Electric Cars Are Here, So Why Are We Still Building Homes That Aren't Ready for Charging Them? | Alliance to Save Energy
02/06/19 : Rebecca Price

Electric Cars Are Here, So Why Are We Still Building Homes That Aren't Ready for Charging Them?

Car owners know well that the cost of having a vehicle isn’t limited to the initial purchase. Buyers also need to budget for fuel, registration fees, insurance, and maintenance. For the growing ranks of electric vehicle (EV) owners, the costs of fueling (charging) and maintenance are much lower than their internal combustion engine counterparts. But most EV owners face the added cost of installing a charger at home, which includes hiring an electrician to run conduit and wire and install an additional circuit in their electrical panel.

As with many residential energy efficiency measures, undertaking a retrofit is a more expensive proposition compared to when improvements are “built in” at the time of construction. Installing the extra circuit in an existing house can cost up to $2000. A far less costly alternative would be pre-installing these circuits into all new homes at the start in anticipation of the approaching transition to EVs.

The Alliance is advocating for a fix: adding a provision to the national model building code – the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) – that is adopted by states and local governments to require most new homes to include “EV-ready” circuits. It would allow charging equipment to be installed much more easily and cheaply.

A Lot More Electric Vehicles Are Coming, and People Need Convenient Places to Charge Them

Transportation electrification is coming – and fast. Some experts predict that EVs will account for over 11% of new sales in the United States by 2025. As we prepare for this inevitable transition in the transportation sector, it is critical to outfit new houses with charging infrastructure because 80% of current EV owners choose to charge their vehicles at home.

Electric vehicle owners could certainly forgo the cost of installing a charger at home, and instead rely on chargers at work and in frequently-visited public places, such as grocery stores and shopping malls. But that comes at the great cost of convenience and is a sacrifice that can be avoided.

Building Codes Provide an Opportunity to Get New Buildings Ready for Electric Vehicle Charging

Building energy codes may be yawn-inducing to some, but energy efficiency supporters know how important it is to get our homes and commercial buildings built right the first time. Updated building energy codes that require insulation, air sealing and ventilation, high-efficiency equipment, and other cost-effective measures save homeowners billions of dollars in monthly utility bills.

Likewise, this bedrock of federal policy could play a crucial role in facilitating EV deployment and lowering household transportation costs. That’s why the Energy-Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC), established by the Alliance, recently submitted the proposal to revise the IECC to require EV-ready circuits, paired with “EV-ready” parking spaces, in new homes starting next decade.

Specifically, EECC’s proposal would require that new residential construction projects (houses and multi-unit buildings) plan for at least one clearly demarcated parking space with the electrical panel capacity and wiring to accommodate 240-volt Level 2 chargers. For larger buildings, at least one out of every fifty parking spaces would be ready to accommodate EV charging.

Updating model building energy codes to include EV-ready circuits in new residential construction was a recommendation of the Alliance’s 50x50 Commission, a group of business, non-profit, and government leaders working to reduce energy use in transportation.

Several municipalities, such as Denver and Palo Alto, California, are anticipating a surge in EV ownership and have already plugged (pun intended) EV-ready provisions into their codes. But in most states, no such provisions exist. That means we’re constructing buildings that are almost certainly going to need EV-ready circuits to be installed in the coming years.

Proposal Would Save Money, Encourage Adoption of Efficient Vehicles

While the IECC proposal will slightly increase the cost of constructing a new house or building, studies show that it is significantly less expensive than undergoing a retrofit later. For multi-family buildings, one study found that the average cost of an EV-ready parking space was roughly $900 when incorporated into initial construction, whereas a retrofit cost nearly $4,000 per parking space.

EV-ready building energy codes will help more people make the switch (another pun!) to electric vehicles sooner. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, EV adoption will also contribute to a decrease in overall U.S. household energy spending. Electric vehicles are, on average, more than three times more efficient than conventional gasoline-fueled counterparts. Even when compared over the full lifecycle of fuel production and use, the average EV is responsible for less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of a traditional vehicle.

The automobile industry as we know it is changing. It no longer seems to be a question on if automakers will electrify their models, but rather when and how fast. We know the transition is coming. The time is now to get ahead of the wave and incorporate EV-ready features into new building stock, ideally before EV adoption rates accelerate.

As it happens, building energy code stakeholders will develop the next version of the IECC this year for adoption by states and local governments in 2021. Success in this building energy code development cycle would be a big win for advancing energy-efficient EVs – and reducing transportation costs in the process.

To learn more about EECC and the EV-ready code proposal, please visit www.energyefficientcodes.org.