What Not to Buy at Home Depot

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Last Updated Aug 2, 2011 12:02 PM EDT

This article is part of a package on consumers and Home Depot. Read the other article, on 5 things to buy at Home Depot.

While plenty of customers "bleed orange," Home Depot causes others to see red: The retail giant is known among contractors as the place where you'll get the lowest price but sometimes the worst service.

Here are five product categories where trying to save a buck might not be worth the hassle.

1. Basic Hardware Items

Suppose your faucet leaks and you need a new washer. There might be a hundred replacement options that all look the same, but if you get the wrong washer, the faucet won't work. Most people in this bind are better off paying 10 to 15 percent more at the local hardware store, where they'll find a staffer who will meet them at the door, walk them to the plumbing aisle, and zero in on the right washer — and the same goes for screws, bolts, hinges, picture hooks, and other maddeningly tiny yet precise odds and ends.

Time saved: a lot, especially if your local hardware store's located within walking distance. "If the corner hardware has stayed in business, it's because it's staffed by very competent generalists," says 19-year veteran builder Ben Walsh, president of Green One Construction Services in Portland, Ore. Local outfits tend to know what homeowners need, he says, and they stock accordingly.
A spokeswoman told us that Home Depot does have trained greeters, but in our experience, those greeters don't get to every customer or walk them through the aisles.


2. Major Appliances

Home Depot does have some "top-notch, top-rated" appliances, including some models that it sells exclusively, says Robert Markovich, home & yard editor at Consumer Reports. However, "if you care about service, you're going to want to go to ABT Electronics or the local independents," says Markovich, pointing to an annual survey of more than 16,000 Consumer Reports subscribers who recently bought appliances.

At the local appliance store, you'll get personalized attention from a salesperson who can explain, say, the difference between a manual-clean filter and a self-clean filter on a dishwasher (manual clean is high-maintenance but generally quieter). And unlike Home Depot, local dealers service what they sell — instead of pawning you off to a manufacturer's 800 number.

3. Doors, Windows, and Trim

The wrong-sized doors or windows can bring a job to an expensive standstill, and fixing problems takes longer at Home Depot because "you never speak to the same person twice," says Larry Roland of LRC Carpentry in Melrose, Mass. Roland, who buys lumber but not doors, windows, or trim from Home Depot, says he also gets better quality at a specialized lumberyard.


4. Kitchen Cabinets

A single 24-inch corner cabinet costs $107 at Home Depot and $117.99 at Ikea, but Ikea's simple Scandanavian styles are "vastly more sophisticated," says Julie Carlson, editor-in-chief of the influential decor and renovation site Remodelista.com. On a recent visit to her local Home Depot in the Bay Area, Carlson found the design of the kitchen storage units particularly depressing, describing them as "cheap stuff trying to look like hand-carved, baronial cabinets." Ikea's cabinets, by contrast, are inexpensive yet chic-looking, according to Carlson.



5. Cleaning Products

For a company that advertises itself as being environmentally conscious, Home Depot falls behind the times in the cleaning aisle, carrying products that are rife with toxic chemicals such as ammonia, sodium hydroxide, and hydrochloric acid, with only a few safer options, like Martha Stewart's Wood and Floor Cleaner. "The cleaning products section made me feel like I was contracting a respiratory disease just by strolling the aisles," says Remodelista's Carlson. By contrast, Target does a much better job of devoting shelf space to natural alternatives like Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, Caldrea, J.R. Watkins, and Clorox's Green Works line.

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  • Katy McColl

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