In many sectors, the U.S. is making aggressive efforts to curb climate change and reduce carbon emissions. Transportation is a key battlefront in these efforts, and Congress and the White House have issued several policies to bolster electrification in recent years.
Ultimately, these federal initiatives must be supported by policies on the state and local level that will encourage electric vehicle (EV) use and decrease emissions. Building codes that enforce specific readiness levels for EV charging installations represent an important tool for municipalities to make charging more accessible and remove barriers to EV adoption.
Many cities and even some states have already taken steps in this direction, updating codes to require developers to install EV chargers or prepare their properties to easily add EV charging in the future. These initiatives can make large-scale EV charging station installations more affordable and accelerate the nation’s progress toward its goal of establishing a much larger charging infrastructure. Here’s a look at how these codes work and what they mean for EV charging access in the U.S.
The purpose of EV building codes
As reported in the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990–2021, the transportation sector accounted for 29% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2021. The federal government has understandably focused many of its efforts to curb climate change on moving transportation away from fossil fuels.
In the past two years alone, we’ve seen a flurry of legislative efforts and executive orders designed to accelerate this change. By 2040, the White House has called for all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales to be zero-emissions, while Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes a $5 billion investment in expanding the nation’s charging infrastructure. Local initiatives like state and municipal building codes help to expand charging access and make electrification more realistic across the U.S.
Although they’re couched in inaccessible legal language, these codes all serve one common purpose: force developers to make charging more readily available to the masses. Because they primarily affect commercial and multifamily residential developments, they enforce change on a broader scale than would be possible in a single-family residential context. This rapidly expands charging access, and it does so in a more equitable way by making charging easier for renters, who have lagged behind homeowners in EV adoption. In many cases, building code requirements support broader “Right to Charge” policies.
It also makes EV charging installations more affordable. According to the ICC, installing charging stations at new buildings from the outset is 75% less expensive than retrofitting them to properties later. Not only that, but residential buildings that follow the most up-to-date requirements International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)—which includes EV building code recommendations—see an average energy savings of 8.66%.
Types of EV codes for buildings
Thus far, a few states and many major cities in the U.S. have embraced these benefits and passed updated building codes for EV charging. In general, these codes require developers to set up properties in one of three ways: EV-capable, EV-ready, or EVSE-installed.
These codes require builders to build a certain number of parking spaces with electrical panel capacity and conduit to support the future installation of EV Supply Equipment (EVSE). Although this is the most basic level of preparation, it still provides significant cost-saving benefits, as these panel and conduit upgrades are much more expensive to retrofit.
These building codes go a step further and require developers to install full EVSE-ready circuits at parking spaces. Circuits must support 208/240-volt and 40-amp (or greater) supply levels. In this scenario, all that’s required later are the EV charging stations themselves.
Under the strictest building codes, developers must fully prepare a certain proportion of parking spaces and install EVSE. Parking spaces in this scenario will be fully functional and ready to use for EV charging.
In most cases, EV codes for buildings incorporate more than one of these requirements. In Denver, for example, the code requires new multifamily developments with three or more properties to include 5% EVSE-installed spaces, 15% EV-ready spaces, and 75% EV-capable spaces.
Other options for EV codes
Because of the cost savings involved in outfitting new construction with EV charging capabilities, building codes that promote this offer the best way to promote rapid expansion. They’re not the only option for accelerating change, however.
One Denver proposal, for example, would require that buildings that are renovated or expanded with alterations to more than 50% of the existing property must install EVSE in the process. EV building codes can also include requirements for effective load management to encourage more effective circuit sharing among chargers.
By employing a multi-pronged approach to crafting EV-friendly building codes, states and cities can create more pathways toward expanded access and encourage EV adoption on the local level.
Encouraging and responding to building code changes
As with any other government procedure, updating building codes requires patience and a long-range view. In many jurisdictions, municipal code amendments may only be considered every five or six years. Nonetheless, EV drivers and other key stakeholders should be persistent and take the initiative to propose changes until they see action.
In the 2021 International Green Construction Code, you can find example language to include proposals for code updates:
Where 20 or more on-site vehicle parking spaces are provided for International Building Code (IBC) Occupancy Group A, B, E, F, I, M, and S buildings, not less than 4% of the total number of parking spaces or not less than 8% of designated employee only parking spaces shall be EV-Ready spaces. Where 10 or more on-site vehicle parking spaces are provided for IBC Occupancy Group R-1, R-2, and R-4 buildings, not less than 20% of the total number of parking spaces shall be EV- Ready spaces. The required number of EV-Ready spaces shall be rounded up to the next highest whole number.
Exception: Parking spaces designated for other than passenger vehicles are permitted to be excluded from the total number of on-site parking spaces.
On the other side of the issue, developers may wonder how to keep up with code changes and implement the necessary infrastructure upgrades and EV charger installations. That’s where Enel X Way comes in.
We’re more than a charging station provider—we lead the way in developing electric mobility solutions. We provide end-to-end consultation for commercial development projects to help you evaluate the project, ensure building code compliance, select charging equipment, and complete installation. You don’t have to stay on top of building codes when we’ve got your back.
Ready to get started? Contact us today to learn more about how we can help with your next site development project.
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