Trump administration import tariffs raised the cost of rebuilding homes for wildfire victims


SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Add this to the challenges facing California wildfire victims: Tariffs.

The import tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump are adding thousands of dollars to the cost of building homes. That especially squeezes homeowners who seek to rebuild quickly after losing their houses to natural disasters, such as the wildfires scorching parts of California.

The Trump administration’s tariffs have raised the cost of imported lumber, drywall, nails and other key construction materials. One building association official said the tariffs could raise the price of a typical new home in California by up to $20,000, and it could be more for individual homes being custom-built on short order.

That could be enough to keep some people with inadequate homeowners insurance from rebuilding or force them to consider a smaller house.

Other factors also are making home construction more expensive, including a shortage of workers and increased demand that has pushed up the price of materials produced in the U.S. The difference with the tariff-related cost increase: It’s a direct result of a governmental policy change.

“This comes at a bad time if you’ve just had your neighborhood swept up in a firestorm,” said Jock O’Connell, an international trade adviser at Beacon Economics in California.

Wildfires have destroyed thousands of homes in California over the past two years, including 1,200 so far this year.

It’s not just wildfire victims in the West who have to deal with higher construction costs. Last year, Hurricane Harvey flooded 300,000 structures in Texas.

Trump has imposed the import tariffs on a range of goods as a way to strike back at trading partners he says have not treated the U.S. fairly. His move has set off a trade war, with other nations raising tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation.

Tariffs now are just over 20 percent on imported Canadian lumber and 25 percent on steel imported from certain nations as well as on a long list of goods from China.

Rob Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, said typically the price of labor, interest rates and the availability of land are the main variables determining the cost of new home construction, with the price of materials and local fees also having an effect.

“Now, lumber and labor are the top two,” he said.

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