Environmental Digital Journalist

August 23, 2023

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How the building material shortage raises costs and safety concerns

SHP hears from Sophie Bishop, who discusses how the construction material crisis may be affecting health and safety standards on site. 

When it comes to safe construction, quality materials are a must. But, as with just about every industry at the moment, building businesses are facing sky-high prices for materials they need. So, what’s can companies do? 

In order to maintain high levels of service and ensure you comply with regulations, I’ve taken a look at the current shortage of building materials, the resulting increases in costs, and how you can still find the quality products you need without breaking the bank.

What’s behind the material shortage?

Inflation has played a part in the skyrocketing of construction material costs, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of what’s going on. In fact, the real issue comes from a shortage of materials.

It might seem absurd that there’s currently a building material shortage, especially for renewable products like timber. Surely the world has enough raw resources to keep our country building? But when you consider that 20% of all waste wood heads to the landfill rather than being recycled or repurposed, you start to see how we might not be using our materials very efficiently. 

However, there are causes that go deeper than our country’s waste issue. The first is the lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw a slowing of material production as manufacturers complied with lockdown regulations.

But with more people at home than ever, there was a simultaneous increase in people looking to embark on home improvement projects. In fact, the first year of the pandemic saw an 86% increase in home improvement interest and the effects of that are ongoing. 

The end result was intense pressure on supply chains and demand far outstripping available materials. All of this alone is bound to push prices up. 

Knock-on uncertainty from Brexit and new regulations are still playing a part in the shortage, too. Delayed shipping and stricter rules around overseas material sourcing have played a large part in the reduction of available building products, leading to prices going up.

How is this driving prices up?

Regardless of industry, whenever demand outpaces supply, prices go up. Unfortunately for construction workers and those looking to start projects, the increasing rates don’t seem to be slowing, either. 

According to the Building Materials and Components Statistics provided by the British government, the average price of building materials saw a hike of 4.7% in April 2023 compared to April 2022. In March 2023 came a larger increase of 8.7% compared to March 2022. Considering that prices were already soaring in 2022, this isn’t welcome news for many. 

Most affected building materials

A wide range of construction materials have been affected by shortages and subsequent price hikes over the past few years. Some of those most affected include:

  • Cement
  • Timber
  • Insulation
  • Roof tiles
  • Screws
  • Ready-mixed concrete

These materials are likely to be noticeably more expensive than they were pre-Covid and may also be harder to get your hands on. This may raise issues about workers being tempted to obtain cheaper, lower quality goods that put the health and safety of buildings at risk.

How is the construction industry affected?

The construction industry has been facing challenges caused by shortages and rising costs for the past few years. In 2021, for example, according to RIBA’s Future Trends report for November, 74% of building practices cited on-site delays due to struggling to source the correct materials for the job.

A vast number of building projects are currently falling behind schedule, still, with delays to sourcing and shipping a major factor in the hold-ups. Not only does this reflect badly on the individual business, but it also runs the risk of projects being abandoned. 

It’s important to note that rising costs of materials are leading to an increase in the cost of construction. From kitchen renovations to new-build properties, building prices are higher than they were a few years ago. Despite this, around 60% of construction workers still expect demand for renovations to increase this year and are generally positive about their workload. 

Construction costs and safety concerns

A main concern about rising costs of building materials is the chance that companies may cut corners in order to keep costs down. 

For example, workers may be tempted to skip fire-safe materials, such as coated timber cladding, and opt for cheaper alternatives to remain within their budgets. They may be less vigilant about who they buy from, too. If a company is offering materials at far cheaper prices, workers may be tempted to snap them up without considering that they could be sub-par and from an unreliable company.

The issues could lead to a number of health and safety problems arising. Buildings that are less fire-safe, less durable, and don’t meet regulations may be an outcome of cost hikes if workers don’t remain vigilant.

Maintaining high standards as prices rise

I’ve put together some top tips that’ll help you stick to your budget whilst also meeting legislation and following health and safety advice

Choose recycled and repurposed materials

As mentioned earlier, almost a quarter of waste timber still heads to landfill. Reduce this, add to your green credentials, and cut costs by choosing to repurpose old building materials rather than buying brand new.

Timber, steel, and cement blocks from older buildings are likely to be a lot cheaper than their new counterparts but just as high quality, helping you create safe buildings without drastically increasing costs.

Look into budget-friendly alternatives

If you can’t find second-hand materials, look into alternatives that are either less affected by shortages or in less demand, leading to cheaper price tags. For example, you could look into composites instead of timber, or a different species of wood to your first choice that’ll do the same job but is more budget-friendly. 

Do your research before quoting

Sometimes, higher prices are unavoidable. To ensure you can cover the costs without cutting corners, thoroughly research before you quote. Material prices can fluctuate drastically from month to month, so up-to-date knowledge of average costs is a must. 

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