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The materials shortage continues to have a negative affect on the entire construction sector, with SME house builders and self builders being significantly affected. Smaller firms traditionally purchase materials via a merchant on an on-demand basis, as opposed to mainstream companies which buy in bulk and store in warehouses for use, and are therefore more susceptible to shortages.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) is leading the way in tracking issues around the supply and demand of materials, via its product availability group. This issues monthly updates to assist with forward planning for builders, but it is clear that shortages and gaps in the supply train are having impacts on pricing and availability, both of which impact house building.

This can manifest itself in increasing costs and delays in starting work, which can impact the scheduling of other materials and tradespeople. This can be especially problematic on a self build, where jobs can be reliant on clear sequencing, or where secure storage of materials for future jobs increases the risk of theft or damage.

The issue is significant, as the CLC believes that the strong demand for materials, which is global, is set to continue for six months, with increased commercial and industrial activity adding to the pressures.

Materials that are affected are wide-ranging, but include structural steel, timber, pitched roofing materials, plastics and paints, with cement and electronic components recently joining the list.

The Office for National Statistics projects a rise of 7-8% in material prices, with some products, such as timber, expected to double.

Business has been booming for builders, with Builders Merchants Federation’s Builders Merchants Building Index showing a continuing upward trend in building material sales. It reported that March saw record material sales, with an increas of 47.4% against March 2020, and 23% against the pre-pandemic March 2019.

This is at a time when the Federation of Master Builders reported that local builders had seen enquiries increase at the fastest rate in a decade, as data in its annual Q1 State of Trade Survey indicated. however, it was those operating in the repair, maintenance and improvement fields that saw the highest increases.

The survey also found that:

  • 93% of builders said that material prices were rising
  • 38% were struggling to hire bricklayers, up from 22% in Q4 2020
  • 34% were struggling to hire carpenters/joiners, up from 23% in Q4 2020

Find out more about the 2021 Q1 State of Trade Survey 

Credit: LAPD architects

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