In simpler times, refueling a car was a no-brainer—just pull into the nearest gas station and fill it up. But as electric vehicles (EVs) gain in popularity—40 million motorists say they’d consider buying one as their next purchase, according to a 2019 AAA survey, and automakers have said they’ll phase out gasoline-powered cars as early as 2035—providing the energy to keep America’s cars running has become more complicated.
For one thing, recharging an electric car takes a lot longer than refueling one that runs on gasoline. Even the fastest public chargers require at least a half hour to deliver an 80 percent charge—good for perhaps 175-280 miles of driving—a delay that many motorists consider inconvenient. Furthermore, compared with the availability of gas stations, EV charging stations are few and far between. Thus, an ongoing concern for current and potential EV owners is figuring out the best way to regularly charge their vehicles.
Why buy a home charger?
For most EV owners, that means charging their vehicles at home overnight. It’s far more convenient, and the cost of electricity—especially if the charging takes place at off-peak hours—is much less than at a public charging station.
More important, though, is the matter of efficiency. For EV owners who drive 37 miles a day or less, the average for American motorists, recharging at home is no problem. At the end of the day, they can plug their EV’s Level 1 connector into a standard 120-volt wall socket and awake the next morning with a fully charged vehicle.
But for EV owners who drive 50 miles or more a day or who want to take the occasional longer trip, Level 1 connectors simply won’t do the job, because they supply only 2 to 5 miles of charging per hour. That means a Level 1 connector could take more than two days to fully charge a new Hyundai Kona Electric crossover, which has a driving range of about 250 miles, as do many EVs today.
By comparison, Level 2 systems provide 10 to 30 miles of range per hour of charging—sometimes more—and can fully charge most EV batteries overnight. For most EV owners, then, buying a Level 2 charging system is a necessity.
Weighing the options
The first thing to consider when buying a Level 2 charger is your home’s power situation. A newer home—one built within the past 20 years—might already have a 240-volt socket in the garage or utility room. If not, make sure the electrical service panel has enough capacity to install a 240-volt circuit.
As is true of EVs themselves, there’s a lot to choose from when it comes to charging systems. A little online research can reveal how well various home chargers perform. For example, Consumer Reports tested seven chargers in late 2020 and reported that they all “performed similarly” and “did the job.” The organization listed three staff favorites, but a more important consideration, it said, was making sure a charger has the features you want. Perhaps the three most important are:
• Smart versus dumb. (Yes, those are really the terms the industry uses.) Dumb chargers are just that—plug them in and they charge the vehicle. End of story. But a smart charger provides more charging options or information.
Via a smartphone, smart chargers can, among other things, provide charging reminders, monitor the state of charging, program when charging starts and stops, turn the charger on or off remotely, and review energy usage from past charging sessions. Many EVs, however, have their own app that provides this information.
• Hard-wired versus plug-in. Most charging stations are weatherproof, so they can be installed on the outside or inside of a garage wall. Hard-wired chargers are permanently connected to a home’s electrical supply. Plug-in chargers simply plug into a 240-volt outlet; many plug-in chargers attach to a mounting panel. When buying a plug-in charger, make sure its plug pattern fits the intended 240-volt receptacle, or purchase an adapter.
Nowadays, plug-in types are more popular because they’re more versatile and easier to install. Because they’re portable, plug-in chargers can be taken on road trips or to other locations, such as a vacation home. And if a problem arises, it’s easier to return a plug-in charger to the store or ship it back to the manufacturer.
• Low current versus high current. Chargers come in a range of current levels, typically from 16 amps to 50 amps. The greater the amperage, the faster the charge. Many sources recommend purchasing chargers with at least 30 amps, because anything less takes much more time to charge a vehicle.
In general, it’s better to choose more power, because next-generation EVs will likely be able to accept a larger charge. Some makes—Tesla and Ford, for example—sell their own Level 2 chargers. Teslas have unique connectors, but most commercially available chargers can be adapted to fit any EV, including a Tesla.
Cord length. EV chargers typically have cord lengths ranging from 18 to 25 feet. In general, a longer cord is better because it can reach the car’s charge port more easily.
Charger size. Chargers vary in size. Measure the space allotted for it before buying to make sure it fits.
Cable hook, coupler, and holster. A built-in hook to wrap the cable around, a coupler that plugs in and unplugs smoothly, and a sturdy holster to hold the coupler are also useful features.
Power outages. Some chargers automatically resume charging in the event that power goes out.
UL listing: An Underwriters Laboratories seal indicates that a charger complies with the safety standards of nationally recognized testing labs.
Purchase and Installation Costs
EV chargers range in price from about $300 to $700. Higher-priced chargers are generally more powerful and/or have more features. Amazon, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other retail outlets sell chargers, and they often can be ordered from the manufacturer. Popular brands include Blink, Bosch, ChargePoint, ClipperCreek, EvoCharge, Leviton, and Siemens.
For safety’s sake, a licensed electrician should install a hard-wired charger. Some automakers—BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Jaguar, Mini, Tesla, and Volvo, for example—can help arrange installation through partnerships with third-party service providers. Installation costs will vary depending on location and type of housing situation. Consumer Reports, referencing HomeAdvisor, stated that the nationwide average installation cost is an additional $750.
Federal and state agencies and local utility companies may offer incentives for EV charger purchase and installation. Auto dealerships, local utilities, or the alternative fuels data center (afdc.energy.gov/laws) can provide more information.