What to get at Lowe's and what to forget

Winners and washouts from Consumer Reports' tests

Published: July 18, 2014 03:30 PM

In the battle of the home centers, Lowe’s likes to position itself as the friendliest choice for consumers, with “cleaner, wider, brighter aisles offering a more pleasant shopping experience.” But what about the actual merchandise? You can enjoy shopping for a lawn mower, lightbulb, or bucket of paint 'til you're blue in the face, but if the goods don’t deliver top quality, you won’t stay happy for long. Fortunately, Consumer Reports tests loads of products sold at Lowe’s, including brands exclusive to the store. Many earn top marks, though others landed near the bottom of our Ratings. With that, here’s your guide to a truly pleasant Lowe’s experience.

Troy-Bilt XP7000 30477

Lowe’s winners

Cordless Drills. The $160 Kobalt KT200A, a Lowe’s exclusive, packs plenty of power and speed, and the battery can be charged in less than an hour. We also like the easy handling of its rubberized grip. Lowe’s also carries the top-ranked model in our cordless drill Ratings, the Hitachi DS18DSAL, for $170. 

Generators. A portable generator is your best friend during a blackout, and the top-rated model in our generator Ratings is a big seller at Lowe’s, as well as a CR Best Buy. The 7,000-watt Troy-Bilt XP7000 30477, $900, delivered more than enough wattage to power our test appliances and it handled surges very well. Its 9-gallon tank should give you about 15 hours of run time, plus it features a fuel gauge and battery-powered electric start.

Interior paint. Valspar, Lowe’s house brand, has many models on our winners’ list of interior paints. Valspar Signature Matte and Valspar Signature Semi-Gloss are both top scorers, thanks to their superior hiding. They’re also self-priming, which saves you time and money. The Valspar Signature Satin was less impressive, due to its gloss change. For a satin/eggshell finish, you’re better off with Home Depot’s Behr Premium Plus Ultra Satin Enamel.

Lightbulbs. Especially if you’re replacing exterior flood lights, go to Lowe's. The Utilitech 13-Watt (75W) BR30 Soft White Outdoor Flood LED, $20, was practically perfect in our tests, with an overall score of 98 boosted by its exceptional brightness. Another top pick for your outdoor fixtures is the Utilitech Soft White PAR38 90W 75232. It’s a CR Best Buy at just $7.50, though the trade-off for top value is very slow warm-up time. For indoor lighting, we like the Utilitech 100W Soft White CFL.        

Snow blowers. Last year’s heavy snowfall caused a run on snow blowers in many parts of the country, so if you’re in the market, you should shop early. Lowe’s is as good a place as any, especially if you want a two-stage gas blower. The Troy-Bilt Storm 3090XP 31AH55Q, $1,100, is a CR Best Buy, offering superb removal speed, even when it comes to the tough pile deposited at the end of the driveway. Paying $100 more for the Troy-Bilt Storm 3090XP 31AH55R gets you slightly better handling.

ZTR Tractors. Lowe’s Troy-Bilt standard lawn tractors tend to struggle in our tests (see below), but the brand excels in the zero-turn-radius, or ZTR, category. The Troy-Bilt Mustang 42" 17WFCACS is our top-rated model, and at $2,300 it’s a CR Best Buy. Notable features include hydrostatic transmission, a comfortable high-back seat, and a visible fuel gauge.  


Valspar DuraMax Semi-Gloss

Lowe’s washouts

Air purifiers. The best air purifiers in our air purifier Ratings do especially well at filtering dust, tobacco smoke, and pollen at high and low speeds. Two models sold only at Lowe’s—the Idylis IAP-10-280 and the Idylis IAP-10-200—did the job at high speed, but not at low. That and the fact that they’re quite noisy made them also-rans in our latest air purifier tests. Try the Whirlpool Whispure AP51030K, available at Amazon, Sears, and Walmart.      

Exterior paints. Though Valspar does well in our interior paint Ratings, most of its exterior paints miss our picks list. The exception is the Valspar DuraMax Semi-Gloss, $40 per gallon, which is our top-rated semi-gloss exterior paint. But for flat and satin finishes, better for siding since they hide flaws by reducing reflections, models from Ace, Behr, Benjamin Moore, California Paints, Glidden, and Sherwin-Williams delivered better results, often at a lower price.          

Lawn mowers and tractors. While Troy-Bilt makes a top-notch ZTR tractor (see above), none of its standard tractors make our recommended lawn mower list. Its push mowers also miss the mark, due to middling side-discharging and ease-of-use. The brand fared a bit better among self-propelled mowers, with several recommended models. But others fell well short. Home Depot, by comparison, scores big in these categories with its selection of Honda, John Deere, and Lawn-Boy winners, making it the better home center for lawn-care equipment.

Leaf blowers. None of the eight handheld or backpack leaf blowers we tested from Troy-Bilt made our recommended list. Bottom of the barrel is the Troy-Bilt TB125QS electric handheld blower, $85, which combines subpar sweeping and loosening for an overall score of just 36. Even pricier models, like the $230 Troy-Bilt TB4BP EC gas-powered backpack blower, failed to impress. The only time we’d send you to Lowe’s for a leaf blower is if you want a gasoline wheeled blower. The Troy-Bilt TB672 makes our picks list, and at $400 it’s well priced.                           

String trimmers. Though Troy-Bilt fared slightly better in our string trimmer tests, its consistency isn’t enough to make Lowe’s your go-to retailer for this product category. The Troy-Bilt TB22 EC and the Troy-Bilt TB32 EC gas string trimmers do earn CR Best Buys, but four other models in that category fall short, including the $240 Troy-Bilt TB6044 XP. Among light-duty battery string trimmers, the Troy-Bilt TB57 lags far behind our top picks.     

—Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)

More Get it or Forget it

Find out what to get and what to forget at Costco, Walmart, and Home Depot in our continuing series:

What to get at Walmart and what to forget

What to get at Costco and what to forget

What to get at Home Depot and what to forget

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