The information contained on this page may change from time to time as the need arises. Our aim is to help clear the air of a few misconceptions, scams or no-no's in our industry. Furthermore to list ideas, advise or topics that may save you money down the road. All of this information can be found on the Internet if you know where to look so it's nothing "top secret." Just some things that may help you along the way. It's our job to know what's right and what's wrong in our industry. You have to put some trust in whomever it is you hire. To say that we have never made a mistake along  the way would be a lie. We have, but with much diligence and the resolve to not make the same mistake twice we are determined to make you a customer of ours for life.

I hope you can find something here of value. If you have a question that is not on this web-site. Please call us at (630-723-9296) or email me at and I will be happy to assist you. If I don't know the answer, I won't stop until we both get the one that's right!

-Tom McMillan

New Illinois VOC law Information

How long should I wait to seal my deck?

Why should I seal my Concrete?

I'm thinking of having a composite deck built. Am I wasting my money?

No-no's/scams & what to look for in a contractor

A great article by Everett Abrams on deck restoration: Breaking down the myth "can anyone do it"

Deck maintenance tips

So what's the difference? Water repellents, WRP (water repellent preservative), varnish, solid-color stains, semi-trans, paints

Help, our deck is trying to kill us!


The popular opinion is "wait at least one full year for the wood to age." This is the standard answer from those that know part of the story. Although an aged deck will accept more product (stain),  it is also true that the wood on your new deck will begin to degrade very quickly without protection, often within the first few weeks. So how long should you wait until you put that first coat of stain on there? Well, there is no definite answer to this question but there are some points to consider and general rules of thumb to follow.

1) UV light and water absorption will begin working on the cell structure of your deck very quickly. Water will wash out the natural resins and color in the wood. That coupled with UV damage from the sun, your deck will begin to turn gray. Some people like the weathered look and that's ok but there are ways to keep/attain that look while still protecting the wood. The real problem with allowing a deck to gray with no protection is decay. To avoid decay, wood must be all heartwood from a decay resistant species such as redwood or Western  Red Cedar. Wood that has a flat grain is also more prone to split and cup. The higher the shrinkage percentage, the quicker unprotected wood will take this turn. Flat grain Western Red Cedar is at 5% compared to 2.4% for  vertical grain. Southern Pine is at 8% and 5% respectfully. Horizontal decking holds water, snow and dew for longer periods of time which accelerates damage. Deck floors get 40%-50% more UV radiation from sunlight than vertical surfaces.

2) Pressure treated Pine should be sealed in about 6 weeks from installation. This is assuming that the deck has not been exposed to excessive moisture. WOW, from a full year down to 6 weeks after installation? YES! The cells of PTP (Pressure Treated Pine) remain full of natural moisture for a longer period of time. The surface however begins to dry out more quickly as it is exposed directly to drying agents such as the sun and wind. As the cells in PTP begin to dry out, they shrink. That's when the wood will start to split and crack. Putting a good penetrating oil based sealer on  your deck up front will prevent about 95% of the cracking just by virtue of getting something on or more specifically in the wood. Essentially you are giving the wood an ulterior moisture source. Because the pores of the wood are very tight and there is a high moisture content remaining in the wood, you will have to redo the deck the following year. The extra money you spend on the initial sealing however is a small price to pay compared to the excessive splitting and cracking you would have had if the deck would have remained unprotected all that time.  Western Red Cedar and Redwood (the two most popular species of wood for exterior decking besides PTP) have a low density/moisture content from the kiln and can be stained within the first week. Although WRC is more resistant to decay naturally, the lack of old growth forests leave us with mostly juvenile sapwood to work with. The bottom line for all species is early protection will never hurt but will help to protect your investment by preventing problems early on.

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And other useful tidbits.......

Deck Maintenance tips:

A clean deck lasts longer. Keeping a wood deck clean is a good way to avoid costly maintenance later. Debris that clogs the spaces between deck boards traps moisture, encouraging mildew and rot.  Blast out the debris, using a powerful nozzle on a garden hose, then push out remaining debris with a putty knife or an old handsaw.

If any part of your deck stays wet for a day or more after rainfall, take steps to see that it can dry out. You'll probably need to sweep away leaves and dirt from between the boards, or where the deck meets the house. Perhaps a bush or tree limb needs to be trimmed back, or a gutter downspout moved to direct water away from the deck.

But what about the grill? 

What if you forgot to clean it before putting it away for the winter? First you want to be sure that last year's gas connection is still safe. Just mix some dish soap and water and brush it onto the connection, so that if any bubbles form when you turn on the gas, you will know there's a leak and it's not safe. The next step is to use a wire brush to get off as much of the baked-on grease and food that you can. Sometimes it's easier to do this if the grill is hot. Also, a little trick to make cleaning easier next time is to spray on some nonstick cooking spray.  

What's the best way to clean screens before you put them back in place for the summer? 

Many people remove screens from windows and doors for the winter and store them. Before you put the screens back in for the summer, you can give them a quick inspection. You may notice that they've accumulated some serious grime: flyspecks, street dust, etc. Obviously you don't want to put them back in a door or window before cleaning them. And you don't want to try to clean them by holding them upright, because you can stretch or even break them if you're not careful. The best way to clean them is to put down a cloth to keep from scratching the frames, then lay them flat on a hard surface, hose them down and scrub them with a little all-purpose cleaner. Rinse them, tap off the excess water, and you're good to go. What is the best cleaner? Lots of supermarkets and home improvement stores are carrying a variety of environmentally-friendly, biodegradable cleaners now that are pretty potent. There are ones that come concentrated, so you can dilute it to the strength you want, and you can use it anywhere around the house.  

What about outdoor furniture? 

Can you use the same cleaner for those items as well? Yes you can. You've probably got the same problem with the plastic lawn chairs that were left out all winter -- they're pretty grimy. If you let some of the cleaner sit there for a while, the grime will come off easily by using a scrub brush and a hose. Speaking of lawn furniture, you can salvage a simple little wrought iron table and chairs that you might find at a flea market or yard sale for about $100.  

How can you restore iron furniture with a lot of rust? 

With things like this, you shouldn't let bad cosmetics fool you. All you need to do is take a wire brush and maybe some sandpaper to the rust and the old flaky paint. After the old coating is removed, wash down the piece and let it dry. After it dries treat it with a good metal primer. Then you can pick your favorite color and repaint it. The whole process really goes pretty quickly.  

Here is another trick for seats that look in bad shape, or ones that are actually missing. To fix the problem, use the old seat as a template and cut a new seat surface out of 3/4" plywood. Then treat the wood with a moisture-resistant acrylic polyurethane. You'll want to make the seat comfortable, so cut some 1" foam to the seat's shape. You can cover the foam with anything waterproof. You could use some vinyl for a cover and secure it to the seat by stapling it onto the bottom. After your spring chores are done, sit back and relax, enjoy your summer!  

What can you do if you have wooden outdoor furniture? 

Here are some tips to get pieces like those ready for a new season. Take old wooden chair frames as an example. They lost their canvas covers long ago and need some help but are basically still intact. All you have to do is sand them down and add new canvas covers. You can find replacement canvas covers at outdoor stores or home centers. So you can see that with a little bit of know-how and creativity, getting ready for the nice weather really isn't a chore at all. Now you're all ready for the beach!

© HomeWorld Media

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You will ultimately have to be the judge on what's right for you but the following 2 bits of information have been compiled to give you another view of composite decking that you may not have heard. There is always "the other side of the story." Carefully evaluate the following information and then research it elsewhere to compare.

1) Very good article written by Garden Structure CEO Lawrence Winterburn
Excerpt from article: "I am often approached by composite decking companies who want us to purchase composite decking materials and help them market their products. I tell them all the same thing. Give me 5 names and numbers of happy customers more than 3 years old, within 2 hours of my location. I would be ecstatic to see a great composite decking material first hand—and I would visit and see these products for myself." Read whole article

2) Cedar Vs. Composite Decks:
Despite Trendy Substitutes, Wood is Still Good

For decades, if you mentioned that you were building a new deck, everyone would assume you meant cedar. The classic wood has a hard-won reputation for durability and beauty. Not much can compare to the natural warmth and charm of genuine Western Red Cedar but in recent years, there has been a big push for using newer composite decking products instead of wood. After all, the new products are being hailed as maintenance- free, environmentally friendly and virtually indestructible. Who wouldn't want that kind of deck? Yet composite materials do not always live up to their own hype. Here are some important considerations to weigh before choosing to use something other than cedar.

Maintenance Free?

Contrary to popular belief, composite decking will require maintenance. Most manufactures boast "ten years maintenance free." In reality, a properly maintained wooden deck will last well beyond that time frame. The rule of thumb is, if it contains any wood at all, it will need a preservative. Composite decking is comprised of about 50% wood fibers and 50% plastic polymers. Red oak contains a high tannin content which will leach to the  surface causing extractive staining. These migrating tannins are extremely difficult  to remove from composite decking and appear as black streaks across the planks.

Mold & Mildew: The Untold Story:

There are contractors who build decks, and then there are contractors who care for decks. When you're building something you're going to have to live with for years, it's important to talk to both. Professionals who maintain composite decks will tell you they can be prime candidates for mold and mildew - both on the surface and in the composition of the product as well. Not only will mildew growth make the deck surface look unattractive, it also makes the surface extremely slick and dangerous to walk on. To counter it, manufacturers often recommend soaking the deck in bleach. However, bleach is highly corrosive to wood-fibers and may jeopardize both the color and integrity of the deck over time. And bleach cannot prevent re-growth of the mold and mildew.

Tread Softly, Please:

To compensate for the "slippery when wet" factor, some composite decking manufacturers have added ridged surfaces or brushed grain. While this can improve the slickness associated with moisture and mildew, ironically it also provides a better grip for the mold and mildew making it more difficult to remove. Traffic patterns will wear more noticeably with composite decking products and dents and scratches cannot be sanded out. Areas on stairs, around furniture and near doors see much more activity. Be careful about choosing a material that will wear more quickly.

Stains That Stay:

You've been there: Cooking some steaks on the barbecue when some grease splatters on the deck. If your deck has been coated correctly, such a mess cleans up fairly easily. But composite decking is often left raw, and stains often seem to set permanently. Once oil has bonded with the decking materials, it can be difficult if not impossible to remove.

That Sinking Feeling:

Composites are significantly heavier than regular wood, and have been known to sag between joists. This can result in a bowed, unsightly appearance. Part of the problem is that composite decks are typically built on wooden supports. The rate of expansion and contraction is different for composites than it is for wood. As a result, changes in temperature and humidity will affect them differently, which can lead to sagging..

Sure is Hot Out Here

Many home owners comment about how much more heat their composite deck retains. Wood is a naturally good insulator, keeping a deck cool. Composites do not breathe as well, and therefore tend to lock in heat. Many plastic based products become too hot for you to enjoy the deck in the summer. That may not be a factor typically considered when building a deck. But if you live in a warmer part of the country, shaving a few degrees off the outdoor temperature can make a big difference as to how enjoyable your new deck will be. 

Saving the Planet, One Deck at a Time

One of the biggest selling points used for composite materials is that they are earth friendly. They consume fewer trees and recycle plastic. That sounds great on the surface. However, the environmental issues are a little more complex than they might appear. Creating plastic in the first place requires far more energy usage than it takes to harvest a tree. Plastic also comes from non-renewable resources, while trees are replanted and grow back. In fact, America grows 30% more wood each year than it harvest and has more forestland today than 100 years ago. What's more, wood is entirely biodegradable. At the end of its life cycle, it can be absorbed by the earth without negative impact. But plastic based products sit in landfills for years and years without breaking down. In addition to being renewable and biodegradable, Cedar does not require treatment with toxic chemicals because it is naturally resistant to rot and insects, and its own natural preservatives help protect it in harsh weather. In other words, Western Red Cedar is ultimately more earth friendly than composites. 

Looks Aren't Everything, But They Help

Let's be honest: composite decking isn't exactly pretty and no one will mistake such artificial products for the natural products whose appearance they try to imitate. Anything made up of wood fibers and plastic will need some serious help to look decent. And even though it often comes in a variety of shades, composite decking remains more of a paint grade product. That is one of the primary selling points of cedar that remains true to this day. No substitute product has been able to capture the look and feel of genuine western red cedar. Any survey of homeowners will show that cedar still remains the hands-down favorite when it comes to appearances. Fads will come and go. Yet when you closely examine the options, you discover there is still much in favor of sticking with a classic such as cedar, a building material with centuries of proven performance.

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Exterior Wood Restoration

Breaking Down the Myth:

"Can Anyone Do It"

The answer is... of course "anyone" can do it ! However, only a true professional can restore exterior wood correctly: This article will breakdown the myth that "anyone can do it" by explaining the pitfalls , the detail involved, what to look for in a contractor, as well as explain what exactly is involved in an exterior wood restoration project. First, let's ask a few questions, the same questions a contractor may ask or consider prior to estimating or beginning your project.. What is the history of the project? (Decks, Fences, Wood Siding, etc.) How many coats of sealer/stain are currently on the surface? 

This just scratches the surface of questions. If you can't answer even one of these questions whether or not you are a consumer or contractor, you are probably already in over your head To restore exterior wood "correctly" it takes much more than a pressure washer and a water supply. Actually , if you are relying on the pressure of the water to do the cleaning, stripping , or part of the surface preparation, you are doing it incorrectly. Matter of factly , probably scarring or damaging the wood surfaces you wanted restored.

This industry often times has the reputation of the "fast food drive-thrus." Consumers feel they are often not getting what they pay for. This exists because people are paying "fast food" prices to 'fist food" contractors. Because a contractor owns a pressure washer does not mean that they are a professional in exterior wood restoration. The other side of this is if you spent the money on the investment of wood siding, a deck , a fence , etc.- , why would you let just anyone restore it? Further and specifically , if you think that a contractor is going to come along and offers to restore your wood for less than $ 1.00 sq/ft. ,then you are probably going to get what you pay for....headaches, problems, and disappointment. Depending on the preparation involved , previous coatings , height of work , type of finish coat to be applied , and other factors $3.00 sq./ft. and ever may not be out of the question. Understanding the downside of not keeping up with proper maintenance it may cost much more in the long run.

Understanding the differences in the types of wood ; coatings ; chemicals ; procedures and methods ; cleaners/strippers/neutralizers ; cornblasting ; pressure washing ; rollers vs. brushes vs. sprayers ; and maintenance coats are just the tip of the iceberg. It does take experience and education to do the job properly. Let's look at the contractor qualifications and characteristics. The contractor should be able to offer proof that they have knowledge of the trade by certifications, affiliations to manufacturers , distributors , franchises , business or trade organizations. Most of the reputable manufacturers and organizations offer courses and/or certifications. A consumer should feel free to ask if a contractor has any of these in their background. Some examples of these maybe, the Pressure Washers of North America(PWNA) , stain and sealer manufacturer certificates or affiliations , the Better Business Bureau , a Chamber of Commerce , or any way to determine they are in fact a "professional" with knowledge of the trade. A professional contractors appearance and conduct is just as important. Look for things like uniforms, logos on items like business cards, stationary, vehicles, etc.. The contractor who gets out of an old broken down car or van with a pressure washer hanging out of the back , who then knocks on the door wearing the clothes they slept in the night before is probably someone you should not hire. Don't be afraid to ask questions like ; Are you affiliated with any organizations? , What are your qualifications? , Do you or your company have any certifications?, What is your experience/ , and What types or brands of coatings do you use and why? , just to name a few. 

It certainly takes much more to restore wood correctly than it may look. Just ask anyone who has tried to do their own deck or the person each year spending an arm and a leg , time , and effort , and still can't get it to look the way they want. It is amazing what some folks will spend to get a piece of indoor furniture restored by a professional but not their larger, more costly exterior wood. It would be like a fast food restaurant offering a 5.99 Filet mignon steak meal. If you wanted a filet mignon meal you usually wouldn't go to a place that is offering it for $.99. So, the question is ; Why would you expect a 1,000 sq.ft. wood restoration project be performed for $200.00 to $300.00? It just doesn't make sense. 

In conclusion ,"Can anyone do it?" , of course- But should "anyone" do it ? Look for a professional contractor in your area and protect your investment. 

Written by ; Everett Abrams 01/03/03
Deck Restoration Plus
Shamong, NJ

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 Why seal my concrete?
Is it necessary?

     What you do to your concrete in the first 90 days, can determine it’s life !
What you do after 90 days may save it !

If it wasn’t important and many times mandatory to seal concrete, then why have concrete scientists, architects and material engineers been sealing concrete for 50 years? Here’s why, because it is a fact, not somebody’s opinion that sealing concrete protects, strengthens and improves overall life and appearance.  The problem here is contractors and finishers have not or will not take the time to complete the job. There is an old attitude with concrete placement and that is to put it down and get out, usually to the next job. Always fighting time, weather and money do not make it easier to get quality work. When there is a great market for this field, which there is, then why mess with the details if another bigger better paying job is around the corner. Consequently inferior work follows such a trend. Did you know that concrete is the world’s second most used resource other than water.

Point in case, whenever you see good condition concrete after years have gone by, makes you wonder what they did to preserve it so well. The key is to do it right in the beginning or treat it as soon as possible no matter what the age or condition. If you have the ability to control the cure then seal, this will always be the best scenario, but don’t get discouraged if it is now or 50 years later, you can still step in and deter future problems.

In addition to the physical properties of concrete the chemical properties are often overlooked until damage is beyond repair or expensive to rectify. In actuality physical deterioration is usually caused by the lack of chemical concrete properties protection.

Let us close with some facts and tidbits that should hit home.

·    Sealing Concrete with V-SEAL densifies and strengthens new concrete
             10-15 % and 50-65% in deteriorated concrete

o Chlorides ( salts, salt in the air ) cause for aggressive corrosion

o Hydro-carbons & carbonation, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

                      penetrates concrete, reacts, lowers ph and corrosion begins

o Mold, mildew, oil, rust stains, acids, chemicals, sugars, fermenting  

     liquids, animal oils-urine & most stains in general

o ASR-Alkali silicate reaction, pitting, churting, flaking, scaling, aggregate       

                      popping, crazing, hairline cracks & freeze/thaw problems

  1. 50% of concrete problems are the concrete composition, 30% is the way it is placed or finished, 10% is the cure, 10% is the seal. Chemically matching the cure & the seal is the most optimum protection for your concrete.

    Think That One More Winter Won’t  Hurt Your  Concrete?

    Think Again ! It absolutely will. You’re contractor put some kind of stuff on your concrete, well yeah....some kind of stuff....but not a Deep Penetrating Commercial Concrete Sealer.Why should he ... it’s not his concrete. Protect your investment NOW or PAY later to Repair it !

    V-SEAL when applied to concrete will create a Chemical Fusion In and On your concrete. It goes far beyond traditional sealers. Over the counter sealers  breakdown quickly from Salt & Abrasion. V-SEAL creates a hydrophobic barrier with significant results in salt damage prevention, unsightly stains from oil and rust, giving your concrete optimum protection.  Ever wonder what they use on Bridges, Tunnels, Highways, Historical Monuments and now Residential applications......???

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    Important information regarding new Illinois VOC laws and your deck 

    New AIM/VOC (volatile Organic Compounds) regulations for paints and stains went into effect on 07/01/09 in Illinois. These regulations are similar to those that have been implemented in other states such as Maine, Delaware, DC and Ohio.Under the new regulations, lower VOC limits will be in effect for approximately 54 coating categories, such as flats, non-flats, primers, stains, varnishes and industrial maintenance coatings. All coatings sold or used within Illinois must comply with the new VOC limits.  

    What does this mean for you, the homeowner? 

    Many existing oil-based primers and finishes are not compliant with the new regulations and are being replaced by low VOC alternatives. Unfortunately, almost all of the major paint and stain manufactures have replaced these products with new hybrid acrylic alternatives, finding it more cost effective to do so vs reformulating their oil based stains to comply. It is very difficult, if not impossible to find oil based stains on the shelves in Illinois these days. 

    There are many drawbacks to using these new “hybrid” products. These types of coatings are generally tacky or sticky on touch which makes the application process more difficult. They are also prone to peel and flake much like a traditional paint would do. Further confusing the consumer, a good number of them say “penetrating oil formula” on the can, when in fact they have no oil in them at all and adhere more as a film former vs. a penetrating one. Lastly, these coatings are very difficult to remove should you ever decide to change the color or when it comes time to restore your deck or fence in the future. 

    The technology and chemistry of the stain removers have not kept up with the technology of the stains themselves. The homeowner is often left with costly solutions. 1) Sand the deck down to bare wood. 2) Use extremely harsh chemicals such as Methelyne Chloride to strip the waterborne product which are far more dangerous than conventional deck strippers and are very environmentally unfriendly (which ironically defeats the purpose of the change to begin with)  or 3) Recoat the deck with a solid. 

    Aqua Pro Cleaning Solutions Answer to this Change 

    Many existing Aqua Pro customers have expressed their concern over these industry changes and have asked that we provide them with  a viable oil based alternative to the new hybrid acrylics on the market. We agree with our customer’s desire to meet this demand and are still of the opinion that penetrating oil based stains are what’s best for your exterior wooden structures. We have been conducting tests on various oil based stains that meet or exceed the new VOC laws set forth by the state of Illinois and are happy to announce that all of our current and/or new deck and fence restoration clientele that currently have an oil based product will still have access to VOC compliant penetrating oil stains in multiple colors.

    Please call us today to set up your estimate.
    -Tom McMillan
    Aqua Pro Cleaning Solutions

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