Note, while this is a USA article many of the considerations apply to Australia.
When shopping for an electric vehicle, you have to consider the cost of both the car and the electric car charger. Fueling an electric vehicle is as simple as plugging it in—you can wake up to a fully charged vehicle. However, choosing the right charging station for your household can be quite a bit more complicated.
So whether you’re planning on buying an electric vehicle for the first time or are contemplating upgrading your current charging station, here’s the lowdown on home electric vehicle chargers.
Level 1 vs. Level 2 charging
The two most common types of residential electric vehicle–charging stations on the market are Level 1 and Level 2 charging stations. (Level 3 exists but is not typically used in personal homes at this point.) Level 1 charging typically comes with your vehicle and is less powerful than a Level 2 charging station, which is purchased separately.
The more powerful a charging station is, the quicker you can recover range. The Level 1 charging station can recover 4 to 5 miles of range per hour. For a longer-range, all-electric vehicle, Level 1 charge can be impractical. A Nissan Leaf, for example, would need to be charged for 16 hours before you recovered the car’s full range.
Level 2 chargers, on the other hand, recover 25 to 30 miles of range per hour, explains Suzanne Guinn, director of marketing at ClipperCreek, an electric vehicle equipment company. That allows you to fully charge most electric vehicles in four hours.
How much does it cost to install an electric car charger?
“The cost of installation is incredibly variable,” says Lyuba Wolf, director of home solutions at ChargePoint, which builds hardware and software for charging electric vehicles. The age of your home, your electrical panel capacity, the type of installation, and where your electrical panel is located will all affect the final cost of putting an electric vehicle charger in your home.
For a Level 1 charger, the cost of the station will be US$300 to US$600, with parts and labor costing US$1,000 to US$1,700, according to HomeAdvisor. A Level 2 charger will cost a bit more: The station will cost roughly US$500 to US$700, and the parts and labor will likely cost US$1,200 to US$2,000. The installation process could cost more if your main point of charging will require major electrical upgrades.
You’ll want to get several quotes from electricians and seek out an installer familiar with electric vehicle home chargers.
“Any electrician can install a home charger, but depending on their familiarity with the equipment, we’ve found lots of variability in what prices people are being quoted,” Wolf says.
Another cost to consider is permitting: Certain states require homeowners to get a permit when installing charging stations. In some places, you can get a US$50 over-the-counter permit, while others will require as much as US$200 and plans drawn by an engineer. Investigate the local rules on installing a charging station and permitting before you sign on the dotted line at the dealership.
Whatever charger you select, be sure to buy something that is “UL-listed,” which means it has been tested for safety by the Underwriters Laboratories for U.S. usage.
How much charging power do you need?
Level 2 chargers come in strengths from 16 to 80 amps.
“The more power you have, the faster your vehicle will charge,” explains Guinn. However, that speed is limited by your vehicle’s charging capacity, or how quickly your car can absorb the charge.
Every electric car has a maximum charging capacity, usually between 3.3 and 10 kilowatt-hour, or approximately 11 to 30 recovered miles per hour. Here’s a useful chart comparing the charging capabilities of popular vehicles such as the Ford Focus Electric and the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric.
That means you should assess your vehicle’s charging capacity before investing in a stronger charger. However, it might pay off to think long term.
“Lots of people put in something with more power knowing they’ll probably be buying a car with more range later. If you’re going to install something, you might as well install something that’s going to last you for years,” says Guinn.
All Level 2 chargers run on a 240-volt circuit—just like a clothes dryer or other powerful appliance. The amount of amperage you need will depend on the charger, but you will want to make sure that you are not overloading your electrical panel. If you have an older home, you might need to add some capacity. Obviously, this should be done by an electrician.
Plug-in or hardwired charger?
Chargers come in two types: plug-in chargers that go into an outlet and chargers that are hardwired directly into your electrical panel in your house. There are pros and cons to each type. Plug-in chargers are nice because they can come with you on the road, you can take them with you when you move, and if they ever break or need to be serviced, you can just unplug them. It’s also easier to upgrade a plug-in charger later. The downside is that it’s probably going to be more expensive to add an outlet to your home than to wire the charger directly into your panel.
A hardwired installation means that you can’t move the charger without the help of an electrician. But if your electrical panel is in your garage, it’s almost certainly going to be less expensive to install than an outlet. If you have a dryer outlet in your garage already, it might be possible to plug directly into it if it has enough amperage. Different chargers have different plug types, so your unit might or might not fit in your existing dryer outlet. Additionally, the National Electrical Code doesn’t allow input cables of more than 12 inches, so your charger would need to sit no more than a foot from the dryer outlet.
Where should you put your charger?
When shopping for units, consider the length of the cord. The maximum length allowed by the National Electrical Code is 25 feet, though the cord comes in shorter lengths as well. You want to be able to easily reach your vehicle with the charger, and you don’t want the cord to be pulled tight. If you have more than a one-car garage, you’ll probably want to go for the 25-foot cord so you can charge your car from any parking position.
When you’re deciding where to install your charger, make sure you measure the distance from the charger to your car’s input, leaving at least 4 feet of slack. All electric cars (except Teslas) use the same connector on the car called J1772, but the location of the connector on each car isn’t standard. It could be in the front, at the back, or on the side where a gas tank access would be.
No garage? Some chargers are made for indoor-outdoor use, so there are options that can exist in a driveway as well. Just be aware that running the power to an outdoor outlet will be more costly.