Lumber scarcity will make it pricy to board up your home this hurricane season

Thinking about boarding your house or business up if a storm is on it way? Better get the plywood now.

MIAMI – As soon as a storm starts churning in the Atlantic, lines start forming for plywood in South Florida. If you have to do it this hurricane season, expect some sticker shock — that is, if you can even find the lumber you’re looking for.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in 25 years,” Jose Alvarez, one of the managers of Shell Lumber in Miami, says of the shortage and demand right now.

“Last March, right before the pandemic hit, this product that we’re going to look at now was about $23 a sheet,” Alvarez said. “As of this morning, it’s $72 a sheet. The same product, made the same way, made by the same people, it just cost that much more. So we’re talking about a 300% increase in price in just over a year”

That’s for one 4-by-8-foot sheet of three-quarter-inch plywood, an item commonly seen flying off hardware store shelves right before a storm.

Speaking of shelves, you’ll notice no prices displayed there at Shell Lumber.

“Because all these are the commodity items and literally they change, minimally, twice a week,” Alvarez said.

As with so many things, you can blame the COVID-19 pandemic for this plywood pricing pandemonium.

“When COVID first hit, sawmills shut down in anticipation there’d be hiccups in the housing market,” said Rusty Payton, who heads the Florida Homebuilders Association. “What happened was just the opposite.”

As building kept booming, closed mills meant low lumber supply amid that high demand.

“They’re going to have sticker shock, and nothing tells me that between now, June, July, or August, any of that’s coming down,” Payton said.

In fact, he says projected plywood prices could be high well beyond hurricane season, into 2022.

As expensive as it may seem, Payton says “buy it now.”

“I think if you make the assumption that the wood’s going to be there when the hurricane is out there brewing, you’re making a false assumption,” he said.

But, even early preparation comes with caveats.

“Even if you can afford it, you might not be able to find it,” Alvarez said. “Because once this runs out, I may not be able to get more. ... I’ve never seen this stuff get to this level in scarcity and obviously in price.”

Because of that, shutters for your home that can be used multiple times could end up being far more cost-effective than boarding up for a storm this year.

And if you want to buy plywood now to store it for later, you need to consider where to store it. It needs to be kept in a cool, dry place, otherwise, it can rot or warp.

CLICK HERE to view and download our 2021 Hurricane Survival Guide.

About the Author:

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.