My $6,000 Tesla Wall Connector: the story of bringing Electric Vehicle charging to a high-rise condo tower in Seattle

BELLTOWN • SEATTLE, WA USA • 25 November 2019

After commuting home from the office I carefully park, step out of the car, grab the charging cable looped around the Tesla Wall Connector, press the button on the cable, and the car’s charge port door opens, letting me quickly plug in the car. I wake up in the morning with the confidence that I can go anywhere I need to: work, weekend errands, travel over a nearby mountain pass…yet getting to this basic routine took over 4 years. EV charging can be an uphill battle in many condo associations. Without a clear path to charging at home, I wouldn’t have placed an order for a Tesla and would still be driving a gasoline car.


Our EV conversation started in 2010, a community charger was added in 2016, and in 2019 a policy allowing “Limited Common” (individual chargers in owner’s parking spaces) was approved and implemented in 2019, including installing new electric infrastructure.

Installing Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) for any electric car is straightforward and can often be done in a single-family home garage for under $700, including an electric permit and inspection; yet an EVSE install in a large multi-family building can easily cost $3,000-10,000 or more per port once electric infrastructure costs, wire, long conduit runs, and core drilling costs are factored in, especially to non-adjacent locations.

The downtown Seattle condo tower I live in was constructed in 2002 and has ~200 units, 240 parking spaces in 4 underground levels, constructed of steel and post-tensioned concrete. We have gigabit community WiFi in the garage which is great for getting Tesla software updates.

The building’s electricity is 3-phase 480Y/277V served by Seattle City Light. Even if a building like ours has sufficient remaining capacity to support charging loads without a larger utiliy transformer, preparing for many Electric Vehicle (EV) charging installations can get expensive: there may be a need for switchgear work, breakers, step-down transformers, new panels or sub-panels, running conduit hundreds of feet through multiple levels of concrete).

Here’s a look at our Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure as deployed today, from the building switchgear to a step-down transformer, dedicated EV circuit panel, conduit to individual EVSEs.

Washington State is not a “right-to-charge” state, so there is no law requiring an apartment or condo to allow EV charging. The Seattle Electric Code (2014, 2017) is requiring new buildings to provision capacity (feeders, panel space, planned load) and conduit in garages for EV charging, so new construction will be OK - but it will be a challenge for existing multi-family communities to efficiently invest in charging infrastructure to remain competitive. In fact, new developers are monetizing these code requirements by selling EV-enabled parking spaces similar to a granite kitchen backsplash upgrade.

March 2022 update: Washington State has passed a right-to-charge law that goes into effect in June 2022, HB 1793, that will significantly improve the situation for multifamily residences going forward.

A condo building’s units are owned by individuals who form the members of a Home Owner’s Association (HOA), governed by a board elected by the members, and all rights and privileges are granted through laws and the association’s governing documents and rules.

I was mentally prepared for a period of educating decisionmakers and residents, working to help design a fair approach, and working to implement that policy through the association board, but I was not expecting the inertia that yielded “false starts” and decisions to “wait and see.”

After reservations started on the Tesla Model 3, interest increased in the community as an affordable great product came on the horizon, but it was important to the HOA that any private charging investments be paid for without long-term costs borne by all owners, to be fair.

At our annual member’s meeting in 2019 we finally had enough interest to kick off a project, hold an “EV Open House” to educate and inform owners, propose rules, and finally offer reservations in our first phase Limited Common EV Charging Policy, allowing individual owners to have professionals install charges in the hub-and-spoke charging project.

Often it just takes a few people to voice their opinions, present a reasonable plan, and help see it through, but it takes hard work, educating the community, and doing the legwork of finding an electrical engineering firm or electrician that you can trust.

As a result of our charging projects, the number of EVs in our building has rapidly increased after years of “no demand”. The information in this post is applicable to any EV/PHEV charging program, it is not specific to Tesla.

In this post I wanted to share the experience we had and tips for others. Many EV forums have anecdotes about condos and apartments but not many end-to-end stories. I am not an expert, but feel there’s a lot to share.

Having EV charging available to those that need it can add that can benefit an individual unit or an entire building. There are buyers who will expect options and so have any EV policy in place can help attract and retain association members.

This recollection is based on several conversations and association notes, but many of these events took place years before I purchased a property in the building, so take this all with a grain of salt.

Limited Common charging (2019)

In 2019 information gathered in the previous year was presented at the annual January owner’s meeting, a proposal was posted in March, approved in May, and reservations and installations happened through June and September by our first round of 8 owners who reserved circuits in the infrastructure.

The culmination of years of work,

  • Electric capacity and required infrastructure needed to be identified, including quotes/bids
  • Sufficient committed demand had to be identified to greenlight a project that would have no long-term cost borne by the association
  • A policy to cover association requirements for installations, contractors, edge cases had to be drafted, brought to the board for the required notice period, and implemented
  • Enough owners to reserve into the project without dipping into association funds was necessary

Available electric capacity

At the time of our building’s construction, electric cars were a pipe dream (GM’s EV-1 was California only), so the building’s electric plans were designed to support just residential units and building systems. The garage wasn’t wired with spare circuits in its slabs beyond a few 120-volt outlets anticipated for maintenance.

Our building’s connected to the grid by a 480Y/277V 3-phase 4-wire system with 2 switchgears: MDS-1 up to 1600 amps and MDS-2 up to 1200 amps.

Many of our common hallway and garage lights are single-phase 277V fixtures, while residences use energy stepped down to 120/208V, and we also have a diesel emergency generator and transfer switch sitting behind a portion of the MDS-2 load.

Having two separate switchgear turns out to be a significant positive development:

  • MDS-1 switchgear (residential units) was designed for the building’s residential load and any additional load would require load studies, plan review, potentially auditing appliances and other use of all units, and adding new equipment to the switchgear would require turning off power to all residential units for a few hours. Attached to this are a set of transformers and all the individual utility meters for units.
  • MDS-2 (house/commercial) provides 480-volt and 277-volt electricity to a core set of lights and elevators backed up by a diesel emergency generator, and then also additional lights in common areas such as hallways, the lobby, exterior lighting. Thanks to the utility’s data from its Peak Demand Meter, we learned that over the past several years, it is using at most 11% of its available capacity. Perfect candidate to add EV infrastructure to without impacting residential units.

If we had not identified such a place, we would have had to work with the utility to bring in additional service, access more from the city’s vault, update switchgear with new breakers, etc. A risk with a service increase can be fees if you do not end up utilizing the new capacity sufficiently.

We also learned that we could use the peak demand data to work with inspectors to install the largest sized transformer and amperage panel that an over-the-counter (OTC) permit could allow to minimize engineering, electric load study or plan review requirements (likely not required with an OTC permit).

To accomodate a group of 8-10 chargers (depending on the amperage of the EVSEs planned), we would need:

  • a new 3-phase 480Y/277V breaker installed in the MDS-2 switchgear
  • a 75KVA transformer to step down the power to 120/208V
  • a new electric panel dedicated to this set of EV branch circuits
  • an over-the-counter permit for the work and to have the authority having jurisdiction inspect and approve the install

We received and reviewed bids and different approaches. It was determined that there was sufficient space inside the main electric room, which is on one of the garage levels, for this phase of the project.

Hub/spoke decision

Except for the 3 parking spaces that the association owns for staff use, all other parking spaces are assigned to individual units. The assignment is made in a table in the declaration document that allocates units to “Limited Common” resources like parking, unit balconies, and storage. In condo speak, a Limited Common part of the property is commonly owned by the building but is intended for use by a specific 1 or more units. Parking spaces can be reassigned and sold between owners, though this requires a declaration ammendment and recording with the county, so can be expensive.

It was determined that an EV project would be significantly cheaper for all owners if a single row of chargers was installed, but asking owners to have to reassign spaces to accomplish this goal would be a non-starter and halt the process as the “value” of parking spaces could dramatically change from the original assignments.

A “spoke” model was decided upon: from the new panel’s location, those who reserved circuits in the panel would be responsible for hiring a licensed, bonded, insured electrician to install the spoke from a circuit breaker in the panel to conduit mounted on the concrete ceilings and then to the EVSE units. This would be the entire responsibility of the owner who would need to hold harmless the association from the work. In return, they would be granted approval from the association board for the installation in common and limited common, subject to the policy.

Annual meeting momentum

Leading up to the annual meeting in January 2019, significant legwork done in previous years meant that we had a very clear vision for what our first private charging project would look like. This is one meeting per year where a large set of members in the condo are present to vote on board positions, so a great chance to poll many people and bring forward priorities for the coming year.

A brief presentation covered the false starts of the past decade (EV charging had come up at almost every annual meeting for 4 years) to propose an EV project:

  • presented new information about load and capacity for the building and being able to use MDS-2,
  • celebrated the success of the community’s one shared EV charger amenity,
  • recognized that private charging will be entirely paid for by owners who buy into the project,
  • set a range of expected cost per unit from $5,000-$10,000

By a raise of hands, owners were excited about the option finally being considered in a state to move forward in the year. Since there were many details to figure out, this was about taking the temperature of a large group of owners, not about a motion or specific plan.

An outcome of the strong support was a hope to use monthly meetings to solidify a plan, consult with the rules committee, hold an open house, and see if owners really were willing to put money down to reserve the limited space in the anticipated project.

EV Open House and Tour

An EV open house was scheduled to present to the association’s interested owners information about electric vehicles, charging, traveling with an EV, etc.

The agenda for that open house was:

  • half an hour briefing in the club room
    • all about EVs,
    • charging at work, on-the-go, at home,
    • we had a sample Tesla Wall Connector EVSE available to show everyone what it looks like
    • slides about available car models and price points,
    • the building’s anticipated approach to charging
  • half an hour garage tour
    • toured the main electric room to explain infrastructure requirements
    • looked at several electric vehicles available for owners to sit in, see
    • test drives and rides around the neighborhood in electric vehicles

The open house was a great inflection point for interest and brought a number of new people into the conversation, immediately shifting the community toward “OK, let’s do this”.


Past attempts in the building had always had to deal with the chicken-and-egg problem of EV ownership: without a clear path to charging in the building, very few people owned EVs.

After the association installed the shared charger in 2016, there was an uptick in EV ownership, but only to 2-3 vehicles, only 1 owner which wanted to have the right to spend their own money on installing a private charger.

With a desire to keep not have the community contributing to the private charging project, the compromise was that a policy, contingent on a sufficient number of reservations, would be approved. Reservations would be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis for cicuits, and be refundable only if the project is not approved.

The board, taking community input, decided that if 5 reservations were placed, they would approve the project.

The rules would also be crafted to recognize that if an owner decided not to install a circuit, they could transfer the reservation to another owner, to encourage potential EV owners to buy in to the project.


Our association’s declaration document is clear that for additional utility installations, sub-meters can and should be used.

To be most fair, and only charge owners for their energy used, it was decided that participants in the EV charging project must have a specific revenue-grade sub-meter product installed adjacent to the electric panel to record the individual circuit’s energy use.

Quarterly, our staff or management company would read the meters and charge units for the net new energy used, at cost.

A sub-meter adds around $900 to the installation cost of each spoke circuit. If our declaration had been worded differently, we likely would not have required sub-meters and instead considered other approaches that other buildings have used. However, this was the most fair to the owners and board at the time of the decision.

Fees for ongoing use

Our condo already has several paid amenities, such as guest suites, and so regularly collects payment by credit card and check for a number of different fees and fines defined by the rules and policies.

The three fees eventually agreed upon for the project were:

  1. The one-time, non-refundable reservation fee to have a circuit assigned in the project.
  2. An annual fee of $50 to cover the minimal overhead of the project (meter-reading by staff)
    • Quarterly meter reading by our staff, and processing of payments
    • Any credit card fees associated with energy reimbursement
  3. Quarterly energy reimbursement

Level 2 EVSEs, not outlets

In electric vehicle charging, there are 3 commonly recognized levels of charging:

  • Level 1 charging is a standard 120V 15-amp or 20-amp circuit that trickle charges
  • Level 2 charging is the home charging standard, 208/240V 20-amp or more circuit
  • Level 3 charging is DC fast charging, Tesla Supercharger, etc., which would be insanely expensive to install in a private residence

Given this EV project was targeting early adopters, those willing to invest in the infrastructure, and likely costing thousands of dollars, we decided that the project will target up to 10 Level 2 chargers. While owners would be allowed to install a Level 1 charger if they wanted, or a trickle charger for an exotic car, they would not be the primary target of the program.

The electric code requirements for garages such as ours indicates that an outlet (120V, 240V, etc.) must now be installed on a circuit with ground protection, as they may be exposed to the wet elements.

Considering the grounding requirement and also that charging stations are much more clean than having mobile charging connectors around, we decided that our 240V installations must all be of an approved EVSE model, and not an outlet. Outlets would only be allowed for a Level 1 trickle charger.

Specific breaker sizes

To maximize the use of the new infrastructure, there was a need to compromise some on the size of circuit breakers (thereby setting the size of the EVSE units owners could install).

The National Electric Code designates that an electric vehicle circuit be treated like a continuous load, so there is a 125% buffer requirement on the load: a 40-amp EV charger needs to be installed with a 50-amp circuit breaker, an 80-amp circuit would need a 100-amp breaker, etc.

In new single-family home installs, Tesla, Audi e-Ton, and other high-end EVs often opt for the largest circuit their panel can support, to maximize the charging, and “because the numbers are big and cool.”

The reality is that an EV is rarely charging an empty battery - in common daily use, it’s just topping off the battery over a few hours from that day’s drive. The acceptance rate of many EVs is also not always high enough to support large breaker sizes. The cost of wire and size of conduit increase as the 208/240V amperage goes up, too.

The City of Seattle designates that a Level 2 EV charger is one that is 20-amps or more. With a 20-amp charger and a regional daily commute, a typical EV would be able to recharge for that commute in 3-5 hours, easily overnight, so we decided to accept the city’s minimum Level 2 designation as the baseline.

If enough owners were OK with a 20-amp charger on a 25-amp circuit breaker, we would get more charging circuits out of the project.

We set the reservation prices at:

  • $1,000 for a 20-amp EVSE (25-amp circuit breaker)
  • $2,000 for a 32-amp EVSE (40-amp circuit breaker)

We decided not to offer larger breaker sizes in this project to maximize participation:

  • 40-amp EVSE on a 50-amp circuit (a very common EV circuit size)
  • 50-amp, 60-amp and 80-amp (not necessary unless load sharing among multiple chargers or older dual-charger Teslas)

There’s a lot of FUD from people less familiar with EVs - especially Audi dealers - that you need to have the largest size installation, otherwise “your e-tron will take days to charge.”

Cost breakdown

Infrastructure cost

The best bid that we had on this project was as follows:

  • $11,000-ish (2019)
    • Purchase an electrical permit and have the work inspected/signed-off by the authority having jurisdiction
    • Pre-inspection review of project
    • Purchase and install a switchgear breaker
    • Provide and install a 75KVA transformer
    • Form and pour a housekeeping pad for the transformer
    • Provide and install a 200-amp main breaker 3-phase 4-wire panel
  • $300
    • Provide and install 7 2P-40A and 1 2P-25A breakers

There was no sales tax thanks to a Washington State EV infrastructure exemption. Originally set to expire in 2019, it’s since been extended into 2025.

Individual cost

This was the cost of my installation, about 250’ from the main electric room.

  • $2,000
    • Circuit reservation fee paid to the association to buy into the shared infrastructure project
  • $549 EVSE
    • Tesla Wall Connector
  • $3,500 Electrician Services
    • Wire in a 120/208V 1-phase 32-amp feed from the new EV1 panel to the specific parking column using 3/4” EMT conduit
    • Install a 60-amp HD disconnect on the feed ahead of the car charger (optional)
    • Wire in and configure an owner-provided Tesla Wall Connector
    • Provide and install an electric deduct meter adjacent to the panel to monitor car charging power
    • Purchase an electrical permit and have the work inspected/signed-off

Total cost of $6,049. No sales tax thanks to 2019 EV infrastructure exemption.

Contingent policy approved

In one of the early meetings of the year the rules committee presented a proposed policy and updates to the fees/fines table to cover the new project.

Following the standard review period, in the May association meeting the policy and rules were unanimously approved by the board and so the project entered the phase of waiting for sufficient paid reservations.

Owners were strongly encouraged to get quotes from multiple electricians as part of determining whether they wanted to participate in the program. Interestingly, very few of the owners believed the initial quotes that installs could be “$5,000 or so”. In hindsight, we should have required that owners provided at least 1 quote to show that they were very serious about the project and aware of the potential costs involved in building out their spoke of the system.

Construction begins

In late April the electricians were on site. They pulled a permit from the city and then schedule a pre-install inspection to meet with the inspector, discuss the project approach, share the load data and other information, to make sure there would be no roadblocks along the way for this straightforward project.

Following the inspector meeting the crew started preparing the concrete housekeeping pad for the new transformer, making preparations and ordering parts.

The electricians also walked the garage with owners who had placed reservations to offer quotes for their spoke installs. While our owners were free to solicit any licensed, bonded, and insured electrician, many chose to work with the same firm performing the hub installation.

Planned power outage

Installing the new breaker in the switchgear required shutting down power to other portions of the garage and commercial area.

This turned into a great opportunity to test the building’s diesel generator emergency circuits, learn what systems worked as expected, and what did not. While we do a quarterly generator test, these use a simulated transfer switch, and not an actual transfer of the electric load off of the utility grid.

Planned for 3:00am on a specific day to minimize impact, power was turned off and it was fun seeing the emergency garage lights stay on, the elevators continue to function, etc., once the diesel generator clicked on. We worked with our on-site building manager to walk the facility and record systems of note that were not functioning as expected, or on the wrong circuit, so it was the first real test since the building opened to occupants over 15 years ago.

Since the switchgear where the infrastructure was being connected is separate from the residential systems, no residential units lost electricity, and while we warned residents of the planned outage, we were confident they would not be impacted.

Project completion

In May, we received our 8th reservation and the board closed the project to new reservations.

Several of the owners went forward with ordering new cars such as the Tesla Model 3 and taking delivery.

Circuits were installed throughout the garage; some were wired to EVSEs right away, one was wired for a trickle charger today and also wire for a future Level 2 charger, and a few had conduit installed with pull string but no wire for in anticipation of the owner taking eventual delivery in 2020 or 2021 of an Audi they wanted to wait on.

In the garage we now see several Teslas, another Chevy Volt, a Chevy Bolt, and the community charger is now being used by 6 owners at various times who chose not to invest in the Limited Common charging project.

2022 Update: There are electric vehicles everywhere in the garage, about 20 Teslas, some VW ID4’s.

Retrospective learnings

In retrospect, if we were to revisit this project again, we may want to take more information we have learned and consider alternative options.

Per-circuit sub-meters are expensive

Our community felt strongly that not only should the cost of the project for private charging be covered exclusively by the individuals benefitting, but similar to energy use at home, energy use should be metered and paid for by the individuals.

In some buildings it may be possible to add new meter stacks with utility meters and separate bills, but since we used the “house meter” from the city, this meant that the options were:

  • Put a single sub-meter on the entire EV panel, and evenly split the cost of energy used by all 8 participants
  • Place sub-meters on each EV circuit, having that individual owner reimbuse for their specific use
  • Estimate average energy use of an EV on a monthly basis and make this a flat, fixed rate fee for the EV circuits
  • Make charging free

In retrospect, a single sub-meter split evenly feels like a better approach, since it would have saved each charger close to $1,000 by not having to have a sub-meter purchased and installed. However, it then means that users are not directly paying for their energy use.

Owners do not believe their install cost will be so expensive

Several owners paid the reservation fee but did not believe the estimate of “maybe $5,000 or more” for the cost of installing their circuit. Even after multiple quotes from electricians, at least 1 of the owners who purchased a reservation has realized it’s beyond their comfort level to pay on top of the cost of a vehicle, etc.

As a result, these owners are now looking to transfer/resell their reservation, or figure out what to do. We should have required that owners submit a quote along with their reservation to indicate they do understand their specific costs.

Disconnect switches not needed

For specific amperages on the higher end, the NEC requires a heavy duty disconnect switch to be installed. This is not required for 32-amp or even 40-amp installations (I think it is only at 50 amp+ that it is needed).

When I had my install done, I requested the disconnect switch as part of my quote, which cost probably another $400 or so in parts and time. This came from my previous research into the higher amperage chargers when I had considered having a 50-amp charger put in prior to our decision to reduce target amperage to get more participants in the project.

Our other installs have not gone with a disconnect switch to save cost.

A disconnect switch can allow the owner to lock the switch in the open position (not energized), to disallow access to the charging station by others. Since our panel is located in the locked electric room, this is a decent approach.

Continuous load impact on charger count

Our earliest EV committees had estimated incorrectly the load for a given set of chargers, either by not properly estimating the continuous load and buffer (people assuming a 20-amp charger only requires 20-amps of capacity in the fededers, when really it requires a 25-amp breaker), or not estimating the per-phase load.

Make sure to have your electrician clearly indicate available capacity for chargers, since you do not want to expect to be able to install more chargers than you can if you are taking reservation payments!

6th Service Disconnect

Our “house” service in the switchgear had 5 service disconnect breakers attached to it before our project, and so our new breaker for the new transformer became the 6th service disconnect.

The code limits such a setup to 6 service disconnects, so when our next phases kick off, the electricians will have a slightly increased project scope to reconfigure the breakers to support additional transformers or panels without adding a new service-level disconnect.

This was learned during the project and we did not understand before. It will probably add $2,000-$5,000 to the next phase, if that happens.

Program preparations (2016-2018)

For several years the topic of EV charging would come up at each annual meeting and throughout monthly meetings every once and a while. There was a significant amount of planning that went into running through options and scenarios.

Peak demand meter

In late 2017 our building’s “house meter” was updated to be a peak demand meter to allow the city to charge us not only for energy consumed, but also peak energy consumption.

A nice side effect of this was that we were able to greenlight our 2019 project without requiring a demand study, since the peak demand data from the meter gave us over 1 entire year of peak data. It indicated that our house panel was using at peak only 11% of its available electrical capacity, providing plenty of overhead for our project that an inspector could agree with.

Microfilm building records

Many of our original electric drawings (the “as-builts”) for the condo have gone missing over the years as many contractors have borrowed pages for different purposes.

The City of Seattle maintains archival copies of all these as-builts in the municipal tower, but for buildings built before a more recent time, all the records are on microfilm.

We were able to locate the necessary electrical plans to make copies and scan for future use. This helped provide a good foundation for our electricians to review and have handy throughout our EV journey, although the clarity and quality of some of the figures in the plans is very hard to read in the film prints.

Annual community interest

At both the 2017 and 2018 annual meetings held in early January owners asked why progress was not being made on investigating a plan or policy for EV charging. It was clear that a few people would need to go get involved in learning about the real options.

Garage WiFi

As part of a building-wide security camera project, we moved from a traditional analog security system to a power-over-Ethernet network approach which brought online a number of new cameras, including the complete exterior of the building, plus a rooftop terrace, and cameras throughout the garage.

Since the underground garage does not receive traditional cell signals, it was also affordable at the time to install WiFi access points in the garage to allow the building staff to receive communications while on security walks, etc.

A nice side effect is that residents now also have access to that WiFi network in the garage and throughout the common areas, which means that cars that have WiFi can also receive updates.

Community charging amenity (2015)

In 2015, as was becoming an annual habit, EV charging would become a topic at the annual association meeting in January, followed by exploratory follow-up meetings.

The 2015 EV committee focused on looking at a way to affordably bring both a community EV charger to the community as a pilot to see how popular it gets, and to provide a path for owners to install their own chargers, at their own cost.

While talking to owners interested in charging, the economics of installing a charging solution became a conversation: a few owners felt that the premise of an Electric Vehicle was both about the environment but also cost savings compared to gasoline. In their mind, any investment in the capital cost of infrastructure would diminish the theoretical return on the investment in an EV. That was a bummer, because it meant there were more EV and PHEVs in the garage than those interested in a better charging solution.

One key issue was that we had no known load info or load studies for any of our electric service connections into the building, and installing equipment for a load study could require a temporary power outage to install the load equipment, and this would be extremely impactful to homes. Any initial approach would need to go off of the known panel loads for existing garage circuits which had limited electric capacity and limited physical breaker space in the panels.

Eventually two proposals were prepared and presented:

  1. Reallocate 2 unused motorcycle parking spaces to become parking space “EV1”, a paid amenity: electric car charging by the hour. The best quote from an electrician would use an existing penetration into the area which is directly above the main electric room, then place a 240V breaker in the existing garage panel, and install an EVSE, for $3,000.
  2. On top of proposal 1, allow owners, at their own cost, to have a branch circuit installed in the existing garage panel, first-come, first-served. There may only be available electric capacity for 1-2 chargers, at which point a more involved project would be needed. No association cost but also not a scalable plan to anticipate growth.

There was thoughtful discussion over the coming months after the proposals were made.

While the board had the authority to approve an owner to have an electrician install a one-off charger and circuit in the building, it would not provide a scalable solution to future owners or interest. There was a lot of concern about “what if this is the last charger the building could install.”

Shared charger approved: Approval to install, using association funds as a new amenity, a shared EVSE for up to $3,000. The bid included providing a sub-meter to monitor energy use, if needed. As a new paid amenity, over time, the project would provide value to some owners and would cover the cost of the installation and EVSE. We installed a Clipper Creek brand EVSE.

Private charger approach not approved: Without a plan to allow more people than just 1-2 install chargers, it was seen as not building a fair enough framework to be scalable.

The installation went swiftly, though we did not realize that the original bid only covered the installation of a NEMA 15-40 outlet, not an EVSE as well. We ended up having to approve an additional expense to purchase a NEMA 15-40 ClipperCreek unit.

The cheap approach (by not buying a networked/integrated billing and metering solution) was that the electric outlet is locked, and so an owner has to check out the key to plug the EVSE in to the outlet before use, then return the key after using and disconnecting the EVSE.

Lesson learned: Locking an outlet is a huge pain and adds significant friction to using an EVSE. Our owners with EVs would have to park in the space, take the elevator up to the concierge desk, check out the key, then return to plug in the EVSE to the unlocked outlet, plug in their car, and then return the key.

As of late 2019 we are still considering options to improve this experience, such as moving to an honor-based system, but the opinion of the community is that charging cars should be paid for and recouped.

In hindsight, we probably should have considered a networked ChargePoint-style system that would allow owners to have their own ChargePoint card, then we would set a rate, and billing would be easy and automatic, with no need to work with our concierge staff.

2022 update: we’ve had several ChargePoint bids over the years, it’s a non-starter. They’re definitely priced for commercial business installations and not able to compete effectively in the residential space. Expensive units, monthly service fees, requirements to install cell repeaters, etc.

Deciding to wait (2010-2014)

For many years, the decision of the association was to decide to wait for future demand and to table any proposals or rules in the EV space.

2014: Learning and planning

In 2014 our building had 2 EV/PHEV cars in it - a Chevy Volt and a Tesla Model S. Both of these vehicles were becoming more popular throughout the Pacific Northwest, and new owners were becoming interested in the convenience of being able to charge at home.

An EV committee was formed and began researching options, looking at what other buildings had done to implement an approach, and try and form a basis for an association opinion.

A survey of owners in the building learned that in the next several years there would be interest in charging.

The owner who headed the committee did an amazingly solid job pulling together resources, trying to identify incentives that might reduce the HOA’s burden, find a cost-effective, scalable solution for charging in the building, and soliciting information from other buildings and groups that have undergone similar projects.

The committee was not always able to get the best information from electrical firms in the area, whether they had experience in EV-related work or not: many would offer quotes contingent on available load, but were not very forthcoming about how to obtain load information, or what that might cost. Many electricians are much too busy to accept small projects.

Two proposals were considered:

  1. For $17,000, the installation of an integrated EVSE charging system that would be a single-port commercial charging unit with integrated billing and metering.
  2. For $12,000, installing a new 3-pole breaker in the existing switchgear to feed a new 75KVA 480-120/208V 3-phase transformer, panel, core drilling to another location in the garage concrete, and installing a single 50-amp 208V dedicated outlet or EVSE.

The new transformer and panel would be an effective solution that would provide additional capacity for future EV charging to be installed at owners’ individual cost to their parking spaces.

In July the recommendation to table the project again was made, recognizing that there was insufficient demand to justify spending community association funds on the project. (HOA budgets are run very efficiently and unbudgeted investments such as these electrical infrastructure changes can be hard to justify, since they only benefit those interested in the new addition.)

A future solution would need to minimize the association investment or focus just on the amenity angle.

2010-2013: Early interest

In 2010 the association spent a lot of time working out cost savings and efficiency improvements to offset rising utility rates.

As a part of that process, a homeowner who was very interested in the development of Tesla and EV, and considering a Tesla Roadster, asked about the association’s roadmap to enable EV charging.

The association entertained some early options with electricians, one of which identified a plan that would bring in new meter stacks into the building, transformers and other equipment, for over $47,500. It is unclear in retrospect what the scope of the plan was.

The decision was made that it was too soon to think about charging and the question was tabled.

In 2012, after a few continued conversations about charging, the owner who wanted to invest in EV charging decided to sell their unit in our building and purchase a unit in another downtown condo building that had an EV charging offering program. They moved, had a charger installed, and purchased an early Tesla Model S in 2013.

In 2013, the question of allowing owners to install branch circuits for trickle chargers for exotic cars came up: with easy access to a 120V outlet, owners of super cars could keep the 12V battery alive between periods of rest for the car. This was not seen as a compelling enough reason to invest in building out new infrastructure, but it was understood that an eventual EV charging program might permit trickle chargers.

Overcoming fear and uncertainty

Here’s a collection of things some people have asked during the years of conversation on our condo’s charging program.

“I must have a 100-amp circuit”

Some people who are interested in owning an EV, or who currently own one, are looking to maximize their investment, feel that they must have the highest specifications - so they want to “go big” on a large circuit breaker and charging station.

Help inform and educate everyone about this. It’s expensive to provision high amperage circuits and not that helpful. Be wary of allowing large circuits if you do not have an insane amount of electrical capacity available.

With daily commuting or city use, a pure battery electric vehicle will only use 5%, 10%, 15% of the battery - which can be recharged in a few hours on a Level 2 charger. This means you wake up with a full charge no matter what.

It is incorrect to look at how long it would theoretically take to recharge from 0-100% a battery electric EV: this rarely happens, since a typical routine should keep its use between 30% and 90% of battery charge.

Consider focusing on 20-amp, 32-amp, and 40-amp charging stations as a key place for your multi-family building. Allowing larger amperages will impact the available space you have in your project to support additional users.

Beware the infrastructure impact:

  • Larger gauge wire will be required for higher amperages
  • At 50-amps and above, the electric code will likely require you to have a heavy duty disconnect switch mounted within reach of the charging station
  • More amperage means less charging circuits on a panel or transformer

We found the traditional car dealerships are especially uninformed here: one of our residents who is looking into the Audi e-tron was told they should install a Level 3 charger at home to charge in minutes… the reality is, Level 3 DC charging is extremely expensive, and would not make sense for a private owner to install. The dealer then warned the person: “with a Level 2 charger, it will take you a day to charge”, and so the owner in our community had the impression their car would always have to be charging, not understanding the daily impact.

Clipper Creek’s Charging Times reference document is especially helpful here to educate people.

For PHEV hybrids, they have much smaller batteries, and so while they may need to fully charge their battery overnight, on a Level 2 charger, that will also just take a few hours.

“This is just a rich people problem”

Early on in our community’s days there were the exotic Italian sportscar owners who wanted to have trickle charging to keep their 12V batteries alive for cars that were rarely used;

For many years, there was the perception that EVs were all $140,000 Tesla models, and so this was not really something for the general community to care about.

Even today, in 2019, people still believe a Tesla Model 3 is a very expensive car - yet our parking garage is already full of over a hundred German sports cars that all cost more than a typical Model 3.

Help inform people on the price of common electric cars, including used cars: the Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3, KIA’s Niro and Soul, VW, so many great cars are out there and affordable.

Having an EV open house where you introduce people to models, price points, etc. will help remove the belief here that’s it’s a “rich people” thing. Thankfully the huge uptake of the Model 3 helps evolve the Tesla image.

“Why should our association spend time on this?”

Many owners did not feel it was worth the association board’s time to investigate options here, even when a committee was formed to do the heavy lifting and learning.

In the end the board has the sole authority in Washington State to approve uses of Limited Common and Common space in the building, covering assigned parking spaces, and so the board must act here.

The benefits are clear to the association:

  • Fewer oil spots in the garage to have cleaned up
  • Attract new owners into the community who are interested in EV capabilities being available or at least considered
  • Retain current owners who feel they would like an EV, and so are going to consider purchasing in a community that supports their requirements
  • Can help even out electric bills and demand charges when charging at night

Do take care to make sure the community is comfortable with the funding model. Some condos have funded infrastructure as a community, others, like my association, did not want private-benefit infrastructure to be funded by the association.

“We’re not even going to have cars in 10 years”

One person in the community would say essentially, “with Uber and self-driving cars coming, we’re not even going to have a need for cars in 10 years.”

Just silly. This is overly optimistic. If that’s true, a much larger conversation will be what to do with the hundreds of parking spaces in the garage, no whether it’s fair to invest time and money into enabling EV charging.

“Why are we only letting some people benefit”

Some owners felt “if we do anything, we must bring charging to every single parking space in the building” - everyone gets it, or nobody.

These owners were passionate about the concept that we should not do work that benefits only some people.

The reality is that condo communities are full of Limited Common features and assignments and benefits that are not universal:

  • Parking spaces are assigned; some spaces are better than others
  • Storage units are different sizes, assigned, some have moved hands or been consolidated
  • A/C HVAC units are only available to some units in the building
  • Some outdoor terraces and balconies are only benefiting some of the owners
  • Bike racks are available for some, but not others

The community must evolve and offer new things that interest people.

The board authorized a 4th Internet and telecommunications company access to the building, since some people wanted additional choice. While no cost to the community, others have benefitted and enjoyed having that 4th option - it just makes sense to evolve.

“Electricity is not green”

Some people believe the rhetoric that electricity is dirty and generated by coal. In some states, this may be true, but in the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with a diversity of green electric generation opportunities, and make extensive use of hydro, for example.

Regardless, the electric grid is a part of life, and it’s much cleaner to not have cars that are polluting all day long.

“Conduit is ugly”

Some owners felt that conduit mounted on the garage ceiling is not attractive.

While true, and newer buildings can embed EV charging circuits in the concrete slab running to parking spaces, the reality is that the garage is already full of many building systems running on the ceilings: sprinkler systems, network cables and camera systems, circuits for emergency power, etc.

Once our first set of EV charging circuits went in, most owners could not even identify which circuits were new and which had been on the ceiling for years.

“What if they damage the post-tensioned concrete?”

In our multi-level post-tensioned concrete garage, some have heard horror stories about what happens if the PT cables are damaged during drilling.

Using licensed, bonded, insured electricians is key, and professionals familiar with the building construction and using shallow concrete mounting techniques, but this is not a reason not to approve EV charging.

Not all of our owners were aware that it is very common in the building to have some level of drilling happen into the concrete by professionals.

For core drilling, x-ray or other imaging solutions are used to safely look into the slab before a penetration is made.

Not all parking spaces are created equal

It is true that not all parking spaces are equal, and has always been the way, at least in our building.

Some are closer to the main electric room or EV panel location your project may have planned.

Some spaces are close to the entrance/exit, others have slightly larger spots.

Owners can purchase and transfer spaces between themselves if they feel they need a different spot.

This does mean that some people’s cost to install a branch circuit in a hub-and-spoke model may be higher if they have more levels to penetrate, or other restrictions, but this is not a reason not to offer an EV product.

Advice to condo owners and boards

I wanted to cover my take on some of the decision points in the hope that it might be useful to others. Feel free to reach out on Twitter if it would be useful to further expand on any of these topics.

At a high level:

  • If you’re a tiny building, you may not need to do much other than authorize someone to connect to an existing panel or garage circuit.
  • 120V Level 1 chargers likely make sense for many fleet charging systems, but may not meet the expectations of early adopters or pilot participants
  • Load sharing solutions for Level 2 chargers are an absolutely great product, especially if they do not have per-port fees or expensive systems
  • Sub-metering may not always be worth it, but your community’s preferences may vary.
  • Solve for the near term and think about but do not let the long term sway your approach.
  • Charging-as-a-service providers are likely good for some communities, horrible for others: being locked into today’s technology and a pricing structure for a long period of time will have some pain.

A note to board members: you may… have a duty, etc. … always act in the best interest of the association … will need to gather broad support for members not on the board. You can help to encourage and maintain a fair voice. Make your interest clear and only move forward once community …

The luxury of of personal charging

“Private” or personal charging is a luxury best thought of when comparing having in-unit washer/dryer to coin-operated laundry elsewhere in the building. It will not make sense to many but some will love it.

Charging is something that will add value to your unit only if a future owner cares about or already has interest in EVs: it’s unclear if the value will be appreciated by all.

Understanding electric distribution infrastructure

The typical electric infrastructure in the city will be:

  • The utility’s distribution network (power lines underground or overhead)
  • The utility’s transformers will step-down electricity from their distribution lines to your building, typically inside your building’s electric vault or a nearby vault underground under a sidewalk or street
  • Your main electric room will have 1 or more electric service connections running from the electric vault to your main building switchgear or switchboard. In our building, we have a 480V 3-phase 4-wire system in place.
  • The switchgear will have service disconnects and other bus equipment in place. Attached to the 480V 3-phase breakers will be either 480V panels or step-down transformers. (Our single-phase common lighting in the garage runs at 277V, while most household and general outlets are running at 120V and require a transformer to be useful).
  • Unless you have an existing 120/208V panel that has significant spare capacity (load available, not physical space) to install new circuit breakers for branch EV circuits, you will need to install a new step-down transformer for your EV charging system project. Our building chose to install a 75KVA transformer as it was the maximum size transformer that could be installed with an over-the-counter (OTC) permit, making the project less expensive and quicker to execute.
  • A new panel will be installed that connects to the transformer. This is where the branch connections to individual EV charging circuit owners will be made. Each branch circuit will have a 208/240V circuit breaker as required by their EVSE. If a sub-meter system is being used, a sub-meter will also need to be installed adjacent to the panel for the branch circuit.
  • Owners will work with an electrician, and the building manager, to seek approval to have their electrician install, at their own cost, the branch circuit conduit - including any penetrations through concrete, drilling costs, concrete x-rays, mounting the conduit, etc., to their parking spot.
  • The electrician would then install the EVSE in the parking space. From the utility your building will have one or more electric service connections. The utility’s electric vault is where the utility brings in power from the grid.

Decisions to make

  • Can someone spearhead this project?
  • Do we have existing electric vehicles who can help advocate and inform other owners in the community?
  • Will the utility help subsidize any of this system?
  • Are there government perks or benefits that could offset the cost of infrastructure investments?
  • What have other buildings in the neighborhood or city done?
  • Do our governing documents (declaration, etc.) allow the community to offer new amenities or approve new uses for Common and Limited Common spaces?
  • What is the process for creating a new policy or approving changes to Limited Common parking spaces?
  • Whose electric service will be used for the system?
  • Do we have sufficient available electric load for the project? Is there data available from the utility? Do we need a load study or plan review? What permit requirements will be made? The outcome of this data will be a few different choices including:
    • If you have a current panel that has spare load and spare physical space for new circuit breakers
    • If you have capacity for the load, but not physical space, and so need a new sub-panel
    • If you have load available from one of your building services, but would need to install a new main breaker, transformer, and panel
    • If your building does not have sufficient electrical service to support your desired new electric charging loads - and would require the utility to bring in new service to your building
  • What requirements do we have for contractors?
  • How will the association be repaid if its house meter is used?
  • Is there enough interest for a community charger?
  • Is there significant interest for the community as a whole to invest in infrastructure?
  • Is there interest to approve new infrastructure (“hub”) that owners reserve into and allow owners to install at their cost (“spoke”)?
  • Do we design a small incremental program, maximize what we can get on an over-the-counter permit, or go big and hiring an enginering firm to help land a large program?
  • Do we use a charging-as-a-service provider, or install a project that will have monthly port charges, or choose to keep it more simple?
  • Should our program offer Level 1 (120V) and/or Level 2 (208/240V) charging?
  • Should installations use a wall connector EVSE system, outlets, or allow either?
  • Do we allow owners to use load sharing to install charging in multiple parking spaces of theirs, or make charging available to their parking neighbors?
  • Are there specific models or charging systems that need approval?
  • Do we need to suggest a location for chargers to be mounted against walls, or pillars, or posts? Do our owners understand the authority having jurisdiction may require the use of bollards or posts or other protective devices?
  • How much community money are we willing to invest, if any, in charging that benefits individuals?
  • Would we approve using community money in the short term if over the remainder of the specific EV project the community money is completely repaid?
  • Do we allow reservation holders to reassign or sell their investment to other owners?
  • Do we require reservation holders to install a complete project, or can they wait until the future, or partially install the electric conduit system now?
  • What happens when there is demand for additional chargers after the project?
  • Do we want to setup a fund for helping with future plans, design or engineering work as the charging problem gets more challenging?
  • Do we have wireless Internet in the garage, or do we want to make it available?

Program outline

The program we used was essentially built on:

  • Use the annual member meetings and surveys to measure broad interest
  • Setup a committee to investigate implementation details, learn about the local authority’s requirements for installations, load testing, etc.
  • Host an “EV Open House” or set of community events for interested owners to inform them about EV/PHEVs, charging essentials, etc.
  • Consider installing a community EV charging amenity if your building has available shared/community spaces
  • Work with the rules and architecture committees to develop a policy framework
  • Approve a policy contingent on receiving enough financial commitment to fund an infrastructure investment within a set period of time, first-come, first-served
  • Implement the project and gather feedback
  • Prepare a summary of advice or notes for the next iteration of the program

Tips - shared amenity charging

It’ll be cheaper to install a bank of load-sharing EVSE units, consider it if you have options.

Consider if you could make charging free, a fixed monthly cost, or install a ChargePoint or similar system to make it easy to bill without jumping through complicated steps.

Have sane rules to allow an overnight charge.

Encourage your EV owners to get to know each other and communicate.

EVSEs vs Outlets

We learned that newer clarifications to the 2017 Seattle Electric Code alterations on top of the NEC require a ground fault circuit breaker to be installed for anything in a garage, adding cost and confusion.

Do you want to allow people to install a crisp, clean-looking charging station (EVSE), or do you want to just ask them to have an outlet in their parking space, having to attach the “mobile connector” whenever they charge?

120V vs 208/240V

  • Level 1 or Level 2? Strongly recommend Level 2, but not too high an amperage.

Approaches to recovering energy costs

  • City meters?
  • Allow EV circuits onto existing residential service connections through new sub-panels?
  • Sub-meter each individual EV circuit?
  • Sub-meter all the EV circuits collectively and portion out?
  • Install a managed charging system that handles billing?
  • Fixed monthly cost to charge
  • Offer free charging

  • NOTE that your utility’s specifics may impact this… may have time and demand-based charging rates

  • NOTE some jurisdictions may not allow you to sub-meter electricity

As of this writing, in Seattle we do not have time-of-day rates, though our “house” circuit does have demand charges based on peak demand.

Tips - individual charging

  • Try to think of multiple units at once and do not authorize one-off installations using existing panels to be more efficient in rolling out a program that can scale and help many people
  • Do consider load sharing and managed service providers if there is significant initial demand
  • If setting up a community shared charger, price it to encourage use
  • Think about an efficient and fair chargeback scheme
  • Consider using a first-come, first-served reservation scheme
  • Consider specific circuit size limits
  • Make sure owners are approved by the board and/or building manager and use a licensed, bonded, insured electrician
  • Make sure owners’ electricians obtain a permit from city and that the work is signed off on by the authority having jurisdiction

Thinking about load sharing and fleet charging providers

This space will continue to evolve. There are companies offering “charging-as-a-service” products, where they cover the capital infrastructure investment in return for the long-term right to collect monthly service and maintenance income from your building and owners.

Many EVSEs can load share among multiple units: the Tesla Wall Connector, for example, can be configured to share power between 4 charging units that are each up to 50 feet apart.

In the next decade it’s easy to imagine these large load sharing and power management platforms will be the de-facto approach to handling large fleets of vehicles or large residential garage projects. Maybe there will be an open source platform for charging that will remove port costs or other overhead.

Approaches we did not pursue

  • Allowing owners to branch their residential unit’s power and install conduit from that to their parking spaces
  • New utility meters dedicated to individual EV chargers

Resources you can use

Here’s a set of resources collected or created for our project. Happy to share.

Other Seattle condo approaches

Here’s a summary of other buildings we researched and learned from as part of our EV project.

Given the sensitive nature of real estate transactions around condo amenities in Seattle, I am not naming building names here.

I am not aware of any downtown Seattle buildings that have invested in broad fleet-style load sharing infrastructure systems at this time.

Fancy Tower 1

  • 270+ units
  • Building built 2009, EV program implemented 2015

  • Installed infrastructure including a panel in the middle garage level paid for by the entire community as part of a typical budget expense item
  • Priced at $250 for a 120V breaker in the panel, one-time, $500 for a 208V breaker in the panel
  • Monthly cost of $20 fixed, flat rate for all circuit users (no sub-meters)
  • No limit to spaces (sufficient panel capacity and building capacity)
  • Spoke installation paid for by individual owners at their cost

Fancy Tower 2

  • Building built 1982, EV program implemented 2013
  • 70+ units

  • Installed infrastructure once enough owners wanted to purchase into the project. Reservations
  • 8 spaces were made available for reservation by owners, 6 were purchased
  • Hub-and-spoke: hub infrastructure paid for by reservations, individual owners paid spokes

My condo building

  • Building built 2002, EV program implemented 2019
  • 170+ units

  • Installed infrastructure including transformer and panel
  • 8 spaces were made available for reservation by owners, 8 purchased
  • Hub-and-spoke: hub infrastructure paid for by reservations, individual owners paid spokes

Other nearby tower

  • Building built 2008, EV program partially implemented 2019
  • 180+ units

  • Pilot program allowing a single owner to tap into an existing garage panel at their own cost.
  • Reimbursement method is TBD

New fancy tower

  • Building built 2015, EV program implemented 2015
  • 600+ units

  • Building was constructed with 2 shared community ChargePoint stations for community use
  • Building was constructed with a set of private charging spaces made available to owners who have an EV and reserved the parking spaces
  • Unknown reimbursement program for private spaces
  • Association rules state that an assigned EV charging private space must be given up if the owner no longer has an EV, and a waitlist for other EV owners

Downtown fancy Tower

  • Building built 2009, EV program implemented 2014 (?)
  • 200+ units

  • A single owner invested in electric upgrades and now offers to sell portions of the panel to owners at their cost.
  • Unclear on the specifics

New construction tower (2019)

  • EV charging parking spaces are being sold similar to a backsplash or appliance upgrade at time of sale. Unknown cost.
  • Expect this to be more common as developers look to monetize the city requirements to install charging capacity, conduit, etc.

New construction tower (2019)

  • A new community amenity will be a fleet of shared EV cars available for rent to owners, called “Envoy”
  • Shared EV chargers also available.

Looking forward

Washington State needs right-to-charge laws

A right-to-charge law would have entirely changed the conversation with my HOA. Instead of moving from “no” to “yes”, the conversation would have immediately jumped to “how”.

The State of Washington does not have “right to charge laws” like some states do (California, Colorado, Florida and Oregon). In California, Civil Code 4745, 4745.1 states that “HOAs may not prohibit or unreasonably restrict the installation or use of electric vehicle charging stations in a designated parking space.” As a result, in Washington there is a strong bias for inaction in Washington condo associations with regard to pilot programs and working to extend EV charging, since no charge is easiest to manage, and in general, and HOA board can simply deny any request. Washington needs a right-to-charge law to help accelerate EV adoption by encouraging HOAs to think through how to implement and build a smart program for letting their owners, at their own individual cost, install electric charging equipment in a fair manner, or invest in shared infrastructure.

While I believe apartment buildings will notice the demand and revenue opportunity as EVs roll out broadly, I imagine many apartment dwellers feel they have even less control to request an EV amenity, so right-to-charge could help them, too.

New condos

In cities like Seattle that are requiring provisioning and planning for electrical charging in all new parking spaces, developers will look to monetize that requiremenet in new construction by selling EV-enabled parking spaces as an upgrade when purchasing units. This will put pressure on existing buildings to offer EV in some form to remain competitive.

Will be fun to watch.

The next project: EV2

Our 2nd EV project will likely be very similar or identical in scope to our EV1 Limited Common project:

  • Will reuse the policy implemented in phase 1
  • Will need to get quotes from electricians to identify the next location for a transformer, panel, etc. near the garage
  • Will price reservations to meet the cost requirements for the common portion of the project
  • Reservations offered contingent on enough people reserving to greenlight the project
  • Requiring sub-meters in the same fashion

The big project: EV3

If and when demand increases so much that a much larger approach is needed, we’ll likely eventually look to using a fleet or charging-as-a-service provider, or doing a bulk community investment in the system an electrical engineering firm may offer.

Time will tell.

Jeff Wilcox is a Software Engineer living in Seattle. Jeff attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI and is a cyclist and an electric vehicle enthusiast.