Learn the basics of how to fully charge your electric vehicle.
Before you drive your EV off the lot, you’ll want to think about how—and where—you’ll charge it. Most EV owners do more than 80% of their charging at home. Others with workplace chargers find it’s convenient to plug in while at the office. Some owners do a mix of home, work and public charging stations. In this piece, we’ll focus on what you need to know to charge at home and work. We’ll cover charging at public charging stations in a separate article.
But first, let’s look at what we mean by a “charger.” It might surprise you to learn you find your car’s charger inside the vehicle. So, when people refer to the wall-mounted box and cord that owners install when they upgrade to a faster charging system as a “charger,” technically, that’s incorrect. That box, plug and cord are called “Electric Vehicle Service Equipment” or EVSE, and it’s what connects and provides power to your car’s battery.
There are three ways to charge an EV—Level 1, which is the most basic, Level 2, and Level 3, which is the quickest charge currently available for EVs. Level 3 can provide almost a full battery charge in 15-30 minutes, depending on the make and model of your EV. But the cost of installing one is usually cost prohibitive for both individuals and businesses, at up to $55,000 per unit. You’ll find these in spots where a super-fast charge is crucial, such as a gas station or a rest stop.
Level 1 Charging is the most basic way to charge an EV. All you’ll need is a portable Level 1 EVSE cord set, which most EVs come with, and a standard three-pronged 120-volt outlet.
Most residential garages will have a 120-volt outlet. You’ll want to make sure you’re not overloading the circuit. For example, you shouldn’t use an outlet that also supplies power to a refrigerator. When you overload a circuit it can cause your power to go out, and in older systems might “blow” or burn out your fuse. When you get home from work, you simply plug your vehicle into the outlet and let your battery recharge.
Most owners will find Level 1 charging to be too slow for their liking: it can take 15-20 hours to fully charge the popular Nissan Leaf. Eventually, many decide to upgrade to a 240-volt Level 2 charger, which can cut charging time in half. Some EV makers also say Level 2 charging is better for battery health. Level 2 chargers can help make home charging more efficient as battery technology evolves, and could pique the interest of future home buyers. Green home developers are starting to get requests for EVSE-ready electrical wiring in new homes. Read more about Level 2 charger benefits here.
A durable EVSE—the box, plug and cord package—will cost around $600 to $700 on average, not including installation. Higher power units or those with longer cables will cost more. Your EV manufacturer may have thoughts on which Level 2 EVSEs work best with your make and model. Some states and utility companies also offer vouchers for buying and using a Level 2 EVSE.
You should look for one that can handle 30-50 amps; that will allow you to add around 30-50 miles of range in an hour. Some homes might not have enough electric capacity for a Level 2 charger, but an electrician can easily add that, for a cost. Wi-Fi enabled Level 2 EVSEs will be pricier and include features that let you control charging times remotely and keep tabs on charging progress.
Before you buy your Level 2 EVSE, you’ll want to consider where your car will be parked at night. In the garage? In your driveway? Based on that, you can choose the best spot to install the equipment. Keep in mind that cables typically run from 15 to 25 feet, so you’ll need to measure to make sure your cord will be able to easily reach your vehicle.
Also consider whether or not you want to permanently install your Level 2 EVSE. For example, if you’re in a rental house looking to buy, you’ll want to talk to your electrician about installing it in a way that you can easily take it with you when you move. Your electrician can also set you up so that if you eventually want to upgrade to a pricier Level 2 EVSE with more options, you won’t need to start from scratch with installation.
ChargePoint offers a Fast Home Charger that gets great reviews. It’s the first ENERGY STAR certified EV charger and can deliver up to 25 miles of range per hour. Do your research to see which brand and model is right for your lifestyle and your budget.
For either charging option—Level 1 or Level 2—EV owners report the cost of charging at home adds maybe a few hundred dollars to their electricity bill a year, and that’s it. Especially when compared to the cost of fuel, EV owners are spending considerably less to power their cars than their gas-guzzling peers.
Perhaps it’s not convenient for you to charge at home – for example, if you live in an apartment building in an urban community. Thankfully, more and more companies are installing EV chargers for their employees as a perk. If you have a traditional job that keeps you in the office for a chunk of hours each day, workplace charging might be your best bet.
If you work near or at a library, college, post office or public utility office, many offer basic 120-volt charging or 240-volt faster charging for free. In Los Angeles, for example, 12 fast-charger ports are available for free at the LADWP’s downtown Los Angeles John Ferraro building on weekdays.
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