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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Charging An Electric Car At Home But Were Afraid To Ask

A primer on charging an electric car at home.

People who read CleanTechnica on a regular basis are quite knowledgeable about electric cars. But there are still a lot of people who find the whole idea of charging an electric car mysterious and a little scary. In this article, we will clear away the mystery and eliminate those fears so you can be happy driving an EV.

If you listen to the drivel on the internet, you might get the impression that you need to plug your electric car in every few miles and wait hours for it to recharge. Why would anyone want to do that? Obviously, if that were true, nobody would want anything to do with driving an electric car. Fortunately, all those concerns have little to do with reality.

Electric Cars Are Different

Let’s begin with the obvious. Electric cars are different. They can be charged anywhere electricity is available. A conventional car needs to find a gas pump, but an EV can plug in anywhere there is an outlet. So an electric car can be topping up the battery while you are sleeping, watching television, or helping your kids with their homework. Can a gasoline car do that? No!

Not so long ago, telephones needed wires, cable TV was the new, new thing, and apps were something restaurants served before the main course arrived. Then the iPhone came along and everything changed. Today, fiber optics are making cable TV obsolete. Things change and change is often scary. Once you find out how superior electric cars are to conventional cars, you will want to join the EV revolution, too.

Electric Car Charging 101

There are three basic kinds of charging, Level One, Level Two, and Level Three, also known as DC fast charging. In the US, 120 volts is the standard in all homes and business. In many other counties, 240 volts is the norm. You can plug any electric car into a 120 volt outlet and add 4 to 5 miles of range for every hour. Lots of people drive 30 miles or less during a typical day. They plug in when they get home and their car is ready to meet their daily needs each morning. No expensive charging equipment and no electricians needed. This is called Level One charging, and it works just fine for lots of drivers.

Level 2 charging uses 240 volts and is considerably faster than Level 1. A Level 2 charger can add 12 to 50 miles of range for every hour it is plugged in. Why the variance? A number of factors are at work here. First, that 240 volt circuit can provide anywhere between 20 and 100 amps of electricity. Second, every car has charging equipment built in at the factory and the onboard charger controls how fast the battery can charge.

Level 3 or DC fast chargers often operate on 440 volts. Some are configured for 880 volts. No homes and few businesses use such high voltages and it would be ridiculously expensive to add a DC fast charger to your home, so forget about Level 3 for household use. Ain’t happening.

Do I Need A Wall Charger?

Almost every electric car comes with a charging cable. Most of them work with either 120 or 240 volts. If you don’t have one, you can buy one online for about $200. Many come with a set of adapters so you can plug in anywhere at home or away. Then drive your new car home, plug it in, and be happy.

If you don’t have a 240 volt outlet near where you park, you may want to hire an electrician to install one. You don’t need a wall charger, although you may decide to buy one. A wall charger allows you to set certain parameters, such as when to start or stop charging. Many are internet connected and can be accessed from your smartphone via an app.

Some utility companies vary the price of electricity during the day, depending on demand. That can make charging your car more expensive during high demand hours or less expensive during low demand hours. Some wall chargers will adapt to the pricing structure to only charge when rate are at their lowest (typically between 11 pm and 5 am).

With the app, you can see what the state of charge of your battery is, what the charging rate is, and what the charging limit for your car is. Many manufacturers recommend not charging to 100% capacity on a regular basis to prolong the life of the battery.

However, most manufacturers offer over the air connectivity that allows you to perform many of the functions of a wall charger directly. The answer is, a wall charger is a convenience, not a necessity. What is a necessity is a 240 volt outlet near where you charge your car if you need to charge faster than you can with a 120 volt outlet. For instance, let’s say you drive 100 miles a day but can only add 50 miles overnight using that standard wall outlet — obviously, that’s not going to work for you.

How Much Does A 240 Volt Outlet Cost?

That’s a question many people have and the answer is, “It depends.” People hate that answer but it’s true. The cost will depend on how far it is from the circuit panel in your home to where you want the outlet. Some homes have the panel in the garage, in which case its a simple project that should only cost a few hundred dollars. But it you have a detached garage, the panel is on the other side of the house, and the electrician needs to break through the foundation and dig a trench to install the new circuit? Then you are looking at some serious cash.

The circuit itself will typically be the same as for an electric dryer — usually 30 amps, although some people install a 50, 60, or even 80 amp circuit for faster charging. But more powerful circuits cost more money. Don’t pay for more power than you need. And here’s a tip. At the reddit EV forum, some people are reporting that electricians are jacking up the prices they quote to install electric car charging circuits. So don’t say that’s what you want it for. Just say you need it for your welder. It could save you some money.

If you have 100 amp service in your home, your circuit panel may not have the capacity for a new 240 volt line. Upgrading from 100 amps to 200 or even 400 amps can be pricey, but keep in mind that it will increase the value of your home and may make it possible to add a rooftop solar system and/or residential storage battery at a later date. Every cloud has a silver lining.

If you already have a 240 volt outlet near where you park your car but it is being used for a dryer or other appliance, you can purchase a charging splitter from NeoCharge or other company that will allow that outlet to do double duty. When you turn on the dryer, it pauses the charging function until the dryer cycle is done.

Does Speed Matter?

A word of advice is needed here. Every car has its own charging characteristics. Some charge faster and some charge slower. When considering an electric car, it is important to know how quickly you can replenish the battery to meet your driving needs. That really is a more important consideration than how fast it will accelerate to 60 mph or what its top speed is. If the car won’t meet your needs, it’s no good for you and you shouldn’t buy it.

Charging For Condos & Apartment Buildings

Not everyone lives in a single family home. People in condo complexes and apartment buildings have special challenges when it comes to charging their electric cars. First Service Residential recently conducted an online seminar on this topic that has a lot of useful information for condo and apartment owners and their management companies. The takeaway was that EV charging is rapidly becoming a necessity of life, just like cell phone service and internet access. If you live in a condo or apartment, you may want to watch the video to learn more.

The Takeaway On Electric Car Charging

Electric cars are different, but then again, so are jets versus propeller-driven airplanes, email versus snail mail, and social media versus print media. Different doesn’t have to be scary. At CleanTechnica, we try to provide the information people need to feel comfortable taking part in the EV revolution. We have many articles available to readers that explain how to install an EV charger, as well as EV charging guides for Level 2 chargers and a guide for new electric car owners written by one of our frequent contributors.

Our motto is Drive Electric. Be happy. Please let us know what questions about EVs are on your mind and we will do our best to get you the latest and most accurate answers.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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