Entering Priya and Imran Vithani’s home is like opening a magazine.
Filled with stainless steel appliances, large windows and sleek features, it’s beautiful inside and out, except for the moving boxes.
As some of Sunset Modern’s newest residents, the Vithanis still maintain their Accord-style, two-story home. The development, built by The New Modern Home in Frisco, Texas, has no less than 10 homes in various stages of development after breaking ground in 2018.
Developer Jimmy Tanghongs of The New Modern Home combines a chic aesthetic with advanced technology and sustainable building to create a new generation of homes in Frisco, Garland and Dallas. Marketed as self-sufficient smart homes, they are equipped with a 4-kilowatt solar panel package, meaning that homeowners produce almost all of the energy they use.
Vithanis joins the ranks of 210,000 Texans who rely on residential solar panels to turn the state’s abundant sunshine into electricity.
“Our solar panel package produces about $80 of electricity per month. A house this size, would probably need $100 to $110 per month. [of electricity]. That should leave the homeowner with a lower electricity bill,” Tanghongs said.
The homes are still connected to the ERCOT grid, but they use net meters, which means they generate energy that flows into the grid and rewards homeowners with financial credits. This allows homeowners to pay only for their net usage, keeping costs down. They can also pump electricity back into the grid when power is scarce.
In theory, when homes generate their own power, they take stress off the grid by lowering the number of homes that need grid-generated power. They can also generate more power than they use, increasing the power available during periods of extreme heat or freezing temperatures when power outages are more common.
Sunset Modern homes have not yet produced enough power to pump back into the grid, but their design allows for that possibility in the future. And that could mean less stress for homeowners when they get a warning email from ERCOT that they might lose power during the hottest part of the day.
The Tanghongs put a lot of thought into the buildings, and the flat-roofed modern design serves an aesthetic and functional purpose.
“You want the solar panels tilted towards the sun, so if we’re 33 degrees above the equator, you want the panels pointing at 33 degrees so that when the sun hits them, they absorb 100% of the energy, ” explained Tanghongs. “With our flat roof house, you can cover the entire roof with panels. You don’t lose any shading area.”
The Vithanis plan to expand their solar production with more panels once they receive their first electricity next month. The couple moved into a 1,969-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home just a few weeks ago.
“It’s kind of gamifying the process – I’m using this much energy, I’m saving this much energy,” said Imran Vithani, holding his hands in front of him, one higher than the other. “Do I want to invest more to get additional supplements, or now that we’re talking about an electric house, my next question is do we want to get a battery?”
Before moving into their smart home, the Vithanis lived in a townhouse in Plano. They began looking for a new home after the 2021 historic freeze in Texas left most of the state without power for days and 246 people died.
“We are victims of the freeze,” said Imran Vithani, vice president of strategic development at StaffDNA. “We had a plumbing issue where we were without water for several days. We also had power issues during that time, so we know what happens in Texas and experience that, one thing in particular which you can’t imagine happening in. modern times.”
The couple did months of research, taking into account housing prices, mortgage rates, development timelines and electricity costs, and finally landed on Tanghongs’ development. Single-family homes there start at $495,000 and go up to $938,000 on lot purchases.
“When we started looking at this builder, we looked at the long-term view,” said Priya Vithani, a consulting manager at Ernst & Young. “This future technology and what we hope to do in this space is very important to us. We want something different. We want something unique, and that’s what the New Modern Home gives us .”
With a competitive housing market and mortgage interest rates rising above 6%, the couple must find other ways to reduce the cost of owning a home. That’s where electricity bills come into play.
“One consideration I have is, okay, it’s been a year [since the freeze]electricity costs have literally doubled in terms of kilowatt prices,” said Imran Vithani. “I understand that’s not a big factor for people, but you want to look at your long-term cost.”
They weren’t the only ones who saw the advantage.
On the road, Hawk Jung, director of mobile solutions and services at Premier LogiTech, and his wife Ji have 240-volt Juicebox car chargers attached to their build to plug in their two BMW hybrid cars at night.
Most of the Jungs’ electricity bill comes from charging the vehicles, about $100 a month for each. Their total bills average only $200, which means that the amount they pay for running their home is minimal.
“I tried to add more panels to cover all the electricity,” said Hawk Jung. “Now, I pay about $200 [per month], I averaged less than $200. But I have to add more panels because our consumption is quite high.”
The Jungs moved to the neighborhood in December when they wanted to downsize from a 3,600-square-foot home to the 2,700 square feet they have now. Their older son has already left for college, and their younger son will be leaving for Texas A&M in the fall.
Hawk Jung says that with a smaller house and a higher level of efficiency, they pay less than before. He estimates that they have saved $1,000 in electricity costs in the seven months since they moved.
Tanghongs said his homes are a draw for homeowners who want to be energy independent.
“That’s the whole goal. We generate all the energy we use and that’s good for the grid,” he said. “If every home in America was a home like this, we could eliminate half of our energy production and eliminate half of our fossil fuels. I think that’s cool.”
Sunset Modern’s model home became fully operational on June 7. Since then, the home has generated 1789.4 kilowatt hours of electricity in 38 days, or just under $100 worth.
It’s not just power that these houses save.
“We’re trying to conserve as much water as possible, too,” Tanghongs said.
Every home is equipped with an internet-connected smart sprinkler system that uses low flow nozzles. The system can follow weather reports, less water when there is rain and more during high heat.
Homes are also built with sustainable materials that require little maintenance, reducing long-term costs.
“We are trying to get rid of the tree outside the house,” said Tanghongs. “We choose long-lasting materials like brick and stucco, a type of light concrete, and metal as much as possible. Bugs don’t eat it so you don’t have to worry about replacing it, and you don’t eat it . have to caulk and paint like a traditional house.”
Homes do not come without challenges.
“We don’t have any storage, but we consume what we produce now. Our problem is at night when we don’t produce. [electricity] and there is a blackout, then we don’t have power here,” said Tanghongs, referring to his own experience living in one of the smart houses. “The only way to get around it is to install batteries. Batteries are expensive.”
That cost is not lost on Vithanis, who also hopes to install battery storage in the future to avoid dealing with any blackouts.
Solar panels are “just not enough to sustain our independent lifestyle,” says Priya Vithani. “We need to expand that, and we just bought the house so we need to save our pennies to afford it. [batteries]. Down the line, we will explore that opportunity. “
The Tanghongs are also facing a tough housing market after the pandemic. While he was able to keep up with the demand for his homes, he saw a real decline in interest in buying a home as interest rates rose.
“I think the price point is something that as a buyer I’m really crossing my fingers that I get my money back on it. I think my price per square foot is easily $300,” said Imran Vithani.
Vithanis say they also pay for peace of mind. Imran’s mother lives in McKinney and has been without power, sometimes for days at a time.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable that our parents who are close to our parents should experience anything like that,” he said. “When your parents are getting old, you want to make sure they’re comfortable.”
His wife said that putting the future battery storage option in their house will also support their relatives if they lose electricity again.
“I don’t think people want to suffer the whole ERCOT situation. When I get the emails, I just want to know how I can be as independent as possible,” said Imran Vithani. “I already work 50 to 60 hours a week. Is this something I want to add to my plate to worry about?”
The Tanghongs’ next project, a series of 50 smart-version townhomes in Garland, will be a stepping stone for making this housing option more affordable. He said the “price point will be in the low $400,000s.”
“I was born here, so I plan to build here forever,” Tanghongs said. “Dallas is growing so fast that I always have a customer to build.”
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