Carpenters frame a new home at Liberty Estates south of Price. Plumbers and electricians will follow.
It doesn't feel like a recession at the Carbon County Building Official's office. It feels more like boom times.
Granted, there are no skyscrapers or big cranes on the horizon, but for the first six months of this year, the county issued 120 building permits. That is nearly triple the 42 issued for the same period last year, and more than double the seven-year average of 56. Building inspections soared to 478, more than three times the 152 recorded from January through June 2009.
"It's happening everywhere - Scofield, Miller Creek, Sunnyside," said Dave Levanger, Building Official and Planning Director for the county. Levanger said that because the construction is so widespread this year, it is probably invisible to most people. Carbon County does not have major subdivision construction like the Wasatch Front, where dozens of homes will sprout on a few acres all at once, he explained. "Ours is mainly infilling," he said, meaning that the building is going on one house at a time in existing neighborhoods or subdivisions.
The permits also include garage and shed construction, home additions and remodeling. The figures do not include construction in Price or East Carbon cities.
Levanger is not sure what is causing the surge in construction, but he does know that lumber prices are as low as they have been since the early 1990s and interest rates are also near historic lows. He also said that Carbon, Emery and Grand counties are doing much better on a percentage basis than the major metropolitan areas so far this year.
He has no complaints about the workload, but he is asking people seeking permits and inspections to be consider that there are only three people on the staff and travel from one end of the county to the other eats up time.
East Carbon, which has its own permitting and inspection department, has also noticed an increase. Inspector Tikinna Barker told the city council recently that when she began in 2005 the city had issued only nine permits. During 2009, that had increased to 75. So far this year, she said she has had to issue 10 stop work orders to people who were building or remodeling without permits.
Price City has not experienced a wave of new building, but alterations and remodeling accounted for 94 permits since July. There were 104 issued for the same period last year.
The increase in residential construction and remodeling has not produced a boom for building suppliers but it has provided some stability, said Wayne Clausing, manager of Sutherlands in Price. Clausing said that with major construction like the Newhouse Hotel remodeling and Carbon Senior Center winding down, the smaller jobs are probably preventing a dip in sales.
"It's nice to have steady sales," he explained. While there has been no boom here as there has been elsewhere, neither has there been a bust.
While new construction has been showing an increase, sales of existing homes in the county have shown a modest decrease, according to statistics from the Utah Association of Real Estate. As of June, closed sales were down 5.9 percent from 2009. However, the median sales price of homes sold in the county was at $124,500, up 8.3 percent from last year. (That means half the homes sold were more than $124,500 and half were less.)