Apartment EV charging and ownership may be easier than you think
One of the largest obstacles standing in the way of widespread electric vehicle adoption is the often daunting setup required to outfit customers who live in apartments with adequate charging infrastructure. While most EV-enthusiasts and media sites advocate for owners of electric vehicles to charge at home, this can be a rather troublesome hurdle to overcome for potential buyers who live in apartments.
Above: Tesla's Model 3 (Instagram: pichutesla)
While apartment dwellers do not make up the majority of the United States population, they aren’t exactly an insignificant group, either. According to the 2017 American Community Survey, 1-Year estimates from the United States Census Bureau show that 25.5% of occupied housing units in the US are apartments.
So, what should you do if you live in an apartment and are unlucky enough to not have any EV charging stations within close proximity? Can you even own an electric car while living in an apartment? Of course. First, your best bet will be to open up a charging station map such as PlugShare or OpenChargeMap and find chargers in your immediate area, or near areas that you frequent.
Popular spots such as local malls and grocery stores are almost always guaranteed to feature some form of EV charging for the general public. Having a conveniently placed charger in front of your favorite supermarket will allow you to charge your electric car while you do your weekly grocery shopping. Parking lots owned by the city, specifically those found in front of government buildings and parks, might also offer public charging stations. Additionally, you can check with your workplace for EV chargers and/or you can put a request in at your workplace as there are certain rebates available to companies for installing electric car chargers on their property.
Above: Model 3 parked overnight in an apartment building's parking garage (Instagram: pichutesla)
Of course if you're a Model 3 owner, there are more charging options. In addition to the public chargers previously noted, you can also look for Tesla Superchargers and/or Destination Chargers. Couple that with Tesla bringing back free Supercharging for the Model S and X and some lucky Tesla owners can even charge for free. And Tesla's charging network is growing (and improving) fast. In addition to the company's proprietary Superchargers and Destination Chargers, Tesla is also pushing to roll out its urban charging initiative as well.
In any event, plenty of electric car owners don't have chargers installed at their place of residence. Regardless of living in an apartment or a house, they're fine with the convenience of local EV chargers.
Meanwhile, EV charging companies like EVgo and Electrify America are pushing to prioritize setting up chargers in apartment-dense areas. Still, some people might not be able to find a conveniently placed charger or simply prefer to have a charger set up on their property. This can get complicated, but it's still doable.
Above: Companies like EverCharge are looking to make the charging process easier to implement for apartments and condos (YouTube: EverCharge); Editor's Note: Video produced in 2015 with stats reflecting data available at that time.
Some of the obstacles related to setting up apartment-based electric vehicle chargers were outlined in the 2015 report entitled, Electric Vehicle Charging in Apartment-Based Housing – Opportunities and Obstacles, which discussed the following three findings:
- Apartment property managers and site-based facility personnel do not understand the nuances of evaluating multiple issues and the systems on their properties for deploying electric vehicle system equipment (EVSE) projects. Further, they're rarely asked to create business strategies and have limited authority to undertake projects. They're generally providing information to higher levels of property management or owners.
- Apartment property owners aren't investing in EVSE projects due to a lack of perceived demand by residents, incomplete project planning, unknown and potentially significant capital costs, complex ownership decision-making models, and most importantly, no realistic business model that fits with their existing business criteria. With little or no interest to invest in charging infrastructure improvements, there is even less interest in paying for the electrical, parking, and business assessments, as well as spending time on resident surveys required to plan and make decisions.
- Property improvement upgrades, building renovations, providing amenities for all residents, and capital maintenance expenditures take first precedence in annual budget decisions made by MUD (multi-unit dwelling) owners. Given these budget priorities, the availability of EVSE grants would significantly increase the likelihood of property owners undertaking electric vehicle infrastructure projects.
Thankfully, some states have sought to alleviate the stress of trying to set up electric car charging in apartment complexes through legislative action. Many states, including California, Colorado, Florida, and Oregon, prohibit “unreasonably” denying a tenant’s request to install an electric car charger. In addition, California recently released a helpful guidebook that goes through the steps of permitting and constructing an electric vehicle charging station. The book gives anyone reading it a detailed look at the typical steps required. While the book is almost 70 pages long, the basic steps can be summarized as follows: get permission, attain a permit, and connect the station to the electrical grid.
This is the first, and possibly hardest, step in the entire process: getting permission from the Municipal Utility District owners (MUD) or the Home Owners Association (HOA). While we mentioned that certain states have statures that prohibit “unreasonable” denials, what constitutes “unreasonable” is up to the state to decide. Additionally, not every state has such a clause, so it's not a trump card that can be used by everyone. It would help to brush up on any possible incentives that your state provides for building chargers when presenting your case. The US Department of Energy has a database that lists different incentives by state.
Charging companies such as ChargePoint provide informative brochures that you can forward to the owners of the building or HOA board, as well. And companies like EverCharge can help you with the whole process.
Once you've successfully attained permission from the applicable parties, you'll then have to attain a permit. It is up to you to identify the correct office that will issue you a permit, which will typically be from the public works or transportation/environment department. A quick google search of “(city) permits” should point you in the right direction.
When you've located the correct office, they should be able to advise you and the property owner of the required steps in the permitting process. California's helpful guidebook states that while this tends to vary by jurisdiction, common info needed in most applications include, “site plans, a single line electrical diagram; load calculations and whether a panel upgrade will be required; a separate mechanical permit application if ventilation will be required for the station; and charger installation instructions from the manufacturer.”
Connecting the Station to the Electric Grid
Once you've attained a permit, you'll then have to contact your local utility company. They will have to determine the correct electrical needs for the charger and the proper way to connect the charger to the city’s electrical grid. After the details have been discussed and agreed upon, you can go ahead and contract out the installation of your electric car charger.
It should go without saying that this represents an extremely generalized guide if you wish to install an electric car charger within your apartment complex, and certain details are subject to change based on your particular place of residency. Resources like the in-depth California guidebook, referencing successful property case studies, checking on local programs and incentives, and consulting your local government office should provide a much more detailed list of steps that you'll need to take.
An earlier version of this article appeared on EVBite. EVBite is an electric vehicle specific news site dedicated to keeping consumers up-to-date on any developments in the ever-expanding EV landscape.