EV Ownership Without Home Charging

By · October 14, 2014

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EV Charging at Multi-Unit Complex

These EvGo stations are available at an apartment complex in California. But home charging is the rare exception for people not living in a single family home.

Electric car owners with a 240-volt supply of power in the garage or driveway can refuel a battery-powered vehicle with ease. Plug your car in before going to sleep, and wake up to a full battery in the morning. That beats going to the gas station—for both convenience and cost. But approximately one in four Americans lives in a multi-unit building without a dedicated parking spot, while many home renters have landlords unwilling to install EV charging. Are they completely out of luck?

The short answer is no—but it’s not easy. EV ownership without home charging requires creativity, persistence and a willingness to live with a higher degree of uncertainty about when and where you will get your next charge. Follow these guidelines to minimize the hassle, and chart the course for a new generation of EV drivers that deftly manage charging away from home.

Make a Plan using PlugShare

If you haven’t done so already, immediately download and fire up the PlugShare app—or go to PlugShare.com.

  • Type in your home address to see the locations of charging stations in your proximity.
  • Use the necessary filters to ensure compatibility with your model.
  • Find nearby cheap or free public charging stations.
  • For charging stations further away, think about locations where you’ll want to spend several hours at a stretch (entertainment, dining, laundromat, Wifi café, etc.)
  • Pay close attention to blue-colored icons, which indicate individuals willing to share use of private home-based charging stations. PlugShare provides an easy way to contact those sharers. Regardless, the results of this search will be the cornerstone of a plan to gain access to a 240-volt supply of electric fuel.

Personal Stations: Sharing Is Caring

The EV community is united on many fronts. So don’t be bashful about contacts individuals on PlugShare, or for that matter, any other local electric car drivers you discover. But realize that in your request for access to a personal charging station, you are asking for a big favor—equal to short-term renting a parking space in a stranger’s driveway. Be open to a generous negotiation to compensate the sharer for the cost of electricity—and the hassle they will experience in accommodating your needs. Money, tokens of appreciation, and loads of expressions of gratitude can combine into a fair deal for the charging station owner—especially considering that it commonly costs $500 or more install home charging equipment. Be willing to give a tally of your usage in kilowatt-hours, and to establish a generous base rate of, say, $0.20 per kWh. Ideally, there will be more than one person you can hit up—as a way to not overstay your welcome.

Nearby Workplace Charging Stations

In many locales, public and workplace charging stations will be just as close as shared residential charging station. When you see a green icon on PlugShare, don’t get too excited. It’s important to read the fine print, and the comments, to see the level of charging—120-volts or 240-volts—as well as any restrictions on use. For workplaces (where you are not an employee or customer), you might need to schmooze your way into access, with the same generosity of spirit and purse as you showed with personal owners of charging stations. Don’t overlook locations with Level 1 120-volt outlets in secure locations where you can safely leave your car parked overnight.

Quick Charging on the Rise

The number of quick chargers—capable of adding 50 to 60 miles of range in less than 30 minutes—is growing everyday. Once again, PlugShare can help you find those locations along routes that you frequently drive. There are caveats to frequent quick charging. First, your car has to be equipped with an inlet for DC quick charging. In addition, the quick chargers that you are hoping to regularly access need to be compatible with your vehicles QC protocol—such as CHAdeMO, SAE combo connecter, or Tesla Supercharger. And in many cases, gaining access to these quick chargers requires membership into a charging network, often with relatively high fees for the bigger and faster jolts of electricity. The exceptions are Tesla Superchargers, and local dealerships that have set up free or low-cost charging for its customers.

Don’t Overlook Level 1

Fifty miles of range added in a half-hour is awesome. While it makes Level 1 charging from a standard 12-volt outlet—which only adds three or four miles per hour—seem like a joke, you shouldn’t ignore its possibilities. Gaining access to a 120-volt outlet for overnight charging, means that you can add as much as 40 or 50 miles of range from the time you park your car in the evening until you need it the next day. Apply all the same guidelines above into negotiating a fair deal on 120-volt trickle charging.

Talk to Your Employer or Property Owner

The next best thing to home charging is workplace charging. If your employer has abundant Level 1 or Level 2 charging access, a full day of work might be all you need to keep a decent level of charge on your EV. Maybe your employer believes in sustainability, or wants to attract smart educated green-leaning workers—or market that the business is eco-friendly. Use the prevailing economic and environmental arguments to encourage the powers-that-be to install charging equipment and/or outlets. Of course, if EV trends continue, there will be competition for those charging spots, so you will need redundant access points, and back-up plans, to make sure you can charge as needed.

The Challenge of the Last Mile

The goal is to approximate the convenience of home charging by using nearby charging spots. Increasing your ability to travel to and from those spots can expand the range of possibilities. Consider getting a fold-up bicycle (manual or electric) so you can park and charge further away from your home, work or other regular activities. A scooter can also do the trick. Or consider a good pair of running or walking shoes, and making a rigorous walk or jog to and from your car a part of your regular exercise regimen. For those places that are simply too far away—as with any public charging—find the spots that are close to useful amenities.

Embrace the Anxiety

For most drivers, especially those with home charging stations, the range anxiety of the first week or two of EV ownership fades away. Electric owners quickly realize that 80 or so miles—and certainly the range from big-battery EVs—are more than enough for regular commutes. However, it’s a different proposition for EV owners lacking secure home-based access to charging. Sorry to say, but you’ll have to deal with the anxiety, and perhaps eventually come to enjoy the thrill of being an electric car pioneers.

This means staying keenly aware of your car’s state of charge—including its capability to run closer to empty. A gentle driving manner—like staying in the speed limit and avoiding jack-rabbit starts—can go a long way to increasing range. Be aware of seasonal variations in range based on cold or hot weather, and plan accordingly.

Given your need for a charging station when and where you can find it, you are more likely to experience fee-based locations—rather than driving further to the many free stations that still exist. Remember that you are already saving money on lower fuel and maintenance costs—as well as the expense of installing home charging—so pay public charging fees without too much anguish. It’s all part of the experience. And it’s temporary, because before long, EVs will reach a level of adoption that will bring abundant charging opportunities to everybody—not just those living in a single-family home.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
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  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.