“There is plenty of work out there right now, but there is a shortage in the subcontractor pool where it is harder to get things done,” Shaw said.
What it has done is force Shaw to be more organized about how the schedule subcontractors — trying to limit the number of people at a job site while also trying to manage their time efficiently.
Because of the current market, Shaw said his company is primarily focused on larger projects, either renovations with an addition or a new build.
Cody Shoemaker, assistant manager at Alpine Lumber Company in Steamboat, said many different products from types of wood to siding products to paint have all had various delays.
“We have paint manufacturers that can’t get cans to can their product in,” Shoemaker said. “Then the lumber market itself is unprecedentedly high. It’s over double what it cost for materials pre-epidemic.”
Shoemaker said there was a huge demand for treated material, often used to make decks, earlier in the summer, which led to a six-week backlog. Composite decking also has been in high demand with suppliers recommending people pick three different colors because of how hard it is to source the material.
For sheet goods, Shoemaker said some suppliers have had trouble sourcing the glues they use to create the product. He said the script of his conversations with suppliers has been flipped, rather than him asking for what he needs, they tell him what they have available or what could be available in the near future.
When there are delays getting materials, Shoemaker said he looks for whatever he can get, but often, people just have to wait.
“It has been a crazy year, but it hasn’t slowed down anything at all. We’re busier than ever,” Shoemaker said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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