2022 Electrical Contractor Survey: Material Availability and Price Volatility Increasing Risk for Electrical Contractors

February 6, 2023

By: Blake Marchand

There are several factors that have led to uncertainty when it comes to material availability and product prices fluctuation in the electrical market. Primarily, those factors stem from global events that influence the broader market – the value and demand of raw materials, the cost of shipping, the cost of storage, as well as the price of energy all impact manufacturing and supply.

The global pandemic’s impact on supply chain has been clearly establish, those issues have been exacerbated by the Russia/Ukraine war in some ways. For example, both countries produce aluminum, copper, and steel; uncertainty from the war causes a ripple effect on the price of those materials produced in other countries. Additionally, energy and fuel costs have also fluctuated over the past few years – while demand for products only rose due to economic recovery-related investments. Labour shortages in manufacturing are also a contributing factor.

Manufacturers have been actively trying to combat those challenges to meet demand, however some of those obstacles are beyond control. An example of that is PVC conduit. Some reports suggest shortages could persist into 2023 and 2024. There were a number of impacts that have contributed to that shortage, including several natural disasters that caused disruptions for the plastics industry along the Gulf Coast. On top of that, demand for PVC products grew. The push toward e-commerce caused more investment in warehouses, for example, and infrastructure investments into bridges and roads have kept demand high.

As material availability and price volatility increase risk, particularly for smaller operations that don’t have the purchasing power or cash flow of larger operations, contractors have to find ways to adjust to the impact of market conditions to maintain their profit margins.

As part of our 2022 Electrical Contractor Survey, we asked electricians how material availability/price volatility is impacting their quoting process and in turn their ability to complete a job profitably. A few of the contractors we surveyed weren’t particularly concerned or impacted, but the majority found that material price volatility has made quotes more difficult, adding stress to their bottom line.

Here is the breakdown of where the contractors surveyed are located:

Material Availability
Location Breakdown of Contractors/Electricians surveyed as part of Electrical Industry News Week’s 2022 Electrical Contractor Survey. Ontario is the largest portion at 100. Alberta and B.C. accounted for just under 90 respondents together. 22 respondents were from Manitoba. 16 from Saskatchewan. And 18 were from the East Coast.

Also, for context, 50% of the contractors we surveyed were from businesses with 1-5 employees:

Material Availability
Company size breakdown of Contractors/Electricians surveyed as part of Electrical Industry News Week’s 2022 Electrical Contractor Survey. There were 124 respondents with a company size of 1-5. 79% of respondents were part of a company with 20 or fewer employees.

Multiple contractors said they are only holding quotes for seven days, a commented 10 days. While distributors are holding prices on wire for 5 days in some cases. A few contractors noted that in some instances, prices can change by the day or even by the hour.

In adjusting to these conditions, some of the contractors we surveyed are buying the product immediately/as soon as possible for a particular project so they don’t lose money on the quote. That also puts them at risk because it impacts cashflow and they might lose money if the project falls through. Others are shortening the time frame a quote is applicable to as mentioned, others are building markups into quotes, or including language in the quote that covers price increases.

The latter seems like an important distinction. Contractors shouldn’t be left to bear the additional costs caused by factors out of their control.

Price volatility and material availability also means contractors have a harder time hitting project timelines or guaranteeing when a project will be completed. This is particularly challenging for longer term projects. It leads to project delays or even cancellation.

Some best practices we heard were, as mentioned, building language into quotes that accounts for potential price increases, escalation costs at the time of close, requiring deposits, and shortening the timeframe when quotes are valid.

One contractor noted they are carrying more stock of certain products.

One respondent noted they have included small increases in every aspect of the quote to account for material price volatility. Some contractors have stopped quoting or have started quoting higher in anticipation of fluctuation.

“I do more detailed quotes and ask for more quotes from suppliers than before. Supplier quotes are usually good for 5 days,” commented a contractor out of B.C.

We heard from some contractors that clients are not always understanding of the impacts of price volatility and material shortages, although we also heard that for at least one contractor, clients are very understanding. Some clients will be facing similar issues in their business and as a result will be more price conscious.

Ultimately, volatility leads to increased risk for contractors.

“We cannot hold pricing like we used to,” said one contractor out of Alberta, “We will get a winning bid and either need to buy the material right away and hold on to it (affecting our cash flow) or risk the increase in cost when we need it to install for the project.”

“We price jobs and if we are successful, we need to purchase material immediately so we can hold our price and have material when needed,” said an Ontario contractor/business owner. “This puts pressure on cash-flow, and we now need more storage containers for this material. It also opens the doors to more theft.”

As this respondent mentions, carrying more stock to avoid the negative impacts of price fluctuations also means you have to store it somewhere. If you don’t already have the space, that’s an additional expense.

“I don’t quote cable anymore due to pricing only being held for 5 days,” said a small Alberta contractor.

“I have had to absorb material price increases for 2021-2022. The products rise in price faster than we can get price increases from the builders,” commented a contractor from Manitoba, who operates in the residential sector.

Contractors are cutting it close to losing money on projects, and as a result some contractors we heard from have stopped quoting longer term projects.

“It comes down to availability as opposed to price of goods, so quoting is still the same just different costs,” said one contractor out of Manitoba.

“People don’t want to pay these prices. Materials alone are up 20-30%,” said another respondent out of Manitoba.

“You can quote a job, but delivery, especially on specific things, is a nightmare,” commented another respondent.

A contractor out of Saskatchewan is only holding quotes for two days. The volatility has also increased the time it takes to quote a project because you need to continually check prices to give accurate estimates. However, time is ultimately labour and that can be built into the quoting process. As one contractor noted, they are adding incremental increases to their quote to account for the additional time and risk involved with the fluctuating prices.

Several respondents said they are quoting projects multiple times.

“We are having to quote work and then re quote it prior to starting construction to ensure the project is still profitable,” commented a small B.C. contractor.

“We cannot guarantee brand names on products because availability is volatile. When quoting, we quote the most expensive brand of product because there is no guarantee we can get the lower end models,” said an Ontario contractor that operates in the residential sector.

Digitizing the quoting process with software that can also track your budget and cash flow is another option to streamline your process and save time and money in the long term, although it does require the additional cost of purchasing or subscribing to the software service.

One of the more surprising takeaways from this aspect of our survey was general contractors doing their own electrical work to avoid the additional expense. As electrical contractors are having to quote jobs higher and higher due to price increases, a contractor out of Manitoba commented that, in the residential sector, general contractors are doing their own work without permits. Which. Obviously, is a concerning development for safety as well as opportunity for electrical contractors.

64% of the electricians we surveyed said there was no change in their product sourcing habits in relation to pre-pandemic work. Although, 20% are sourcing more from big box stores and online. While others noted they source from multiple distributors. Overall, 96% of respondents are still sourcing the majority of their material from electrical distributors.

Material Availability
Contractor Sourcing habits. The green bar is ‘Sourcing more from Distributors’, the blue bar is ‘Sourcing more from big box stores/online’.
Material Availability
Contractor Sourcing habits. 96% of respondents still source the majority of their products from distributors. Some contractors noted they will buy from multiple distributors, particularly as the pandemic put pressure on supply.

Based on our survey, the products most impacted by supply chain disruptions are wire and cable, PVC conduit, and distribution equipment like panels and breakers.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey! We’ll have more content unpacking the responses over the next couple months. Towards the end of the year, we’ll follow up with another survey to gauge how electrical contractors faired in 2023.

Related Articles


Latest Articles

  • Industrial Projects Lead Non-Residential Construction Intention Gains

    Industrial Projects Lead Non-Residential Construction Intention Gains

    April 22, 2024 Month over month, the total value of building permits in Canada increased 9.3% to $11.8 billion in February. The non-residential sector grew 12.3% to $4.7 billion due to the issuance of several major construction permits, while the residential sector increased 7.4% to $7.1 billion. Ontario (+21.7% to $5.0 billion) led the growth, with gains occurring across all components. On… Read More…

  • Multi-Unit Component Weighs on Investment for February Building Construction Investment

    Multi-Unit Component Weighs on Investment for February Building Construction Investment

    April 22, 2024 Month over month, investment in building construction declined 1.1% to $19.3 billion in February. Investment in the residential sector decreased 1.2% to $13.4 billion, while investment in the non-residential sector fell 0.9% to $6.0 billion. On a constant dollar basis (2017=100), investment in building construction fell 1.2% to $11.9 billion in February, following a flat (+0.0%) movement in the previous… Read More…

  • Shore-Side Electricity and Data Monitoring Take Hold in the Cruise Industry

    Shore-Side Electricity and Data Monitoring Take Hold in the Cruise Industry

    April 15, 2024 On July 7, 2023, the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its participating maritime countries set their Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions strategy to achieve net zero “by or around” 2050. As a result, the shipping industry, including cruise lines, is adopting various strategies to achieve this ambitious goal, including new fuels,… Read More…

  • Project Spotlight: Sainte-Thérèse High School Lighting Upgrade

    Project Spotlight: Sainte-Thérèse High School Lighting Upgrade

    Built in 1980, the building that houses Sainte-Thérèse high school, in Quebec Canada, was looking a little worse for the wear. Renovation work began with two major projects: introducing a multidisciplinary sports centre, as well as redesigning the parking lots.  The employee and visitor parking lots were completely reconfigured during phase 1 of the renovation… Read More…


Changing Scene

  • CCA Calls for Meaningful Investment as Housing Takes Centre Stage in Budget 2024

    CCA Calls for Meaningful Investment as Housing Takes Centre Stage in Budget 2024

    April 22, 2024 The federal government’s housing strategy is a long-awaited step forward to build more homes, but significantly more investment is needed to address critical infrastructure needs and the housing crisis, says Canada’s construction industry. The federal government’s plan announced in this Budget, as well as actions taken through the 2023 Fall Economic Statement,… Read More…

  • BCCA Response to Federal Budget 2024

    BCCA Response to Federal Budget 2024

    April 22, 2024 BCCA response to the federal budget announcement: The 2024 Federal Budget falls short on a number of policies required to meet the needs of BC’s construction industry, specifically in terms of workforce solutions and infrastructure. Our concern is that demand stimulated by aggressive housing targets and loan programs will surpass the BC… Read More…

  • Have your Voice Heard…Join in One of CEMRA’s 3 Subcommittee Groups and Make a Difference

    Have your Voice Heard…Join in One of CEMRA’s 3 Subcommittee Groups and Make a Difference

    April 22, 2024 The CEMRA board is looking for CEMRA reps to embark one of the three valuable Board subcommittees. If you are a rep, and would like to get involved and contribute, this is your opportunity. The 3 subcommittee groups include the following projects; If you have any questions, please reach out to the… Read More…

  • AEA RFP for Technical Seminars

    AEA RFP for Technical Seminars

    April 15, 2024 AEA is thrilled to announce that they’ll be hosting a series of sessions in Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer. These events promise to be multifaceted, bringing together a diverse array of attendees from the electrical industry. It’s an excellent opportunity for companies to showcase their products, as the sessions will be both… Read More…