The combined impact of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented materials shortages within the UK construction sector. The conflict in Ukraine is likely to now add further strain on the building industry. If you’re planning a building project, such as a new renovation, or building a new home, you should be aware of the likely impacts this will have on your building project.

Latest update: How will the war in Ukraine affect the building trade?

Read about how the war in Ukraine will likely impact building material pricing and availability.

Why is there a building materials shortage?

Since the start of the pandemic FMB members have reported difficulties in buying many of the materials that they need, as global demand continues to outstrip supply, leading to product shortages, long lead-in times and rising prices.

While logistical challenges posed by closed borders and lockdowns have impacted on the availability of imported products, those made in the UK have also been in short supply, driven by a surge in housebuilding and large-scale infrastructure projects, such the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project.

Private housing repair, maintenance and improvements has been the quickest construction sector to recover since the initial national lockdown. This is due to demand for better quality outdoor space and home office work environments, and most SME contractors are reporting projects lined up for at least the next six months.

There has also been a growth in DIY projects, prompted by people spending more time in their homes, and having more disposable income as a result of lockdowns. Companies such as Kingfisher, owner of B&Q and Screwfix, have reported a surge in sales and profits for 2020.

Why are material prices rising?

Increasing demand has led to rising costs, and the Construction Leadership Council has reported that products used in housebuilding and domestic repair maintenance and improvement are the most affected. These include bagged cement, timber, insulation, kitchen carcassing, and roofing and landscaping products, with price hikes of 10-15% (at least 50% for timber).

In January and February 2022, online building supplier buildingmaterials.co.uk notified customers of price increases across multiple brands, including up to a 15.5% rise for insulation, up to 30% for module partitioning, and up to 20% for renders. Other merchants have done similar, and more than once.

The delivery of products has also been impacted due to congested shipping routes and container cancellations, as well as a shortage of lorry, leading to longer lead in times and putting pressure on supply.

Key findings from the FMB's State of Trade Survey for Q4 2021 include:

  • Housebuilders report a 19% increased workload.
  • 32% of builders report increased workload in the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) sector.
  • 43% of builders are struggling to hire carpenters/joiners, and 47% are struggling to hire bricklayers
  • 95% of builders are facing material price rises, with the same number expecting this to continue into Q3 2021
  • 74% of respondents have been forced to raise their prices in the past quarter

More information on the nature of material shortages currently faced by UK builders is detailed in our State of Trade Survey, with the full report available for download at no cost.

What does this mean for my building project?

The above factors have come together to create a perfect storm for builders, affecting the cost and duration of projects, which is largely outside of their control.

Regular communication with your builder, is vital to the smooth running of a project, as is willingness to adapt to the ever-changing climate.

Prices are unpredictable and can increase rapidly, meaning that quotes can be subject to change, so most builders will insert some flexibility into contracts and tenders.

Long lead in times for products and materials means that delays are likely and while your builder will always aim to complete the job within the agreed timeframe, it is sensible to plan for it to overrun.

Where a certain material/product is not available, or costs have risen try discussing alternative options with your builder.

Try to remain patient with your builder and be careful not to compromise on quality and customer service by defaulting to one offering a cheaper quote / quicker completion time. Prices that are unusually low are likely too good to be true, and are often an indication of a cowboy builder.

How long will it last?

The materials shortages look likely to continue for the rest of the year, as record sales of building materials, strong pre-orders and full pipelines of work continue to put pressure on the supply chain.

This is a global problem, and the whole of the UK construction industry is facing unprecedented demand. The FMB forms part of the Construction Leadership Council Products Availability Group, which brings together builders and representatives of the merchants and manufacturers to share information. FMB members regularly attend these meetings and share feedback on the shortages being faced by SME builders.

The FMB regularly shares updates on the building materials shortages and you can keep up to date on the dedicated campaign page.

Latest update: 9 March 2022

Latest news on building material costs

An announcement from the Construction Leadership Council on 8 March 2022 has confirmed that the cost of building materials is continuing to soar. Prices are up by 10% on average, with a 20% increase on more energy intensive items.

Product shortages continue to affect bricks, blocks, roof tiles, steel lintels, cable trays and trunking, manhole covers, gas boilers and some electrical products. If demand continues to be high, shortages and longer lead times are expected to continue into the spring.

British Steel have also recently announced a price increase on all of their Structural Sections of £250, which came into effect immediately. This follows a quick succession of price increases by the company in the past three months, as they keep pace in a volatile market. British Steel credit escalating energy prices for the spiralling costs, along with steep rises in the price of metallurgic coal and coke, ferrous scrap and iron ore.

How will the war in Ukraine affect the building trade?

The conflict in Ukraine and subsequent sanctions imposed on Russia and Belarus threaten to have a far-reaching effect on global supply chains for years to come, as the nations are key providers in raw materials and energy.

The Construction Leadership Council advise that it’s too early to measure the impact on the availability of building materials. However, they warn that the building industry is likely to see pressure put on the cost and availability of commodities, including:

  • Copper – Used in plumbing, electrical wiring, cladding, flashing and solar panels
  • Aluminium ore – Alloys used in window and door frames, air conditioning and heating components, solar protection, exterior facades
  • Oil – Fuel, plastics, engine oils and lubricants
  • Bitumen – Road and path surfacing, roofing, plastics, sealing and insulating materials eg paint and damp proofing
  • Neon – Semiconductors (used in microchip production)

As oil and gas prices rocket across Europe, pressures may also be felt on products that require a lot of energy to manufacture. In addition, sanctions imposed on individuals and Russian-owned companies may affect supply in the UK. A retaliatory export ban by Russia on some timber products might also affect availability for the building trade.

You can read the latest Construction Product Availability Statement on the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) website here.