Perhaps the most critical of all materials shortages is in reinforcing steel. Yet overall statistics for reinforcing steel supply and demand through 1973 can be misleading in predicting this year's conditions. To make a suitable estimate of demand a comparison should be made with conditions which are assumed to be normal. But there are no normal conditions when the supply and demand in an otherwise free market are continually distorted by changing Federal regulations. Severe local shortages have been caused mostly by uneven distribution, ordering for advance delivery, and local ups and downs in demand, combined with low inventories among all suppliers.
Nationwide the current difference in supply and demand for materials are not really great, no more than perhaps 10 percent. From the overall standpoints these shortages could be greatly reduced, or even eliminated, by a determined conservation effort. Ten percent of any scare material can be squeezed out of most projects by vigilant attention of waste.
The achievement of economy in construction in the United States is accomplished through a high ratio of the cost of field labor to the cost of materials. Whenever labor is plentiful but materials are not, the cost of delay in acquiring materials is likely to reverse this relationship. It then becomes necessary to use materials carefully; this process must begin with design and specification and carry through to completion of construction.