Wildfire victims among those stung by Trump's trade war

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — 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.

RELATED: Devastating images of the fires

25 PHOTOS
Devastating images from California's Carr fire
See Gallery
Devastating images from California's Carr fire
Hills are bare after being burned in the Carr Fire near Igo, California, U.S. July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Bob Strong
Smoke from the Carr Fire shrouds the Clear Creek Bridge near Igo, California, U.S. July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Bob Strong TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
REDDING, CA - JULY 30: Forest burns in the Carr Fire on July 30, 2018 west of Redding, California. Six people have died in the massive fire, which has burned over 100,000 acres and forced thousands to evacuate since it began on July 23. (Photo by Terray Sylvester/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Firefighter Shawn Lee (R) from the Lake Forest unit and his colleagues try to contain flames from the Carr fire as it spreads towards the town of Douglas City near Redding, California on July 30, 2018. - Thousands of firefighters in California made some progress against several large-scale blazes that have turned close to 200,000 acres (80,940 hectares) into an ashen wasteland, destroyed expensive homes, and killed eight fire personnel and civilians in the most populous US state. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Crews from CalFire and the Whitewood Volunteer Fire Department battle a flare-up near Buckhorn, Calif., on Highway 299 during the Carr fire in Shasta-Trinity counties on Monday, July 30, 2018. (Paul Kitagaki Jr./Sacramento Bee/TNS via Getty Images)
Fire fighter Wyatt Belden from Gold Ridge Fire Protection in Sonoma County, monitors a fire burning off Keck Road, just west of Lakeport, Calif., on Monday, July 30, 2018. (Jose Luis Villegas/Sacramento Bee/TNS via Getty Images)
A house burns during the Mendocino Complex fire near Finley, California on July 30, 2018. - Thousands of firefighters in California made some progress against several large-scale blazes that have turned close to 200,000 acres into an ashen wasteland, destroyed expensive homes, and killed eight fire personnel and civilians in the most populous US state. The worst blaze, northern California's Carr Fire, has killed six people since Thursday, including a 70-year-old woman and her two great-grandchildren aged four and five. They perished when flames swallowed their home in Redding. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
REDDING, CA - JULY 28: A home continues to burn after the Carr Fire moved through the area on July 28, 2018 in Redding, California. A Redding firefighter and bulldozer operator were killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire that has burned over 80,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes. The fire is 5 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDDING, CA - JULY 28: A deer stands on a road covered with fire retardant as the Carr Fire burns in the area on July 28, 2018 near Redding, California. A Redding firefighter and bulldozer operator were killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire that has burned over 80,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes. The fire is 5 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Trees burst into flame during the Carr fire near Whiskeytown, California on July 27, 2018. Two firefighters have died and more than 100 homes have burned as wind-whipped flames tore through the region. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Burned down vehicles sit at a property under a deep orange sky during the Carr fire near Redding, California on July 27, 2018. - Two firefighters have died and more than 100 homes have burned as wind-whipped flames tore through the region. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
REDDING, CA - JULY 27: A motorcycle sits next to a home that was destroyed by the Carr Fire on July 27, 2018 in Redding, California. A Redding firefighter and bulldozer operator were killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire that has burned over 44,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes. The fire is 3 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WHISKEYTOWN, CA - JULY 27: Smoke from the Carr Fire hangs over Whiskeytown Lake on July 27, 2018 in Whiskeytown, California. A Redding firefighter and bulldozer operator were killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire that has burned over 44,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes. The fire is 3 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDDING, CA - JULY 27: A view of cars that were destroyed by the Carr Fire on July 27, 2018 in Redding, California. A Redding firefighter and bulldozer operator were killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire that has burned over 44,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes. The fire is 3 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - An inmate firefighter pauses during a firing operation as the Carr fire continues to burn in Redding, California on July 27, 2018. - One person has died and at least two others have been injured as wind-whipped flames tore through the region. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
REDDING, CA - JULY 27: A home burns along Sunflower Road during the Carr Fire on July 27, 2018 in Redding, California. A firefighter was killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire which has burned over 28,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes. The fire is reportedly only 6 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDDING, CA - JULY 27: A home burns along Sunflower Road during the Carr Fire on July 27, 2018 in Redding, California. A firefighter was killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire which has burned over 28,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes. The fire is reportedly only 6 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDDING, CA - JULY 27: A home burns along Sunflower Road during the Carr Fire on July 27, 2018 in Redding, California. A firefighter was killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire which has burned over 28,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes. The fire is reportedly only 6 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A charred neighborhood destroyed by the Carr Fire is seen west of Redding, California, U.S. July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
REDDING, CALIF. -- SATURDAY, JULY 28, 2018: A home is destroyed by wildfire in Redding, Calif., on July 28, 2018. (Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SHASTA, CALIF. -- SATURDAY, JULY 28, 2018: Dead fish lay in a pond water wildfire swept through and destroyed homes in Shasta, Calif., on July 28, 2018. (Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
WHISKEYTOWN, CALIF. -- SATURDAY, JULY 28, 2018: Wildfire destroyed and sunk boats docked at the marina in Whiskeytown, Calif., on July 28, 2018. (Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
WHISKEYTOWN, CA - JULY 28: A Cal Fire truck drives along highway 299 as the Carr Fire burns in the hills on July 28, 2018 neat Whiskeytown, California. A Redding firefighter and a bulldozer operator were killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire that has burned over 80,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes. The fire is 5 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A destroyed car is seen among the ruins of a burned neighborhood after the Carr fire passed through the area of Lake Keswick Estates near Redding, California on July 28, 2018. - The US federal government approved aid Saturday for California as thousands of firefighters battled to contain a series of deadly raging wildfires that have killed six people and destroyed hundreds of buildings. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WHISKEYTOWN, CA - JULY 27: Smoke rises from the Carr Fire as it burns along highway 299 on July 27, 2018 near Whiskeytown, California. A Redding firefighter and bulldozer operator were killed battling the fast moving Carr Fire that has burned over 44,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes. The fire is 3 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

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.

The U.S. imports about one-third of its softwood lumber, mostly from Canada. Among other things, it's used to build the wood framing for new houses.

California Building Industry Association President Dan Dunmoyer said contractors tell him that the tariffs alone could add $8,000 to $10,000 to the lumber costs for a typical single-family home and about the same amount for steel products such as nails, other fasteners and wire mesh.

Tariffs also are boosting the cost of appliances, drywall and solar panels, which will be required on all new homes in California starting in two years.

Asked for comment about the impacts of the tariffs on building materials, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters did not respond directly. In an email, she said, "Instead of retaliating, China should address the longstanding concerns about its unfair trading practices."

APM Homes is rebuilding 50 houses destroyed by fire last October in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco. Project manager John Allen said rebuilding costs have not risen as much as the building association predicts, but said they could in time.

RELATED: A look at Santa Rosa's wildfires

24 PHOTOS
Wildfire devastation in Coffey Park, Santa Rosa
See Gallery
Wildfire devastation in Coffey Park, Santa Rosa
An aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco, California, October 9, 2017. California Highway Patrol/Golden Gate Division/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Chloe Hoskins, 7, tags along with her father, who was checking on a neighbors burned out property in the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Spencer Blackwell, left, and Danielle Tate, right, find her father's gun collection, melted and burned, inside a gun safe at her father's home in the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A US flag hangs on a tree in the widfire ravaged Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, California, October 11, 2017. The death toll from some of California's worst ever wildfires rose to 17 as thousands of firefighters battled to bring the infernos under control. The fires which have devastated California's wine country are already among the deadliest ever in the western US state and officials warned they expect the toll to go up. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Jennifer Yarnal searches for keepsakes in the rubble of her home in the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Benicia police officer Alejandro Maravilla, left, offers resident Gwen Adkins, 84, right, a soda while patrolling in the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A police officers looks at the devastation wrought by wildfires in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 11: Some houses burned and some did not. Aerial view of the damage caused by wildfire that destroyed the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 11, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California.(Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 11: Aerial view of the damage caused by wildfire that destroyed the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 11, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California.(Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Fire damage is seen from the air in the Coffey Park neighborhood October 11, 2017, in Santa Rosa, California More than 200 fire engines and firefighting crews from around the country were being rushed to California on Wednesday to help battle infernos which have left at least 21 people dead and thousands homeless. / AFP PHOTO / Elijah Nouvelage (Photo credit should read ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters look for hotspots in the destroyed Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, California, October 12, 2017. Hundreds of people are still missing in massive wildfires which have swept through California killing at least 26 people and damaging thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
The remains of the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, California,October 12, 2017. Massive wildfires sweeping through California have killed at least 26 people and damaged thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings, according to authorities. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
The remains of the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, California,October 12, 2017. Massive wildfires sweeping through California have killed at least 26 people and damaged thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings, according to authorities. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Melted metal from burnt cars is formed on the ground after wildfires ripped through the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 11: Surrounding neighborhoods untouched by fire outside the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 11, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California.(Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 11: Aerial view of the damage caused by wildfire that destroyed the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 11, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California.(Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Andrew Hopkins digs around in the rubble of his step-mother Pam Hopkins' home in the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Tangerines burned black by wildfires still hang on a tree in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Extensive residential devastation is seen after wildfires ripped through the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Andrew Hopkins sifts through his father's fire-singed baseball card collection at his step-mother Pam Hopkins' home in the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Andrew Hopkins sifts through his father's fire-singed baseball card collection at his step-mother Pam Hopkins' home in the Coffey Park neighborhood on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 9: Lights from news crews cast an eerie glow on the devastated Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Fire damage is seen from the air in the Coffey Park neighborhood October 11, 2017, in Santa Rosa, California More than 200 fire engines and firefighting crews from around the country were being rushed to California on Wednesday to help battle infernos which have left at least 21 people dead and thousands homeless. / AFP PHOTO / Elijah Nouvelage (Photo credit should read ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Fire damage is seen from the air in the Coffey Park neighborhood October 11, 2017, in Santa Rosa, California. More than 200 fire engines and firefighting crews from around the country were being rushed to California on Wednesday to help battle infernos which have left at least 21 people dead and thousands homeless. / AFP PHOTO / Elijah Nouvelage (Photo credit should read ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Even relatively small price increases can hit homeowners hard, Allen said. "They're already maxing out their insurance," he said.

Insurance policies are another potential obstacle for homeowners wanting to rebuild and faced with rising construction costs.

Many homeowners have policies that do not guarantee rebuilding a home at today's replacement cost but rather an amount tied to an outdated estimate or the value of the mortgage.

In a survey of a group of Californians who lost homes in fires last year, Roadmap to Recovery, a project of insurance customer advocacy group United Policyholders, found that two-thirds of the respondents did not have enough insurance to cover the full cost of rebuilding. The majority of that group was short by at least $100,000.

Those are the homeowners most affected by the tariffs on construction material and the other factors boosting the cost of rebuilding.

California lawmakers, reacting to reports of wildfire victims with insurance coverage inadequate to rebuild, gave final approval this week to a consumer protection bill. It would require insurers to tell homeowners every two years how much it will cost to replace their home at current prices, giving homeowners a chance to boost their coverage.

Rising construction costs already are affecting some of Debbie and Rick Serdin's neighbors in Santa Rosa's Coffey Park neighborhood.

They said one neighbor is replacing a two-story house with a single-story model because their insurance coverage wasn't enough to rebuild the home they had. Others are selling their lots, taking their insurance checks and looking to start over somewhere else.

The couple had to tap their insurance policy's coverage on their home's contents and are using a large home construction company instead of an independent contractor to make their rebuild affordable for them. Their two-story home was first bought by Rick's mother more than 30 years ago.

Debbie Serdin, a veterinary technician whose husband works at The Home Depot, said she has been watching construction prices rise for neighbors who have waited to start the rebuilding process.

"Don't put it off," she said. "The longer you wait, the more it's going to cost."

Read Full Story