June30

Lumber Update – July 2020

By Paul Rogers

With each passing day, a clearer focus is developing upon the state of our economy and the future of the lumber market, and it’s an encouraging one. After the initial re-openings from the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders, our crawl became a walk as business levels increased as the month progressed. In particular, business from outdoor remodeling took the forefront as orders from homeowners looking to improve their outdoor spaces came fast and furious. As summer vacations were cancelled due to Covid-19, a universal trend arose in which homeowners chose to spend their time and their money on their own backyards, creating an unprecedented demand in the deck category. Contractors across the nation worked feverishly to meet the demand. In the Northeast, with our “decking season” being on hiatus for two months during the stay-at-home orders, pressure treated stock barely hit the ground before it was scooped back up to fulfill deck orders. Dealers struggled to keep up with the demand and outages were rampant. Pressure treated suppliers were in an even worse position as they couldn’t fulfill demand within their processing schedules and Southern Yellow Pine, a very popular framing specie in the southern United States, became scarce as the housing market rebounded. As a result, lead times doubled, prices soared, many dimensions were rationed to dealers and special order options (like KDAT, “kiln dried after treatment”) were not offered until further notice. SPF framing saw an upward trajectory after the stay-at-home orders were lifted as well, and mostly due to dealers who sought to replenish their inventories after two months of running on pure uncertainty of future sales. For several weeks, studs became scarce and experienced pricing volatility, but they eventually settled down. Framing is currently stable and firm as cautious buying and a steady pace of sales is emerging. We anticipate for it to remain that way for the rest of July. Pressure treated is still at record highs but there is a crest appearing and a downward trend that will surely follow.

The “new normal”, you might agree, is already a worn out phrase due to our adaptations of the new ways and means of Covid-19 protection. As Tony Shepley had stated in his May 20th daily update, The New Normal, “The New Normal implies something that will stay that way for quite a while to come. It’s inaccurate. Normal isn’t static, it is evolutionary. Therefore, I’d rather embrace the idea of “Next Normal”, with the understanding that it’s just a step rather than a state.” Well said and full of insight, as we are introduced (and have to adapt) to the next normal all the time, especially in our ever-changing industry.

Not unlike the protocols that we now have to follow for Covid-19, often the “next normal” protocol is for own good but it often comes with a whisper of an announcement rather than a scream. Surely, the message received for the “next normal” that surrounds a pandemic comes as a scream and all at once, but messages of changes of products that will affect our livelihoods and daily actions generally come as a whisper, slowly and unassumingly (yet still have a profound effect on our lives). One example is sealing wood products. It’s been a “best practice” for many years, but hasn’t always been a requirement for basic performance of the products in our industry. Pressure treated, hardwood decking, stained cedar shingles, trim boards, doors, and their sills are all examples of products that may require sealing for basic performance if they are made from wood. Authentic wood responds to moisture and UV rays and always will, despite the best intentions of manufacturers who try to infuse it with chemicals, cover it with a variety of coatings or cook it (also known as “thermal modification”, which changes its chemical structure). Even when wood is just a component of an otherwise non-wood product (such as a fiberglass door with wood stiles), it will absorb moisture and affect the performance of the product if it isn’t sealed properly. This moisture is most often from the end-grain, which is where capillary action occurs and end-sealers are often required as well. It’s fascinating how a tree, even after harvesting, will continue to draw and expel water, changing its shape and affecting its appearance and stability. Which is why, when dealing with any wood product, it’s imperative to mitigate the moisture intake in order to obtain a stable product. Stable, in this case, speaks to avoiding cupping, warping, twisting, checking, telegraphing (where surface wood grain expands), paint peeling, and eventually rot. What does this have to do with the “next normal”? Many of us still practice the last normal, which didn’t require sealing or end-sealing. What has changed is that old growth wood has become virtually unattainable, premium hardwood species are either outrageously priced or unavailable, and an introduction in to the market of a bevy of products that either mimic the authentic item in appearance (but have a profoundly different composition) or are an attempt to modify a sub-par specie that wouldn’t have a chance in performing up to the expectations of the old product unless it was highly altered. We must adapt to the new building materials and their requirements for optimum performance by adhering to the manufacturer’s requirements and not relying on what the old normal would allow us not to have to do. Much like how the next normal of wearing masks is a barrier designed to extend our lives, sealing and end-sealing wood is a barrier that will extend its “life” as well.

Until the next “Next Normal” wood product arrives, impervious to all the evils of moisture, and UV degradation but wide-open in form, function, and strength, we have to adapt to the current wood products and accept that they aren’t what they used to be, despite outward appearances. The best protection that we can obtain is to follow manufacturer’s installation and care instructions. Please consult your Shepley sales person for advice on where and when end-sealers and paint are required. Thank you for your business!

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