With electric vehicles beginning to surge, some owners who live in apartments or condominiums are struggling with their status as “garage orphans” as they navigate unexpected obstacles to charging their cars at home.

Some of the most obvious barriers to home charging in multi-family buildings are being cleared away, with jurisdictions like Ontario making it illegal, for example, for condo boards to refuse EV charger installations without good reason. But many buildings are still making it tough for owners to uphold the basic ‘ABC’ of electric car ownership—Always Be Charging.

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“It’s absolutely possible to get charging infrastructure caught up, but it requires some effort,” Ian Klesmer, director of strategy and grants at The Atmospheric Fund, told CBC News. And until that happens, the national broadcaster says, some EV owners will be known as “garage orphans” because they “don’t have driveways, designated parking spots, or easy access to private charging options.”

More Cost-Effective Charging

CBC tells the story of Mathieu Gosbee, who’d paid $400 to install a Level 2 charger on his detached home in Toronto but couldn’t bring it along when he moved to a condo. The condo board said the installation would take a year and cost $5,000 to $10,000.

But particularly with federal funding available and some provinces onboard, the installation can and should cost much less: Residential charging “can certainly be done in a more cost-effective way, because there are incentives to help make it less expensive,” Klesmer said.

“I want to have the convenience of charging at home—it’s part of the reason I bought my car in the first place,” Gosbee told CBC. With public access sites the only option for now, “I’m just really feeling the pressure of charging now.”

In late May, Vancouver EV owner Akiko Hara described the predicament in a post for CBC’s First Person series. She recalled the moment when her gasoline-powered car ‘received a death sentence at the repair shop in 2019,” giving her a chance to do more for the environment than recycling and using reusable bags.

At the time, she figured it would only be a matter of time until her condo building installed an EV charger, and until then, she was prepared to use public charging stations. But as the years went by, demand grew and access to those public chargers got scarce. Then in 2021, her strata council (condo board)’s proposal for a $5,000 charger study was turned down by condo owners.

“Two years later, our condo remains unequipped with an EV charger,” she wrote, and “getting access to the public chargers in Vancouver seems to get harder every month.” While “I adore my Earth-friendly, bug-eyed, coulis-red Leaf and have never regretted my decision to switch to an EV,” Hara writes, “I do wish that things were much easier.”

1 Public Charger Per 20 Vehicles

With 86,032 EVs now on Canadian roads and quarterly sales up 43.2% in the third quarter of 2022, according to Statistics Canada, CBC says charger installations have been lagging, concentrated mostly in newer buildings and wealthier areas. International Energy Agency figures show Canada with one public charger per 19.9 vehicles, compared to 2.6 in Korea, 3.9 in China, and 4.6 in the Netherlands.

Rachel Doran, director of policy and strategy at Clean Energy Canada, told CBC that EV owners can learn different approaches to “filling up”, using partial, less time-consuming charges equivalent to a half-tank of gas if that suits their driving patterns. But Klesmer said public charging is just one part of the picture.

Home charging “would be much more affordable for the homeowners, much more convenient to be able to charge at home, and would require much less public investment in building out a public charging infrastructure,” he said.

The predicament of “garage orphans” isn’t unique to Canada. With 3.6 million EVs on the roads in the United States, and the country’s one public charger per 18.2 vehicles delivering just slightly better access than in Canada, several cities and states have introduced right-to-charge laws, writes Eleftheria Kontou, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a post for The Conversation. An Illinois law enacted in June requires wiring in all new homes and multi-unit dwellings to make them EV-ready, and states like Colorado, Florida, and New York have similar measures on the books.

“But having wiring in place for charging is only the first step to expanding EV use,” Kontou says. “Apartment building managers, condo associations, and residents are now trying to figure out how to make charging efficient, affordable, and available to everyone who needs it when they need it.”

Building Owners Have to Want It

Even with legislation in place, condo dwellers can still face tough obstacles. In Ontario, Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa (EVCO) member Lawrence Williams found that out after a neighbour objected to him using a power-equipped bollard to charge his car. Now, after his condo association voted against installing any EV chargers at all, he said he finds himself “always frantically trying to find places to charge.”

With the federal government working toward a 2035 mandate for all new car sales to be electric, and more than one-third of Canadians living in multi-unit buildings, Electric Mobility Canada President Daniel Breton said the demand for EV charging will have to come from building management.

“Most of the time, it’s going to be the owner of the apartment building who’s going to be interested, or not interested, in installing chargers,” Breton told the Ottawa Citizen late last year. “For those apartment building owners, if they start installing chargers, this will become an incentive for people who want to buy an electric car to go live in that apartment building. To me, I see this not as a cost, but as an investment. But not everyone sees it like that.”

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