Why Are Wood Prices Going Back Up?

Updated: Dec. 20, 2023

The price of lumber is climbing again. Here's why.

Lumber prices have had a volatile year. After steadily rising through the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, lumber prices skyrocketed up to an all-time high in May, driven by historic levels of demand and mounting supply chain issues.

Relief came in the summer as the cost of wood gradually began to return to historically average levels. That seemed to signal the end of lumber’s roller coaster ride. But now lumber prices are starting to shoot up again, prompting renewed concern.

Lumber prices increased more than 60 percent from the beginning of September to mid-October, from less than $500 to more than $700 per thousand board feet. This increase prompted the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) to send a letter to the White House, asking for renewed federal action regarding specific supply-chain constraints.

“We applaud your decision to study the building supply chain issues affecting the U.S. and greatly appreciate the efforts to improve transportation and logistics by easing the hours for transportation workers involved in delivering goods,” NAHB board chairman John C. Fowke wrote in the Oct. 6 letter to President Biden.

“Despite these efforts, we continue to receive information from our builders relaying stories from their suppliers about the congestion at the ports as a leading cause — not enough containers to move goods and not enough trucks to move the containers once off-loaded at the ports.”

Supply chain complications are not the only reason for the spike in lumber prices. One lumber market expert suggested renewed interest in home improvement following the summer of 2021 may have contributed.

“The renovation side of the market seems to have firmed up as families return from summer vacations and some price-sensitive buyers proceed with home-improvement projects now that wood prices have seen a substantial correction,” Dustin Jalbert, a senior economist at Fastmarkets RISI, told Fortune.com.

Lumber figures to remain in high demand from many sources, not just home builders and DIYers. As long as the supply side struggles to keep up, any increase in demand will inevitably cause lumber prices to climb.

“One of the things people don’t think about a lot is the tremendous amount of wood used for concrete forms,” Joe Sanderson, managing director and chief executive officer of natural resources for Domain Timber Advisors, told GlobeSt.com.

“Those have a very short lifespan, so they go through a lot of plywood for that. Shipping containers are all lined with plywood and that has a short lifespan. All that economic activity drives up demand for all sorts of wood products.”