Reflections on Remodeling:
An Interview with Dilsha and John Happel,
Partners at H & H Builders, LLC
1. What impact does a good remodel have on a family?
DH: Ideally, a remodel helps people to create
something on earth that is closer to their idea
of heaven. Their life works better. They get
more satisfaction and enjoyment out of their
2. What do you think makes H & H Builders LLC
different from other design build firms?
JH: We let client needs, wants, and wishes drive
the design process. We're glad to provide an
architect or work with clients' designers, so
people can come to us with the first glimmer of
an idea or with a complete set of plans. The
bottom line is that we listen to clients, and
then we design and build spaces that fit their
needs. Each of our projects is unique; what they
share is a very high standard of quality and
3. What's different about your process?
JH: For one thing, we use a lead carpenter on
every job. The lead carpenter stays with the job
from start to finish; he's on the job site every
day. This kind of consistency is rare in
design-build firms. Often, a project manager is
in charge of several different jobs, and stops
by for a few minutes every few days. By using a
lead carpenter, we make sure there's a go-to guy
who always knows what's happening on the job and
who is always available to clients. The lead
carpenter owns the job and takes responsibility
4. What should clients know about the way you do
DH: First and foremost, before we do any
business, we try to make sure it's a good match.
We want to be sure that we can give clients what
they need. If we don't think we're the best firm
for the job, we always try to refer people - to
help them find that perfect match. Once we're
committed to a project, we tell people what
we're going to do and then we do it. We want
clients to be as happy as possible during the
process, and we recognize that communication
plays a big part in creating that happiness;
John meets with clients regularly and provides
meeting minutes, so we all have a record of
what's been said and a reminder of what's coming
5. Do you have a specialization?
DH: Owner-occupied design-build residential
remodeling - that's a mouthful. We're very
connected with clients, and we like being
involved in improving individual lives and
reflecting individual needs. That's why we
prefer working with people who are living in or
planning on living in the home.
6. What are your areas of expertise?
DH: We have many special skills. For example,
John is a structural engineer, and both of us
are Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS).
But I think our real expertise is organizing and
building complicated projects and making people
happy while we do it.
7. What are you most proud of in the work that
you do? How do you define a "successful"
JH: On the most basic level, a successful
project is one where the client is happy with
the process and the results. One key element of
that success is that our clients know what will
happen and when. There are always some surprises
in a construction job, but, in a successful
project, we've scheduled and predicted as much
as possible, so the surprises don't have a
significant impact. Naturally, I also like a
product that's beautiful - one that enhances the
home in both livability and value.
8. Remodelers have a reputation for going over
budget and past completion dates. Why does this
happen so often, and does it have to be this
JH: It doesn't have to be that way. One reason
jobs can go over budget is that the original bid
was not complete - or not accurate. There's a
tendency in this business to underbid in order
to get a job. There's a tremendous pressure to
lower prices in order to satisfy clients, but no
one's satisfied when the price doubles a few
months down the line. There's a more benign
reason to go beyond budget: Unexpected things
happen in construction. A more experienced
person can make an educated guess about the
conditions behind plaster and drywall, but until
we get inside the wall, it's still just a guess.
Mold, water damage, foundation problems - these
kinds of discoveries can make significant
changes in a project's cost. Another reason jobs
go over budget is that clients add to the job as
it's in progress; for example, our clients
typically add 10-20%. We've had people quite
happily double the project budget, because
opening up the house created room for new ideas
and new priorities. With this kind of change, we
make sure clients are aware of the impact; our
clients review and sign project upgrades that
clearly outline how the proposed changes will
affect the overall budget and timeline.
9. What's your record in terms of project
DH: We usually finish projects within a week of
scheduled completion; we've never had a project
that was significantly late, and we've had
several that we finished weeks - or even months
- ahead of schedule.
10. What principles do you bring to your
business? And how do these principles affect the
choices you make?
JH: We live and work by these rules: tell the
truth, be generous, and don't make promises you
can't keep. We do it right the first time, and,
when we can't, we take responsibility for our