Edward Haberli, owner of E. Haberli Electric in Meriden, is scrutinizing how much scrap wire is being left behind on job sites a little bit more these days.

Contractors in all trades are finding that the costs of materials, gasoline to get to job sites and even health care for their workers are forcing them to change the way they do business.

Copper wire and plywood prices have seen the largest jumps, about 50 percent over last year. But cement, roofing shingles and plastic pipes are also getting prohibitive.

Haberli said a typical job, such as installing a microwave circuit, that cost about $135 last year, is now well above $150. The price increases have also led him to change the way he estimates jobs. Instead of a price quote being guaranteed for 30 days, it's now only guaranteed for five.

The price increases began after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast and the need for building materials pulled much of the supply away from the Northeast. Suppliers said the Gulf Coast continues to drain construction materials, as does increased demand in China and India.

But Edd Goralnik, president of Lyon & Billard Co. in Meriden, said he has seen no supply shortage. The company moves millions of feet of lumber annually from its Gypsy Lane yard to individuals and contractors.

Goralnik blames the conglomerates for using scare tactics to increase prices. Unlike the contractors, he said prices have increased only about 10 percent.

Ross Gulino, who renovates distressed property and is a landlord and an insurance agent, blames the increased costs on material shortages, the hurricanes and people taking advantage of the housing market.

"It feeds the appreciation of the property. When new construction goes up, existing homes go up as well," Gulino said. "It's good for them, but not good for the first-time homebuyers."

William Ferrigno, president of the Homebuilders Association of Connecticut, said costs are up an average of 20 percent. He said there has been four price increases last year, and four more are expected this year. And the demand for houses, especially in Connecticut, is still good.

Ferrigno said the contractors who are in a fixed contract will be forced to absorb the initial price hikes, but will begin passing it along to consumers after those contracts expire. But there's only so much contractors can pass on before they are no longer competitive.

"Contractors are in trouble," said Ferrigno, who also builds homes. "We're all sitting down and figuring out what to do about this. If this were temporary, we could adjust our prices."

But too much of the pricing is out of the contractors' control. Copper is produced in other countries and cement comes from Mexico, Ferrigno said.

One positive that could come out of a price hike would be if sticker shock forces consumers to look for ways to control costs when building or remodeling. Perhaps they'll realize they don't need 2,400-square-foot homes. He's noticed that the spike in energy costs has more customers seeking ways to conserve.

"Americans tend to be kind of reactive," Ferrigno said. "They don't plan. They only do things when forced to. This could be people getting smarter about things."

Builders serve the market when people demand McMansions, builders will build them, he said. But should prohibitive costs start forcing people to downsize, the builders will respond.

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