With oil prices continually rising, many drivers are considering investing in alternative-energy cars such as hybrid-electric or exclusively electric vehicles; this decision is made easier with the availability of charging stations within their community. As a homeowners’ association, setting up charging stations will not only provide a much-desired service for your residents and their guests, but it will also increase electric cars in your area and reduce overall carbon emissions.
Installing an electric vehicle charging station in your community is an excellent step toward environmental responsibility and resident happiness. Additionally, most of the infrastructure can be added to your existing community without significant renovations.
Whether your residents are Tesla enthusiasts, or own a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf, you will begin to see more electric cars in your parking lots and driveways, so in this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about adding electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) to your community.
Why Install Electric Car Charging Stations?
Since the home is the most convenient place to charge an electric vehicle—just plug in at night and go to work in the morning—more residents are using the availability of charging stations as a critical factor in determining where they are going to live.
HOAs who decide to install charging stations in their parking lots or approve installation in residents’ garages will:
- Attract more environmentally or financially-conscious residents
- Raise neighborhood property values
- Be at the forefront of technological innovation
- Help the environment by encouraging electric vehicle usage
On top of that, electric vehicles are becoming more popular in cities where condos, townhomes, and other shared communities are typical. Therefore, it will only benefit HOAs to be prepared for increasing requests to install electric vehicle charging stations anyway.
How Residents Can Petition for an Electric Car Charging Station
As charging stations become more widely accessible and affordable, residents can petition your homeowners’ association to add one to their own place of residence. While your specific neighborhood’s circumstances will determine whether you can meet their request, several factors can help you say “yes.”
- Residents engage you early: Residents may own their parking space, but as the HOA, you oversee any shared walls and parking infrastructure. So, before residents install an electric vehicle port themselves, they should make a request through you first. Ensure they follow the board approval process so they can install their charger correctly the first time.
- Survey neighbors: Are there other electric vehicle-driving residents who would love to charge their cars at home (or even buy their first electric car)? If so, they may be able to form a committee or create a petition with those homeowners. The more requests you have, the more likely you should be willing to invest in the proposal!
- Residents propose an equitable, scalable electric vehicle charging plan: Ensure all residents who want to use a charging station will pay their fair share for installation and usage. Take a look at the “Determine Who’s Paying” section below to get ideas on various EVSE payment plans.
- Consider a community model: If you oversee a small complex, you may be more amenable to one shared community charger; this would be a good place to start if you only have a handful of electric car-drivers currently. While sharing is not ideal since everyone would want to charge their vehicle overnight, it will help get EVSE on your property in the first place!
- Understand the “Right to Charge” Law: See the below section for the states that have passed the “Right to Charge” law. This law may make it harder for you to say “no” to your residents’ requests.
For more information on how to request an electric car charging station as a resident, check out this article by ChargePoint.
“Right to Charge” Law
HOAs may be required to install charging stations per a resident’s request under the “Right to Charge” law in certain states. These states include:
- New Jersey
- New York
This law provides “residents at multi-unit dwellings…the right to install a charging station on their property, provided that certain conditions are met”—for instance, the individual assumes responsibility for all associated costs (Source: Plug in Sites).
Factors to Consider Before Installing a Charging Station
While installing a single parking-space charger is fairly straightforward, providing this service to all residents will require a more multi-faceted approach. But, with a bit of planning and some ingenuity, it can be done easily.
Before you begin, it’s important to consider several factors to maximize the return for your investment and meet your residents’ needs:
Supply and Demand
It is helpful to understand how many of your residents would take advantage of your charging station immediately after install. Remember, demand will likely grow once you offer the amenity, so make sure to take that into account too.
Next, determine your community’s electrical capacity. There are several models for handling demand based on your community’s size and the type of charging station you want to offer. They are:
- Power Management: In this model, drivers will tap into an existing panel to charge their vehicles. You can install electric vehicle spots as needed, dynamically managing your charging; this will keep you from exceeding your electrical capacity. It also allows you to begin charging quicker and can scale up a bit as your demand increases.
- Hub and Spoke: In this model, the community as a whole (including non-electric vehicle drivers) pays for the central power bay, or “hub.” You’ll place this hub close to where the charging spots will be. Then, each electric vehicle owner pays for a “spoke” from that hub. Over time, selling access to the hub will cover the cost of installation. The selling point to your community-at-large here would be that even if not everyone uses the charging station, its existence will increase the overall property value of the community.
- Charging Fund: Set up a charging fund that electric vehicle owners (or prospective electric vehicle owners) pay into to install a panel. This method is easier if you have a substantial number of passionate electric vehicle drivers because the household fee will be lower with more contributions.
Each charging station will require a parking space for the vehicle and a power outlet to plug into. An outdoor-rated Level 2 outlet is recommended, as it is the preferred charger of most electric vehicle owners (more on the different levels of car charging stations available later).
Once you determine how many parking spots you can allot, you’ll also want to determine if they will be dedicated to an individual owner or if they are shared spots. This consideration is entirely dependent on how large your parking facility is and if it’s possible to expand or not.
Determine Who is Paying for the Charger
You’ll also want a plan in place on how the install will be paid for and what the yearly electrical cost per car will be. A Level 1 single-port EVSE can cost between $300-$1500 to install, while a Level 2 multi-port can range from $400-$6,500, depending on how many vehicles you want to charge at a time.
As for operating costs, a standard electric vehicle costs a couple of hundred dollars per year. Electric vehicle drivers will assert this is far cheaper than gas for those commuting frequently (saving up to thousands of dollars per year).
While electric vehicle drivers will be happy to pay for the charging station’s daily usage cost, the HOA may decide to take on the installation cost upfront. You can then determine if all owners or only electric vehicle-drivers will pay for the installation over time.
On the one hand, residents who want to drive an electric vehicle will be likely to happily pay that cost as their car saves them money in the long term. However, residents who don’t drive electric cars may consider this an unjustified hike in HOA dues. For usage specifically, billing each electric car driver individually is one way to ensure only these users have to pay for the infrastructure. There are two ways you can bill this amount:
- Based on usage: if you have a way to meter and track how much energy each resident is using, you can bill them based on those numbers. It would be important to have accurate reporting, and you may still want to hire a technician to read the meter regularly.
- Average for all electric vehicle users: the other option is to estimate how much it would cost to charge all your residents’ electric vehicles and divide that number evenly among them as a yearly fee. However, you will need to make sure that only those being charged can use the station.
For a comprehensive cost breakdown and explanation, you may find the paper, Costs Associated with Non-Residential Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment from the U.S. Department of Energy helpful.
Choosing Car Chargers for Your Community
Recharging an electric vehicle is different than fueling up a gas vehicle. With gas vehicles, you can add any amount of fuel up to the maximum amount your gas tank can hold. It takes very little time to fill, and you get roughly the same expected mileage each time.
On the other hand, electric vehicles can charge wherever they park, which adds range (how far you can drive on one battery charge). It can be done at home, work, or around town. This “top-up” model allows electric vehicle charging to happen practically anywhere. This is why installing charging stations is a good choice for many communities and businesses.
Since speeds of charge can vary, commercial charging stations are categorized by level. Level 1 is the most common single-home charging method, while Level 2 is seen at many businesses and large residential complexes. There are also Level 3 charging stations found in more commercialized locations.
Differences Between Level 1 and 2 Charging Stations
When comparing the differences between Level 1 and Level 2 charging, the following table from ChargePoint may prove helpful:
|Level 1 Charging||Level 2 Charging|
|Electric and Power Specifications||120 Volt, 20 Amp circuit 1.4 kW||208 – 240 Volt, 40 Amp circuit*|
6.2 – 7.6 kW**
|Time to Fully Charge an electric vehicle with a 100-mile Battery||17 – 25 hours||4 – 5 hours|
|Drivers Served per Station per Day||1||3 – 4 or more|
Note: Cold weather can increase all charging times, so make sure to take that into account during winter months.
Level 1 charging stations can be conveniently set up on a 120V outlet that already exists in individual homes and communities. However, it takes almost five times longer to charge a 100-mile battery than on a Level 2 station, which uses a 208-240V port. A Level 1 charging station can accommodate one vehicle at a time, where Level 2 can charge around four or more simultaneously.
For large, urban communities run by a homeowner’s association, Level 2 charging stations would be far more practical and a better financial investment. Additionally, faster charging is more appealing to commuters since most electric vehicle drivers use their cars every day. Anything more than an 8-10 hour charge time would not be sufficient for a daily driver.
Level 2 Network Stations
Another benefit that Level 2 chargers can offer is being part of a network of stations. Mobile apps allow users to find stations easily, which saves time and adds convenience. For business owners, being connected to a charging network lets you control access to these stations and set the costs for charging.
This could also work for homeowners’ associations because it allows you to track who uses the networked stations and how often. These reports help manage costs and generate reports to give the association a clear picture of the community’s electric vehicle charging usage.
Networked stations are also economical; associations can implement smart power management and share electrical capacity, which can help avoid expensive infrastructure upgrades.
Lastly, networked stations software can be updated remotely so they always provide the most current features for your drivers. Since Level 1 chargers do not have this ability, they are much more difficult for owners to operate and less convenient for drivers.
Level 3 Charging Stations
Level 3 charging is the fastest type of charging currently available today. While it is presently the least widespread, it is growing in popularity. These stations can be found primarily in heavily-populated public or commercial areas of large cities.
There are two types of Level 3 charging stations:
- Level 3 Charging (CHAdeMO)
- Tesla Supercharger
CHAdeMo Level Charging
This type of Level 3 charging has CHAdeMo technology and is also known as DC fast charging. (CHAdeMO stands for “CHArge de MOve,” which means to “move using charge”). It works through a 480V direct current (DC) plug and can provide an 80% charge in around 30 minutes, though charge times can vary as there is currently no industry standard.
Because of this charging style’s intense nature, not all electric cars are compatible with this level. For example, the Mitsubishi “I” and Nissan LEAF can use Level 3 stations to charge their batteries, but other models, like the Chevy Volt, cannot.
The other thing to consider is that fast charging could damage some electric vehicles’ batteries more rapidly. Engineers from the University of California, Riverside conducted a study including several popular brands of electric cars. They found that some batteries were damaged after just 25 charges due to extreme heat and chargers’ resistance.
Level 3 Tesla Supercharger
The Tesla Supercharger only works for Tesla vehicles, providing half a charge in approximately 20 minutes; this is because Tesla’s battery is designed differently than other electric vehicles and can go 2-4 times farther than other electric car batteries, up to 300-400 miles per charge.
However, Tesla vehicles are also compatible with Level 2 charging stations, so don’t worry if your community includes Tesla users. It is not required to install two different types of charging stations if versatility and cost-effectiveness are what you’re looking for.
Can Level 3 Chargers Be Installed in a Community?
While a Level 3 charging station sounds appealing, there are several things to keep in mind before you commit to this luxe power option. While you can find Level 3 charging stations in some public and commercial settings, it may not be the best choice for your community unless it has a very large electric vehicle user population.
The main drawback of this install is that it is considered prohibitively expensive for most businesses ($10,000-$40,000 per station). It also requires specialized equipment so it can draw enough power to operate. DC Fast Chargers are not available for single-home installation and may be difficult for a small community to manage.
The cost of charging a vehicle at a Level 3 station varies widely. Depending on the service provider, charging rates will fluctuate, which may not be ideal for a community that will presumably have the same people use the station regularly. If you plan on just charging your residents a flat monthly or yearly fee, the cost per resident for Level 3 charging may be too high to gain enough interest.
Additionally, since Level 3 chargers cannot serve every type of electric vehicle, you are thus limiting the number of residents who can benefit from the service; this will make the monetary commitment even more difficult to address if only a handful of residents can contribute.
Determining the Best Charging Solution for Your Community
When you factor in cost, accessibility, and usability, the Level 2 charging station seems to be your best bet. It is versatile in that it can be upgraded and expanded upon as needed but is cost-effective enough to start small. If you are looking to serve the widest range of your electric vehicle-driving residents, the Level 2 station can cover every model from Volts to Teslas.
However, if you have a very small number of electric vehicle users or a lower budget, a Level 1 station may be sufficient; this could satisfy your handful of requests with individual parking-space charging ports but will not scale up much if your base of electric vehicle-drivers grows. But, if you do start with a Level 1 solution for your community, it is possible to “Level Up” more power should you attract a wider range of environmentally-conscientious drivers.
Lastly, if you are a very forward-thinking community with significant reserves, you could consider adding both a Level 2 and Level 3 charging station; this will give your residents options for charge times and accommodate all electric vehicle models in your community. If you are located in a higher-income area and have a lot of Tesla owners, you may also want to consider adding a Tesla Supercharger or two for convenience.
For access to an in-depth guide on how to choose the right level of charging station for your business, ChargePoint offers a free guide for download; get it here.
Adding Solar Panels to Charging Stations
Electric car charging stations can also be powered via a solar panel system, which will lead to a decrease in operating and charging costs. While this is primarily possible with Level 1 charging stations in single-unit homes using their existing solar panel system, it is also possible to attach panels to stand-alone charging systems.
According to Empower Solar, an electric vehicle can fully charge on solar within hours for as low as 8 cents/kWh, saving 13 cents/kWh compared to grid power.
How to Install a Charging Station on Your Property
Before breaking ground, it is a good idea to find a “local electrical contractor with the proper expertise, information, tools, and training for EVSE” (Source: Energy Center). This will guarantee your community gets a high-quality product and an efficient installation experience. You may also need to reference the wiring methods or permit requirements for your state. This may require an inspection as well (see the below section “Inspection Requirements”).
If you are looking for an in-depth EVSE installation guide, check out this one prepared for Chittenden County, VT, by the Vermont Energy Investment Cooperation.
Where to Install Charging Stations
You’ll want to install the charging stations as a group if you plan to offer access to more than one vehicle at a time. It is a good idea to have electric vehicle-only parking spaces to ensure that your electric vehicle drivers will always have a chance to charge their car, though this is not required. Also, making this station (or stations) centrally located, are sure to appeal to the widest range of residents since no one will have an overly long walk from their unit to their car.
If your community uses a parking garage instead of a parking lot, it may be even more important to group them together. You may be limited by the ability to run power to these stations, so putting them close to an elevator or other electrical hub could help. Additionally, if you are going to use solar-powered charging stations in a garage, you may want to consider placing these on the top-level to provide better sun exposure.
New civil codes for electric vehicles are continually being created, so it’s essential to research the most up-to-date information before you begin. Check your city or state’s website for specifics and refer to trained professionals if you are unsure whether your community meets these guidelines.
Many permitting jurisdictions require the installed electric vehicle supply equipment to undergo an inspection before it can be signed off for use. Once the installation is complete, you’ll want to schedule an inspection no farther out than one week from the completion date.
Many inspection companies will request that the property owner or someone from the HOA board be present to ensure they have access to the entire property. Make sure to disclose any large property or structural changes you’ve done during the installation of the EVSE during the inspection.
Additionally, look for an EVSE Inspection Checklist for your area; this is a guide endorsed by the National Electrical Contractors Association used by local building inspectors.
For an example of this checklist, check out pages 5-6 of these guidelines on EVSE installation by the Center for Sustainable Energy (Note: This document is specific to the San Diego area, so you will need to find one for your city).
Since the advantages of electric cars are simply too good for commuters to ignore, it looks like they are here to stay. Besides providing convenience to their residents, forward-thinking HOAs promoting a greener community will love this addition to their property.
While the installation process may seem daunting, once you dive into it, you’ll have a charging station set up in no time. Your city or state government or energy coalition will also have location-specific resources so you can adapt your infrastructure to follow all local regulations.
Congratulations on taking the next step to a more sustainable future!