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Lowe's vs. Home Depot: Project Support

To check out the support these hardware superstores provide DIYers wanting to tackle big projects, we sought help from both. Our goals were simple: Determine what materials we needed to build a ground-level, 12' x 16' deck; price out the cheapest products that would give us good results; and come up with a parts list and project estimate.

Despite having researched deck building online, we approached this project as novice builders and wanted all the guidance we could get.

At the Home Depot Pro Desk, a friendly but seemingly green associate helped us start the process. He walked us through the aisles of lumber and fasteners, where we checked prices on pressure-treated and non-treated cedar in a variety of lengths (8", 12", and 16") and widths (4" and 6"). We were a bit skeptical when he said we'd need only four nails to secure each board and provided an estimate that included only four support posts for the entire deck. Over the course of two hours we adjusted those numbers and compiled a priced-out materials list. Another Pro Desk employee then led us off to appraise the concrete options. He looked at our materials list and rough sketch and gently but professionally let us know it needed to be reworked. He suggested we purchase cement pier blocks that were pre-drilled for brackets rather than mix and pour cement to build supports on our own. He told us we'd probably need 24 supports for our deck instead of the six that the first salesperson had ultimately recommended. He increased the number of support beams from three to nine. By the time we left Home Depot, employee No. 2, who seemed more knowledgeable, had advised changes to half the items on our merchandise and service summary. Total time elapsed: 2.5 hours.

Home Depot offers workshops for kids and adults.

Our visit to Lowe's started with a conversation with two older male associates at the commercial sales counter. They asked questions and made recommendations about the best way to build and support the deck. One associate typed the information into the Lowe's Deck Design Software, and within 20 minutes or so, we had a printout detailing the materials required and the price of each item. We were then led to each piece of recommended lumber and to the tools department to see the various mitre saws we could buy. Within the 45-minute visit at Lowe's, 15 to 20 minutes were spent looking at materials and discussing the relative merits of buying, rather than renting, a mitre saw. We learned a lot from the salesperson, who explained that we'd probably want 5/4" decking boards rather than the standard 2" (nicer aesthetics, easier to produce) that we priced at Home Depot and said 12" boards are far straighter than boards 16" or longer. He recommended using pressure-treated wood for the support structure but advised using non-treated boards for the facing. In his opinion, the natural wood looks nicer, takes stain better, and doesn't expose deck users (especially small children) to a slew of harsh chemicals.

The deck project that had seemed daunting and over our heads during our time at Home Depot seemed straightforward and achievable after our planning session at Lowe's. We were more confident in our materials list and used that one to price out comparable products at Home Depot and the neighborhood lumberyard.

Lumber at Lowe's.

Although we had more success with one-on-one project planning at Lowe's, we discovered that Home Depot shines in other areas of project support. Every Saturday and Sunday, Home Depot offers free workshops for weekend renovators that focus on common home improvement projects. Three different classes are offered each month, with times and dates posted on the website (the schedule is consistent from location to location). Recent classes have included interior painting, installing wall tile, and installing a vanity, faucet, and bath accessories. Upcoming workshops include landscape design, lawn maintenance, and vinyl flooring installation. Sessions may last up to 1.5 hours.

Lowe's, by contrast, doesn't hold regular workshops. When we asked team members at three different locations if there were any classes we could attend, they said no but added that any Lowe's employee would be happy to demonstrate techniques if asked. We also learned that Lowe's provides how-to videos on its website, as well as step-by-step project walkthroughs.

2" x 6" x12" #2 Pressure Treated Lumber
2" x 6" x 16" #2 Pressure Treated Lumber
5/4" x 6" x 8" Cedar Decking
5/4" x 6" x 12" Cedar Decking
4" x 4" x 8" #2 Treated Structural Post
TOTAL $856.59 $673.23 $183.36

Return Policies.

As every weekend warrior knows, it makes more sense to overbuy than under-purchase supplies for home improvement projects. This saves multiple trips to the hardware store and ensures a uniform look with tile, flooring, and paint. Overbuying is also a reason to be familiar with each store's return policy. Home Depot and Lowe's both maintain generous return policies, although Lowe's is a little more so.

Lowe's and Home Depot accept the return of new, unused merchandise within 90 days of purchase, with some notable exceptions. Lowe's has a 30-day return policy for outdoor power equipment and major appliances, while Home Depot puts a 30-day limit on the return of generators, furniture, and gas-powered equipment or tractors. At Home Depot, whole-house or stationary generators and utility trailers are non-refundable. Lowe's accepts returns of damaged or defective merchandise for 90 days from the date of purchase, whereas Home Depot asks that all damage or shortage claims be made within 30 days of receipt. Lowe's takes back new, unused merchandise, but Home Depot specifies the product should be in "100% saleable condition" in the original packaging. Additionally, Home Depot requests a packing slip or receipt for every return, while Lowe's accepts the credit or debit card used for the purchase or a phone number (for cash or check payments) in lieu of a receipt. At both stores, the return of special-order merchandise incurs a 15% restocking fee.

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