ERIE - Matt Summerell, the owner of Summerell Builders, has a client waiting for a new
deck to be built.  Summerrell, who signed the contract in May, would like to have the
deck finished in time for the homeowner to enjoy it this summer. But like thousands of
contractors and even more do-it-yourselfers across the country, he's struggling to buy
the pressure-treated deck lumber he needs.

The same goes for contractor Robert Jones, owner of RJ Landscaping and Design in
Wattsburg, Erie County. He has several deck projects waiting to be built. In more than
20 years, Jones said he's never seen anything like this summer's shortage. But what's
driving it?

Most folks in the lumber and construction business give a variation of the same
answer: COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. "The (Canadian) border is shut down and
we can't get lumber from there," Summerell said. At the same time, he said, "There is
high demand. People have extra (federal stimulus) cash. They want to build decks and
redo decks because they can't go anywhere. I have had more calls for decks than I
ever had before."

Like the shortage of toilet paper a couple months ago, the lack of pressure-treated
lumber isn't isolated to one company or one region. "It's an everybody problem. It's
nationwide," said Doug Brown, an employee at Hobbes Lumber & Hardware in

Multiple challenges

Most lumberyards and home improvement stores have some treated lumber, just not
enough to satisfy many orders. That's because the spread of COVID-19 forced a stop
to production and froze supply while creating the environment that is driving demand.
The problem started at the same time so many businesses in all sectors were affected:
in March, when shutdown and essential business orders were issued across the

"When the pandemic hit, it shut down some of the mills that mill the lumber," said John
Girard, of Kraft Lumber in Erie. Mike Volosh, lumber products manager of Ambridge
Do-It Best, said lumber mills are behind anywhere from four to six weeks on getting
treated lumber shipped.

Many shipments from Canadian mills have been held up because of the closing of the
U.S.-Canada border, Volosh said, also a coronavirus-driven issue.

It's a measurable difference. Every week
last summer, for example, two trucks loaded
with lumber pulled into Ambridge Lumber & Builders Supply Co. in Harmony Township.
Each carried enough wood to build a house or many decks. "This year, we're lucky to
get one truck full every three months. It's crazy," said Alex Werner, president and
manager of the 75-year-old business.

At Dambach Lumber & Supply Co., in Harmony, decking boards might be delivered
one day, while over the next days, no posts are available. Untreated 2-by-4-inch and
6-by-8-inch pieces are sometimes hard to find, Dambach's Alex Magill said.

Meanwhile, people working from home are committing to home remodeling projects,
said Dave Strano, general manager and owner of Ambridge Do-It Best Home Center.
"Everybody's doing things at home they weren't normally doing and it's creating
madness, I guess you could say, is the best way to put it."

Those issues have conspired to leave Kraft Lumber in Erie with about 25% of its
normal supply of pressure-treated lumber, Girard said.

Rising costs

In the summer of 2019, Skerlec Contracting could have built a deck for your home in a
week, said Robert Skerlec, manager of the family-owned business in Monaca.
This year, it might be late August before a customer could down a beer on a deck that
Skerlec Contracting built. Furthermore, Skerlec said, you would pay between $6,000
to $7,000 for the same deck that cost $5,000 a year ago.

If a contract is signed in July and the materials arrive in August at a higher
wholesale cost, the customer pays the agreed-to cost and the
contractor takes the
price hit
, Skerlec said. Demand is driving price increases - and customers seem willing
to pay, whatever lengths they have to go to.

Karl Glessner, of Stonycreek Builders in Somerset County, said suppliers there have
traveled as far as Uniontown, in Fayette County, for a few pieces of treated wood.
"People have been combing the phone book going everywhere to find a few pieces of
treated wood so they can carry on with their projects," Glessner said. "They are calling
around ... and it gets snapped up immediately."

Strano has encountered the same. "We've been getting calls from all over - people
looking for lumber, people that might normally go to Lowe's or Home Depot."   
Because big-box supply stores also face shortages, Strano said customers have been
calling his independent retail store, which sells products including cleaning supplies,
lawn and garden items, paint and building materials. "We're not a specialty lumber
yard," Strano said. "We carry all your basics. Pretty much the basics have been very
tough to get your hands on at this point."

Recently, someone who lives in Findlay Township, near Greater Pittsburgh
International Airport - who isn't a regular customer - "called us for a big lumber order
because no one else had it," Strano said. "We probably sold more lumber here than
we've sold in 15 years - at least a 50% increase from last year," he said.

Effect on businesses

Glessner said dimension lumber supplies also are getting tight and pricey. The only
strategy is to sit tight, not buy anything and hopefully reduce the demand so supply
can catch up and prices start to go down.

"It's costing our wholesalers, and us, a lot of sales opportunity because we don't have
the material to sell," he said. Stonycreek Builders has been turning away
three-quarters of people looking for treated lumber, Glessner said, because they just
don't have it.

Some guess that by the time supply returns to normal, demand might have slowed, at
least for this year. "Most of our suppliers are telling us after Labor Day," said Brown,
from Hobbes Lumber & Hardware in Edinboro.

Werner, of Ambridge Lumber and Builders Supply Co., isn't so sure. "They can't tell
you anything," he said of suppliers. "They don't have any idea what is going to

Matt Toth from the Daily American in Somerset contributed to this article.