plumbing from Lowes - really not as good?

rileysmom17November 27, 2006

After a number of choose-it-yourself projects I am having a GC redo my master bath. She is adamantly anti-Lowes on plumbing due to "poor quality" and "accepting B level products" (eg slightly defective but still working). "Shopping" with her at a plumbing supply house was quite an experience because there were no prices on anything. For me any purchase is a balance of decisions between price and features and anticipated lifetime of use. I didn't like it. Also, choices were limited compared to Lowes.

My question do you feel the higher-end Lowes stuff stacks up against moderate-end plumbing supply house? Is it really -that much- worse? Or is this just a "GC shuffle" whereby they keep their frequent suppliers happy, and the homeowner pays a 20% premium for one copper part (lifetime 40 years) as opposed to one plastic part (lifetime 20 years)?

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I think youve got it! It is true that the Big Box Stores have their own model numbers for some products, an agreement between supplier and distributor. But this is not necessarily Âinferior. They may have cost-cutting features, such as you suggested. But most people donÂt want the same Âfaucet or Âtoilet forty years hence.

The only thing I dislike about LoweÂs (et. al.) is that they think this market should be bilingual. Nothing could make me join a movement faster than a national effort to boycott sellers who mark everything in English and Spanish, including the Entrance, Exit and Banos. People who buy in this country should be able to do that in English. Therefore the second language is an invitation for trouble.

I buy a lot every year from LoweÂs. I have no problem with their service policy. ItÂs great. The manufacturers stand behind the products. IÂd say dump this GC. SheÂs costing you; when what you wanted was savings.


    Bookmark   November 27, 2006 at 11:06AM
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It depends upon what parts or materials you are purchasing. For the basic "nuts & Bolts" of the plumbing trade, I.E. pipe & fittings the quality of the product is specified by code and will be the same no matter where you purchase the item by example:

While we commonly think of the word "Schedule" as a timetable of events, technically the definition of the word Schedule is-"a printed list or table" thus when we examine pipe we see it is specified by Schedule such as sched 20, sched 40, sched 80 etc.

The plumbing code specifically states that ALL PIPE used to make the DWV (Drain, Waste & Vent) system MUST BE sched.40 pipe and must be labelled as DWV grade. All sched.40 PVC pipe is labelled for DWV service therefore it would be identically the same no matter where you purchase it. All DWV grade fittings are also manufactured to the same standard no matter where you purchase them.

PVC pressure pipe may be used to make the water supply (line (line from the municipal water main or well to the house main shutoff valve) however the actual sched. of pipe here may be regulated by your local code but in any case, the quality remains equal.

Copper pipe is manufactured in both "hard drawn" (rigid lengths) and "annealed" (roll pipe). While both hard drawn and roll pipe are interchangable in general use roll pipe is used for direct burial or under a slab to minimize the number of joints required. (all joints under a slab within a structure must be made by means of wrought copper fittings and brazed joints-soldering is not permitted.)

Copper pipe is made in three or grades if you will, Types K,L & M.

TYPE "K" is a heavy wall copper pipe generally only used in heating or high pressure applications-generally considered overkill for residential water supply.

TYPE "L" Medium wall pipe- While code will permit the use of thin wall pipe type L medium wall is generally considered the industry standard for professionally installed copper pipe systems.

TYPE "M"- Thin wall-Type M is listed as approved for all plumbing applications where the pipe is a minimum of 6" above the floor. This is the pipe most often found in the big box stores although some do carry the heavier type L.

Copper Tubing Types:
GENERAL PURPOSE- suitable for water service such as making supply tubes from the angle stop to a fixture or for ice maker or dishwasher supply lines.

SUITABLE FOR GAS: Where copper is permitted for gas service you may only use copper that is specifically labeled as "Suitable for Gas". (Copper may only be used for natural gas if the gas is certified to contain less than 0.3 grains of hydrogen sulfide per 100cu.ft of gas and requires certification from the gas supplier).

ACR -Air Conditioning & Refrigeration- more expensive because it is certified to be moisture free. Generally it will be factory sealed and purged with nitrogen gas for shipment.

OXY/MED- Certified to be moisture free and oil free- primarily used to run oxygen lines or medical gas lines.

While all these grades may be used for water service the specialty grades would generally be considered cost prohibitive for residential water applications.

To this point it is basically a level playing field so prices are determined by the buying power of the wholesaler or the percentage of discounts they may offer your contractor.

When we consider end use fixtures it is an entirely different scenario:

When comparing fixtures you cannot rely upon just the style name but you must check the part numbers carefully as well.

If the complete manufacturers part number is the same then you can expect the product to also be the same but such is not always the case.

Generally the big box stores can offer a low price because they have the buying power to purchase in truckload lots from the manufacturer and they use their own trucks to transport the material to their stores whereas the supply house purchases in smaller lots and must pay commercial freigth rates, often LTL (less than truckload) rate which is the highest freight rate. In this instance the advantage goes to the big box store however:

For many items the big boys have the buying power and they flex their muscles. Instead of just relying upon the purchasing power of truckload lots in many instances they make one annual purchase from the manufacturer to meet the needs of all their stores. In so doing that one contract may ammount to a substantial portion of the annual production from the manufacturer but there is a trade off here. Quite often the big boys do not pay the factory price for the item but instead they dictate to the manufacturer what they are willing to pay per unit. The manufacturer is then left with a hard descision, do they hold out for thier price or do they find a way to meet the big boys offer? Understanding that the big boys are going to buy the item somewhere they must then decide if they can meet the price or loose the contract to a competitive manufacturer. Quite often the manufacturer is forced to sharpen their pencils and cut costs where they can to meet the price offered thus they make the same style but maybe the finish plating is a bit thinner or high quality internal parts are switched for less quality components. When they must degrade the item to meet the contract they manufacture the item as a proprietary production run for the specific big box store and they then attach an additional code to the part number to indicate this is the proprietary unit thus you may get a faucett set from the supply house with a brass valve but the same style and design from the big box store may have a plastic valve.

In many instances the manufacturers warrant for the prime item sold in the supply house also includes a labor allowance if service should be required during the warranty period whereas the same item purchased at the big box store is a cash & carry purchase and warranty only extends to a store exchange for the item.

Having said all of this, ask yourself a really tough question. What becomes of all the defective items that are returned to the stores? In many cases the manufacturers simply give the store a wholesale credit and the store is instructed to discard the item rather than pay the freight cost to return it to the manufacturer. Sometimes the item is tossed in a dumpster but more often than not they go in a super discount bin somewhere and are sold for pennies on the dollar. Sometimes the consumer may find these items and get a bargain but more often than not they are wholesaled out in pallet lots to the super discount stores or what we are finding now, then end up on Ebay and the purchasers is led to believe they are getting that great online bargan only to receive a defective item which may or may not come with a rebuild kit packed in the deal.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2006 at 12:18PM
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I have Moen and Kohler fixtures from Lowes and no problems. One of my plumbing store fixtures had the valve break and Kohler replaced it. There was not even a question of where it was purchased.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2006 at 2:50PM
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Your GC is just trying to make more money off you with the anti-Lowe's rhetoric so you'll buy the higher priced designer stuff and her percentage cut will be a bigger number.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2006 at 6:36AM
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Lazypup, I plan to conduct a faucet-to-faucet experiment as my GC swears that the part number doesn't mean anything in terms of having the same internal stuff. To be sure I understand what you're saying, if I buy a PricePfeister Treviso lavatory faucet from Lowes the PART number would be 808-5DK, which the manufacturer prints on the box. So if the Treviso lav faucet from the plumbing house and that from Lowes both have 808-5DK printed on the packaging, then the faucets are identical in all respects. Is this right? Does the SKU number help in any way to determine whether the products are identical? I'll write back with my experimental results. THANKS!!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2006 at 8:45AM
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What you may find is platic nuts instead of brass nuts etc...

Some may be exactly the same. I went to lowes and picked outneverything I wanted and wrote down the manufacturer's part #. Then I carried that info to a local plumbiny supply house with prices. They ordered the fixtures I wanted by part number for less $ than Lowes wanted and when I opened them they were all top quality, copper lines, brass nuts, replaceable stems, etc. drop this GC's thoughts and get what you want for what you are willing to spend. Also many times GC's/tradesmen get kick backs from their suppliers, don't forget that.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2006 at 10:28PM
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rileysmom17, I would say if they have the same part number they are exactly the same part. I agree with others that the big boxes stores do get special products that only they carry. But, but it would be false to give the blanket statement that everything is inferior.

I would also be concerned with the GC get a kickback or other benefit. I personally would buy/pay for all my stuff. That way I could make an informed decision and at the very least squeeze another 1-2% using a rewards credit card out.

One thing I wasn't sure of, is the GC also acting as a designer and picking out your products?

    Bookmark   December 4, 2006 at 1:38PM
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Hi all and thanks for your comments. My GC took me to the plumbing supply house and she is very good at "steering" however I knew I was being steered. I generally like her quite a lot and we are reaching an understanding on "how things will work". She knows I am a frequent flyer at Lowes and hasn't resisted the possiblity that I will buy there. Interestingly, the plumbing supply house beat Lowes by nearly $100 on the toilet and by $15 on the sink. Lowes was $50 higher on the sink fixture. I was really surprised. I know they will do price-matching plus 10% of the difference, but it is flat out not worth it to me to go through that hassle. So I feel better about the GC and the plumbing place, but I will definitely continue to cross-shop, looking at the part numbers carefully.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2006 at 2:00PM
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I say mom & pop plumbing supply houses (and their usually knowledgeable and helpful proprietors) are of greater value to DIYers--and society in general--than the "can't find anyone to help me" big box stores.

As a wise woman once said, if you wanna have ducks, you gotta preserve the wetlands. And if you wanna preserve helpful female GCs, you have to assume she knows more about where and whom to "get the goods" from than you do! Believe me, there's 100+ rare, low-sales-volume specialty fittings at that supply house which you will NEVER find at Lowe's... GC just might need 2 or 3 of them to make your new MBA perfect-o.

And stop worrying about some grand "kickbacks" conspiracy that's out to pick your pocket. ;') The "kickbacks" consist of free pens, coffee mugs, and girlie calendars from the mfrs. reps., LOL.

Also, why alienate your GC over a few pennies? She's not doing this as a charity gig. As you found out, BLowe's is NOT the lowest price, on a LOT of items. Those private supply houses will WORK with you, especially on a whole Master BA re-do... take 'em the WHOLE list... get a package deal... you'll be surprised.

another example: You can get a Moen lav faucet at Lowe's, Evil Orange, etc., but to get one with LONG built-in copper supply "tails", which connect (with artful bending) directly to your supply stops (no lame flex-hoses), you MUST go to the mom & pop place... deduct the cost of the flex hoses you no longer need, add in the long-lasting professional "hard" connects, and you're way ahead on all fronts.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2007 at 8:04AM
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