Supply shortages cause delays, losses for northern RI construction industry


BURRILLVILLLE/NORTH SMITHFIELD – The pandemic lockdowns have shaken the economy, but builders report that the market for new homes have reached historically high levels, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The overwhelming demand for building and for remodeling, however, combined with erratic availability of materials, is causing delays and shortages of supplies.

Locally, the market for new homes and home remodeling is also on the rise.

One reason says Christopher Jackson, president and CEO C.W. Builders and C.W. Building LLC of Harrisville, is that, “Interest rates are down, so building is up.”

Jackson’s business of full remodeling, frame-to-finish building, total gut and rebuilding, has shot up 35 percent.

Similarly, Bill the Plumber – aka general contractor Bill Harfst of North Smithfield – says remodeling and construction, “is booming.”

But while essential materials for Harfst to do his work are in, “pretty good supply,” not everything is.

“Even getting simple things like vinyl siding for my own house,” Harfst said, is, “feeling effects still of the shutdown,” of last spring. “There’s a lot of back orders.”

Jackson says the wait for materials such as vinyl siding, roofing, and framing is sometimes eight weeks or more from suppliers.

Home building and remodeling companies plan projects, and the wait for supplies combined with increasing costs of materials is problematic.

“I bid contracts six months in advance – and [since then] materials went up 100 percent,” said Jackson.

That means the business loses money.

Nevertheless, “I still have to pay my men,” the business owner said, with the well-being of his crew in mind.

Jackson also builds convenience stores.

“We work in the rain, the snow,” and with the supply chain in flux, “Every day [a store] is not open, they lose money,” he said.

“Many in the industry are worried about rising costs and delays for building materials, especially lumber,”says NAHB chairman Chuck Fowke, also a custom home builder from Florida, on

Since the spring with many people focusing on the home, “the honey do list became real,” Jackson said, which is a factor in the “overwhelming demand on materials.”

Builders can’t just walk into the local big box store and get materials.
An example locally is pressure-treated wood.

This year, “it got to the point you couldn’t get it,” said Jackson. Orders might take weeks or months, then, “the product comes in, but it’s already promised,” to other customers, Jackson said.

Meanwhile, extreme demand everywhere is a factor in price increases.
For example, Jackson said a product that usually is available for $8 now costs at a budget-busting $30.

He likens the phenomenon to, “people buying 24 rolls of toilet paper, keeping 12, and selling 12 on the internet.”

What might the near-future hold in the building and remodeling business?

“That depends on how long a shut down,”says Bill the Plumber. “They said two weeks, and that turned into two months.”

Meanwhile, it seems the industry, like the rest of the state, is hitting a “pause,” despite demand.

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