Part 2: Installing Charging Stations for Electric Cars in Your DC Metro Area Community

Electric cars are no longer a vision of the future. As we discussed in our previous article, there has been an increase in purchases of PEVs (plug-in electric vehicles) within the last five years. This means we must cater to the new demand of conveniently-located battery charging stations that are readily accessible.  With the escalation of the demand for electric cars and its purchases, it is a hot topic that many homeowners associations (HOAs), community associations and condo boards across the country, including the DC Metro area, need to address.

To understand the demand on battery-charging stations, let’s review exactly what PEVs are. The classification of PEVs (also known as “EVs” or “electric cars”) are not limited to vehicles that run exclusively on battery power, such as the Nissan Leaf – one of the pioneers in this market – or the luxurious Tesla Model S.  BEVs (battery electric vehicles) are only a small section of the story.

PEHVs (plug-in hybrid vehicles), also referred to as “hybrid plug-ins” or “hybrid electric cars,” are also included in this category. PEHVs come equipped with an electric motor and rechargeable battery. An internal combustion engine is built into the vehicle so that the vehicle has the option to be fueled with gas. These include the dedicated models such as the Chevrolet Volt, as well as plug-in models adapted from hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius Plug-In, the Honda Accord Plug-In, and the Ford Fusion Energi SE.

Typically, owners of hybrid plug-ins try to maximize the amount of miles driven on battery power, but they know they can always return to their stored gas if their batteries run down.  On the other hand, owners of BEVs rely exclusively on electricity to power their vehicle. Since the vehicle batteries can provide power for only approximately 60 – 100 miles of travel, charging stations need to be abundant and reliable. Installing a charging stations located right in your community would be an appreciated and convenient commodity for your residents.

When contemplating if installing EV charging stations is the right choice for your DC community, consider this – you will not only satisfy the needs of current and future EV owners, but you will also improve your property’s “green” image. The presence of a community’s “green” image has a positive effect, potentially increasing property values and attracting future residents.

So how should your Board get started on this process? Begin by talking to other DC Metro area Board members and local community leaders to see if this issue is being addressed locally. Conduct your research, including consulting with a reliable property management company.  If your community is professionally managed, your property management team can educate and guide you through the process.

1. What do homeowners want?  Is there a high demand to install an on-site EV charger in your community? The best way to know is to ask. Take a survey of your community to gauge their interest, and if there’s reason to move forward.

2. Create a team.  Begin to put your information into action. Your Board can create a committee of owners that are interested in the construction of charging stations – including current PEV owners, if possible – to research possible charging options and vendors who are able to install and manage the equipment, and inform the Board. Your property manager and management team can work closely with committee members to inform and provide guidance. It is recommended to include the Association’s attorney in the process, as well, so that any possible legal issues that may arise under the community documents and/or applicable law can be addressed properly.

3. Know your charging options.  As part of your due diligence, your Board will need to understand the available – and most practical – charging options for your residents and community. There are several charging level options to choose from, but the most common found in residential communities are Level 1 and Level 2 (a third option, DC Fast Charging, is best suited for commercial locations, due to its higher cost and power requirements.)  To get started, here is a brief summary:

Level 1 charging is the simplest option – all that is required is a standard three-pronged, 120-volt AC wall outlet. Every EV is equipped with a charging cord that you simply plug in, making it a no-cost or minimal-cost option. There are no additional costs if there are electrical outlets already installed in your community garage or parking facilities. And, it should be just a few hundred dollars should you need the installation.  Level 1 charging is a slow process, so it is best for longer parking stays – for example, a Chevy Leaf can be charged to half its capacity in 8-10 hours. This makes it a good option for overnight charging in community garages or parking facilities. Should the vehicle be parked short term, one typically adds only five miles of additional range for each hour of charge.

Level 2 charging requires a professionally-installed unit that provides a 208 or 240 volt dedicated circuit, protected by a 40 or 80 amp circuit breaker.  Level 2 charging is much faster in comparison than Level 1, taking from just three hours (for newer EV models) to about six hours to charge an empty battery to completion.  Level 2 charging also delivers additional benefits, such as adding up to 20 miles of range for each hour of charge, making it a good choice for electric cars that can provide ranges of 100 miles or more. However, the convenience comes with a higher cost – the Level 2 charger installation can come at a cost of several thousand dollars. The total installation cost is dependent on your community’s on-site transformer and electrical service capacity, proximity of electric service to parking spaces, the necessity to upgrade the electrical panel and service capacity, as well as other variables.

4. Consult with an electrical contractor.  As previously recommended, Board members need to understand your community’s existing electrical infrastructure, as well as which charging options make the most sense from a logistical and financial standpoint. To learn more, consult with an expert – specifically, an experienced electrical contractor.  In addition to providing advice specific to your community, the contractor may be licensed to perform a more customized service of installation – or refer you to a vendor who can. If your Association is not familiar with a local electrical contractor with experience in EV charging, a good property management company will likely have a history with reputable quality service providers and vendors.

5. Contact your utility company.  On top of installation costs, it is pertinent for your Association to have an idea of the additional costs associated with an on-site charging station. To discover more, contact your local utility company. Your property management company may be able to utilize its combined buying power and negotiate better rates for the increased service demand.

6. Who will own and manage?  Should you decide to install Level 2 charging stations, it will be necessary for your Association to decide who will own and operate them. Typically, there are three options:  they can be owned and managed by your HOA or community association; owned and managed by a third-party company for a fee; or owned by your Association and managed by a third-party company.  In all of these options, users would either be charged a flat monthly fee or for actual electricity usage.

7. Revise your policies.  When you gather all necessary information, the next step should be to involve the Association’s attorney to determine the process for making any needed amendments to the community documents.

8. Spread the word.  After all decisions have been made, it’s very important to educate residents on the usage of EV chargers. Communication should be frequent and via multiple channels, including email messages, articles in your community newsletter, flyers, direct mail, notices in common areas, and other modes of communication. Some communities or property management companies have virtual notification systems as tools for instant and efficient communication. For example, FirstService Residential can directly deliver messages by phone, text or email through its Resident Alert system.

More car buyers are making the switch to electric cars each year. Thus, the demand for abundant and easily accessible and charging stations has become a local demand. By exploring the process for installing charging units to support owners’ choices, your Association will stay ahead of the trend and cater to the heightened necessity of electric vehicle charging stations. Understanding this need will go a long way towards enhancing residents’ lifestyles, now and in the future. 

If you’d like more information about enhancing your community’s quality of life, contact FirstService Residential, the DC Metro area’s leading property management company.