EV Chargers Everything You Need to Know About Plugging in At Home

EV Chargers: Everything You Need to Know About Plugging in At Home

Charging your electric vehicle (EV) has never been faster or easier. Nowadays, the focus of EV charging has switched from the possibility of charging at home to understanding your specific preferences and charging requirements.

Home charging may range from relatively easy to rather difficult, depending on factors such as the sort of EV you own, your home's electrical setup, the charger you use, and where you park. For some, it's as simple as plugging in overnight without any trouble. However, others may require additional electrical work and must wait a little longer for a complete charge.

Let's dive into the world of home EV charging, explore some top-notch chargers, and share tips on finding the right installer for your setup.

Charging Essentials for Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicle (EV) chargers come in three main categories: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.  Among these, Level 1 is the slowest to charge and Level 3 is the fastest. The fastest at-home charging option is the Level 2 charger because Level 3 chargers use much too much electricity to install in a home.

Charging Process

Electric vehicles are equipped with a charging port typically located in a familiar spot resembling where you'd refuel a gasoline car.

The most used charger type is the J1772 and it's mostly accepted by EV models except Tesla. However, there are numerous home chargers designed with a Tesla-compatible connector option. Tesla vehicles can easily charge using the standard J1772 plug with a convenient clip-on adapter.

Charging Costs

The cost of charging an electric vehicle is determined by the price of electricity, which is calculated in cents per kilowatt-hour. A kWh is the basic unit of EV charging economics, comparable to a gallon of gas in a standard gas-powered automobile.

If you charge at home, the cost per kWh is often the same as what you pay for the rest of your power. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average power cost per state in November 2023 is between 11 and 44 cents per kWh. You can get the exact pricing on your utility statement or on the utility company's website.

Charging an EV often costs far less than fueling a gas car, although this is not always the case.

Time to Charge

About 20 to 30 miles of range are added to the car's battery for every hour it is charged at home. If your charger is left plugged in overnight, it should ideally fully charge the battery.

You can charge an iPhone 4 miles per hour if you put it into a regular power socket. A long-range EV will take several days to fully charge at that rate, but you should have enough juice for a respectable commute or to do weekend errands locally.

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Charging Speeds of Electric Vehicle Chargers: Balancing Cost and Convenience

Home EV Chargers come in two types: Level 1 (slower and more affordable) or Level 2 (faster yet pricier).

Level 1 Charging: Easy Setup but Slow

Level 1 (L1) chargers can be plugged into a standard 3-prong, 120-volt household outlet, technically referred to as a NEMA 5-15 receptacle. They consume a similar amount of power to a portable electric space heater (12 amps, 1.5 kW).

Most electric vehicles (EVs) already include an L1 cable, eliminating any initial expenses. If you have a standard outlet near your parking spot, no electrical modifications are necessary - you simply pay for the electricity used.

However, the drawback of Level 1 chargers is their slow charging speed. Often called "trickle chargers," they only provide a few miles of range per hour of charging. For instance, it could take approximately 12 hours to fully charge a vehicle like the Toyota Rav4 Prime with a 42-mile electric range. A larger battery, such as the one in the 341-mile Tesla Model 3, would require a couple of days to charge completely using an L1 charger. (Alternatively, you can drive while partially charged.)

Level 2: Much faster, but Often Requires Professional Installation

Like the majority of electric stoves and laundry dryers, a Level 2 (or L2) charger operates on a 240-volt circuit. This means that it is usually significantly quicker than an L1 cable and at least twice as fast.

The problem is that in order to install one, roughly 75% of people will need to engage an electrician for some preliminary work. This often entails installing new wiring, adding a circuit to your electrical panel, replacing your four-prong outlet, and perhaps upgrading your electrical panel.

There is a wide range of differences among Level 2 chargers:

  • Certain entry-level cords offer 16 amps (equivalent to 3.8 kW at 240 volts), resulting in about 4 hours of charging for a Toyota Rav4 Prime and 18 hours for a Tesla Model 3 Long Range.
  • Many top-rated and popular models deliver 32 amps (amounting to 7.7 kW at 240 volts). With this capacity, the Rav4 Prime can now charge in approximately two and a half hours, while the Model 3 Long Range takes around 10 hours to fully charge.
  • Certain trucks, such as the advanced versions of the Ford F-150 Lightning, can handle an impressive 80 amps (equivalent to 19.2 kW at 240 volts). Despite being categorized as Level 2 charging due to the 240-volt system, it operates at five times the speed of the slowest Level 2 option. However, very few EVs are compatible with such a rapid Level 2 charger, and upgrading your electrical panel may be necessary to support it.

Are There Any Drawbacks to Level 2 Charging?

Not really, except for the expenses related to the equipment and installation. According to a study, Level 2 charging is even marginally more energy-efficient than Level 1 charging, meaning a higher proportion of electricity from your outlet directly reaches the car's battery without being lost as heat.

In terms of an EV's battery's long-term health, level 2 charging is also acceptable. Theoretically, quicker charging is bad for all kinds of rechargeable batteries since it produces more heat, and heat can harm the system. However, we were unable to locate any research indicating that this is an issue in the actual world.

For ten years, thousands of electric vehicles have been driven with no obvious drawbacks. You may always purchase an L2 charger and set it to operate at a reasonably modest speed by default, then increase the speed when necessary, if battery health is still a concern.

Do You Really Need Level 2 Charging at Home?

It's not necessary to have, but could be beneficial. Many people will be just satisfied with L1 charging. Despite being slow, they can increase range by 20 to 50 miles overnight, depending on the car and how long you leave it plugged in. You don't need a full battery every day, and if you need to recharge quickly, you can always locate a public charger. For those with short daily commutes or plug-in hybrids that can switch to gas when necessary, Level 1 charging could be adequate.

Investing in a Level 2 charger is unlikely to disappoint. Below are some advantages of incorporating a Level 2 charger into your home:

  • Having a fully charged battery each morning (or at around 70% to 80%, as recommended by many EV brands for battery longevity) is achievable. With a Level 2 charger, this is practically guaranteed, even following an extended journey.
  • An L2 charger enables you to warm up or cool down your car using your home's electricity, preserving the car's battery. This practice enhances the battery's range in cold temperatures and contributes to its long-term well-being.
  • Warming up the cabin for a brief period makes it much easier to remove ice from your windshield. Level 1 chargers lack the power capacity to operate an EV's heating and cooling systems effectively.

What about Level 3 charging?

Level 3 chargers, also known as DC Fast Chargers or Tesla Superchargers, surpass the speed of Level 2 chargers. While the charging rates may vary, the general concept is that you can attain around an 80% charge in approximately 30 minutes, depending on the vehicle. This level of charging provides sufficient range for several hours of driving, making it convenient for long road trips, possibly lasting until your next rest break.

However, installing Level 3 chargers at home is highly impractical. Not only is the charging equipment costly, but most residential properties lack the necessary electrical capacity (480 volts, 400 amps), which is challenging for utility companies to accommodate in residential areas. It's akin to setting up a fuel pump at your residence.

Fast chargers are typically found in public locations such as highways, major shopping centers, and some public parking lots.

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Getting Your EV Charger Installed

Parking

If you have a private driveway or garage for parking:

Charging your EV at home is typically feasible. In cases where you rent and your landlord declines electrical enhancements, using an L1 charger with a standard outlet might be necessary. However, if you own your home and property rights are not a concern, obtaining an L2 charger is usually straightforward, with minimal technical obstacles in the way.

If you depend on street parking:

Chances are you will need to utilize public chargers. Opting for Level 3 / DC Fast Charging, if compatible with your vehicle, can efficiently recharge your EV. However, it's worth noting that excessive use of rapid charging methods may impact your battery's longevity.

Alternatively, you can explore charging options while at work or during shopping trips. Certain office buildings and shopping centers provide L2 chargers in their parking areas, and some cities have started installing public chargers along streets, including those integrated into streetlights.

Electrical system

If you have an external power outlet next to your parking space, charging an L1 device at home may be as simple as that, but not everyone has that type of arrangement. There are a few things you should consider before adding an outlet or installing an L2 charger.

Is there an existing outlet positioned within 20 or 25 feet of your parking area?

This distance aligns with the standard length of an EV charging cable. If you fall within this range, you're likely prepared for at least a Level 1 charger. In scenarios where you have a 240-volt, 4-prong outlet, it may support a Level 2 charger if you reside in a newly constructed house designed for EVs or park near your electric clothes dryer. Certain solutions enable you to utilize the same circuit for both a dryer and an EV charger.

If not, you'll need to enlist the services of an electrician to set up a new connection. Combining extension cords with EV chargers is ill-advised; the power demand for charging an EV surpasses the typical capacity of extension cords, posing risks of fire hazards and electric shocks, in addition to slowing down the charging process.

Is there a viable route for a wire to run from your electrical panel to the designated parking spot?

In a private driveway or garage, the answer is usually always positive. Ideally, your panel should be located in an unfinished basement near you. An electrician will understand how to discover the circuit and have the necessary equipment to make it function.

Is your electrical panel capable of accommodating an EV charger?

Typically, the response is yes. First, go inspect your panel. If there are at least two open "slots" for breakers, you are in excellent condition. If the big switch at the top of the panel reads 200 amps, it's another good clue that the installation will be simple. A smaller amount (typically 100 amps) is also acceptable. It depends on how many additional high-draw products you have and how fast a charger you're attempting to install.

What Should I Look for in an EV Charger?

EV chargers are not as complicated as many people believe. They seem more like a USB brick for phone charging than a complicated household appliance, with the vehicle largely responsible for controlling the flow of power.

When choosing an EV charger, personal preference is essential. Whether you value price, charging speed, or complex app features, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Some new EV purchases may include a charger in the box, which is an acceptable choice.

The following are the primary factors to consider when selecting an EV charger, ranked in order of importance to the average consumer.

Safety first

EV chargers are typically safe, but be sure the device you're considering is UL-certified. As long as the charger is UL-certified and used properly, it is unlikely to create a fire. All of the models described above are UL-listed, while some lower-cost variants available on Amazon are not.

Outlet vs. hardwire

Some chargers for electric vehicles (EVs) are hardwired and don't require an outlet or plug; others are made to plug into one. A 4-prong NEMA 14–50 outlet, which is frequently seen in electric stoves and laundry dryers, is the standard outlet for Level 2 (L2) charges. Both versions are offered by several models.

The decision between the two connection modes is purely personal taste, although both are valid. To aid in your selection, the following is a summary of each style:

Hardwired Installation

  • Results in a neater appearance due to shorter cable lengths, the absence of a visible plug, and no need for an outlet.
  • Eliminates the necessity for a large outdoor-rated outlet as the concealed electrical connection inherently enhances weather resistance.
  • Offers the potential for faster charging compared to plug-in chargers (provided your car and electrical system can handle it).
  • Requires professional installation by an electrician; subsequently, when replacements are needed (typically every 5-10 years), additional costs may accrue over time.

Plug-in Installation

  • You don't need to hire an electrician if you already have an outlet. Long-term cost savings result from not needing an electrician to replace charges, even if your outlet wears out or has to be replaced.
  • Some models can withstand weather conditions, but they must be plugged into an outdoor-rated outlet.
  • Their highest charging speed is 40 amps, which translates to 20 to 30 miles per hour of range. That is the NEMA 14-50 outlet's safe limit.

Connector Type: Tesla vs. Other Brands

Residential EV chargers in North America come with one of two connection types:

  • A connection made specifically for the Tesla port.
  • A J1772 connection designed to fit all other EV models and manufactures' ports.

Although it makes sense to choose a charger that matches the connector on your automobile, compatibility isn't a problem because the connectors can be switched out. For around $50, you can get an adapter that lets a Tesla EV use a J1772 charger. On the other hand, adapters cost about $150 when connecting a J1772 car to a Tesla charger.

Cord length

At some point, we've all parked our EVs too far away from the charger and drove up to the petrol pump on the incorrect side. It's unlikely that you'll regret having a longer cable.

The maximum safe cable length, as per the National Electrical Code, is 25 feet. Most Level 2 chargers have a minimum length of 20 feet. Try to stay inside that range.

It is theoretically possible that shorter connections use less energy than longer ones. Although longer wires can waste more energy in transit, Car & Driver's in-the-field testing revealed no appreciable differences between the models.

Scheduling

Electric vehicles consume significant amounts of electricity. By exploring methods to reduce electricity costs, substantial long-term savings can be achieved. Utilizing solar power presents a great opportunity for savings, and Forme Solar offers complimentary quotes for rooftop or community solar installations.

According to the Energy Information Administration, over 60% of households in the US qualify for discounted electricity during specific times of the day. These programs, often referred to by utility companies as "time-of-use" or "dynamic pricing" plans, offer opportunities for cost savings. Engaging in these plans and primarily charging your EV during off-peak hours, typically overnight when power rates are lower, can result in significant savings.

An EV charger equipped with a scheduling feature accessible via a mobile app enables you to capitalize on these discounts. You can physically connect the car at your convenience, with the charging process commencing only at the specified time set in the app. In case immediate charging is necessary, the schedule can always be overridden.

Some basic chargers may have a timer instead of a scheduling function, controlled through a simple LED interface on the power cord's "brick." While this method may lack sophistication, it remains effective for managing charging times.

Other Remarkable Features

An app: The majority of L2 charging stations feature a mobile app and are capable of connecting to Wi-Fi. This is where you will measure your energy usage over time, check the charging status, create charging schedules (see above), and modify the power output (see below). All of them essentially perform the same function, although some are more aesthetically pleasing, others are more prone to malfunctions, and some even attempt to include an additional interface for public charging networks. Before making a purchase, see the app store ratings if you believe this will be important to you.

Output control: It's typically possible to configure a 32-amp charger to provide your automobile with 24 amps, 16 amps, or even 8 amps. Why would you act in this manner? Attempting to manually control your home's electrical load may be your way of being considerate of the electrical grid or a way to prevent tripping an undersized breaker.

Actually, you never have to do this. There is no solid proof that L2 charging is less beneficial to the lifespan of an EV battery than L1 charging, and the EV itself will only ever use as much power as its battery can safely support. Even yet, not all L2 chargers have this option, but the majority do.

Demand response: Some EV chargers may also be used with your energy company's demand response programs. If you want to participate, the utility will usually allow some software control over your charger in exchange for a little monetary refund.

Generally speaking, demand response functions as follows: To assist prevent overloading the grid, the utility can lower or switch off an EV charger during periods of high demand. This may be during the coldest winter mornings in areas where a lot of electric heat is used, or in the early evening on the warmest days of the year when people get home from work and turn on the air conditioner. We are aware of no demand response scheme that does not enable you to override the utility company's control, although you may forfeit some benefits.

EV Charger Installation: How It Works

You don't need a professional installation if the outlet for your preferred charger is already located about 20 feet from where you plan to park your car. You may get started by just hanging it up and plugging it in.

However, an electrician is required if you're installing a hardwired charger or need a new outlet.

Almost any household electrician is capable of doing the work. The more difficult aspect is locating someone who is available to do the job. It's difficult to know whether you're getting a good deal if you don't spend hours acquiring estimates from several electricians and inviting them to come to your house.

Getting many jobs done in one visit is one method to make better use of the electrician's time and raise the likelihood of a timely, cost-effective installation. To be prepared for a replacement as soon as the old unit dies, you may install the outlet now if, for instance, you have a gas stove and believe you'll want to replace it with an induction range at some time.

Ev Charger Installation Costs

Your electric vehicle likely includes a charger, typically an L1 cable, though occasionally an L2 unit may be provided as an incentive. There might not be an additional cost for the charging equipment, and some EV dealers offer free or discounted installation services.

In case you need to make a direct payment, here is what you can anticipate:

Costs for EV charging equipment

A standard charging cord for L1 or sometimes lower-amperage L2 cords typically starts at approximately $100. More advanced models with durable components can exceed $300.

On platforms like Amazon, there are over 100 of these affordable models available, often with similar features (aside from the peculiar brand names like Godiag, Polspag, or Evjuicion, possibly designed to smoothly navigate the US trademark process). These models generally lack companion apps but frequently include basic LED interfaces within their power bricks.

Additional Things to Consider About When Choosing Entry-Level Charging Cords:

  • The majority of product descriptions for these cords might not mention them as UL-listed, so exercise caution if you decide to go with this option.
  • A large number of these cables are only meant to be used indoors.
  • Be aware of the kind of wall plug that is needed for them; some have a four-prong NEMA 14-50 outlet (typical for Level 2), while others are made to fit a NEMA 5-15 standard outlet or older-style plugs.

Standard Level 2 charging stations, which are wall-mounted units with a connector holster and cable hook, typically range from $400 to around $750 for top-rated models. These are likely the chargers that come to mind for home EV charging, offering durability, faster charging speeds than basic L1 cords, and compatibility with mobile apps for remote EV charging management.

Premium Level 2 charging stations can exceed $1,000 in price.

These advanced models boast premium features such as rapid 80-amp charging capabilities, dual cables for simultaneous charging of two vehicles, and the capability for specific EVs to function as a backup generator for your home (albeit requiring significant additional electrical modifications).

EV Charging Electrical Work Costs

Depending on whether electrical work is required—which is frequently the case—to install an L2 charger, the expenses might differ dramatically.

It might only cost $300–500 in the best of circumstances, such as when your automobile is parked close to your electrical panel and there is room for a new circuit with enough load capacity. Very little wiring is needed, and an electrician can do this job quickly—usually in a few hours.

Costs in the $1,000–1,500 range are more typical in this situation. The electrician might have to run new wire via your yard's trenches, walls, or ceiling even though your electrical panel has enough room and capacity in this case.

If your current electrical system lacks the capacity to accommodate a new circuit for an EV charger, this limitation could potentially add close to $1,000 to the total installation cost.

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