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Lowe's vs. Home Depot: Pricing

Home Depot and Lowe's compete aggressively for consumer dollars. Over the course of multiple visits to each store in our area, we compared the before-tax cost of 39 commonly purchased products.

We priced a variety of items, from decking lumber to ceramic floor tile to basic tools to interior paint, and found that most were similarly priced, down to the penny. When there was a difference, the Lowe's item usually sold for less, but only by a dollar or two. This was also true when the brand was the same; for example, on the days we visited the stores, a Skil 45-degree 7 1/4" circular saw was going for $49.98 at Lowe's and $59.97 at Home Depot. The total before-tax cost of the items we priced came to $1,924.08 at Lowe's and $1,925.35 at Home Depot.

Among the items on our shopping list, Lowe's bested the competition on 14, including a gallon of clear waterproofing wood stain ($13.48 at Lowe's and $15.98 at Home Depot), a pound of 8D x 1 1/2" nails ($14.28 at Lowe's and $16.81 at Home Depot), and an 8" steel plumb bob ($4.78 at Lowe's and $4.93 at Home Depot). Home Depot posted the lowest prices on 11 items from our list, including a 3/8" socket wrench ($11.97 at Home Depot and $14.96 at Lowe's), safety goggles ($2.59 at Home Depot and $2.97 at Lowe's), and four types of interior paint (one gallon of the house brand, eggshell finish, cost $23.96 at Home Depot compared with $27.97 at Lowe's). Note that both house brand paints -- Behr at Home Depot and Valspar at Lowe's -- scored well in tests conducted by a consumer products review site testing organization, although Behr ranked higher.

Lumber aisles at Home Depot.

To get an idea of how much we could expect to spend on a larger project, we priced out the cost of building a 12' x 16' ground-level deck using a master list of required tools and materials. Again, we noticed how similarly priced the items were at each store: 16 of the 34 items on the list, including a treated structural post and two sizes of pressure-treated lumber and cedar decking, along with other products such as 1/2" galvanized hex nuts and a 7.2-volt cordless lithium drill, cost exactly the same; five were within a penny or two; and seven of the 13 remaining items were less expensive at Lowe's. Only four products -- safety goggles, a 24" standard level, an 8" solid brass plumb bob, and a 3/8" socket wrench -- were cheaper at Home Depot. The total cost of materials and tools for our backyard deck project rang up at $1,507.32 before taxes at Lowe's, a $34.24 savings over the $1,541.56 project cost at Home Depot.

Products at Lowe's were generally cheaper.

To put things into perspective, we called up a well-known, home-grown lumberyard to compare the cost of buying local. All the items we priced were more expensive at the neighborhood store. For example, a 4" x 4" x 8" #2 pressure-treated structural post cost $9.19, $1.22 more than the $7.97 Home Depot and Lowe's were charging. A 5/4" x 6" x 12" plank of cedar decking, which was $11.76 at both big-box stores, was $4.54 more per piece at the lumberyard.

Note that Lowe's and Home Depot feature nearly identical price-matching guarantees. If a local competitor sells the same product for a lower price, both will match that price and give the buyer an additional 10% discount. The guarantee covers in-stock items only; special orders don't apply. Although it's obviously cumbersome to price match every purchase, it's useful for large or high-dollar transactions. One contributor to Electrician Talk says he leverages the system to streamline his operating expenses.

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