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We are in the early stages of building a new house & went shopping for lighting fixtures yesterday. We get an allowance from the builder which we know will be used up very quickly after visiting their standard supplier. We also had a lot of trouble finding fixtures that we really liked (especially ceiling fans).

Later, we went to Home Depot and found quite a few fixtures that we liked, in most cases we liked them better than what we'd seen at the lighting supply store. And the prices were much lower.

We can take the lighting allowance the builder gives us and get it applied as a credit on the final price of the house (or put the money into other upgrades) if we purchase everything on our own and deliver it when they tell us to. If we can do this and save money on the fixtures, that's great. But I worry that the Home Depot (or Lowe's) brands may be of significantly lesser quality, and in 2 years we'll find ourselves having to replace a number of them.

Generally speaking, is there a significant enough difference in the quality of the products offered at each of these stores to warrant the significant (2X, in some cases) price difference?

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3 Answers 3

For lights specifically, if you find one that you like at a big box, then go for it. I have gone both routes, and after buying at lighting store always feel ripped off. The only time I have felt justified is when we just can't find the design or style we want at the big box, and the lighting suppy store has the only ones that look right.

For ceiling fans specifically, again you are fine at a big box. Although I typically go for the "upper end" of the manufacturers. It will still be cheaper than the lighting store, but the build quality of the big box higher end will be much better than the really cheap fans. Specifically, the difference between a Hunter fan vs cheaper ones is pretty big when it comes to fan noise and stability.

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I've had mixed results with ceiling fans. The Hampton Bays you get at Home Depot, for instance, are always noisier than the ones I've purchased from lighting supply stores (that said, that may be more just about the particular brands than where I bought them). –  DA01 Jul 11 '12 at 15:02
    
Totally agree, my hampton bay is not good and it's noisy. I do not classify that into the "upper end". Have 2 hampton bays, both noisy, and three Hunter's and they rock. –  mohlsen Jul 11 '12 at 19:30

The first thing you need to understand about "allowances" on any building job is that those are usually way too low to equip the real wants of the buyer. When talking lighting, most lighting supply houses have a "spec" line of fixtures that contractors use to figure the allowance. They are typically the least expensive fixture for the application. When you go in to select lights, you are usually seeing consumer list prices, not the actual price us contractors pay. You could easily pick out nicer designer models and spend 3 or 4 times the amount in your allowance. This is common. The smart consumer would take the discount and shop your fixtures for what you want at the price you want to pay. The box stores obviously don't carry the real upscale designer lines, but most of the products are very serviceable, good quality, contemporary popular styles and should last you years. If you are a good internet shopper, you can find high end lighting, solid brass, brushed nichol, stainless, crystal glass, etc at very reasonable prices. Always remember, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder!!!

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When you say "When you go in to select lights, you are usually seeing consumer list prices, not the actual price us contractors pay.", do you mean that if I were to pick out all my lights, I may not know what the real total expense was until much later? Or would the supplier give me the actual price they'll charge to the builder? –  alroc Jul 8 '12 at 11:21
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Often a trade outlet will print out two invoices one that shows the list price for the trade’s person to show his customer, and another one that shows the discount the trade person paid. And/or the trade person will get a large cashback/reward for everything their customer spends at a given outlet/make. (In the UK, trade people sometimes get a £300 hidden reward on every boiler they fit!) –  Walker Jul 9 '12 at 12:59
    
Walker is exactly right. I get a discount from the supplier. If you have a $500 allowance, then you "spend" $500 , but it only costs me $400. –  shirlock homes Jul 9 '12 at 20:08

Most major brands produce separate product lines for the big-box stores than what they provide to contractors and supply houses. It's typically a similar (or exact) visual copy, but often with lower grade materials. For instance, if you were to buy a stainless sink from the plumbing supply store, and one from the big box, odds are that the big box sink will be using a much thinner gauge of stainless steel than the one from the supply house.

It's tricky to notice the differences sometimes. Often they even use the same product ID numbers and change one letter at the end.

Now, does it matter? For some things, such as a shower faucet, probably. But for lighting, maybe not. Lights aren't complex devices and, once installed, remain fairly untouched for their lifespan.

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That is quite a statement you are making there. Can you prove it? I have not seen quality difference from wholesale to consumer.. expect in price- and big price difference for identical products. Electrical equipment in particular cannot vary by law in any respect! –  ppumkin Jul 9 '12 at 16:31
    
You can prove it buy going to each and looking at the products. The product numbers will vary slightly. It's not a switcheroo, just slightly different product lines. –  DA01 Jul 9 '12 at 18:53
    
often times the products are identical, but have a slightly different number for the big box stores inventory management systems. This also stops folks from buying on sale someplace else or on the internet and returning to a different store for credit at a higher price. –  shirlock homes Jul 9 '12 at 23:38
    
Also different model numbers stops them from having to match prices (if they have some sort of price match guarantee). Because no other store carries the exact same model you will not find it cheaper anywhere else, so they don't have to match the price. Or if they can sell essentially the same item to the big box store for a lower price (on volume) and their other specialty retailers won't get mad at being undercut on price. –  auujay Jul 10 '12 at 3:39

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