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Midyear 2021 Economic Forecast Presentation

Inflation – PPI data Jun to Sept Updated 10-14-21

7-15-21 Final demand pricing is still well below materials price increases. However, it’s hard to visualize how more of the cost does not get passed on to consumer. I’m expecting future reports will show final cost inflation increasing.

10-14-21 My current forecast for inflation in 2021 is now 4.5% for nonresidential buildings and 13% for residential. Residential inflation seems to have slowed but nonresidential is headed towards 5%.

Most years, inflation climbs at a steady rate. 2021 could end up being a year in which inflation is drastically different in one or two quarters vs the entire year.

8-13-21 As expected, many Final Demand prices surged in July by 1.5% to 2%.

10-14-21 Final Demand Trades prices up again since July. Some Buildings increased. Wood products have come way down, but almost every other material product has gone up, metals way up.

PPI INPUTS only Sept 2021

PPI Final Demand only Sept 2021

Link to AGC page of producer price monthly reports

2021 Construction Inflation – updated 10-15-21

This post, originally written in Jan 2021, and updated several times, is viewed over 1,000 times a week.

10-15-21 update – Link to PPI data from Jul to Sep. Table PPI Inputs Sep21. Updated BCI plot.

As of Sept 2021, PPI for materials inputs to construction is up ytd 15% to 18%. For the 18 months since March 2020, the onset of Pandemic, the PPI for materials inputs to construction is up ytd 23%, but the PPI Buildings Cost Index for final cost to owner is up only 5% to 6%. Construction inflation is very different right now for subcontractors vs general contractor/CM.

As of 10-15-21, nonres bldgs inflation for 2021 is estimated at 4.6% and residential at 12.9%. Those increases are reflected in the tables and plots below. Both have been trending up.

Construction Spending Update 10-1-21

Construction Jobs Outlook 10-11-21 read the section on impact of inflation

Inflation – PPI data June-Sept 2021 some materials up 20%-40% but final cost up only 5%-6%

8-15-21 update – These links at top here point to most recent inflation data, to supplement this post. The latest construction spending forecast reflects inflation of 4-6% for nonresidential and 12-13% for residential. The latest tables and BCI plot, as of 8-15-21, are at the very bottom in this file. All 2021 indices have increased since my May 2021 Inflation Report. These tables have the latest.

Also See Construction Inflation Report May 2021 for downloadable report

1-25-21 What impacts should we expect on Construction Inflation in 2021?

In April 2020, and again in June 2020, I recommended adding a minimum 1% to normal long-term construction inflation (nonres longterm inflation = 3.75%), to use 4% to 5% for 2020 nonresidential buildings construction inflation. Some analysts were suggesting we would experience deflation. Deflation is not likely. Only twice in 50 years have we experienced construction cost deflation, 2009 and 2010. That was at a time when business volume was down 33% and jobs were down 30%. In 2020, volume dropped 8% from Feb to May and we’ve gained half that back by Dec. Jobs dropped 14%, 1,000,000+ jobs, in two months! Now volume is still down 4% and jobs are down 2% from Feb peak. We’ve gained back 850,000 jobs. But also, we’ve gained back more jobs then volume. That adds to inflation.

Volume drops another 5% in 2021, all nonresidential, and then another 3% in 2022. Jobs could drop overall 8%-10% for all of 2021-2022, 500,000 to 700,000 jobs.

Even though material input costs are up for 2020, nonresidential inflation in 2020 remained low, probably influenced by a reduction in margins due to the decline in new construction starts (-24%), which is a decline in new work to bid on.

Volume = spending minus inflation.

Residential business volume dropped 12% from the January 2020 peak to the May bottom, but has since recovered 22% and now stands at a post Great Recession high, 10% above one year ago. Although residential spending remains near this high level for the next year, volume after inflation begins to drop by midyear. For the year 2020, Residential Building Materials Inputs are up 6.2%. See PPI charts. Sharply higher lumber prices have added more than $17,000 to the price of an average new single-family home since mid-April ($24,000 as of 3-30-21). Residential inflation averaged 5.1% for 2020. (UPDATE 3-30-21 – Single Family home prices increased 11% since March 2020. Lumber cost is now 3x what it was in March 2020. These will both impact cost to build SFH).

10-15-21 – The U.S. Census Single-Family house Construction Index increased 6.7% from Feb 2020 to Feb 2021. Since February 2021 through August it is up another 8.5% for the last 6 months. https://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/pdf/price_uc.pdf

Nonresidential volume has been slowly declining and is now down 8.5% from one year ago. I had forecast by 3rd quarter 2021, nonresidential buildings volume would be down 15% lower than December 2020, or 25% below the Feb 2020 peak. It’s down 5.5% from Dec’20 and down 23% from the Feb’20 peak. This tracks right in line with the 24% decline in new construction starts in 2020. Most of the spending from those lost starts would have taken place in 2021, now showing up as a major decline in spending and work volume. Nonresidential inflation for 2020 dropped to 2.5%, the first time in 7 years below 4%. It’s expected to increase in 2021.

The Producer Price Index tables published by AGC for year-end 2020 https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/PPI%20Tables%20202012.pdf shows input costs to nonresidential buildings up about 3.5% to 4.5% for 2020, but final costs of contractors and buildings up only 1% to 2%. This could be an indication that, although input costs are up, final costs are depressed due to lower margins, a result of fewer projects to bid on creating a tighter new work available environment which generally leads to a more competitive bidding environment. This could reverse in 2021 as the volume of work to bid on in most markets begins to increase.

As of Sept 2021, PPI for materials inputs to construction is up ytd 15% to 18%. For the 18 months since March 2020, the onset of Pandemic, the PPI for materials inputs to construction is up ytd 23%, but the PPI Buildings Cost Index for final cost to owner is up only 5% to 6%. Construction inflation is very different right now for subcontractors vs general contractor/CM.

PPI data for Jun Jul Sept Updated 10-14-21

The Turner Construction 2020 Cost Index for nonresidential buildings averaged 1.8% higher than the avg for all of 2019. The Turner index appears to show the lowest gains in forecasts for 2021, up only 1.4% ytd though Q2. http://turnerconstruction.com/cost-index

The Rider Levitt Bucknall nonresidential buildings average index for 2020 increased 3.5%. Q3 2021 compared to Q3 2020 is up 5.5%. https://www.rlb.com/americas/

R.S.Means quarterly cost index of some materials for the 4th quarter 2020 compared to Q1: Ready-Mix Concrete -1.8%, Brick +10%, Steel Items -1% to -5%, Framing Lumber +32%, Plywood +8%, Roof Membrane +5%, Insulating Glass +12%, Drywall +3%, Metal Studs +23%, Plumbing Pipe and Fixtures +1%, Sheet Metal +20%. https://www.rsmeans.com/landing-pages/2020-rsmeans-cost-index

U.S. manufacturing output posts largest drop since 1946. Think of all the manufactured products that go into construction of a new building: Cement, steel, doors, frames, windows, roofing, siding, wallboard, lighting, heating systems, wire, plumbing fixtures, pipe, valves, cabinets, appliances, etc. We have yet to see if any of these will be in short supply leading to delays in completing new or restarted work.

There have been reports that scrap steel shortages may result in a steel cost increase. Scrap steel prices are up 27% in the last quarter and up 40% for the year 2020. Scrap is the #1 ingredient for new structural steel. The U.S. steel industry experienced the most severe downturn since 2008, as steelmakers cut back production to match a sharp collapse in demand and shed workers. Capacity Utilization dropped from 82% in January 2020 to 56% in April. In mid-August, CapU was up to 61%, still very low. As of January 23, 2021 CapU is up to 76%, well above April’s 56% but still below desired level. Steel manufacturing output is still down compared to pre-covid levels. Until production ramps back up to previous levels there may be shortages or longer lead times for delivery of steel products. In August 2021, CapU is back to 85%.

Steel Prices at mill in the U.S. are up 60% to 100% in the last 6 months. All prices are 50% to 75% higher than Feb 2020. http://steelbenchmarker.com/files/history.pdf . This is mill price of steel which is about 25% of the price of steel installed. What affect might a steel cost increase have on a building project?  It will affect the cost of structural shapes, steel joists, reinforcing steel, metal deck, stairs and rails, metal panels, metal ceilings, wall studs, door frames, canopies, steel duct, steel pipe and conduit, pumps, cabinets and furniture, and I’m sure more. Assuming a typical structural steel building with some metal panel exterior, steel pan stairs, metal deck floors, steel doors and frames and steel studs in walls, then all steel material installed represents about 14% to 16% of total building cost. Structural Steel only, installed, is about 9% to 10% of total building cost, but applies to only 60% market share being steel buildings. The other 6% of total steel cost applies to all buildings. https://www.thefabricator.com/thefabricator/blog/metalsmaterials/steel-prices-reach-levels-not-seen-since-2008 At these prices, if fully passed down to the owner, this adds about 1.5%-2% to building cost inflation. With demand in decline for nonresidential buildings, I would expect to see all these steel price increases recede. Also, take note, as of January 2021, none of this steel price movement appears captured in the PPI data or RSMeans data.

Contractors have been saying they have difficulty acquiring the skilled labor they need. This has led to increased labor cost to secure needed skills. I expect the decline in nonresidential work volume in 2021 to result in as much as a decline of 250,000 nonresidential jobs in 2021. This results in labor available to fill other positions.

This SMACNA report quantifies that labor productivity has decreased 18% to meet COVID-19 protocols. https://www.constructiondive.com/news/study-finds-covid-19-protocols-led-to-a-7-loss-on-construction-projects/583143/ Labor is about 35% of project cost. Therefore, just this productivity loss would equate to -18% x 35% = 6.3% inflation. Even if, for all trades, the average lost time due to COVID-19 protocols is only half that, the added inflationary cost to projects is 3% above normal. But that may not remain constant over the entire duration of the project, so the net effect on project cost would be less.

Post Great Recession, 2011-2020, average nonresidential buildings inflation is 3.7%. In 2020 it dropped to 2.5%, but for the six years 2014-2019 it averaged 4.4%. Residential cost inflation for 2020 reached 5.1%. It has averaged over 5% for the last 8 years. The 30-year average inflation rate for nonresidential buildings is 3.75% and for residential it’s over 4%.

This survey of members by AGC https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/2021_Outlook_National_1221_.pdf just published provides some insight into construction firms outlook for 2021. 

Almost every construction market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020, because approximately 50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts, and 2020 nonresidential starts are down 10% to 25%, several markets down 40%. Nonbuilding starts are down 15%, but will increase 10% in 2021.

Typically, when work volume decreases, the bidding environment gets more competitive. We can always expect some margin decline when there are fewer nonresidential projects to bid on, which typically results in sharper pencils. However, if materials shortages develop or productivity declines, that could cause inflation to increase. We can also expect cost increases due to material prices, labor cost, lost productivity, project time extensions or potential overtime to meet a fixed end-date.

Constant $ plot updated 10-14-21

Constant $ = Spending minus inflation = Volume

Many projects under construction had been halted for some period of time and many experienced at least short-term disruption. The delays may add either several weeks to perhaps a month or two to the overall schedule, in which case, not only does labor cost go up but also management cost goes up, or it could add overtime costs to meet a fixed end-date. Some of these project costs have yet to occur as most would be expected to add onto the end of the project.

Some projects that were put on hold (nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 dropped 24%) just prior to bidding in 2020 may now re-enter the bidding environment. The rate at which these projects come back on-line could impact the bidding environment. If several months worth of projects that delayed bidding last year all come onto the market at once, or at least all in a more compressed time span than they would have, the market could be flooded with work and bidding contractors now have more choice, can bid more projects than normal and could potentially raise margins in some bids. This would have an inflationary effect. Also, there can be difficulty in starting many projects at the same time, rather than more staggered starts. It burdens subcontractors and suppliers with too much of the same type of work all going on at the same time. This could exacerbate labor issues and could lead to project time extensions.

The hidden inflationary costs of bidding environment, project time extensions, potential overtime and lost productivity haven’t all yet appeared in the data. Some of these could still add to 2020 inflation. Also, the huge loss of new starts in 2020, which meant fewer projects to bid on in 2020, probably reduced margins in 2020. Nonresidential starts are projected to increase 4% in 2021, so that could lead to some recovery of margins, however, even with 4% growth in new starts, that comes after a 24% drop in 2020, so remains still 20% below 2019. Total volume of work is declining and new projects available out to bid is still depressed, so pressure on margins still exists.

update 4-15-21 Although materials cost inflation will be higher, I expect non-residential buildings inflation final cost in 2021 to range between 3.5% to 4.0%, with potential to be held lower. Subcontractor costs, such as for steel or lumber, could range much higher due to huge material cost increases. All the downward pressure on nonresidential inflation is on margins. There is currently 20% less nonres bldgs work to bid on than in Q1 2020.

updated 3-30-21 Expect 2021 residential inflation of 6% to 8% with potential to push slightly higher.

See Construction Inflation Index Tables for indices related to Nonbuilding Infrastructure work and for more links to sources.

(10-15-21 The tables and plot below include updated residential costs and updated nonresidential inputs).

The tables below, from 2011 to 2020 and from 2015 thru 2023, updates 2020 data and includes Q3 PPI data thru Sept and provides 2021-2023 forecast. The three sectors, highlighted, are plotted above.

NOTE, these tables are based on 2019=100.

Nonresidential inflation, after hitting 5% in 2018 and 4.8% in 2019, and after holding above 4% for the six years 2014-2019, ended 2020 at 2.4%. Current forecast is 4.6% for 2021 and holds near 3.75% the next few years. The volume of work is constrained thru mid 2022 and this could hold inflation in check.

Forecast residential inflation for 2021 is 13% and for 2022-2023 years is level at 3.8%. It was only 3.4% for 2019 but averaged 5.5%/yr since 2013 and came back to 5.4% in 2020. Recent materials costs and record volume of work could impact residential inflation and push it higher.

The following table shows 2021 updated as of 10-15-21 reflecting 4.6% inflation for nonresidential buildings and 13% for residential.

As of 10-14-21, nonres bldgs inflation is estimated at 4.6% and residential at 12.9%. Those increases since August are reflected in these tables.

How to use an index: Indexes are used to adjust costs over time for the affects of inflation. To move cost from some point in time to some other point in time, divide Index for year you want to move to by Index for year you want to move cost from. Example : What is cost inflation for a building with a midpoint in 2022, for a similar nonresidential building whose midpoint of construction was 2016? Divide Index for 2022 by index for 2016 = 110.4/87.0 =  1.27. Cost of building with midpoint in 2016 x 1.27 = cost of same building with midpoint in 2022. Costs should be moved from/to midpoint of construction. Indices posted here are at middle of year and can be interpolated between to get any other point in time.

All forward forecast values, whenever not available, are estimated by Construction Analytics.

Also See Construction Inflation Report May 2021

Also See Construction Inflation Index Tables the post for links to dozens of other indices

Producer Price Index Year-to-date June & July 2020

7-14-20 updated 8-28-20

Producer Price Index selected items year-to-date through June 2020. All values compare most recent June pricing to December 2019. Pricing represents 6-month change, not annualized change.

  • -2.5%  Inputs to new nonresidential construction
  • -0.9%  Inputs to new residential construction
  • +1.0%  Final demand construction
  • -0.4%  New Warehouse Bldg
  • +1.2% New School Bldg
  • +0.7% New Office Bldg
  • +1.4% New Industrial Bldg
  • +1.4% New Healthcare Bldg
  • New work on nonresidential buildings
  • +0.7% Concrete contractors
  • +1.8% Roofing contractors
  • +1.4% Electrical contractors
  • +1.2% Plumbing contractors
  • Selected Material Inputs
  • -42.0% #2 Diesel fuel
  • +2.7% Ready Mix Concrete
  • +1.3% Precast concrete products
  • +1.3% Flat Glass
  • +0.1% Gypsum products
  • +6.1% Lumber and Plywood
  • -5.7% Steel pipe and tube
  • -11.5% Aluminum mill shapes
  • +2.2% Fabricated structural metal
  • +10.3% Fabricated structural metal bar joists and reinforcing bars
  • +11.9% Fabricated structural metal for non-industrial buildings
  • -3.7% Fabricated structural metal for bridges
  • -2.2% Fabricated steel plate
  • +1.6% Iron and steel scrap

AGC’s Table of June 2020 PPI

AGC does not publish year-to-date values. The data in this post is the combined effect of comparing June to March and March to December.

Here’s the link to AGC PPI reports for all months

8-28-20 There were some pretty dramatic changes in July in the Producer Price Index selected items year-to-date. Edited here, all values compare most recent JULY pricing to December 2019. Pricing represents 7-month change, not annualized change.

  • -1.0%  Inputs to new nonresidential construction ytd through JULY
  • +1.0%  Inputs to new residential construction ytd through JULY
  • +1.6%  Final demand construction ytd through JULY
  • +1.0%  New Warehouse Bldg
  • +1.8% New School Bldg
  • +1.7% New Office Bldg
  • +2.2% New Industrial Bldg
  • +2.2% New Healthcare Bldg
  • New work on nonresidential buildings ytd through JULY
  • +0.5% Concrete contractors
  • +2.2% Roofing contractors
  • +1.7% Electrical contractors
  • +0.7% Plumbing contractors
  • Selected Material Inputs ytd through JULY
  • -24.0% #2 Diesel fuel
  • +2.8% Ready Mix Concrete
  • +1.3% Precast concrete products
  • +1.2% Flat Glass
  • +0.3% Gypsum products
  • +13.8% Lumber and Plywood
  • -5.5% Steel pipe and tube
  • -10.0% Aluminum mill shapes
  • -1.0% Fabricated structural metal
  • +0.8% Fabricated structural metal bar joists and reinforcing bars
  • +0.4% Fabricated structural metal for non-industrial buildings
  • +1.4% Fabricated structural metal for bridges
  • +2.7% Fabricated steel plate
  • -2.8% Iron and steel scrap

PPI Materials Prices YTD June 2019

Price changes listed here are year-to-date 2019 through June. Change is for 6 months YTD, not annualized. As a reminder, the Producer Price Index (PPI) DOES NOT include imports (imports are not produced in the US) or tariffs. Only pricing for domestically produced materials is included. That would include any decisions domestic producers make influenced by tariffs on imported products.

Prices for years prior can be found PPI Construction Materials Inputs Index

PPI Tables Update to June 2019

Construction PPI Excludes Imports and Tariffs

When assessing or tracking the pricing affect of tariffs on construction materials, you need to understand that the Producer Price Index (PPI) does not include imports (imports are not produced in the US) or tariffs. See items 4 and 24 in the FAQ provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Construction PPI changes reflect pricing decisions domestic producers make on domestic products in reaction to tariffs on imported products. Tariffs have big impact on domestic prices.

BLS explanation of method and definitions

The price change we see in the PPI for construction materials reflects the domestic material prices of ALL other domestically produced materials used in the industry. While tariffs may affect only 10% of products used in the industry the PPI shows us the domestic producers reaction applied to the other 90%.

For example: Steel tariffs of +25% applied only on imported steel, affected only 30% (the imported share) of steel used in US. However the PPI shows us that all other domestically produced steel in the US and used in construction increased in price between 12% and 22% in 2018. Prices of domestic steel have receded somewhat, now ranging from +7% to +13%. But the point is that tariffs caused a price increase also in domestic steel.

AGC Tables of Construction PPI

The cost of ALL DOMESTIC steel mill products (of all types) produced in the US increased 18% in 2018 after the steel tariffs were imposed. That is domestic producers pricing response in reaction to tariffs. Tariffs impacted pricing decisions on all domestically produced products, not just the imported products. The increase has since receded but is still up 10%. Consumers pay the price.

Inflation and Forecasting Presentation Advancing Precon & Estm Conf 5-22-19

This is a PDF of slides (including notes) from my

Construction Inflation & Forecasting Presentation

at Hanson Wade

Advancing Preconstruction & Estimating Conference

 Dallas, TX 5-22-19

Advancing Pre-construction & Estimating conference 2019

Full EdZ Presentation Inflation-Forecasting w notes HW-APE 5-22-19 PDF

PPI Construction Materials Inputs Index

2-20-18 original post

Feb 2019 Tables and Plots updated to end of 2018

Here’s the link to the June 2019 data

Here’s a link to the AGC APRIL 2020 summary report.

Producer Price Index of Materials Inputs to Construction.  The 1st two plots are PPI Final Costs which includes all overhead and profit as sold. All other plots are PPI Input costs. Changes in PPI Input costs at the producer level may not reflect changes in actual pricing to contractors or changes in final cost as installed to building owner. Input Costs do not reflect retail markup or mark down and do not reflect overhead and profit markups that may change according to market activity.

PPI for Construction Inputs IS NOT a direct indicator of construction inflation. It does not represent selling price, the final cost of materials put-in-place which includes cost of labor, overhead and profit.  See below link to description of Ovhd&Profit.

Cautions When Using PPI Inputs to Construction!

PPI Inputs and Inflation not only can vary widely but also may not even move in the same direction. See the above link for a table comparing PPI% vs Inflation%.

PPI Final Bldg 2-20-19

PPI Final Trades 2-20-19

PPI Nonresidential Building Types

PPI Nonresidential Building Construction Sector — Contractors

Specific Building and Contractor PPI Indices are Final Demand or Selling Price indices. They are plotted above.

See this article by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Nonresidential building construction overhead and profit markups applied to select Nonres building types

Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index measures PPI cost of materials price at producer level. The PPIs that constitute Table 9 of the BLS PPI Report measure changes in net prices for materials and supplies typically sold to the construction sector, but do not represent the final cost installed. They are known as PPI Inputs. They are plotted below.

PPI Materials and Supply INPUTS to Construction Industries

Here’s a brief summary of some of the PPI statistics tracked here:

  • One year (2018) change
  • biggest increases > Steel Pipe and Tube 21%, Fabricated Steel for Bridges 15%, Ornamental Metals 12%, Fab Structural Steel for Buildings 12%
  • biggest declines > Copper and Brass shapes -6%, Lumber and Plywood -4%
  • PPI Final cost of buildings and Trades up 4% to 6%
  • Final cost of buildings posted largest increases since 2008.
  • Final cost of trades (except for Roofing) posted largest increases since 2009.
  • Steel Products posted largest increases since 2008
  • Lumber and Plywood, which had risen dramatically (+30%) earlier in the year, now down 4% from Dec ’17
  • Two year (2017+2018) changes
  • biggest increases > Diesel fuel 45%, Steel Pipe &Tube 31%, Aluminum Shapes 16%, Fabricated Structural Metal for Buildings 16%, Ornamental metals 16%
  • no declines over a two year period


Most stable pricing over last 5 years, these items did not change by more than 5%/yr in any given year during the last 5 years and net the smallest total change for 5 years:  Concrete Brick and Block, Concrete Pipe, Ready-Mix Concrete, Plastic Products, Insulation, Fabricated Steel Plate, Sand/Gravel/Crushed Stone.


PPI Inputs to Industries 2-20-19

PPI Materials Brick Block 2-20-19

PPI Materials Cement 2-20-19

PPI Materials Glass Roof 2-20-19

PPI Materials Gyp Wood 2-20-19

PPI Materials Metals 2-20-19

PPI Materials Steel 2-20-19

The Materials Inputs indices plots above are generated by indexing the December to December percent changes in the table below. Data updated to include Dec 2018 published January 2019.

PPI x Materials Percents 2006-2018 2-10-19

PPI xx Trades Final Cost 2006-2018 2-10-19

PPI xx Buildings Final Cost 2006-2018 2-10-19

Each month,  puts out tables and explanation of recent changes in producer price indexes and employment cost indexes for construction materials inputs, and building types and subcontractor final demand cost. Best source available.  Watch this AGC page for monthly updates to the PPI

Here’s the link to the June 2019 data


Inflation in Construction 2019. What Should You Carry?

1-28-20 See the latest post Construction Inflation 2020

8-26-19 go to this article for  Added links to sources for international construction inflation rates

1-14-20 added new index table covering 2015-2023 at Index Table Link – see link to Tables below

This table updates 2018 and 2019 data and 2020-2023 forecast. Nonresidential inflation, after hitting 5% in both 2018 and 2019, is forecast for the next three years to fall from 4.4% to 3.8%, lower than the 4.5% avg for the last 4yrs. Forecast residential inflation for the next three years is level at 3.8%. It was only 3.6% for 2019 but averaged 5.5%/yr since 2013. 


When construction is very actively growing, total construction costs typically increase more rapidly than the net cost of labor and materials. In active markets overhead and profit margins increase in response to increased demand. These costs are captured only in Selling Price, or final cost indices.

General construction cost indices and Input price indices that don’t track whole building final cost do not capture the full cost of inflation on construction projects.

To properly adjust the cost of construction over time you must use actual final cost indices, otherwise known as selling price indices.

ENRBCI and RSMeans input indices are examples of commonly used indices that DO NOT represent whole building costs, yet are widely used to adjust project costs. An estimator can get into trouble adjusting project costs if not using appropriate indices. This plot of cost indices for nonresidential buildings shows how input indices did not drop during the 2008-2010 recession while all other final cost indices did drop.

BCI 2005-2020 Firms 2-24-19

CPI, the Consumer Price Index, tracks changes in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services, including food, transportation, medical care, apparel, recreation, housing. The CPI is not related at all to construction and should not be used to adjust construction pricing. Historically, Construction Inflation is about double the CPI, but for the last 5 years construction inflation averages 3x the CPI.

Producer Price Index (PPI) Material Inputs (which exclude labor) to new construction increased +4% in 2018 after a downward trend from +5% in 2011 led to decreased cost of -3% in 2015, the only negative cost for inputs in the past 20 years. Input costs to nonresidential structures in 2017+2018 average +4.3%, the highest in seven years. Infrastructure and industrial inputs were the highest, near 5%. But material inputs accounts for only a portion of the final cost of constructed buildings.

Materials price input costs in 2019 slowed to an annual rate of less than 1%. 

Labor input is currently experiencing cost increases. When there is a shortage of labor, contractors may pay a premium to keep their workers. Unemployment in construction is the lowest on record. The JOLTS ( Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) is at or near all-time highs. A tight labor market will keep labor costs climbing at the fastest rate in years.

Click Here for Link to a 20-year Table of 25 Indices

Inflation can have a dramatic impact on the accuracy of a construction budget. Usually budgets are prepared from known current costs. If a budget is being developed for a project whose midpoint of construction costs is two years in the future, you must carry an appropriate inflation factor to represent the expected cost of the building at that time.

The level of construction activity has a direct influence on labor and material demand and margins and therefore on construction inflation. Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure backlog are both at all-time highs. 75% to 80% of all nonresidential spending within the year comes from starting backlog.

Although nonresidential buildings new starts are up only 5% the last three years, spending from backlog in 2020 is up 20% in three years and reaches an all-time high.

Most spending for residential comes from new starts. Residential new starts in Q1-2018 reached a 12 year high. Spending from new starts in 2019 fell 6% but is up 6% for 2020. Spending from new starts in 2020 is back to the level posted in 2017 and 2018.

2020 starting backlog is up 5.5% across all sectors. However, while a few markets will outperform in 2020 (transportation, public works, office), predicted cash flow (spending) from backlog is up only 1% to 2%.

Although many contractors report shortages due to labor demand, labor growth may slow due to a forecast 2019-2020 construction volume decline. But, we might see a labor decline lag spending/volume decline.

Expect 2019 escalation in almost all cases to finish at or lower than 2018.

Residential construction inflation in 2019 was only 3.6%. However, the average inflation for six years from 2013 to 2018 was 5.5%. It peaked at 8% in 2013, but dropped to 4.3% in 2018 and only 3.6% in 2019. Residential construction volume in 2019 dropped 8%, the largest volume decline in 10 years. Typically, large declines in volume are accompanied by declines in inflation. Forecast residential inflation for the next three years is level at 3.8%.

Note 8-2-19: Residential inflation for the 1st half of 2019 has come in at only 3.5%.

A word about Hi-Rise Residential. Probably all of the core and shell and a large percent of interiors cost of a hi-rise residential building would remain the same whether the building was for residential or nonresidential use. This type of construction is totally dis-similar to low-rise residential, which in large part is stick-built single family homes. Therefore, use the residential cost index for single family but a more appropriate index to use for hi-rise residential construction is the nonresidential buildings cost index.

Nonresidential inflation, after hitting 5% in both 2018 and 2019, is forecast for the next three years to fall from 4.4% to 3.8%, lower than the 4.5% average for the last 4 years. Spending needs to grow at a minimum of 4.4%/yr. just to stay ahead of construction inflation, otherwise volume is declining. Spending slowed dramatically in 2019. However, new starts in 2018 and 2019 boosted backlog and 2020 spending will post the strongest gains in four years.

Material tariffs in 2018 and 2019 are already incorporated into inflation. Adjust for any new tariffs impact. 

In another article on this blog, (see steel cost increase), I calculated the 25% tariff on steel would cost nonresidential buildings 1%. Some Infrastructure could be much more, i.e., bridges 4-5%. Residential impact would be small. A 25% increase in mill steel could add 0.65% to final cost of building just for the structure. It adds 1.0% for all steel in a building. If your building is not a steel structure, steel still potentially adds 0.35%. 

Note 8-2-19: Nonresidential Buildings inflation for the 1st half of 2019 as tracked by most national selling price indices has come in at just over 5%.

Reliable nonresidential buildings selling price indexes have been over 4% since 2015. Some have averaged over 5% for the last four years. Construction Analytics forecast (line) for 2019 is currently 5.1%. This may move higher due to the impact of September 2019 tariffs which are not yet reflected in any indices.

Inflation Range 1993-2020 plot vs ENR 1-18-20

Non-building infrastructure indices are so unique to the type of work that individual specific infrastructure indices must be used to adjust cost of work. The FHWA highway index increased 17% from 2010 to 2014, stayed flat from 2015-2017, then increased 15% in 2018-2019. The IHS Pipeline and LNG indices increased 4% in 2019 but are still down 18% since 2014. Coal, gas, and wind power generation indices have gone up only 5% since 2014. Refineries and petrochemical facilities dropped 10% from 2014 to 2016 but regained all of that by 2019. BurRec inflation for pumping plants and pipelines has averaged 2.5%/yr since 2011 and 3%/yr the last 3 years.

Anticipate 3% to 4% inflation for 2019 with the potential to go higher in rapidly expanding Infrastructure markets, such as pipeline or highway.

This link refers to Infrastructure Indices.

Watch for unexpected impacts from tariffs. Steel tariff could potentially add 5% to bridges. Also impacted, power industry, pipeline, towers, transportation. 

  • Long term construction cost inflation is normally about double consumer price inflation (CPI).
  • Since 1993 but taking out 2 worst years of recession (-8% to -10% total for 2009-2010), the 20-year average inflation is 4.2%.
  • Average long term (30 years) construction cost inflation is 3.5% even with any/all recession years included.
  • In times of rapid construction spending growth, construction inflation averages about 8%.
  • Nonresidential buildings inflation has average 3.7% since the recession bottom in 2011. It has averaged 4.2% for the last 4 years.
  • Residential buildings inflation reached a post recession high of 8.0% in 2013 but dropped to 3.4% in 2015. It has averaged 5.8% for the last 5 years.
  • Although inflation is affected by labor and material costs, a large part of the change in inflation is due to change in contractors/suppliers margins.
  • When construction volume increases rapidly, margins increase rapidly.
  • Construction inflation can be very different from one major sector to the other and can vary from one market to another. It can even vary considerably from one material to another.

BCI 2001-2020 8-10-19


The two links below point to comprehensive coverage of the topic inflation and are recommended reading.

Click Here for Link to a 20-year Table of 25 Indices

Click Here for  Cost Inflation Commentary – text on Current Inflation




Cautions When Using PPI Inputs to Construction!

The Producer Price Index (PPI) for material inputs to construction gives us an indication whether costs for material inputs are going up or down. The PPI tracks producers’ cost to produce the product and supply finished products to retailers or contractors. However, that is far from the total cost from the contractor.

A good example is steel. The producer price for steel from the mill might be $750/ton for long beams and columns. The only increases captured at the producer level might be the changes in cost for raw material, energy to manufacture and the producers labor and markup. But the structural steel contractor is then responsible for delivery to shop, detailing, shop fabrication, transport to construction site, load and unload, cranes and welding equipment needed to install, installation crews and finally overhead and profit accounting for at least eight more points of potential cost change. Finally the steel subcontractor must then assess the market conditions, whether tight or favorable to higher profits, to adjust the bid price or selling price. The final cost of steel installed could be $3000/ton.

The PPI for Construction Inputs IS NOT a final indicator of construction inflation. It is an input to construction inflation. It does not represent the selling price, nor does it give any indication of the trend, up or down, of selling price.

In 2009 PPI for inputs was flat but construction inflation, as measured by final cost of buildings, was down 8% to 10%. In 2010, the PPI for construction inputs was up 5.3% but the selling price was flat. Construction inflation, based on several decades of trends, is approximately double consumer inflation. However, from mid-2009 to late 2012, that long-term trend did not hold up. During that period, PPI ranged from 0% to +6.8%, but construction inflation/deflation ranged from -10% to +2.3%, lower than PPI for all four years, something which seldom occurs. Construction inflation/deflation was primarily influenced by depressed bid margins, which had been driven lower due to diminished work volume.

The following table shows the differences between the PPI Inputs from 2011 to 2017 and the actual inflation for the major construction sectors. This table shows clearly that PPI Inputs and Inflation not only can vary widely but also may not even move in the same direction.

AAA PPI vs Inflation 2011-2017

The PPI tables published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics do include several line items that represent Final Trades Cost or Whole Building Cost. Those PPI items don’t give us any details about the producer price or retail price of the materials used, but they do include all of the contractors costs incurred, including markups, on the final product delivered to the consumer, the building owner. I would note however that those line items in the PPI almost always show lower inflation than final Selling Price inflation indices developed separately from the PPI. Follow this link to table of inflation values which includes the PPI final cost for trades and buildings. 

Construction Managers responsible for working with the client to manage project cost, part of which includes preparing a full building cost estimate, should not rely on PPI values as an indication of inflation. Selling price inflation indices are more appropriate indices to use to adjust project costs.

It is always important to carry the proper value for cost inflation. Whether adjusting the cost of a recently built project to predict what it might cost to build a similar project in the near future, or answering a client question, “What will it cost if I delay my project start?”, the proper value for inflation (which differs by sector and differs every year) can make or break your estimate.

Contractors responsible for a particular building material, although the PPI Inputs will not track market conditions sale prices from producer to the contractor, can get some indication of whether material prices are rising or falling. Contractors should be aware of PPI trends to interpret the data throughout the year.


  • 60% of the time, the highest increase of the year in the PPI is in the first quarter.
  • 75% of the time, two-thirds of the annual increase occured in the first six months.
  • In 25 years, the highest increase for the year has never been in Q4.
  • 60% of the time, the lowest increase of the year in the PPI is in Q4.
  • 50% of the time, Q4 is negative, yet in 25 years the PPI was negative only four times.

So when you see monthly news reports from the industry exclaiming, “PPI is up strong for Q1” or “PPI dropped in the 4th Qtr.” it helps to have an understanding that this may not be unusual at all and instead may be the norm.


PPI Construction Materials Inputs Index

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