Home Improvement Stores
In the past couple of years, I have started multiple home projects and so I have had to shop nearby home improvement stores. Other than when I was in my twenties, when I bought my house, I really did not have much interest in home improvement. Buying a home, always comes with an immediate need to have tools and depending on your area of the country, lawn mowers and a few other things to do your basic maintenance. I made by with going to Sears and getting a few Craftsman hand tools and pretty much focused on my hobbies. There were a few box shelves that I made, but these were more about having a cheap solution than really something I enjoyed. Fast track to a couple of decades and I have amassed some power tools and done more projects in the last three years than in the previous twenty years. This is my short take on what my local home improvement stores are good for and what tool brands I have gravitated to. As always, your local stores may differ, or you may disagree with my assessment of these well known brands.
Lowe’s Home Improvement
There is no denying that Lowe’s is one of my top three stores to go to. They are known for carrying major brand name products and they offer a variety of services. They will install appliances, windows, water heaters, and much more for you. The installation services for things like windows are done by third party contractors and this is where you will read many complaints about their installation services. The problem is that any time you pay someone to do a contract job, the specifics of the service is down to the contract you sign. You have to be very clear about what you are signing and what work you specifically want. I did purchase a high end water heater from them. I paid a nominal fee to have the installer come to my house and review the space. The person at Lowe’s was not an expert on water heaters, so the installer told me that Yes, this was a basic installation and there was no problem with the model I chose. When the water heater arrived at the store, the installer went and got it and he installed it just fine. I had spoken to the installer about replacing a valve as well for a separate fee and he did that too for a reasonable price that I paid directly to him. It was a good experience and I had no problems. Communication is key for these situations; do not think that anyone will recommend anything to you, so do your homework about the service and what more you need in order to make it appropriate for you.
In the store you will find a good variety of tools. Lowe’s has what is left of Craftsman products, although Craftsman today is not what that brand was twenty years ago. Dewalt is probably the main brand that you will gravitate to while in the store. They offer a wide selection of Dewalt tools and accessories. The yellow and black design of Dewalt is pretty popular among both do-it-yourself people and professionals. They offer a wide range of drills from inexpensive to bigger and powerful models. In my store, they carry Bosch tools as well, which is another popular brand for professionals.
Home improvement stores are not the best place to buy lumber and specialized wood. Lowe’s has a lumber selection and their prices for construction lumber is reasonable. You will also find what I call hobby shelf wood. This is what I would use to make some box shelves or a cabinet for my stereo in college. Overall, I am not really impressed with Lowe’s lumber selection. It is not any cheaper than competitors and the hobby wood is not cut perfectly straight, so I rather purchase elsewhere. However if you are looking for some decent 2×4 boards or construction grade, Lowe’s has you covered. They will also cut some boards for you if you ask. This is a must for anyone who is doing a small project and doesn’t drive a pickup truck.
The hardware selection at Lowe’s spans an entire aisle. They carry Hillman and other name brand bolts and screws. The Hillman stainless steel hardware is my goto for most projects.You can also find cheaper Hillman hardware at most Walmarts. This is one of my favorite areas of Lowe’s. My wife is a fan of the Garden Center at Lowe’s, since they have the best selection of good plants during the Spring and Summer seasons.
I really do think that if Lowe’s added a diner section to the store, people would literally never leave the store.
On the minus, Lowe’s pricing is always on the high end. They charge the full price on 90% of everything. Clearance items are a good bargain as they are almost in any store. Name brands like Dewalt control their pricing, so there is not much you can do about that. If Dewalt has a deal, they usually have it everywhere, including online.
There was a time when Sears considered buying The HomeDepot. Obviously, Sears made the wrong decision and today The HomeDepot is one of the most successful chain stores and Sears is gone and forgotten from most of the country. I’ve never gotten any services from The HomeDepot, however the same recommendation that I have of Lowe’s goes for The HomeDepot. Unfortunately, I live at least 35 miles from the nearest store, so I do not frequent The HomeDepot as much as I like. Instead I make a weekend trip to The HomeDepot and spend a good 2 hours in the store. For me I get the sense that The HomeDepot store is smaller in footage, but that may be my imagination, because The HomeDepot literally has tons and tons of stock. In other words I find more stuff in store, and unlike Lowe’s, you can literally order anything from The HomeDepot online. I have purchased butcher blocks, tools, and accessories and every time there was free shipping. For some reason, one item I ordered, I had to pickup, but I think that was my mistake when using the website. If you can’t find something in any home improvement store, I will recommend you check their website, because they have an amazing selection and it is often cheaper than other stores.
What I love about The HomeDepot is their tool selection and their prices. If you go to the store or the website, they have specials every week and the prices are always a good bargain. In store, I find great clearance items, so if I go to pickup some drill bits, I walk out with say a kitchen stove fan, just because it was 65% off. Major brands for tools are Milwaukee Tools, Makita, and they have cheaper brands like Ryobi and Husky. Professionals stand behind the quality and durability of Milwaukee Tools. You will find diehard proponents of Milwaukee over Dewalt, which The HomeDepot also carries. For do-it-yourself people, Makita has a great following among consumers. Makita is known for their quality just as much as other tool brands, but their pricing is on the high end. For example of you are looking at comparable drills you will find the Makita model to be more expensive. I prefer Makita 18volt tools and I think they are worth it. I check the Makita USA tools site for specials and then order from The HomeDepot website. Toolkits are probably the cheapest way to get into any tool brand, just be careful that you are purchasing the right battery type, 18volt and 20volt tools will always be more powerful and run longer than 12volt tools. Lower power tools tend to be smaller and easier to handle, so if you don’t need the power and running time, then 12volt tools may be fine.
Lumber selection is similar to Lowe’s, though it seems to me that Lowe’s has more stock. For hobby wood, The HomeDepot sells both by the foot for some woods such as oak boards, and entire pine boards. The HomeDepot appears to cut more wood in store than Lowe’s. I always see customers getting this service while I am in store.
The best place in The HomeDepot is the front of the store. They place lots of specially priced items in the front of the store as well as some big items like furniture and tool chests. Their prices on some of these items are incredibly competitive. I travel the entire store and then come back to the front, just to make sure I did not miss anything on my way out.
I remember reading on a forum post once, about there being this magical place where you could buy anything and prices were cheap and they even gave you an 11% rebate on everything you bought. This was written by someone who actually lived on the east coast somewhere and apparently they don’t have Menards there, but he kept hearing about Menards on the forum. This place does exist and I go there every other day, just to walk, because Iowa winter weather is not warm enough for me to get my steps. Menards is the closest store to me, so it is very convenient for me to drive down there, turn on my Spotify and just stroll the store for an hour or less. The employees there must be tired of seeing me there by this point.
Unlike Lowe’s or The HomeDepot, Menards does not install windows or water heaters. They have a list of contractors in those areas that you can contact directly about those services. Menards is for contractors and do-it-yourself people. We hired a contractor to redo our bathroom before the pandemic. I met him at Menards and we walked through the store picking what we needed and the contractor took care of picking everything up and doing the job. It took three days to finish, and another day for things to dry. I make this joke all the time, that everything in my house comes from Menards and if they don’t have it, then I am in trouble.
Here are just some of the things I buy from Menards:
Wood stain, glues, and painting supplies, they have a wide selection of quality stains and treatments. Their prices are the cheapest and if they don’t have it, then you can go to a professional paint store or wood store.
Light bulbs, electrical outlets, switches, ceiling fans, shop lights, Menards has a large selection. Lowe’s will have high end items, but their prices are terribly high.
Hardware such as screws, bolts, construction nails, is another great area at Menards. I still end up going to Lowe’s half the time, but if I need quantity or don’t need a specific brand then Menard’s is my choice.
Drill accessories, drill bits, drivers, anything Bosch, I get at Menards. They tend to have some kits on sale and if I need something cheap or want a single drill bit, I will pick them up at Menards. I bought a Bosch cobalt drill kit at an incredible price, just last month. They have a the best selection of different drill bits and drivers. This is also the same for router bits. Both Lowe’s and The HomeDepot have very limited wood working tools and router bits. Menards has variety that is the best for home improvement stores, otherwise I head to Woodcraft or the Rockler website for anything that I can’t find in Menards.
Work Tables, this was my latest big purchase from Menards. I got a long work table for the garage. I happen to walk in one day and the table that was priced at $469 was on sale at $349 and I had a stash of Menards rebates. I literally paid something around $223 for this table. It is rock solid and better than any work table from Lowe’s or The HomeDepot.
The Menards lumber department is both inside and outside. Inside you will find nice straight cut boards for construction or framing, along with a large selection of hobby and project wood that is of higher grade. You won’t find professionally dried wood that carpenters covet for building furniture, for that you have to go to a lumber yard or wood store, but you will find red oak boards for making a nice stained shelf, or some aspen boards for making a light stereo cabinet. Like all wood, you are still going to have to look at it carefully to pick out the straightest and better looking pieces. I spent about two hours one day just deciding between different pieces. If you want longer pieces or say all kinds of cedar boards for making a deck, most of that wood is outside in their yard. If you ask them to they will cut wood for you. I am not sure if they still charge per cut, but outside in the yard, they have a miter saw and you can cut it yourself! If you can find the wood you want at Menards, I would purchase it there. They have the larger lumber department and they carry better hobby wood than the other improvement stores.
Now, the strangest thing to me is that Menards carries items that you would not associate with a home improvement store. Many people go to Menards for groceries! They have milk, cereal, dry goods, and in the freezer, ribs! There is a large selection of both outdoor and indoor furniture sets, so if you need an inexpensive sofa, they probably have it. You can pick up a mattress set, pillows, and kitchen ware near the appliances. Work clothes is another decent area, where you can pickup work pants, gloves, and jackets.
The areas where Menards disappoints is auto. I end up going to Walmart for motor oil, filters, lamps, and other car care. Walmart has better brands and carries a good selection of items.
Some consumers may still prefer more name brand tools than what Menards offers. They don’t carry Milwaukee, Makita, or Dewalt tools. The main name brand they have is Bosch and their own store brands. If you need those brands go to the other stores and then buy your drill bits at Menards.
For pricing, Menards is the cheapest, and most times they will have their 11% off rebate promotion. You have to mail in your receipts and fill out the rebate and they send you a postcard with a rebate amount. If you shop there often, save up your rebates for large purchases like a miter saw or a garbage door! If you are a contractor, you probably shop there already.
Why Home Improvement Stores?
Overall these type of stores are big places to go for a variety of project and home improvement supplies. They specialize in giving you one place to go to get everything, but they are not going to beat your local hardware store, when it comes to good advice on a problem or if you want exceptional custom service. For that find someone local who will cater to your needs and who you know you can call if you have questions or need service years later. For example, you can buy a washer and dryer from these stores, but your local Maytag dealer may have similar pricing, and if you aren’t happy with your purchase, they will show up at your house and fix it. You are not going to get this type of service from big box stores. I know that when we redid our bathroom, our cabinet was literally damaged each time we opened the box. It got to the point, where my contractor went to Menards and had them open the box to make sure the cabinet was not damaged inside. These stores are not great for real wood. If you want authentic dry kilned wood that will look beautiful for your project, you need to go to a wood store or custom order from a professional lumber yard.
I personally shop in store at all three of these stores. I have used the website for each and ordered several items. The HomeDepot site is the best for online shopping. I purchase the most online from them, and while at Menards I use the website to lookup prices on lumber by scanning the code into my phone. Since I go to Lowe’s and Menards the most, I can also tell you that they have free wi-fi. I use a VPN on my phone, and the Lowe’s website does not accept VPN connections and Menards WiFi will not let you search competitor websites. Just the little annoyances of today’s connected and not connected world.