Walking into Priya and Imran Vithani’s house is like opening a magazine.
Filled with stainless steel appliances, large windows, and sleek features, it’s aesthetically pleasing inside and out, aside from the moving boxes.
As some of the new residents of Sunset Modern, the Vithanis still settle in their two-story Accord-style house. The development, built by The New Modern Home in Frisco, Texas, has fewer than 10 homes in various stages of development after debuting in 2018.
Developer Jimmy Tanghongs of The New Modern Home has combined chic aesthetics with cutting-edge technology and sustainable construction to create a new generation of homes in Frisco, Garland and Dallas. Marketed as stand-alone smart homes, they come with a 4-kilowatt array of solar panels, meaning homeowners generate almost all of the energy they use.
The Vithanis join the ranks of 210,000 Texans who depend on residential solar panels to turn the state’s abundant sunshine into electricity.
“Our set of solar panels produces about $80 of electricity per month. A house of this size may need $100 to $110 per month. [of electricity]. This should leave the homeowner with a small electricity bill,” Tanghongs said.
Homes are still connected to the ERCOT grid, but they use net meters, which means they generate energy that feeds into the grid and rewards homeowners with financial credits. This allows owners to pay only for their net usage, reducing costs. They are also capable of feeding energy back into the grid when electricity is scarce.
In theory, when homes generate their own electricity, they relieve the grid by reducing the number of homes requiring grid-generated electricity. They are also capable of producing more energy than they use, supplementing available electricity during periods of extreme heat or freezing temperatures when power outages are more frequent.
Sunset Modern homes do not yet produce enough energy to feed back into the grid, but their design allows for this possibility in the future. And it could mean less stress for homeowners when they receive a warning email from ERCOT that they risk losing power during the hottest part of the day.
Tanghongs put a lot of thought into the constructions, and the modern flat-roofed design serves both aesthetic and functional purposes.
“You want the solar panels to be angled towards the sun, so if we’re 33 degrees above the equator, you want the panels to be angled at 33 degrees so that when the sun hits it, they absorb 100% energy,” Tanghongs explained. “With our flat roof house, you can cover the entire roof with panels. You don’t lose any shady areas.”
The Vithanis plan to expand their solar production with more panels once they receive their first electricity bill next month. The couple moved into a 1,969-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home just a few weeks ago.
“It’s kind of a gamification of the process – I use so much energy, I save so much energy,” said Imran Vithani, holding his hands in front of him, one much higher than the other. “Do I want to invest more in maybe getting some extra extras, or now that we’re talking about an all-electric home, 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 historic 2021 freeze in Texas left much of the state without power for days and claimed 246 lives.
“We fell victim to the freeze,” said Imran Vithani, vice president of strategic development at StaffDNA. “We actually had a plumbing issue where we had no water for several days. We also had electrical issues during that time so we know what it’s like to be at the Texas and experience it, especially something you wouldn’t imagine happening in modern times.”
The couple did months of research, factoring in house prices, mortgage rates, development times and electricity costs, and finally landed on the Tanghongs development. Single-family homes start at $495,000 and go up to $938,000 plus land purchase.
“When we started looking at this builder, we had a long-term view,” said Ernst & Young consultant Priya Vithani. “This future technology and what we hoped to do with this space was really important to us. We wanted something different. We wanted something unique, and that’s what New Modern Home provided for us.”
With a competitive housing market and mortgage interest rates soaring above 6%, the couple had to look for other ways to lower the cost of owning a home. This is where electric bills come into play.
“One consideration that I had is, okay, it’s been a year [since the freeze]electricity costs have literally doubled in terms of price per kilowatt,” said Imran Vithani. “I understand that might not be a big factor for people, but you want to look at your long-term costs.
They are not the only ones to see the advantage.
Just down the street, Hawk Jung, Director of Mobile Solutions and Services at Premier LogiTech, and his wife Ji had 240-volt Juicebox vehicle chargers included in their build to plug in their two BMW hybrid vehicles at night.
The majority of the Jungs’ electric bill comes from charging vehicles, about $100 a month for each. Their total bill averages just over $200, meaning the amount they pay to power their home is minimal.
“I’m trying to add more panels to cover all the electricity,” Hawk Jung said. “Right now I’m paying about $200 [per month], I average less than $200. But I have to add panels because our consumption is a bit high.”
The Jungs moved to the neighborhood in December when they wanted to go from a 3,600 square foot home to the 2,700 square feet they now have. Their oldest son had already left for college, and their youngest son will be leaving for Texas A&M in the fall.
Hawk Jung said that with a smaller house and higher efficiency levels, they pay less than before. He estimated that they saved $1,000 in electricity costs in the seven months since moving in.
Tanghongs said his homes appeal to homeowners who want to be energy independent.
“That’s the whole point. We produce all the energy we consume and that’s good for the grid,” he said. “If every house in America was a house like this, we could eliminate half of our energy production and eliminate half of our fossil fuels. I think that’s the cool thing.”
The Sunset Modern model home became fully operational on June 7. Since then, the house has generated 1789.4 kilowatt hours of electricity over 38 days, or just under $100.
It’s not just energy that these homes save.
“We also try to conserve as much water as possible,” Tanghongs said.
Each home is equipped with an internet-connected smart sprinkler system that uses low-flow nozzles. The system can follow weather reports, watering less when it rains and more during periods of high heat.
The homes are also built with durable materials that require little maintenance, reducing long-term costs.
“We try to eliminate the wood outside the house,” Tanghongs said. “We chose durable materials as much as possible like brick and stucco, a type of lightweight concrete, and metal. Bugs don’t eat it, so you don’t have to worry about replacing it, and you don’t You don’t have to caulk and paint like you would a traditional house.”
Homes do not come without challenges.
“We don’t have storage, but we consume everything we produce at the moment. Our problem is at night when we don’t produce [electricity] and there is a power outage, so we have no power here,” Tanghongs said, speaking from his own experience living in one of the smart homes. “The only way around this is to install batteries. Batteries are expensive.
This cost is not lost on the Vithanis, who also hope to one day install battery storage to avoid facing outages.
Solar panels “are certainly not enough to sustain our independent way of life,” said Priya Vithani. “We had to develop that, and we just bought the house, so we had to save our pennies to be able to afford [batteries]. Ultimately, we will explore that opportunity.”
Tanghongs also faces a difficult housing market following the pandemic. Although he was able to maintain demand for his homes, he saw a real decline in interest in buying a home as interest rates rose.
“I think the price is something that as a buyer I really keep my fingers crossed I’m going to get my money back on that. I think my price per square foot is easily over $300,” said Imran Vithani.
The Vithanis say they also pay for peace of mind. Imran’s mother lives in McKinney and lost power, sometimes for days at a time.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable that our relatives who are nearby have ever experienced something like this,” he said. “As your parents get older, you want to make sure they’re comfortable.”
His wife said installing a future battery storage option in their home could also help their loved ones if they were to lose power again.
“I don’t think people want to put up with the whole ERCOT situation. When I get these emails, I just want to understand how I can be as independent as possible,” Imran Vithani said. “I already work 50-60 hours a week. Is that something I really want to have on my plate to worry about?”
Tanghongs’ next project, a series of 50 smart townhouses in Garland, will be a stepping stone to making this housing option more affordable. He said “the price will go down in the $400,000s”.
“I was born here, so I plan to build here forever,” Tanghongs said. “Dallas is growing so fast that I will always have a client to build for.”
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