Electric Car Epiphany: Your Guide To Charging At Home

Charging an electric car with the power cable supply plugged in.
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Any ecowarrior worth their salt has considered buying an electric car (or electric vehicle). Even if you’re only a “green living dabbler,” the combination of their eco-credentials—EVs consume no petroleum-based fuel while driving and produce no tailpipe emissions—and their ability to help both yourself and the country end dependence on foreign oil makes an EV purchase a compelling one. But what’s the hang up? Charging, for most.

Tesla Roadster

Tesla Roadster. Image Credit (Flickr)

When you start seriously investigating the purchase of a true electric car (powered only by one or more electric motors), the average driving range of about 80 miles will quite possibly stop you in your tracks.

Now that the cost of these vehicles is plummeting thanks to attractive rebates and increased demand (a 23% jump in 2014 and 128% increase since 2012, according to InsideEVs.com), range really is the only negative of buying these clean, green, non-gas-guzzling machines.

The good news is that, in addition to the proliferation of public charging stations around the country (there are now almost 12,000, according to the U.S. Department of Energy), there is another solution: an in-home charging station. More specifically, a consumer grade Level 2 Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (or EVSE). An EVSE can turn your garage or driveway into a charging space for your shiny new EV and reduce the “range anxiety” many electric vehicle owners experience by making sure you have a fully charged ride every time you leave the house.

In this guide, we will outline all you need to know to turn your home into your very own electric car charging station.

Ok, But Why Should I Go Electric?

In case you still need some fodder to convince your better half with, or if there are still a few lingering doubts in your mind, here’s why you should consider going electric.

It’s Better for the Planet…

Pure battery powered electric cars—there are currently about a dozen models available from Chevy, Ford, Nissan, BMW and Tesla, ranging in price from $25,000 to $150,000—are three times more efficient than traditional combustion engines.

EVSE charger

At-home EVSE Charging Station. Image Credit (Flickr)

Even though many EVS are powered by coal-generated electricity, the use of EVs reduces the amount of CO2 emissions produced from fuel generation. Plus, while fossil fuel is still a primary source for EVs, 10% of America’s electricity today comes from energy resilient sources such as solar and wind power, and that number is growing—something you can’t say for the fuel source of gasoline-powered cars.

Alongside efficiency, EVs have no tailpipe emissions, resulting in no air pollution; they make minimal noise while driving, cutting noise pollution; and, as there is no wasted heat produced during their operation, EVs help limit heat pollution. EVs are clearly the greener choice.

… And Better for Your Pocket (Eventually)   

EVs also are the more expensive choice, with a 10% higher sticker price than their combustion counterparts. But the current $7,500 federal tax credit and numerous city and state tax credits can substantially reduce the initial cost. Additionally, within a few years of driving, the reduction in fuel and maintenance costs can offset the upfront expenditure.

EVs cost about a quarter as much as a gas car to run. According to Consumer Reports, the electricity costs the equivalent of about $1/gallon gas. Although gas may only be $2/gallon in some parts of the country right now (making EV fuel essentially ‘half price’), the cost of electricity doesn’t rise as quickly or fluctuate as dramatically as oil. When gas was $4/gallon, an EV owner was paying only a quarter of the price for fuel.

Likewise, a typical EV costs about 3 cents per mile to run, compared with 8 cents a mile for a Toyota Prius Hybrid (a vehicle with both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor) or the national average cost of 12 cents/kWh.

Even with our historically low gas prices in 2015, Fueleconomy.gov calculates that it costs $2 to drive 25 miles in a Toyota Camry, $1.12 to drive that far in a hybrid Toyota Prius, and $0.96 in an all-electric Nissan Leaf. Factor in reduced electricity costs based on off-peak charging that can go as low as $0.02/kWh (based on plans offered by your electricity company ), and you can slash that $0.96 bill for driving 25 miles by two thirds, down to $0.15. Install solar panels on your home, and you can basically drive for free.

“Driving my electric car is about 30 percent of the cost of driving a comparable gas car,” says EV advocate, consultant and blogger Tom Moloughney of the The Electric BMW i3, who has driven EVs for six years now.

So, Is My Electricity Bill Going to Go Up?

In short, yes. According to Consumer Reports, you can expect to pay about $40 a month for electricity for an electric car, at $3 for each complete charge of an average EV. But for many gas-powered cars, that’s still less than a single fill up.

Sounds Good, But How Do I Charge It?

A huge benefit of owning an electric car is saying goodbye to the pain of the pump. No. More. Gas. Stations. EVER.

Of course, you still need to charge your car’s battery, and while public EV charging stations are popping up all over the place (see PlugShare.com for a view of what’s near you now), charging your vehicle overnight at home will give you the biggest benefit. Depending on your commute, an in-home charging station could cut out the need to ever stop to top up your car.

“The most common question we see from consumers about EVs is whether they are actually going to be able to commute to work and get all their errands done,” says Celia Dayagi, Product Manager for Siemens’ Versicharge EVSE. “Our answer is ‘Yes!’ As long as you spend at least one hour at home [plugged in] during the day [in addition to charging when you get home at night], you are going to be able to do pretty much everything you could want.”

To charge your car at home you have two options: Plug it into a standard 110-volt household outlet, known as Level 1, or purchase a Level 2 EVSE.

Level 2 EVSE’s can charge up to 5 times as fast as a Level 1. Referred to as a charging station, an EVSE is a wall-mounted piece of equipment that safely supplies high-powered electricity to the car’s charger (which is built into the car).

Moloughney adds, “If you have the ability to install a home charging station, that’s definitely the best thing you can do to get the most use out of the vehicle. Being able to replenish the vehicle quickly really allows you to take full advantage of the battery that you have. It takes so long to charge some cars on Level 1.”

EV Charge chart

How Do I Choose the Right EVSE?

Level 2 EVSEs sell for between $400 to $1,000, and installation by a qualified electrician can run anywhere from $300 into the thousands of dollars, depending on the conditions of installation. There are tax credits to be found that help with the cost of purchase and installation. Aside from the high-end Tesla, almost all EVs in the U.S. use the SAE-standard J1772 plug. However, although they work in the same way, not all chargers are created equal.

“It’s not one-size-fits-all. You need to pick one to fit your needs,” says Moloughney, who has tested almost every EVSE model on the market for his blog. “Some vehicles can only accept a certain amount of current, but maybe your next vehicle will need more power. So should you future-proof now? If you can afford it, yes.”

EVSE Wall Charge Station

Blogger Tom Moloughney has numerous EVSEs in his garage at home, where he tests them for his blog. But most people will only need one!

Here are the factors to consider when buying an EVSE for your home:

  1. Equipment: Look at the size, style and installation options. Consider where it will go in your garage (or driveway), and whether you may want to move it at some point. Some models are lightweight enough to be portable, and paired with a plug-in attachment (see Portability below) could be easily relocated between home and work, or a vacation home.
  1. Charging Speed: How fast the unit will charge your vehicle is measured by the amperage, multiplied by the voltage the unit delivers. The higher the amperage, the faster the 240 volts can be delivered.

Level 2 EVSEs can deliver 240 volts at 16, 30 or 40 amps, you’ll pay more for each bump in amperage as it will increase the speed of charging. How quickly the car will charge at each depends on the size of the car’s battery, but the below offers a rough guideline:

  • 16 amp delivers 3.8 kw – 9 to 12 hours for a full charge
  • 30 amp delivers 7.2 kw – 3.5 to 4 hours
  • 40 amp delivers 9.6 kw — time varies with battery size, but it’s faster than 30 amp
  1. Location: Consider where you are going to install your EVSE. Ideally, it needs to be mounted to a wall. Depending on which vehicle you have, your charging port may be on the front, left, right or back, so make sure your EVSE’s cord will reach the car easily.

Cords come in a variety of length: 14 ft., 18 ft., 20 ft., and 25 ft. are the most common. The longer the cord, the more flexibility you’ll have as to where you park your car.

If you are going to install your EVSE outdoors, make sure it is rated for outdoor use. Look for a National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) rating of 4X, which is made to stand up to rain, cold and dust.

  1. Portability: Most EVSEs come either hardwired or with a NEMA 6-50/NEMA 14-50 compatible plug. Keep in mind that some municipalities require the unit to be hardwired, so check with your local electrician or government to find out. The advantage of a plug-in model is that it can be easily relocated when you move, or even used as a portable charger, as long as you have a compatible plug at your destination. The choice is ultimately yours, as both options will deliver the same power.

“It’s up to consumer preference,” says Dayagi on the subject. “Are you comfortable having something hardwired to your wall, or would you rather have the option of plugging it back in? Do you hide the plug or hardwire behind the unit, or are you comfortable with having the receptacle or wire going to your site of installation?”

  1. Wi-Fi Connectivity: Siemens is one of a handful of EVSE manufacturers that offer built in Wi-Fi connectivity to higher end models. This allows you to monitor your car’s charging.

“Wi-Fi enabled EVSEs give you real-time charging information, which can help you manage your use,” Moloughney says. “For example, if you only have an hour to charge and have a 40-mile drive ahead of you, you can see how much range has been added to your car and unhook [from the charger] safe in the knowledge that you have enough range for your drive.”

Wi-Fi connectivity also allows you to remotely control the EVSE, turn it on and off, program the delay capabilities and, on some models, control the amperage adjustment. These are all features that help you control the amount of money you spend on charging your vehicle, because the app the EVSE is linked to can translate the amount of power used into actual dollars.

“This will help answer the questions, ‘What am I really getting by having this product?’ ‘What are my cost savings?’ The user will be able to see in actual dollars how much they are spending each month,” says Dayagi.

Another benefit of Wi-Fi connectivity is the potential for integration with home automation systems. ChargePoint has a product that will communicate with the Nest Thermostat and gives the option of coordinating energy use to minimize energy costs, and the Siemens brand new Wi-Fi EVSE has been tested to be compatible with the Wink Home Automation platform.

Other Features to Consider

  • Delay Charge Option: This allows you to connect the cord to the vehicle and program it to start charging in two, four, six or eight hours. If you get home at 5 p.m., you can still plug in your car, but not have it start charging until 11 p.m. (often a lower cost time for using electricity). For example, Georgia Power has special EV charging rates for customers who charge after 11 p.m.—as low as $0.02 a kilowatt hour. That’s a bargain compared to the $0.20 per kilowatt-hour you would pay at peak times (2 to 7 p.m. in Georgia).
  • Warranty Length: 3 years is the industry standard.
  • Amperage Adjustment: This provides the ability to determine the maximum amperage draw the vehicle will take from the electrical grid. It’s useful in a variety of applications, but from a cost perspective, it allows you to take less energy at higher peak periods, saving money but still charging your EV.
  • Auto Restart Feature: This feature ensures that your car will continue to charge after a power outage or fault.
  • Automatic Shut Off: Shuts off charging when your car is at 100%.

Do I Need to Re-Wire My House to Install an EVSE?

Don’t have a garage? An EVSE can be easily mounted to the side of your home, as Deborah Seymour, a blogger and EV advocate, did at her 125-year-old home in Seattle, Washington.

Don’t have a garage? An EVSE can be easily mounted to the side of your home, as Deborah Seymour, a blogger and EV advocate, did at her 125-year-old home in Seattle, Washington.

Probably not. If your home was built within the last 30 years, you are most likely fine. If it’s older, you may need to do some upgrades to your electrical service, but likely not much more than you would need to install a tumble dryer.

To prepare your home for an EVSE:

  1. Have an Electrician Test Your Circuitry: A licensed electrician will be able to tell you if your home is EVSE ready or if you will need to do any upgrades. Either way, you will need to install a new two-pole circuit breaker per EVSE, new wiring and the EVSE itself.

One easy way to check if your system is capable is to see if you have two spare slots on your breaker. If not, you will need to upgrade your service and install a separate transfer switch/breaker panel. A 30-amp station needs a 40-amp breaker. A 40-amp station needs a 50-amp breaker.

“I have a 1925 house, so I went for an upgrade,” says Deborah Seymour, an EV owner in Seattle who blogs about her EV experiences at Deb Goes Green. “I had a 1980 service panel that only had one slot left, and you had to have two free breakers, so I decided to upgrade to a bigger panel. However, even if I had not got the EV, I probably would have upgraded the panel.”

  1. Prep the Space: If you plan on having your EVSE in the garage, check the wiring and distance from your house. Old wiring in the garage may need to be replaced by a professional, and the further away it is from the main breaker panel, the more expensive installation will be. National Electrical Code Article 625 covers the rules for EVSE installation, such as where a charger can be mounted and what kind of wiring is required. Check state and local codes as well. Some states also have laws that protect your rights to install a charging station.
  1. Plan for Portability: If you are renting your home, think you may move, or just want to be able to take your EVSE with you to a different location, plan for portability. Have an electrician install a NEMA 14-50 outlet so that the EVSE can be mounted next to the outlet and plugged in, rather than hardwired to the house.

Conclusion

A Level 2 EVSE is a practical solution for anyone considering an electric vehicle. Not only will it allow you to charge your vehicle fully in about four hours (compared to upwards of 12 with Level 1) but, with the addition of Wi-Fi connectivity, you will be able to monitor your vehicle more closely and learn how to use it most efficiently.

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to combating the most common concern of EV drivers, “range anxiety”—the fear that a vehicle has insufficient range to reach its destination.

“I live in Seattle, and the range on my 2013 Nissan Leaf is 85 miles,” Seymour says. “My whole life is within 15 miles of my house, so I have zero problems with range anxiety. I do understand for people who have a more arduous commute that it does present an issue.”

Range anxiety is also a concern if you like taking longer road trips. However, as long as you don’t mind scheduling some pit stops, public charging stations offer a good way to combat that concern, especially those equipped with the DC Fast Charge stations, which can have you ready to go in under 30 minutes. Use PlugShare.com (which also has an app for your smartphone) to find a map of every public charging station and shared residential charger in the country, so you can plan your route to make sure you never run out of juice. And, if you stop at one of the DC Fast Charge stations (identified on the map), you can be back up to 80% in under 30 minutes, barely long enough for a lunch break.

The ability to charge quickly at home, combined with the rapidly growing number of public charging stations, is a huge leap forward for EV drivers. Additionally, battery technology is rapidly improving, meaning faster charging and increased range are within sight. “It’s like the Wild West out there with EV battery capacity,” says Seymour. “Tesla already has a battery pack that gets 250 plus miles, and it’s opened its patents to the others.” Indeed, earlier this month Chevy unveiled its Chevy Bolt, promising a 200 mile range for a $30,000 price tag. So prepare now—the day when we can plug in our car for under an hour and then head out on the great American road trip is closer than you think.

About the author 

Jennifer Tuohy writes on a variety of subjects, but she is most passionate about the intersection of technology and sustainability. She has recently been interested in purchasing an electric car and wanted to share the information that she found.   To find out more about EV charging options, visit www.homedepot.com.

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