If you’re one of the millions who have toyed with the idea of getting an electric vehicle, you’ve probably already discovered the maze of confusion that surrounds chargers. It’s a big question with far too many answers, most of which begin with “it depends.” While we won’t get into all the nooks and crannies here, this article should at least give you an overview of the basics, and help you to ask better follow-up questions.
1. Level Up Your EV Charger
The first thing we need to establish here is that not all electricity is created equal. While the 120VAC that comes out of your household outlets is perfectly capable of charging your electric car, the process is largely impractical. Referred to as Level 1 charging, it can take anywhere from eight to 24 hours to fully charge your car on standard home AC power, depending on your vehicle’s battery capacity. Some limited-range electrics and hybrids, like the Chevy Volt or Fiat 500e, might charge overnight, but cars with a longer range (like the Chevy Bolt, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Leaf, Kia e-Niro, and upcoming models from Ford, VW, and others) would be painfully slow to charge due to their much larger batteries.
If you’re serious about charging at home, you’ll want to go for the far more popular and practical option of Level 2 charging. This requires a 240V circuit, like those used to power larger appliances. Some homes have them installed in laundry rooms. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a 240V outlet in your garage, you’ll need to hire an electrician to install one. Depending on how much work is involved, installation generally starts around $500 dollars. But considering that Level 2 charging can top off your car in as little as four hours, it’s well worth the investment.
You’ll also need to buy a dedicated charging station that is compatible with the 240V outlet. These Level 2 chargers can be purchased at many home improvement stores, electrical supply centers, and online. They typically cost around $500-800, depending on the features, and come in a range of well-known and not-so-well-known brands.
Except for Tesla, most EV chargers are equipped with a universal J1772™ connector. (Teslas can use most standard EV chargers with an adapter, though Tesla’s proprietary chargers will only work with Tesla vehicles.)
2. Match The Amperage To Your Car
Voltage is just one part of the equation. You also need to align amperage to your EV of choice. The lower the amperage, the longer it will take to charge your car. On average, a 30-amp Level 2 charger will add about 25 miles of range in an hour, while a 15-amp charger will only add about 12 miles. Experts recommend at least 30 amps, and many of the newer chargers deliver up to 50 amps. Always check your EV’s specifications to find out the maximum amperage your electric vehicle can accept. Purchase the maximum amperage that is safely supported by your EV for the most efficient charge. The price difference is relatively minimal for higher amperage units.
NOTE: Your charger should always be connected to a circuit breaker that exceeds its maximum amperage. For a 30-amp charger, it should be connected to a 40-amp breaker. A qualified electrician will take this into consideration and provide an estimate for the addition of a breaker if necessary.
3. Location, Location, Location
It sounds obvious, but many people forget to take into account where their EV will be parked. You’ll need to install your charger close enough for the cable to reach the vehicle’s charger port. Some chargers allow you to buy longer cables, but they're generally limited to about 25 -300 feet. At the same time, you’ll want to install your charger close to your electrical panel to avoid the cost of long conduit runs. Fortunately, many modern homes are built with the electrical panel just outside the garage, enabling your electrician to run an outlet directly into the garage with minimal conduit run required. If your home has a detached garage, or your panel is located some distance away from your garage or car port, there will surely be additional cost associated with the extended wire run.
4. Consider Your Charger's Portability
While many chargers are designed to be permanently installed in your garage, we generally recommend opting for a unit with a 240V NEMA 6-50 or 14-50 power plug that can be plugged into any 240V outlet. The cost of installation will be about the same, and having a plug-in model means you can easily take it with you if you move or throw it in the trunk when you travel to a place where 240V might be available. Most Level 2 Chargers include wall-mounts that allow for easy removal, and many have locking mechanisms to secure the unit when installed in a carport or exterior wall.
5. Examine the EV Charger Extras
Many of the EV chargers now on the market offer a range of “smart” connectivity features, some of which can save you time and aggravation. Some enable you to monitor and control charging via a smartphone app from virtually anywhere. Some can schedule your car to charge during lower-cost off-peak hours. And many will enable you to keep track of your car’s electrical consumption over time, which can be useful if you use your EV for business.
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