Supply chain disruptions and February’s unexpected winter freeze in Texas might be directly affecting your ability to get paint or plumbing supplies at local hardware stores.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, fittings, and conduit, along with certain paints are in short supply lately, according to store managers at Aubuchon Hardware in Montpelier and Nelson Ace Hardware in Barre.
While sales were up in 2020 at the Montpelier Aubuchon Hardware, store manager Gregg McNelis said sales started slumping starting in June, compared with last year. He doesn’t think home improvement projects are slowing down any time soon, however. Rather, Aubuchon can’t always meet demand with a limited supply.
“Product shortages have been affecting our ability to reap some of the sales we have had previously,” he said.
One of the more noticeable product shortages includes Benjamin Moore paint. McNelis said Aubuchon has run out of primers and the “top of the line” Aura interior paints.
“We used to have 300 [gallons] on hand at a time, and now I have a case of 12 in one week,” McNelis said. “We have to do a lot of inventory verification to make sure they have the product in stock and find out what batches they are going to produce. They can only produce what they can when they receive raw materials.”
Specifically, McNelis said, shortages in the raw materials required to make paint, such as titanium dioxide, have slowed production on the manufacturing end. The deep freeze in Texas last winter might have affected the supply of raw materials as well, with burst pipes shutting down and slowing production of petrochemicals, another key paint ingredient, according to Mike Wheatly, a writer for Reality Biz News.
Also in short supply are PVC pipes and block filler (for filling in basement concrete walls), likely also caused by the Texas deep freeze, McNelis posited, “because of that, there was a huge spike in [PVC pipe] sales because everyone there had burst pipes.”
Annette Boisvert, store manager at Barre’s Nelson Ace Hardware concurs.
“Anything that’s made of plastic or metal, we are having a hard time getting those things, including PVC pipe, fittings, and conduit,” Boisvert said. Also on the list: hard plastic coolers.
“With regard to PVC shortages specifically, plastic resin producers and downstream converters like Charlotte Pipe were impacted by the above shutdowns and supply scarcity,” said Bradford Muller, Vice President of Marketing at Charlotte Pipe and Foundry, one of Nelson Ace Hardware’s PVC vendors. “Fewer truck drivers and port workers were available. Lockdowns and workplace safety precautions meant labor availability was down. The pandemic created a ripple effect on the supply chain that we are still feeling today.”
“On top of all that … [after the deep freeze in Texas], about 75 percent of the 40 million metric tons of ethylene production were taken offline during the height of the deep freeze and at one point 60 percent of the U.S. PVC production capacity was offline. We are just now coming out of that disruption, as it took months to repair plants and get them back online. Unfortunately, this meant that raw materials were and remain in short supply. This coincided with high demand as construction activity remained robust throughout the pandemic,” Muller said.
The combination of high demand and short supply means prices may increase.
“Prices in general definitely have gone up,” Boisvert added. “The cost gets passed on to us, and we move it up accordingly.”
Planning for a 2021 Home Improvement Project?
Aubuchon Hardware Store manager Gregg McNelis recommends “If you’re thinking about doing a project, make sure to plan and make sure you’re going to have the supplies you need.”
If you’re trying to book a contractor, it may be too late to get on their 2021 schedule. Montpelier Construction’s Malcolm Gray said he is booked up for 2021, and almost booked for 2022. He’s telling customers with large projects — such as building a house — that they might need to wait until 2023.
Also keep in mind a quote today will need to be re-bid in a year, or even a month. Construction material prices are the most unstable that Gray has seen since 1978, he said.
“It’s a whole new world,” Gray said. “Standing seam roofing has doubled in price, both material and labor costs. A roof that I would estimate at under $400 per square foot is $800 to $1,000 a square foot now. That might radically change in a year.”
At the same time, some lumber prices have dropped since they peaked in 2020, so Gray suggested some of the inflated materials prices may drop eventually.
Another consideration: materials that are in short supply will eventually become available, but wait times have dramatically increased.
“Marvin Windows usually have a 4- to 6-week wait time,” Gray said. “Now it’s 24 to 26 weeks out … The only other time I had to wait 24 weeks for windows was when I ordered them from Ireland, and the container they were on got stuck in storms in the North Sea.”
Bottom line: If you’re seeking a quote for an upcoming home improvement project, you need to be persistent and keep calling contractors, even if some don’t get back to you. Plan as far ahead as possible, and expect that any bid you get will need to be recalculated closer to your project start date.