What Garfield County contractors deal with while hammering their way through COVID-19 | PostIndependent.com

What Garfield County contractors deal with while hammering their way through COVID-19

A Walker Electric crewman installs outlets inside what will be a new apartment building in Rifle.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Though the Garfield County housing market is sizzling right now, local contractors are having to hammer their ways through increasing material costs and delays in delivery.

“We’re not talking about special items, either,” Walker Electric, Inc. owner Clint Hostettler said with a chuckle. “We’re talking about commodities like plastic boxes and (electrical metallic tubing) and (polyvinyl chloride). It’s almost like you just have to pay whatever price (suppliers) charge you because they’re the only ones who have it.”

“It’s not about price anymore,” he added. “It’s about whether you can actually get your hands on material.”

The Rifle-based contractor said businesses throughout the Western Slope are dealing with this astronomical construction conundrum. Prices for so many commodities have literally shot up 100% due to many reasons centered on COVID-19.

In fact, softwood lumber alone has spiked 73% from January 2020 to January 2021, recent figures from a Associated Builders and Contractors show.

PVC prices have shot up even more drastically, Hostettler said. With manufacturers seeing resin shortages — the main polymer that comprises PVC — it’s led to a 100% uptick.

When asked if he’s seen increased prices, JBS Construction owner Jeb Savage used the term “most definitely.”

“Lumber’s been skyrocketing ever since the pandemic hit,” he said. “For example, the (material) we use to sheet the outside of the houses is about four times as expensive as it was in last February.”

“It went from $17 a sheet to $52 a sheet,” he added.

Reasons vary, but throughout the past year manufacturing facilities across the global market have slowed production due to COVID-19. Shuttering plants that manufacture switchboards in Mexico, for instance, have affected not just price but timeliness.

Hostettler couldn’t get certain breakers for at least 3-4 months, he said. This means he’s forced to make adjustments in an effort to cover costs.

“The problem is, if you bid a job in August and then you’re awarded the job in January, the costs have gone up so significantly that you have to tell the contractor that your price is going up, which isn’t normal,” Hostettler said.

Meanwhile, Hostettler now has to order material well in advance.

“It’s almost like the manufacturer’s thought there’d be a construction slowdown,” He said. “But, really what happened was an increase in construction.”

So far, Hostettler has seen a 25% increase in jobs over the past year. A typical year he usually sees about 75 contracts. This year, that’s more like a cool 100.

Savage, currently building houses in Rifle’s North Pasture area, said his build time hasn’t gone up drastically, but he’s also forced to improvise amid a local housing market that seems to be heavy on demand.

Data from the Colorado Association of Realtors show housing prices are up 2.6% over the past year. In Garfield County — a place where realtors continually say the market’s hot — it’s tough to get a 1,500 square foot starter home under $350,000.

“If you can get one on the market, there’s somebody there to buy it pretty quickly,” Savage said of housing. “Sometimes you’re not waiting around for a customer but sometimes they’re waiting for me to get the house done.”

One day a certain item’s sitting on the shelf. The next, not so much, Savage said. He speculates that manufacturers are servicing the big box stores and more densely populated areas — like Denver and the Front Range — first.

“The answer I get is, we’re all waiting on a rail car from Louisiana,” he said. “Hopefully, things are going to start breaking loose once the world goes back to semi-normal.”

At the very least, material costs are but a minor inconvenience for contractors in the local housing market. Having worked through the Great Recession of 2008, Savage has encountered far greater circumstances than exacerbated material costs and delays.

So despite housing prices continuing to skyrocket, Savage said he doesn’t see any end in sight.

“We haven’t seen a slowdown in the demand for houses,” he said. “I’m as busy as I’ve ever been, and I’m bound to have my best year. Last year was my best year yet and this year’s going to be better.”


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