Construction material shortages have severely impacted contractors and their projects, forcing professionals in the industry to adapt as swiftly as possible. They’re doing some proactive things to mitigate and avoid these supply chain issues.

Switch Out Materials When Possible

The supply chain issues in the construction sector have meant some contractors have had to wait additional weeks or months to get the materials they need. Some look for substitute items. For example, concrete planks can replace bar joists. However, they’re more expensive, forcing contractors to decide if it’s worth accepting the extra cost.

One company considered switching to fiberglass insulation when the mineral wool type had a long lead time. However, decision-makers eventually decided to expand its pool of mineral wool suppliers. That’s because using the alternative would necessitate adding more drywall layers, increasing the overall project costs.

Parker Young, president of Straub Construction, explained how additional factors could worsen shortages of materials. He switched to different insulation materials after Texas storms made it difficult to get petroleum-derived insulation boards. However, that decision added about $20,000 to the costs of two apartment building projects. If Young had waited for the original materials to arrive, that would have tacked 6 to 9 months onto projects that already had 14-month timelines.

Another possibility is to see if contractors could swap one of the in-demand materials with an emerging one that may be more readily available. Bamboo has a high compressive strength, making it suitable for load-bearing applications on building sites. However, contractors’ clients are not always open to using options that are less familiar to them. Such significant switches require in-depth conversations about the pros and cons.

These examples show how adjusting to construction material shortages is not straightforward. Deciding to make changes often causes ripple effects that contractors must contend with immediately or later.

Cope With Construction Material Shortages by Stockpiling

One of the difficulties associated with the shortages in construction materials is that there’s no single cause to pinpoint and fix. Instead, a combination of factors came together at once, creating what some might call a perfect storm.

Take screws and fasteners, for example. They may seem like relatively minor construction supplies, but they’re still essential. Shortages in raw materials like stainless steel make it difficult to produce some fasteners and other needed materials. Additionally, other challenges exist via labor shortages in factories, slowdowns at ports, and more. Diversifying your sources for materials is a practical solution to overcome shortages.

Moreover, if contractors have the space, they should consider placing orders in bulk until it’s time to use the items they bought. Peter Tuffo, an executive at Suffolk Construction, said he’d prefer doing that to trying to source things when needed.

Tuffo confirmed his company is warehousing materials and getting them wherever possible. He knew that meant moving them twice—such as into the warehouse and then to the construction site. However, Tuffo acknowledged that it costs much less than the possible alternative of not being able to do the work planned for a given month because of a lack of supplies.

Consider Reviewing Contracts Before Accepting New Work

Some legal professionals advise contractors to handle construction materials shortages by altering contractual language and arrangements. They should think about prioritizing time-and-materials contracts or cost-plus agreements. Both of these provide more flexibility for contractors when unexpected issues arise.

One of the main advantages of time-and-materials contracts is that they work well with projects of unknown scope. Since shortages pose many uncertainties, these agreements could reduce contractors’ risks. Additionally, cost-plus contracts require clients to pay all agreed costs, along with an extra amount that ensures the contracting company profits.

Maurice Rahming, president of O’Neill Construction Group, explained that people in his company have concerns while trying to calculate project prices. That’s largely because the prices estimated today won’t be the same in 6 months, let alone a year. Such challenges affect the ability to give customers accurate pricing information.

Making adjustments to contracts is one actionable way to respond. However, contractors should also be as transparent as possible about their construction material shortages. That can prepare clients for the possibility of agreeing to use different products or expanding a project’s timeline.

Remain Flexible for the Long Term

Many people who know about the construction material shortages believe they won’t end soon or swiftly. A large number of exacerbating factors working together to create the situation only increases possible complications and leaves contractors with more consequences to consider.

However, construction professionals should be prepared to react nimbly when the circumstances require it. Relatedly, they should continually evaluate all possible ways to respond, even before the situation becomes dire. People who are aware of the options they can pursue feel more confident under pressure and make the most appropriate decisions as aspects of the project change.

About the Author

Emily Newton is an industrial writer who specializes in covering how technology is disrupting industrial sectors. She’s also the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized where she covers innovations in industry, construction, and more.