Building in a Material World

Building during the pandemic has been an adventure. Imagine reliving the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 every day for 5 months! That has been our life recently. We were aware of the construction boom early this year and had started to see its effect on the cost of wood, steel, and other building materials. We already had a lot of momentum at that point and didn’t know how long the market would stay in that state, so we decided to keep charging ahead, despite the extra costs. Little did we know that material and labor availability would be so problematic.

We had the option to get all of the dimensional lumber (2X’s) as part of the steel package. That would have been great, but when we got the final bill for the steel package this March, the price of wood was more than double than what we were quoted last year! We decided to source the wood ourselves.

To my delight, there was a rainbow without the rain when we were unloading wood

Lumber prices were rising every other day. At the end of April, we decided to purchase as much as we could before the prices rose any more. Lumber prices reached 3X pre-pandemic prices by late May!

We got all of the 2×4’s and 2×6’s from the big sawmill in town, SDS (coincidentally Sam’s initials). SDS was sympathetic and gave us a slight deal and free delivery. Unfortunately, they only make 2×4’s and 2×6’s.

We purchased the 2×10’s, 2×14’s, and other odd sizes from a building supply store in Hood River. We saved a fortune on sales tax, but Sam had to make several trips across the bridge with the trailer.

We needed about 400 2×12’s for the roof. They cost a fortune at Home Depot, plus we couldn’t find enough! We contacted Fred, a local guy in Trout Lake, who operates a small mill. He has some really neat equipment and a nice collection of wood. Fred doesn’t typically saw structural lumber, but he agreed to do it. He even cut the trees down himself to make the 2×12’s. He selected some large, old Douglas Fir trees from a nearby timber property in Washington.

Structural lumber needs to be stamped per building code. Sam hired a travelling wood inspector to stamp all of the 2×12’s. We met the inspector at Fred’s mill and had to personally flip through 400 boards. He looked at both sides, checking for split ends, knots, and straightness, before stamping each board. The boards were beautiful and clear of defects- very few didn’t make the grade. It’s a shame they’ll be covered up by the roof.

We took a gamble on the plywood, not wanting to pay more than triple the cost, so we decided to wait and hope for prices to drop. Can you believe a single sheet was over $90?!

We lucked out! In mid August, plywood prices plummeted. OSB got down to about $20, just a few dollars more than pre-pandemic prices. Sam made at least 3 trips to Portland with the trailer loaded to the max! 

We were fortunate that a nice acquaintance in Hood River let us borrow his trailer all summer! He happens to own Pine Street Bakery, which we frequent. Although he lent us the trailer for free, I’m pretty sure we paid for it in bakery purchases! Their sandwiches keep us going when we don’t have time to get groceries, and their ciabatta rolls are crucial for hamburgers (a common lunch at the property). We’re still using the trailer by the way.

Plumbing and electrical supplies were also scarce. The plumbing aisle in Home Depot was reminiscent of the cleaning supply aisle in Wal-Mart when the pandemic hit. Shelves were bare! Sam sourced pipes, conduit, fittings, and electrical wires little by little until we had the required amounts of everything.

One load of foam (second load not pictured)

We look like hoarders! Boxes of wire are currently blocking our front door. Bathtubs and appliances are all on back order for 3+ months. I would not advise remodeling a bathroom right now. We ordered our bathtubs early, in fear that they would no longer be available. Since our tub drains are now set in concrete, we couldn’t take any risks. 

Boxes and boxes of wire

The roofing material crisis was one of the biggest fiascos yet. We designed the aesthetic of the entire building around these diamond shaped shingles. I finally hired a roofer (which was another ordeal- most were unavailable until January 2022!). I was set to mail him a check when he informed me that our shingles were impossible to get! They stopped manufacturing the diamond ones in order to keep up with the demand of their most popular line. No one had them in stock either. After 100 phone calls, a supply store in Texas was able to convince the shingle manufacturer to make some for us! Delivery was on us though…

sample of our shingles

I’ll conclude with most exciting event in the material world- the arrival of the steel frames!

Everything is finally coming together, and we are all set to start construction! Stay tuned…

3 thoughts on “Building in a Material World

  1. Heavens! What a struggle! I was very happy to read the section about the Pine Street Bakery so at least you are taking a little time out to eat. You both really need to keep your strength up! You must know every log going into this building by now. Thanks for all the great photos and updates! much love p


  2. Casey I love your post titles. This one especially. We’re worried about similar things for our upcoming build but hopefully everything will settle down by the time we start – we’ve been anchoring on this and some other effects whenever we’re faced with design or planning delays. “Well, at least this is one extra month for the lumber prices to come back down.” Hopefully. Anyway, I love your and Sam’s creativity in how you solved these problems. Inspiring!


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