Waiting, waiting: where’s all the timber gone?

When Jo Toone decided to renovate her home, she did not expect it to be delayed for the best part of a year.   

A Torquay project waits on timber roof trusses. Photo: Mollie Quinn

 The Geelong resident is one of the thousands of people in Australia who have been caught in the middle of the country’s timber shortage after the COVID-19 pandemic stimulated demand for the building material globally.  

We have been pushed back by four months while our builder has waited for timber for a frame and about another two and a half months to produce our roof trusses, which in turn ground the renovation to a holt again,” Jo said.  

According to Master Builders Victoria, builders are experiencing significant supply issues with materials and trades and this is impacting the progress of construction across Australia.  

The cost of timber has also risen, due to increased global demand for building products as a result of COVID-19 across the US and Europe.  

Mitre 10 states overseas timber prices are at record levels, with USA prices rising by up 80 per cent. These rates are placing strain on timber imports into Australia, as European mills make more money selling to Europe and Northern America than they do to Australia.  

Australia usually imports about 20 per cent of structural timber, which has dropped to below 10 per cent in recent months. This has added extra pressure to the local Australian softwood timber industry, which is working at capacity to try to keep up with the demand.  

Torquay builder, Cooper Bingham said the COVID-19 pandemic was to blame for the high demand in housing construction, with people renovating instead of holidaying.  

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic keeping people at home, they are spending more money on their houses since they can’t travel overseas,” he said.  

The federal government’s HomeBuilders grant has also encouraged people to act quickly and take advantage of the benefits while they’re available.  

Cooper claims it’s a bittersweet situation for domestic construction workers who are receiving daily phone calls and emails for new builds, but lack of timber sees them struggling to hold down contracts.  

“There’s a lot of work available but there is a lack of supplies and timber so we can’t commit to signing contracts,” he said.  

“Clients are getting frustrated as we cannot guarantee how long they will have to wait before we can make a start on their houses, but all we can do is be honest and upfront with them and keep them in the loop about timeframes.” 

Jo is one of many clients trying to renovate their homes and is feeling the irritation of these timber delays.  

“It’s just super frustrating, the front lounge has been a dressing room for long enough!” she said.  

Master Builders Victoria is working with the government and industry partners to find a solution, however the delays and shortages of timber are yet to be resolved.   

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