Despite lumber prices coming down in recent weeks off their extreme peak, the material’s cost continues to be a real headache for homebuilders.

So why haven’t more builders simply ditched the traditional wooden frame?

Builders provide a complex web of reasons why they’re sticking with wood, and the labor shortage is chief among them, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders.

More than 4 in 5 builders in the organization’s June survey said they lacked enough workers or subcontractors experienced with other structure types to make the switch away from the wooden frame.

More than 90 percent of all homes completed last year were built with wooden frames, and few builders were considering switching as of May, the association said.

Workers’ familiarity with lumber isn’t the only reason builders are hesitant to change.

Several of the alternatives to lumber are going through similar instability. More than 2 in 5 builders surveyed said alternative materials weren’t cheap enough to justify such a significant change.

“Not only have materials like steel and concrete tended to be more expensive than lumber historically, they have also recently been subject to their own shortages and price hikes,” the organization said in a recent post summarizing the survey findings.

Some builders were concerned about the potential engineering and design costs associated with a shift toward new structure types. Fundamentally different materials could bog down the inspection process in some areas, others said.

And even if alternative materials were reasonably priced and could be employed with the existing labor resources on hand, more than 1 in 4 builders expressed concern that buyers would be hesitant to go with them.

Furthermore, if builders ignored these factors and charged ahead with non-lumber frames, some of them worry they could alienate the very crews they rely upon to complete their active jobs, the survey said.

“For all these reasons, abandoning wood framing in favor of alternate construction methods doesn’t offer a quick, simple or easy solution to the problem of rising costs that are squeezing buyers with modest incomes out of the market for new homes,” NAHB’s survey summary reads.

Nearly all builders have reported shortages of lumber and other materials in recent months as a rush of new demand has stretched the home construction market to its limits, according to the report.

Builder confidence has remained high throughout much of the pandemic, but took a dip in June as supply chains remained strained.

Email Daniel Houston

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