Do-it-yourself season is all about organizing the garage, doing something about your outdated kitchen, building a deck, or painting that dingy room. Whatever the project may be, chances are you'll check the offerings at a home improvement giant like Home Depot or Lowe's. Cheapism researched both stores to see which offers the better value for your limited renovation dollars. It was close, especially on the question of which is cheaper, Lowe's or Home Depot. But in the end, the overall shopping experience made Lowe's our winner.
|12" x 12" Ceramic Floor Tile (per sq. ft.)|
|18" x 18" Peel-and-Stick Carpet Tile (per sq. ft.)|
|3" Natural Cherry Engineered Hardwood Flooring (per sq. ft.)|
|Assembled Shaker 12" x 30" Upper Kitchen Cabinet|
Diamond Now/Hampton Bay
|Assembled Shaker 36" Sink Base Kitchen Cabinet|
Diamond Now/Hampton Bay
|Side-by-Side Stainless Steel Refrigerator (25.5 cu. ft.)|
|High-Efficiency Top-Load Washer (4.6 cu. ft.)|
|30" Stainless Steel Gas Cooktop|
|Continuous Feed Garbage Disposal (1/2 HP)|
InSinkErator Badger 5
|Flat Interior Paint (1 gal.)|
Valspar Ultra 2000/Behr Premium Plus
|Eggshell Interior Paint (1 gal.)|
Valspar Ultra 2000/Behr Premium Plus
|Satin Interior Paint (1 gal.)|
Valspar Ultra 2000/Behr Premium Plus
|Semi-Gloss Interior Paint (1 gal.)|
Valspar Ultra 2000/Behr Premium Plus
|Semi-Gloss Exterior Paint (1 gal.)|
Valspar/Behr Premium Plus
|3/8" x 4' x 8' Drywall Panel|
|2" x 4" x 8' #2 Pressure-Treated Lumber||$5.31||$5.47||Lowe’s|
|23/32" x 4' x 8' Sanded Pine Plywood||$34.38||$33.98||Home Depot|
|White Room Darkening Aluminum Mini Blinds (34.5" x 72")|
|LAWN & GARDEN|
|21" Push Lawn Mower (140 cc)|
|All-Purpose Garden Soil (2 cu. ft.)|
|Weed and Grass Killer (1.33 gal.)|
|Premium Brown Mulch (2 cu. ft.)|
|Short-Handle Wood Garden Shovel|
|5" Random Orbital Sander|
|1/2" Corded Hammer Drill (7 amps)|
|8V Cordless Drill|
Black & Decker
|3/8" Drive Quick Release Ratchet|
|1/2" Impact Wrench|
|7 1/4" Circular Saw (15 amps)|
|24" Standard Level|
|Steel Claw Hammer (16 oz.)|
|4" Phillips Head Screwdriver|
|3-Piece Adjustable Wrench Set (6", 8", 10")|
|Wet-Dry Vac (16 gal.)|
|Plastic Storage Bin (17 gal.)|
|Large Moving Box (24" x 18" x 18")||$3.48||$3.58||Lowe’s|
|25' Measuring Tape|
Stanley Fat Max
|AVERAGE SAVINGS||13.3% on|
To compare Lowe's vs. Home Depot prices, we drew up a list of items from flooring to lumber to mulch. We also priced out materials needed to build an outdoor deck. For the deck project, the pre-tax total was slightly lower at Lowe's: $1,368.31 vs. $1,382.50 at Home Depot. On our more general shopping list, 11 products were cheaper at Lowe's, with average savings of just over 13 percent. Home Depot undercut Lowe's on only 9 items, by an average of just over 9 percent.
To compare the shopping experience at Lowe's and Home Depot, we visited stores in the same market area several times. Although we had positive experiences at both, sales associates at Lowe's seemed more experienced and provided more explanation than their Home Depot counterparts. Additionally, it was easier to locate and price out merchandise at Lowe's, where the aisles were more spacious and simpler to navigate. Home Depot's maze of shelves was overwhelming, with haphazard price signage and product organization.
Home Depot offers some distinct advantages, however. It regularly holds free weekend workshops designed to familiarize DIYers with basic home improvement projects; Lowe's offers nothing comparable. Most Home Depot locations rent a variety of power tools, such as tile saws and floor strippers; Lowe's does not provide this service.
In short, Home Depot and Lowe's are both good home improvement resources for the average consumer, and even for the professional. At the end of the day, which is better, Lowe's or Home Depot, will depend on what you're looking for and the way your local store is stocked, staffed, and managed.
Each retailer is relatively easy to find outside of major cities, with locations in all 50 states. However, Home Depot maintains a slight edge here. It operates more than 2,284 stores in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Lowe's has 1,777 stores in the same three countries. Home Depot also has more of a presence in more densely populated urban areas and suburbs, experts say.
Home Depot and Lowe's compete aggressively for consumer dollars. We compared the cost (before tax) of 38 commonly purchased products that were the same or very similar at both stores. These included lumber, ceramic floor tile, wood flooring, blinds, mulch, paint, appliances, and basic tools.
Lowe's posted the lowest prices on 11 items from our list, including four types of interior paint ($4 less per gallon for house brand paint with flat, eggshell, or semi-gloss finish), engineered hardwood flooring (a difference of $2.37 per square foot), and bagged mulch (more than 30 percent savings). Home Depot bested Lowe's on 9 products, including basic ceramic floor tile (73 cents vs. 99 cents a square foot), sheets of drywall (5 percent less), and a few tools, such as a cordless drill (15 percent cheaper). The cost of the remaining 18 products was essentially the same at both stores (less than a 1 percent difference).
Of course, prices are subject to change and may vary by location. On appliances, especially, the regular (non-sale) prices we compared were nearly identical, but depending on the day, one store might drastically undercut the other. At the time of our price check, a Frigidaire side-by-side refrigerator at Lowe's was discounted to $150 less than its counterpart at Home Depot.
To get an idea how much we could expect to spend on a complete project, we priced out the cost of building a 12-by-16-foot ground-level deck using a list of required tools and materials. Again, we noticed how similar the prices were at each store: Nine items cost the same and several others were priced within a few pennies. Yet Lowe's prevailed by a slight margin. The total cost of materials and tools for our backyard deck project rang up at $1,368.31 compared with $1,382.50 at Home Depot, a savings of $14.19.
|2" x 6" x 12" #2 Pressure-Treated Lumber||15||$156.75|
|2" x 6" x 16" #2 Pressure-Treated Lumber||7||$98.28|
|5/4" x 6" x 8" Pine Decking||1||$5.37||$5.27|
|5/4" x 6" x 12" Pine Decking||33||$256.41|
|4" x 4" x 8" #2 Treated Structural Post||1||$9.57||$9.37|
|4" Steel Post Base||8||$167.76|
|80 lb. Concrete Mix||5||$21.50|
|3 1/2" Galvanized Common Nails (5 lbs.)||1||$15.77||$15.77|
|1/2" Galvanized Flat Washer||64||$8.32|
|1/2" x 8" Galvanized Carriage Bolt||32||$51.84|
|1/2" Galvanized Hex Nuts||32||$4.16|
|Steel Hurricane Tie (18 gauge)||44||$36.96|
|#10 1/4" x 2 1/2" Galvanized Nails (1 lb.)||10||$44.70|
|#8-#9 1 1/2” Galvanized Nails (1 lb.)||2||$9.76|
|Steel Hurricane Tie/Wood-to-Wood Rafter Tie||8||$2.24|
|6" Galvanized Double Shear Joist Hanger||22||$21.12|
|1 1/2" Galvanized Common Nails (5 lbs.)||1||$16.78||$17.88|
|Galvanized Framing Angle||4||$3.60|
|Clear Waterproofing Wood Stain (1 gal.)||1||$24.98||$24.98|
|1/2" x 6" Galvanized Long Screw||32||$101.44|
|25' Measuring Tape||1||$19.97||$17.97|
|24" Standard Level||1||$6.98||$6.97|
|8 oz. Steel Plumb Bob||1||$5.98||$6.29|
|16 oz. Brass Plumb Bob||1||$14.98||$13.97|
|1/2" Corded Hammer Drill (7 amps)||1||$49.97||$56.00|
|8V Cordless Drill||1||$29.97||$25.62|
|3/8" Drive Quick Release Ratchet||1||$14.98||$14.53|
|1/2" Impact Wrench||1||$79.98||$79.98|
|7 1/4" Circular Saw (15 amps)||1||$59.98||$79.00|
|Short-Handle Wood Garden Shovel||1||$14.98||$14.98|
|Steel Claw Hammer (16 oz.)||1||$5.98||$5.98|
|4" Phillips Head Screwdriver||1||$3.98||$3.96|
Lowe's and Home Depot both offer price-match guarantees. If a local or online competitor sells the same product for less, they will match the lower price (including shipping). For items available in store, Home Depot pledges to beat competitors' prices by 10 percent for customers who produce an ad, printout, or photo for validation. There are myriad conditions and exclusions to these policies, however. For instance, they exclude out-of-stock items and special orders. Perhaps most notably, the items must be identical in every way -- brand, style, color, condition, size, weight, and, perhaps trickiest of all, model number. Large retailers like Home Depot and Lowe's have their own house brands and carry some high-priced "exclusives" like appliances with slightly different features and store-specific model numbers, which rules them out for price matching.
When it comes to store organization, customer service, and overall shopping experience, Lowe's outshines Home Depot. Both retailers present a warehouse-like atmosphere, but Lowe's seemed more approachable during our visits. The aisles were wider, better lit, and mostly clear of displays. Products were accessible, most within easy reach of an average-height person.
Home Depot, by contrast, seemed harder to navigate. Aisles were narrower, displays were more obtrusive, and stacks of random merchandise in many aisles further impeded our progress. Products were piled higher, putting many items out of reach without an associate's help, and we noticed some outdated, missing, or inconsistent price tags. At Lowe's, signage was larger and price stickers were consistent; there were few, if any, missing tags.
We generally encountered friendly staff and good customer service at both stores. Although both stores employed pleasant and knowledgeable salespeople, the Lowe's staff seemed to go the extra mile, answering questions, taking the time to educate us on windows or appliances or laminate flooring, and anticipating additional needs. Lowe's associates also made a point of following up as we continued to wander around.
There is some national survey data to back up our impressions. Lowe's receives a higher ranking than Home Depot from J.D. Power in the category of store facility, which includes factors such as store cleanliness, organization, and layout. Lowe's also edges out Home Depot in the American Customer Service Index, which is based on annual interviews with 70,000 customers. Online reviews on sites like Yelp suggest that customer service is a mixed bag at both stores and varies by location.
Home Depot stands out for offering free weekend workshops for novice renovators that focus on common home improvement projects (times and dates are posted on the website). Upcoming classes in our area included workshops on spring lawn prep, deck and patio staining, and installing vinyl plank flooring, as well as workshops for kids with activities such as building a birdhouse. Lowe's doesn't hold regular workshops and has discontinued its own kids' workshops.
Both stores will arrange for truck delivery of large items such as lumber. Lowe's bases its delivery charges solely on how far a customer lives from the store, while Home Depot takes into account things like delivery window (a shorter amount of time costs more) and whether you want threshold service (unloading closer to a job site or your home, such as in the garage). DIYers can also rent trucks from both stores to haul their own materials.
Many Home Depot locations offer rental options for customers who don't want to invest in tools they may use only once or twice. Lowe's, on the other hand, doesn't rent power tools (unless you count carpet cleaners).
When deciding whether to rent or buy tools, consider price and availability. The final rental price obviously depends on the length of time you'll need the tool. With our deck project in mind, we looked at the cost of renting vs. buying a miter saw. Home Depot rented a professional-grade Makita model at a rate of $32 for four hours, $45 for a day, or $180 for a week. Contrast that with the cost of buying a brand-new saw outright at Lowe's, where they start around $100. At that price, it may be more cost-effective to purchase, rather than rent, a saw if you'll need it for longer than a day or possibly for another project. Granted, the saw available for rent at Home Depot was a higher-end model, but it was also more powerful than necessary for simple cuts.
Availability also matters when deciding whether to rent or buy. Although all the Home Depot stores near us offered tool rental, sometimes only one of a particular tool was in stock. It's worth asking about inventory ahead of time and factoring the possibility of unexpected delays into your planning.
When it comes to serving home improvement professionals, Home Depot has long been considered to have the upper hand. Professionals of all stripes, including contractors, remodelers, and installers, make up a bigger percentage of Home Depot's customer base. There's also some evidence that pros spend much more at Home Depot than Lowe's.
Home Depot focuses on contractors and other paid construction and repair workers with a dedicated Pro Desk and offers perks including reserved parking, dedicated checkout lanes and order loading, a two-hour turnaround on call-ahead or online orders for pickup in-store, expanded selection, exclusive discounts, and reduced pricing on orders over $1,500. Lowe's has answered back with many identical policies, including its own ProServices desks, discounts on orders exceeding $1,500, and dedicated parking and checkout for professionals. The store has also rolled out a slick new Lowe's for Pros website.
Home Depot and Lowe's both extend lines of credit to qualifying customers who want to finance their home improvement ventures. Home Depot charges cardholders no interest when they spend $299 or more, as long as the balance is paid within six months. It also has a long roster of limited-time promotions; when we looked, they included discounts on sheds and special financing on fencing and blinds. The APR ranges from as low as 17.99% to as high as 26.99% based on creditworthiness. For larger projects, Home Depot offers a Project Loan card with a fixed 7.99% APR. Payments are spread equally over up to 84 months, and the maximum loan is $55,000.
Lowe's allows cardholders to choose from three promotions: 5 percent off most purchases charged to the card; no interest when spending $299 or more as long as the balance is paid within six months; or reduced-interest-rate financing starting at 3.99% APR for 36 months on purchases of $2,000 or more. Otherwise the APR is 26.99%, with no break for those with better credit.
Both stores also offer financing for home improvement professionals. Home Depot has two options from Citibank: a Commercial Revolving Charge Card, with no annual fee and a choice between regular monthly payments or paying off the balance, and a Commercial Credit Account, which lets pros track spending by buyer or itemize billing by job number. Both offer 60 days to pay with no interest and fuel discounts at participating Shell stations to cardholders who enroll. Lowe's Business Credit accounts include the standard Lowe's Business Account, with flexible payment terms and no annual fee, and the Business Rewards Card, which lets users earn American Express points on purchases. All Lowe's Business Credit cardholders get 5 percent off purchases.
As weekend warriors know, it usually makes sense to overbuy supplies for home improvement projects. This saves multiple trips to the hardware store and ensures a uniform look with tile, flooring, and paint. Although the stores' written return policies are relatively similar and much ultimately depends on the discretion of store managers, Lowe's seems slightly more liberal than Home Depot in this department.
Both accept returns of most merchandise within 90 days of purchase, but Home Depot has more exceptions. The retailer puts a 30-day limit on returns of generators, furniture, gas-powered equipment or tractors, mattresses, area rugs, and consumer electronics such as TVs or computers. Lowe's shortens the return window to 30 days for outdoor power equipment, major appliances, and highway trailers. The chain also notes that it will only accept returns of winter seasonal items on or before Dec. 26.
Home Depot specifies that merchandise must be new and unused, and that customers who receive damaged items should contact customer support within 30 days, while Lowe's does not. Home Depot gives cardholders an entire year to return merchandise purchased with a store card, however.
While an original receipt is preferred, both stores specify that they can often retrieve receipts in their systems if customers provide the credit card, debit card, or checking account number used for the purchase. Without a valid receipt, customers may receive only store credit based on the most recent advertised price.
For most online orders, both stores provide prepaid shipping labels for returns. Lowe's specifically says original shipping charges are nonrefundable, while Home Depot says it will refund them if the return is a result of store error.
Lowe's vs. Home Depot At a Glance
|Locations||- 1,777 stores in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.|
- Second-largest hardware chain in the U.S.
|- 2,284 stores in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico|
- Largest hardware chain in the U.S.
|Prices||- Lower prices on 11 items.|
- Average savings of 13.3%.
- $1,368.31 total for deck project supplies.
- Matches local and online competitors' prices.
|- Lower prices on 9 items. |
- Average savings of 9.1%.
- $1,382.50 total for deck project supplies.
- Matches competitors' prices online and beats them by 10% in store, although items must be identical (brand, etc.) and many exclusions apply.
|Shopping Experience||- More associates approached us to offer help; staff seemed more experienced and knowledgable. |
- Wider aisles and better-organized merchandise.
- Consistently outranks Home Depot in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
- Higher store facility score (4 out of 5) from J.D. Power.
- No regular workshops for DIYers.
|- Associates were less proactive; store was less organized. |
- Consistently lower ACSI score than Lowe's.
- Lower store facility score (3 out of 5) from J.D. Power.
- Weekend workshops for DIYers.
|Tool Rental||- No tool rental.||- Rents a wide variety of large power tools, although availability varies by location.||Home Depot|
|Professional Services||- Reserved parking and dedicated checkout lanes. |
- Reduced pricing on orders over $1,500.
|- Dedicated parking, checkout, and order loading. |
- 2-hour turnaround on call-ahead or online orders.
- Expanded selection and exclusive discounts.
- Reduced pricing on orders over $1,500.
|Credit Cards||- Choice of everyday promotions including 5% off most purchases and no interest for 6 months on purchases of $299 or more.|
- 26.99% APR regardless of credit.
- Commercial credit options.
|- No interest for 6 months on purchases of $299 or more.|
- Rotating, limited-time promotions.
- APR as low as 17.99% for those with good credit.
- Commercial credit options including a Project Loan card with credit lines up to $55,000.
|Return Policy||- 90 days for most items. |
- 30 days for outdoor power equipment, major appliances, and highway trailers.
|- 90 days for most new and unused items. |
- 30 days for generators, furniture, gas-powered equipment or tractors, mattresses, area rugs, and consumer electronics.