With the Gib plasterboard supply shortage reaching crisis levels, the construction industry has been making national headlines recently. Top level meetings between government ministers, industry bodies and Fletcher Building, which has an almost 95 per cent market share in New Zealand, have focused everyone’s attention on plasterboard, but the building industry has been coping with shortages of one thing or another – and subsequent price rises – since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
The succession of lockdowns and stopped production, shipping and freight delays, a boom in building and renovating, order backlogs, further lockdowns, and the effects of Covid and isolation on staffing levels have combined to create a perfect storm of industry pressure.
Mahurangi Matters talked to local builders about how they’re coping currently, not only with no plasterboard, but with limited supplies of many other materials, delivery delays and price hikes all round – a stressful situation for contractors and clients alike, but one that has become the new normal.
Firms have had to become more flexible, adapt their work schedules, substitute preferred products and rethink their pricing, as any reliability in availability has evaporated over the past year or so.
Erik Graamans, who runs Point Wells building company GBL Construction, said the plasterboard situation was especially frustrating and the trade was annoyed with the monopoly, not to mention the eight or nine month delay on delivery.
“Some think they’re starving the market to inflate prices and I do wonder if they’ll ever go back down,” he said. “Our supplier has managed to stay pretty much on top of it, but only because they’re not selling much to retail, so they can protect the trade.
“We’re just to avoid work that uses Gib, so doing a lot of outside work like sheds, pool surrounds, any outdoor construction.”
Tiny Living builder Paul Smith said the Gib shortages today were the building equivalent of grocery supply during lockdowns, with board being hoarded, or sold at absurdly high prices on TradeMe.
“It’s a total toilet roll situation – some people are stockpiling,” he said.
Other products in short supply, or selling at sharply inflated prices, include weatherboard cladding, structural timber and laminated beams and posts.
“They can be a bit of a headache,” Graamans said. “You can still get them, but instead or two or three days, it’s talking three to four weeks.”
And he said the price of cedar, which comes from the Northern Hemisphere, had skyrocketed.
Because of this, there’s pretty much no such thing as a fixed price contract any more, according to Smith.
“We’re giving customers today’s price as an estimate and saying expect to see a certain percentage of movement in that, then we work to try to avoid that,” he said.
“It’s hard for people on a strict budget and needing finance, because that’s what banks want to know – exactly what everything’s going to cost. Lending institutions need to be more sympathetic, as there’s not a single builder doing fixed price contracts at the moment.”
Smith said the Leigh-based builder had been helped enormously by its main supplier, ITM Matakana.
“They have been very good at managing this situation. We’ve received regular correspondence telling us what to expect in the next month or two, which really helps to plan ahead and purchase in advance.
“Everyone’s doing their best,” he said. “Everyone wants to make it better. It really changes the way you have to do business, but I’m optimistic.”