When you’re looking to buy lumber for a project, there are plenty of places to shop. The two most common choices are big-box retailers and lumberyards. They both offer fine selections, but the price can often be an issue for some people. Oftentimes I wondered, is it cheaper to buy lumber from a lumber yard or a big box retailer?The answer may surprise you.
Yes, lumber yards can offer better pricing than big-box retailers depending on your project. Their specialty is selling lumber so not only can you get better pricing but oftentimes better lumber and better customer service.
Like with anything there are variables. Big box retailers can offer discounts and specials on commodity products like 2×4’s to get you in the store. The big box retailers are looking to sell more than just lumber though.
Always go out for quotes.
If you have a larger home project going on often times the lumber yards will sharpen their pencils to beat out Lowe’s or Home Depot. Wood is a commodity and the lumber yards have the same access to suppliers as the big box retailers.
For instance, I wanted tongue and groove end-matched pre-finished pine for the ceiling in a large room. I thought for sure that the big box retailer Menards would be the lowest.
Wrong, after checking with a lumber yard in a nearby town, not only did the lumber yard beat the price but they did so by several hundred dollars. Granted this won’t always be the same for everyone. There are always varying factors that play a role like location, plus supply and demand.
Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following details about buying from a lumber yard:
- The differences between lumber yards and big box stores
- How to find the best lumber at big-box retailers
- Lumber delivery selection and importance
What Is the Difference Between a Lumber Yard and a Big Box Retailer?
If you live in a location where you can choose between lumberyards and big-box stores, you’ll have to figure out which one is the best choice for your project, so as mentioned above go out for quotes. Both of them are fine if you’re just looking for wood, but if you want high-quality lumber, the differences can be very important.
Here are the five differences between lumberyards and big-box retailers:
- Lumber yards often offer wood from a direct source. If you’ve ever been to a lumberyard, you’ve probably noticed that they often get their wood direct from suppliers and nearby forests for local supplies. Rather than going from the workers to a distributor, then to a store, you get the lumber right in the backyard where it was processed (or at least close by)
- Big box stores offer great deals on dimensional lumber. Since the big-box stores buy in such volume on dimensional lumber like 2×4’s and plywood they usually offer lower prices than their competitors to get you in the door. Again, if you just want enough wood for something simple for a smaller job your price will often be cheaper.
- Big box retailers looking to sell a wider variety of products and tools. Aside from their discounts on dimensional lumber, big box stores sell tools and other gear that you might need to get your project moving along. Lumberyards specialize in lumber and construction-related items.
- Lumberyards usually have more types of wood, though. According to Florida Lumber, lumberyards offer many more kinds of lumber that might be necessary to complete your project. You’ll find all sorts of rare woods that look better, last longer, and don’t release as many tannins.
- There are far more big box stores than lumberyards. Not all of us have the luxury of heading up to a local lumberyard. You might have to travel dozens of miles to find fresh, high-quality lumber. On the other hand, big-box retailers can be found all over the place. It all depends on what you are needing but on larger jobs check out those local lumberyards.
Which Big Box Store Has Better Lumber?
Although big-box stores don’t offer the same variety and quality of lumber as lumberyards, they’re not quite skippable. They have all sorts of tools, wood, and other supplies that many people need to complete DIY projects or commercial jobs.
Finding the best big-box retailer isn’t as simple as choosing a brand, such as Lowes or Home Depot. Instead, you’ll have to figure out a handful of details to know how well your local big-box stores maintain their lumber. Below, you’ll find a list of considerations to find the store with better lumber.
- Know when fresh shipments arrive to avoid picked over lumber. Before you start choosing a random store close to your home, remember that lumber that’s been sitting for a while has likely been sifted through. People pick it up, move it around, and mess with the wood. This process causes warping and splitters eventually.
- Talk to someone at the pro desk about discounts. Right when you walk into a store, locate the prosection. Pro sections are where commercial companies can purchase lumber, but they’re also the most knowledgeable parts of any big-box retailer store. Ask any questions you have, but remember to inquire about discounts.
- Figure out which type of lumber you’re looking for. What kind of wood do you want to get? Some stores offer a wider variety than others, while a few might even specialize in a specific type of lumber. Write down a list of necessities, then call some of the local retailers to find the perfect one for you.
- Consider ordering in bulk ahead of time. Bulk purchasing typically reduces the price, especially if you can order weeks or months in advance. Remember that you’ll have to buy quite a bit of lumber for a discount, but it’s still worth asking about if you intend to use it for multiple projects.
- Do they offer competitive pricing? As Lampert Lumber suggests, searching for competitive pricing can save you quite a bit of money. Some stores will offer price matches, giving you free rein to find the wood you want at the best available price. Others will offer discounts through coupons or special sales.
How Is Their Customer Service?
Aside from saving money and finding better lumber, customer service is just as important. You should be able to approach a helpful, friendly, knowledgeable staff without feeling like you were bothering them.
We’ve all experienced bad customer service, unfortunately. The best way to know what you’re getting yourself into is to call the store before heading over. Cashiers are often the employees who answer the phone, so you’ll get a good understanding of the whole experience through a quick 30-second phone call.
Friendliness can only go so far, though. As mentioned above, they need to be knowledgeable about the lumber offered throughout their store. Nobody expects perfection for every department of a big-box retailer, but they need to know at least a fraction of what lumberyard workers know.
Lumber Delivery Schedules
You might’ve noticed that one of the most important factors in choosing a new big-box retailer was their delivery schedules. Do they get wood on Tuesday and stock it on Wednesday, or is there a bigger gap? Maybe they only get lumber every three weeks.
The point is that you have to know when, how often, and where lumber is delivered. Wood that sits out in a humid, warm environment will start to weaken and warp. If they leave the lumber outside, ask if it’s pre-treated for moisture and humidity.
All of these seemingly little details end up playing a huge role in which big-box retailer or lumber yard you choose. Lumber yards often get lumber more often, so their delivery schedules might have much more appealing results.
On bigger jobs go out for pricing, I am glad I did when I needed to get that big job done of tongue and groove pine.
While it may not always be cheaper at the lumber yard if you are just needing a few items like some 2x4s or other dimensional lumber. But, when it comes time to price out that bigger project you plan on doing don’t overlook the lumberyards near you, plus you’ll have access to a wider variety with higher quality than a big-box retailer.
All in all, you may find like I did both options offer decent value to complete your projects large and small. If you don’t have a decent lumberyard nearby you may find yourself going where it is convenient like a big box. But remember, don’t let it deter you from getting a price from them, depending on the size they may surprise you and even deliver it for free!