The best feature of a net-zero home may not be its insulation, HVAC system, or solar panels because the owner of that home is most likely driving an internal combustion engine automobile to and from the house every day. The key is to create a sustainable lifestyle, which is why Mohan Mahal, owner and CEO of Sustainable Innovative Design and Construction (SIDCO), was selling a newly renovated, net-zero home with a Tesla Model S sitting in the garage. “I wanted to do more than flip a house to make a quick buck,” says Mahal, a mechanical engineer who started the real estate development firm in Silicon Valley in 2010. “I wanted to create a totally different market for homes.”
Before he had the idea for including the Tesla car, Mahal had a good deal of work to do after buying the 9,200-square-foot house at 1151 Koch Lane in Willow Glen, California: he had to modify the floor plan, relocate the kitchen, and add a bedroom and bathroom. After all this work, Mahal started working on the home’s energy efficiency. The roof, for example, is constructed from radiant plywood sheeting, R30 insulation is used above the ceiling and R13 in all walls, windows and doors are double paneled, and all ducts in the house were sealed and thoroughly tested for leakage. The attic contains a heating system that is 95 percent efficient, and he had all 70 lights in the house changed to LEDs and installed Energy Star appliances. “These changes came in handy when installing solar panels,” Mahal says. “We covered the home’s entire energy needs with just 13 panels, which is half the number typically used on homes in the neighborhood, and that cut the cost from $30,000 to $15,000.”
Mahal kept the home’s existing plumbing but added a new water heater and a recirculating pump that has a timer, which can be programmed for times that warm water is most needed such as the morning and evening. “You normally have to wait a few minutes to get hot water, and by offering it on demand, we’re saving water and energy,” says Mahal, who also installed low-flow faucets and dual-flush toilets in the house.
“This is definitely giving me the opportunity to get the word out that we can and should build energy-efficient homes.”
Mohan Mahal, Sustainable Innovative Design and Construction
It was when he was installing the charging station for an electric car in the home’s garage that Mahal started thinking, How can I promote the use of an electric car? Which gave Mahal, a longtime fan of Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk, the idea to sell an electric vehicle with the house. “I could bring one to the site and let people look at it,” he says, “but it seemed more of a statement to sell a car with the house.”
Mahal couldn’t afford to buy a $100,000 car and give it away—“I don’t even have that much profit in the project,” he says—but after speaking with Tesla, he realized leasing the car was an option. Mahal arranged a three-year prepaid lease worth $40,000 with Tesla, gave the company a $5,000 deposit, and put the car in the garage to be sold with the house—and it worked. The car generated some serious publicity when the house hit the market. “We had an open house, and so many people came to see the car,” Mahal says. “My realtor initially said, ‘What have you done to me? All of these people want to see the car, but none want to buy the house.’”
The publicity did lead to the sale of the house, but ironically, without the car. Mahal says the couple who ended up purchasing the house already had two cars, so they asked for the house without the Tesla and negotiated the price down.
Mahal, however, is undeterred from this marketing plan. “This is definitely giving me the opportunity to get the word out that we can and should build energy-efficient homes,” he says. “And next time, I’m going to do it differently. I’m not going to market the car as coming with the house, but I’m going to add one—probably a Nissan Leaf—as a nice surprise.”