High demand and high prices for building materials after floods, hurricanes, fires, and other disasters help illustrate why reuse is so important
As Americans, we all feel the effects of natural disasters in places like Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico. We fear for families and friends in the impacted regions; our hearts ache for the people lost; and we give generously to support rebuilding efforts.
Even in the Northwest, we pay a steep price for hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes in a very real way when we go to the hardware store. As people rebuild their homes and businesses, they need raw materials. As demand for those materials goes up, so does the cost. If demand goes up too much, or if material manufacturers are among those who have to rebuild their facilities, the things we need may not be available at all.
All of this highlights the importance of being good stewards of the resources we already have. Utilizing reusable building materials in a construction project, or saving whatever you can during a demolition process, will get even more important as climate change makes disasters like these more common. Reuse is also a great way to save money, support your community, and maybe even get a little creative around your home.
Supply and demand affect pricing
Debbie Dersham is director of sales for the region west of the Mississippi at Atkore Plastic Pipe Corporation, which has a seven manufacturing plant throughout the United States (including one in Glenwood). She’s definitely seeing an uptick in business after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. “The hurricanes have tipped over the PVC market,” she says. “Usually this time of year we’re slowing down and beginning to go to sleep for the winter. Construction material sales are very brisk right now.”
The reason? When something happens that could affect supply – like a hurricane and the resulting building boom – distributors have been known to panic and begin hoarding materials. This is especially true since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina led to long periods of time when materials were hard to come by. Not only does this market climate stimulate demand, it also pushes up costs. PVC conduit prices across the country have increased four times since the end of August.
Nationwide, recent supply of PVC has been tight. Many plastic pipe manufacturing facilities are located in the southeast, which meant many operations were temporarily closed in advance of Hurricane Irma. “We figure from a national perspective there were probably 10 plastic pipe plants in that area that saw down time,” says Dersham. “Curtailing production for just three to five days may have taken five million pounds out of production.”
In the aftermath of Harvey, two Houston-area PVC resin or ethylene manufacturers evoked the Force Majeure clause saying they might not be able to supply their existing contractual customers. “Calling Force Majeure can create an immediate perception of tight supply or rising prices,” Dersham says. “It put everyone on high alert.” Large incoming order volume stretched out delivery lead times from some pipe manufacturers. “Some customers, with orders committed with our competition, have complained of waiting for up to six weeks to get product that would usually ship within two or three days.”
So far, Atkore has received an uninterrupted supply of PVC resin and all seven facilities are operating at full capacity. And to be clear, it’s highly unlikely that any Oregon-made PVC pipe will end up in the rebuilding efforts in Houston or Puerto Rico. “Freight costs are huge for PVC pipe. Usually it is cost effective to ship a maximum of just 500 or 600 miles,” Dersham says. Larger market forces, however, have put a pinch on supply and demand all the way out here in the Northwest.
Rebecca Taylor, corporate communications director at Roseburg Lumber and BRING board member, says the lumber industry is in a similar situation. “There are no real concerns about a shortage or lack of availability of wood products,” she says. “However, a number of factors will put upward pressure on the cost of those products in the market. Housing starts are reasonably healthy right now, so order sheets are already pretty full at manufacturing facilities like ours. Forest fires in the western U.S. are affecting the flow of logs to western manufacturing facilities.” (However, most lumber companies keep an inventory of logs on hand, so they aren’t desperate for logs just yet.)
“The market may see additional impacts in a couple of months, once the clean-up phase [from the hurricanes] is done and reconstruction begins,” she continues. “That’s when you’ll see greater demand for lumber and structural panels, both of which we supply. I’m not sure how it will affect Roseburg, but our team expects higher demand and increased prices for building materials to stretch well into the fourth quarter of the year, when demand typically ebbs and slows.”
Again, it’s unlikely that much Northwest lumber will end up in the southern United States. The region has plenty of plywood manufacturers there, and builders are much more likely to source material from them. But, Taylor says, “We are, to a certain degree, affected by the increase in prices for plywood across the market. A key indicator, ½-inch Western plywood, has gone up $27 per thousand square feet. Southern pine… has gone up $50 per thousand square feet.”
There are also the northern California wildfires to consider when watching the cost and availability of building materials. Over 5,000 homes have already been lost, along with many more offices and stores. California companies may be more likely to source materials from Oregon given its proximity.
Disasters highlight importance of reuse
“The recent spate of natural disasters drives homes how important it is to conserve resources and use them wisely,” says BRING executive director Carolyn Stein. “There’s going to be a huge boom in the construction industry as people rebuild their homes and lives.”
Now more than ever, it’s easy to see how all materials – even those that have been gently used – have tremendous value. When things like lumber, piping, windows and doors, fixtures and wiring are in short supply, or are suddenly very expensive, homeowners and home builders must utilize every resource that’s available to them. “By shopping at BRING and reusing building materials, you’re putting less pressure on resources overall,” Stein says. “It’s affordable and practical. It makes sense that we would use these things, particularly now, when concerns about scarcity and pricing are so real.”
There’s another big reason reuse makes so much sense. While no expert will say that climate change caused Hurricane Harvey or Irma, or started the wildfires in Oregon or California, most agree that it made them worse. Warmer oceans and rising seas make hurricanes bigger and more dangerous. Things like drought and insect damage make trees more flammable and fires burn hotter. Our only hope to stop natural disasters from getting bigger and more frequent is to stop or reverse the planet’s warming. Reuse (as well as reducing consumption, recycling and composting) are a very important part of that.
Now is a great time to make a change in your buying habits – in part because you may have to, and in part because this year’s catastrophes have made the dangers of climate change seem even more dire. “People need to get into the habit of looking for used materials before they pop over to a store to buy something new,” says Stein. “As with anything, it becomes more of a habit if you do it frequently. We want people to change their behavior and see used materials as not only valuable, but also better for the climate and their pocketbook.”