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The Construction Industry’s Material Crisis and What it Means For You

In case you didn’t know, or simply didn’t care last year because you weren’t planning any building work, the last year has seen a shortage of construction materials and a massive rise in prices. This posed a massive problem for builders, who found themselves trying to fulfil quotes which, three months previously, would have been reasonable, but now fail to cover a fraction of the material costs due to no fault of their own.

So, what caused the crisis?

The materials shortage arose as the result of a perfect storm of situations. This included the impact of Brexit on trade; Covid which simultaneously caused restricted supplies; a rise in demand and disrupted work; and the rise in the cost of energy, which meant that national suppliers found themselves incurring massive additional costs.

What is the impact on material costs?

According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, building material costs rose every single month from September 2020-September 2021, with the price of all building work being 25% higher in October 2021 than in the previous year.

Which materials are affected?

The primary materials affected are:

  • Cement – according to BEIS, production in 2021 dropped by more than 10% in 2021 which, combined with continued demand, has placed a strain on industry.
  • Roof tiles – with lead times from 5-7 months for concrete and clay roof tiles and no sign of demand dropping.
  • Bricks and blocks – the high demand of 2021 is expected to continue into 2022, with lead times lengthening and prices continuing to rise.
  • Timber – 2021 saw a huge timber shortage which led to soaring prices, leaving many builders having to absorb the additional cost, often working for very little – or even nothing. This shortage has eased marginally, with unprecedented imports of timber, according to the Timber Trade Federation (TTF). However, congestion in both Scandinavian and UK ports could lead to further shortages and further price rises come spring.
  • Steel – the result of increased demand as well as decreased supply from China - the world’s biggest steel provider - steel was one of the first materials to be impacted by the pandemic.

What you can do

This rise in materials can be incredibly frustrating for homeowners and construction workers alike. Decide whether your project is urgent, and whether you are prepared to gamble on the fact that prices may drop in the next 6-12 months. Ask your local builder for advice; nobody is better placed to predict trends than somebody who is placing orders on a regular basis. Finally, remember to give the construction sector a break! Traders have continued to work incredibly hard amid unprecedented demand and have born the brunt of their customers’ frustrations at rising prices and adjustments to quotes. Remember that they are trying to deal with the same challenges as you – on a bigger scale!

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