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Electric car charging when you live in a flat

Living in a flat or a house with no off-street parking can cause some issues if you a looking to charge an electric car. Here’s our advice.

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One of the regular criticisms of electric vehicles is that people who live in a flat or a house with no off-street parking don’t have the luxury of charging at home, and so have to rely on public charging.

Around a third of households can’t charge an EV using their household electricity supply, which is a key consideration if you’re thinking about making the switch to an electric car. But while it’s cheaper and more convenient to charge at home, it’s certainly not an absolute requirement if you’d like to drive an electric vehicle but live in a flat.

It’s worth remembering that the average household car covers about 100 miles a week, while the average battery range for new electric vehicles is more than 200 miles – and many can do more than 300 miles on a full charge. So most households can charge an EV once a week and still never have to worry about running out of electricity.

If this is you, and you’re thinking of moving to an EV, here’s our advice.

What are the options near to your home?

We’ll look at charging using cables across the pavement later, but the first piece of homework is to see what on-street parking exists around you right now, and if possible, find out what’s coming. Your local authority should be able to say how many street charging points it is planning.

You can locate charging points wherever you are in the UK using Zapmap by downloading an ap or browsing the web version. No need to sign up. It can display the type of charger near you but not always if it’s being used at the time you search.

Take a walk around your local streets and locate the chargers nearest to you. Some may also be within a public car park. You’ll see two options; lamp posts and charging stations with posts and marked bays (there are also posts which can rise from flush with the pavement). Lamp post chargers are most common because its relatively cheap and easy for authorities to add charging outlets to the existing lamp posts.

How far away from home are they to leave your car charging? Is the area ok? If you’ve got time, repeat the walk to see how your possible street chargers are being used.

Are they occupied a lot of the time or often free? Lamp post charge points without any marked EV-only bay in front of them aren’t much use if somebody leaves their petrol car there for days.

Are they often out of order? Maybe chat to a local EV owner about their experience of charging in the area.

What type of on-street charging is available?

On your walk, keep a look out for any on-street chargers. They should show their power output with a ‘kW’ for kilowatts. If you can’t see anything, Zapmap will show this information.

There are currently four types of public charging: slow, fast, rapid and ultra-rapid. The last two generally are only found at retail outlets and motorway service stations, so we’ll concentrate on slow and fast chargers.

A slow public charger is rated 3kW-5kW and these are most often used for lamp posts. A full charge takes a long time with 3kW. A typical electric car (60kWh battery) takes just under 16 hours to charge from empty to full using a 3kW slow charging point.

Ubitricity, which is part of the Shell Group, concentrates on London lamppost chargers. It says: ‘With our lamp post chargers, we’re focussing on low power charging during long parking times – for example, overnight. The power output at our lamp post charge points in the UK is therefore usually 5 kW. For example, a 45kWh (battery capacity)/ 5kW (power output) = charging time of roughly nine hours if a 32-amp charging cable were used.’ A basic Volkswagen ID.3 has a 45kWh battery.

But your street may have 7 to 22kW fast chargers. A 7kW fast charger will power up your EV battery in around 4-6 hours, while a 22kW unit could do the job in a couple of hours (if your car is able to take a 22kW charge).

Incidentally, don’t worry that no-good passers-by can simply unplug the cable, stop charging and/or walk away with it. Electric car sockets are built with a locking mechanism, so while the car charges it’s locked at either end.

The charging posts are often run by different companies. You can pay contactless with on some public chargers or set up an account with specific networks and use a RFID (chip) card or smartphone app to use their charge points. For example, in London Source and Ubitricity have a lot of points. Look the providers up to see how people rate them.

As mentioned, the reality is that you’re not going to need to charge up every day. For most households, once a week is not a major inconvenience. And for most EV drivers, charging is more of a top up than a full refill from near-empty, so the costs and time could be less than you think.

Charging cables across pavements

You sometimes see people who live in houses with no off-road parking trailing an electrical cable out of a window, or from a wallbox across the pavement underneath a cable protector. This is legal, but you will need permission from your local authority which may or may not have a policy.

Norfolk, for example, only permits an owner to place cables perpendicular (at right angles) across the footway and permission will only be granted following an assessment by a highways officer for two years. In theory you could be liable if somebody trips over your cable but some EV insurance policies may cover this prospect.

Do not use a domestic extension lead as this is liable to overheat – you can buy EV charger cables in many lengths. Charging from a domestic socket is the slowest possible way to do so; using a regular 2.4kW three-pin wall socket can mean a charging time of over 30 hours. If you can fit a 7kW wallbox outside, these can charge in just under eight hours.

There is a way to run a cable across a pavement without any raised surface. Currently being trialled with Milton Keynes council, the Kerbo Charge company can cut a channel across a concrete pathway or between pavement slabs which is then covered with a hinged lid. A standard Type 2 charge cable can be run from the property through the channel. A wallbox can be added if required. However, as of June 2023, there was no news that Kerbo was being rolled out any wider.

Charging for existing blocks of flats with parking spaces

Some people live in blocks of flats with shared off-street parking spaces and perhaps a closed garage or car port tied to each property. While it might seem possible to install a few shared charging points or allow owners to set one up in a garage, this isn’t straightforward.

Firstly, as all flats in England and Wales are leasehold, the managing agent or shared freeholders would need to agree. Grants are available from the government to install charging points, but you or a group of residents would need to find a charging provider willing to set up a post within your off-street parking and even if the logistics of bringing a sufficient additional electric supply onto the land, they may not see it as a worthwhile investment.

As for wallboxes in garages and underground parking spaces, if there was an individual power supply to that space it would have to be individually metered, rather than running off the supply for the common parts of the building.

EV charging at new developments

There’s better news for new-build apartment blocks/houses with allocated and shared spaces, and for residential blocks which are undergoing major refurbishment. By law they must now have charge points.

In June 2022, to encourage the adoption of EVs, the UK government’s new EV charging requirements came into force in England as part of an overhaul of the country’s building regulations.

  • Every new home, including those created from a change of use, with associated parking must have an EV chargepoint.
  • Residential buildings undergoing a major renovation which will have more than ten parking spaces must have at least one EV charge point per dwelling with associated parking, along with cable routes in all spaces without charge points.
  • Developers aren’t currently compelled to install active charging points into covered car parks; they only have to fit cable routes.

You can find the government regulations here. It gives an example of a new development of 20 houses. Each house has one uncovered parking space that is assigned to the house for sole use by its occupier or their visitors.

There are ten additional uncovered parking spaces that are ‘first come first served’ for the communal use of occupiers from all 20 houses and their visitors. In total the whole development would require 20 charge points but no cable routes.

Pod Point is one of UK’s leading providers of electric vehicle charging and its work includes links with property developers and managers like Barratt Homes, Taylor Wimpey, Redrow and Bellway to wire up their developments.

A spokesperson told us: “Our home segment is currently focused on domestic off-street charging at locations where the homeowner has access to private off-street parking. Now we aim to expand our reach to include private car parks associated with blocks of flats (comprising approximately 7% of homes), and on-street charging for areas with no off-street parking, as well as other areas. We’ll also look to work with local authorities to install on-street chargepoints.”

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Russell Hayes
Russell Hayeshttps://amzn.to/3dga7y8
Russell Hayes’ early career was 14 years of motoring journalism in print, television and online. He worked for What Car? and Complete Car magazines, the BBC's original Top Gear programme and Channel 4's Driven. Since 2007 he has written motoring history books on subjects including Lotus, TVR, the Earls Court Motor Show, the Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Beetle and Bus and the original Aston Martin V8. Now a full-time author, two more books are in the pipeline for 2023 and 2024.