Selecting an EV charger to meet your needs depends on several factors, including where you park the car and your home’s electrical capability. In addition to its cost, the primary consideration for buyers shopping for chargers is how quickly a car can be charged.
Something current and potential electric car drivers should keep in mind is that battery charging times vary significantly due to many variables. The charger itself is a crucial part of the equation. However, the type of vehicle battery, how much energy it can hold, and the level of battery depletion all play a role in the time needed for charging.
Even the ambient air temperature can impact the battery’s ability to accept a charge efficiently.
Most electric car owners use home charging stations, and there is a variety of equipment available to choose from. Some “plug-and-play” chargers ready for use immediately, while hard-wire types require installation. This guide will help you learn about the types of electric car chargers and what features to look for when deciding on a charging station for your plug-in electric vehicle.
Level 1 and Level 2 EV chargers: How to choose
Check out these two types of EV chargers commonly found in residential charging stations. The primary difference between Level 1 EV chargers and Level 2 EV chargers is the rate at which they can charge a battery (or how fast the EV charger can add power to the car’s battery).
Both Level 1 and Level 2 chargers connect to the SAE J1772 charge port equipped on all electric vehicles except Tesla
models. Tesla provides an adapter necessary for its cars to use nonproprietary charging equipment.
Level 1 chargers
Use a common three-prong (NEMA 5-15) 120-volt AC electrical outlet found in North America.
Provide 2 to 5 miles of range per hour of charging, or about 40 miles of range on an overnight charge.
Most electric cars include this charger, so no additional equipment will need installing.
Level 2 chargers
Use 240-volt AC electrical service typically found in households for appliances such as electric dryers.
Can deliver 25 to 35 miles of range per hour of charging with a 30-amp unit and a higher rate using chargers that feature greater power delivery, such as 32-, 40- or 48-amps.
40-amps or less can be plugged in; higher-powered units must be hard-wired.
Are a good option for quick charging at home.
Level 3 chargers
A third level – DC Fast Charging – offers the fastest option. However, level 3 chargers are typically only found commercially, including in public and Tesla charging stations.
Because of the high voltage and cost of installing DC current, it doesn’t make sense to install a Level 3 charger in your home. Not all EVs offer fast charging, though most newer ones offer the software and combination socket that work with a DC plug.
Factors that will influence your choice
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option for home EV chargers. Your particular situation will influence the type of setup you can have. Consider these factors when choosing a home charging station.
Safety and protection for animals and children
Electricity can be dangerous when used improperly or with substandard equipment. When buying any EV charger, look for models that are UL certified. UL certified indicates that the charger was independently tested for safety by an organization such as Underwriters Laboratory. A product lacking this certification doesn’t mean that it is unsafe, but it does show that the charger hasn’t had testing to demonstrate that it is safe for prolonged use.
Keep children and pets away from charger plugs, connectors, and receptacles as with other electrical devices.
Inside (garage) vs. outside charging
Mounting a charging station on the wall of a garage will protect the unit from the elements. The interior location also provides a warmer temperature for better charging during the winter in colder regions. However, not every electric vehicle owner can park and charge their car inside.
Many EV chargers come rated for outdoor use. Look for those that have a higher NEMA rating for more protection from the weather. For example, a NEMA-4 rating unit is designed to be protected from windblown rain and snow better than a model with NEMA-3 rating.
Most charging stations come with holsters to protect the connector when it’s not attached to the car. Whether it’s attached to the unit or a separate remote holster, using it will protect the plug from being damaged by precipitation and dust.
Hard-wire vs. a plug-in
EV chargers with greater power will charge the car faster, but those models may need to be installed by a qualified electrician.
Chargers that deliver more than 40-amps must be hard-wired. This means the unit connects directly to your power supply. This type of installation method is a more permanent option. If the charging unit has problems and needs replacing, an electrician must uninstall it and hook up the replacement.
For plug-in Level 2 chargers, an electrician will need to install the electrical receptacle if a conveniently located 240-volt outlet isn’t available. However, this can cost less than hard-wiring the unit. Other advantages come with plug-in chargers:
Installation of the outlet can take place before your charger arrives.
Replacing a faulty unit or upgrading to a different model is simple.
Plug-in units can be removed and brought to another location, such as your second home.
One of the first questions a potential electric car owner should answer is whether they control their electricity supply. Permission from the homeowners’ association or landlord may require installing a charging station if you live in a co-op, condo, or apartment.
Homeowners must determine whether their existing electrical panel has the capacity for a dedicated circuit for the charging station. A qualified electrician will be able to assess your service panel to ensure it has adequate electrical capacity.
A circuit that can deliver at least 32-amps is required. Installing a 50-amp circuit will help ensure that the charger can provide 40-amps to your vehicle.
Note that some jurisdictions may require that charging station installations comply with codes and regulations. Check with local authorities to find out if you need permits before installation.
Make sure the cable that runs from your charging station to the car gets made from rugged materials to provide shock protection and safety while charging in wet conditions.
When shopping for chargers, pay attention to cable length, whether the charging station will be installed inside or outside.
Charge ports can be located at different points on EVs, and sufficient cable length will allow you to reach the connection. For example, a cable that’s less than 20-feet-long might be inconvenient because it would require you to park in a specific direction to plug into the charger.
Smart EV chargers
“Smart” EV chargers are more advanced Level 2 products. They have features including Wi-Fi connectivity that enable users to engage a smartphone app for enhanced displays to track activity and schedule charging.
Choosing this type of charger typically adds a few hundred dollars to the cost, but many users find the convenience and additional features worth the price. Users can start or stop charging remotely, check on charging progress, or receive reminders if they haven’t already done so.
A popular feature on some smart chargers lets users enter their electric company information into their profile. The chargers generate reports for users to review statistics that calculate how much it costs to power the car. And by communicating with the utility, some smart chargers will avoid peak times and automatically charge during hours when the provider charges less for energy.
The additional expense of a smart charger isn’t worth it to all electric car drivers. And for others, the features aren’t necessary because some electric vehicle models, including the Nissan Leaf, have apps with functions similar to those offered by smart chargers.
This story originally ran on KBB.com.