Constructing a new home or undertaking a substantial renovation comes accompanied by its own financial, emotional and physical challenges. Staying within budgets, sticking to timelines, discovering alternative accommodation – frequently in the form of residing with extended family – it’s all a big challenge.
One particularly big challenge is a scarcity in building materials.
Timber supplies were all but depleted following the announcement of federal government incentives that resulted in an uptick in the residential building industry. The shortfall in supply to adhere to the rise in demand resulted in runaway inflation for timber products, causing many builders to contemplate more costly alternatives like steel and masonry.
For certain builders, the timber shortage has inspired the destroyal of their businesses as they are prompted to choose between paying excessive material prices or dealing with delays and consequential liquidated damages.
For home owners fixed in contracts where the builder has been more contractually responsible, it has culminated in budget blowouts and/or program delays. For some, it has translated to the forced sale of a partially constructed home.
Kate Henry and her husband Paul are building industry pros and seasoned renovators—but their latest project has not been an easy one. Materials are scarce and pricey, regardless of the size and scale of projects.
Australia has sourced its framing timber from across the seas, including the US. Onetime supplies of exported timber are now needed at home.
Local builders are enhancing their demand for Australia’s limited homegrown supplies, severely impacted by bushfires.
This effect on Australia’s timber supply has emphasised the fact that there has been no increase in Australian softwood plantations for more than two decades, while demand for this precious commodity has continued to rise.
In 2020 the Victorian Building Authority recorded the most building permit approvals in the past twenty years, issuing 10 per cent more building permits in 2020 (113,430) than in 2019 (101,998).
The government anticipates the building industry to be a key asset in Australia’s economic recovery, but sans the supply of important materials, this is an uncertain asset.
In late September, the federal government pronounced a $15 million investment to ease the timber shortages and “safeguard the viability of builder and tradie businesses around the country”.
Some experts suggest that timber production duties be assigned to timber mills on bushfire-ravaged Kangaroo Island. Others are skeptical.
The Australian Forest Products Association says that by 2035 Australia will fall 250,000 house frames short of demand. Or, as they describe it, a timber production shortfall equal to the combined size of Geelong and Newcastle.
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