Living With Climate Change: Buying a home? Why you should ask whether it’s wired for electric vehicles

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New American homes are built to last 50 or more years and builders are encouraged to include features that require zero upgrades for at least the first decade or two.

The most popular mortgage ostensibly kicks off a 30-year relationship with a home, whether new or just new to you. In reality, the median length an owner stays in their home is 13 years, the National Association of Realtors says.

What each of those numbers mean is that even if you don’t see yourself in the market for an electric vehicle right now, there’s a growing likelihood that you’ll own an EV while you live in your current home or in the very next property you buy.

For drivers already convinced to go with a gas/electric hybrid or a full EV, it’s the vehicle’s strain on older or underpowered home electrical systems that can sober up a house search fast. Fractured charging infrastructure pushes most EV owners to get in those long charges at home, which means that until greater spending on roadside charging stations emerges and plug-in time speeds up, home setups really matter.

Read: How long will my EV battery last? Here’s what to know

Though California has mandated electrical wiring for EV chargers in its new-home building codes since 2015, the rest of the U.S. has no requirements. Still, builders say they’ve already caught on.

Pre-wiring for EVs is “like in the late ’70s to early ’80s when we started to hardwire for cable TV in every home,” said Darrel McMaster, owner of Sustainable Homes Inc. in Boerne, Texas, in a National Association of Home Builders blog.

EV sales held at a slim 2% of the total vehicles sold in the U.S. in each of the past three years, according to International Energy Agency data used in a Pew Research study that shows slow adoption in the U.S. compared to Europe and China. The EV share of the U.S. auto market is projected to be 20% annually by 2030, particularly if tax incentives or other promotions continue, says the Edison Electric Institute. By 2045, Ernst & Young predicts internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will make up less than 1% of new car sales globally.

The demands on the home EV hookup is not lost on the big auto makers, either, many of which have set hard dates for when they expect their offerings to be majority electric. Among those pledging an EV future, General Motors Co.
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says it’s collaborating with oil
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and renewables giant Royal Dutch Shell
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to give free overnight charging to Texas owners of GM-branded EVs using select home energy plans.

EV-minded house-hunting varies by region

For now, the speed of EV uptake among American drivers varies by region, and so does related home-buying.

California’s EV adoption leads the nation. Nearly 12 out of 1,000 Californians own an EV, the highest per-capita rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Nearly 40% of his real estate business includes owners who have or will soon have an EV, estimated Aaron Leider, a broker at The Agency in the Los Angeles and Palm Desert markets.

“California is maybe five to seven years ahead of the country on EVs, but these vehicles are increasingly part of my market; solar panels are as of last year required on new California residential builds and the all-electric home, no gas, is coming back,” said Leider, who was charging his Tesla X
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at a shared station — the third model from the EV maker he has owned, and one good for a 350-mile charge — during the interview.

Read: Tesla and these other stocks should be boosted as a key electric-vehicle subsidy gets extended, says UBS

But broker Peter Murray’s Frederick, Md., home buyers, who might work in Washington, D.C., or Baltimore, remain focused on the length of their overall commute, including with their existing car, or on their single-family home or condominium’s proximity to public transportation and bike lanes and trails.

Adding an EV for grocery runs, for instance, to a personal fleet that also includes internal-combustion-engine (ICE) vehicles, or opting for an up-market EV, such as a Tesla, remains a “luxury item” and not a priority purchase, said Murray, a broker with Murray & Co. Real Estate.

Blink Charging, formerly Car Charging Group Inc., opened its first residential electric car charging station in this apartment building in the northwest section of Washington, D.C., as early as 2011.


AFP via Getty Images

Yet it’s also evident that some residents are taking matters into their own hands until technology and flexibility for EVs, or more regulations around home charging, catch up, says Murray. A handful of homeowners in his neighborhood and his broader selling market string long extension cords from their mostly mid-century or older houses and apartment buildings to EVs parked at the curb.

Michigan-based Gene Szpeinski, managing broker of over 150 agents at Keller Williams RiverTown/Harbortown in Grandville, near Grand Rapids, said higher-end homebuyers have shown more early interest in EV hookup availability.

Within condos selling in the $300,000 to $400,000 range, an active agent under his management reports zero requests for EV plug-ins in buildings with parking spaces. In the $500,000 to $800,000 range, that agent says 25%-30% of her buyer interest is for properties that include EV hookup.

Current — essentially “early” — Michigan adopters of EVs are proving to be savvy home-seekers when it comes to electricity needs, in Szpeinski’s experience. They’re inquiring about the strength and location of existing electrical panel boxes and they’ve budgeted into their home hunt any necessary upgrades, in most cases.

Read: Biden’s anticipated vehicle mileage rule will exceed Obama climate goal: AP

But as the proliferation of EV ownership takes off, he anticipates some catchup in real estate expertise for a broader audience of car buyers who may expect little to no hassle when it comes to powering at home.

Szpeinski, who is currently a regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors trade group, says he expects to train selling agents in EV home hookups and has participated in a California-led workshop on the issue.

Read: ‘Climate change risk’ may be spurring home buyers to steer clear of coastal Florida markets, study says

Cost considerations

How much does it cost to install the boost potentially needed to charge an EV in a single-family home?

Wiring for a necessary Level 2 electrical system in single-family home garage ranges from $500-$1,500, according to Homeadvisor.com. That’s the base needed to handle the car’s charge, with the actual charging station running an additional $400-$2,000 — assuming 240 volt electrical service is already planned to that outlet. Costs might vary with regional utility differences as well.

A 240 volt (40-100 amp) (AC) hookup charges anywhere from 20-60 miles per hour. Its power is similar to a clothes dryer outlet.

If the main electrical panel is already located in the garage, costs for additional EV wiring was estimated in a range of $300 to $500.

Some home buyers, especially those buying new, may find themselves the owner of an EV-ready dwelling even if they’re not yet committed to this change behind the wheel.

“We are now including EV charging as part of figuring the loads required for the home and are seriously considering making at least the pre-wire part of our standard electrical package,” said John Barrows, owner of P3 Group in Bridgehampton, N.Y., in the NAHB blog.