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.
While apartment dwellers do not make up the majority of the United States population, they aren’t exactly an insignificant chuck, either. According to the 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates from the United States Census Bureau, 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 car charging stations within? Can you even own an electric car while living in an apartment? Of course. 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. Couple that with Tesla bringing back free Supercharging for the Model S & X and you’ll be able to charge for free and not even regret not having a charger in your apartment. Parking lots owned by the city, specifically those found in front of government buildings and parks, might also offer public charging stations. You can additionally check your workplace for chargers 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.
Many electric car and Tesla owners do not even have chargers installed at their place of residence. Regardless of living in an apartment or a house, they find more convenience in public chargers. Whether you install your own or find a fast charger in a location you frequently visit, your life will actually become easier than owning a gas car and having to constantly go out of your way to fill up.
While car charging companies such as EVgo and Electrify America attempt to prioritize setting up chargers in apartment-dense areas, some people might not be able to find a conveniently placed charger or simply prefer to have a charger set up on their property, which can get complicated, but still doable.
The troubles of setting up apartment-based electric vehicle chargers were illustrated in the 2015 report entitled, Electric Vehicle Charging in Apartment-Based Housing – Opportunities and Obstacles, which had the following three key 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 are rarely asked to create business strategies and have limited authority to undertake projects. They are generally providing information to higher levels of property management or owners
- Apartment property owners are not 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.
Simply put, it would be near impossible for electric cars to reach mass-adoption if over a quarter of Americans would have difficulty finding a way to charge them.
Thankfully, various states have sought to alleviate the stress of trying to set up electric car charging in apartment complexes through legislative action. States like California and Colorado have statures that prohibit “unreasonably” denying a tenant’s request to install an electric car charger. Additionally, California has recently released a 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 steps required. While the book is almost 70 pages long, the basic steps can be summarized as follows: attain 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 as “unreasonable” is up to the state to decide. Additionally, not every state has such a clause, so it is 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 out different incentives that each state provides.
Charging companies such as ChargePoint provide informative brochures that you can forward to the owners of the building or HOA board, as well.
Once you have successfully attained permission from the applicable parties, you will 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 have found the correct office, they should be able to advise you and the property owner of the required steps in the permitting process. The previously mentioned guidebook states that while it will vary by jurisdiction, common pieces of information that will need to be included in the application 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 have attained a permit, you will 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 an extremely generalized guide for what you should expect to do if you wish to install an electric car charger within your apartment, and certain details are subject to change based on your place of residency. Resources like the California guidebook and your local government office will provide a much more detailed list of steps that you will need to take.