Customers today can choose between many different home charging solutions designed to meet a variety of needs and requirements. This shows just how much the electric vehicle market has evolved over the past few years. It used to be that owners would have no other choice than to stick with the OEM charger that came with their vehicle. Since then, most car manufacturers have realized that the charging process is an integral part of the EV experience, and that their customers are happy to pay extra just to get a great charging station.
But with so many options comes the responsibility for knowing which criteria one needs to take into consideration in order to select the best charger, and which manufacturers offer electric vehicle charging stations designed for home use.
Our comprehensive guide should equip you with all necessary knowledge and background information that you might need. It’s written for complete beginners who are just thinking about purchasing their first electric vehicle, but we are sure that more experienced readers will also find their share of useful tips they may not have been familiar with before.
It’s a good idea to become familiar with the basic terminology that you often stumble upon when reading about electric vehicles and charging stations. Some of these terms are related to the physics of the charging process, and you will probably remember them from high school. Other describe different pieces of equipment or types of electric vehicles.
- AC (Alternating Current): is an electric current in which the flow of electric charge periodically reverses direction. AC is used to power the vast majority of larger home appliances, such as your fridge, boiler, or microwave.
- CHAdeMO (CHArge de MOve): is the trade name of a quick charging method for battery electric vehicles capable of delivering up to 62.5 kW of high-voltage direct current via a special electrical connector. Most CHAdeMO chargers are currently installed in Japan and Europe.
- DC (Direct Current): is characterized by the unidirectional flow of electric charge. Most modern electronic devices are designed to work on direct current and use AC to DC converters to get the suitable type of electrical current.
- EV (Electric Vehicle): refers to vehicles that operate exclusively on electricity. First such vehicles were produced in the early 19th century, but we are only now approaching a time when they are finally becoming available to the general public.
- EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment): is a technical term for what most people commonly refer to as “chargers”. In reality, electric vehicles have their own charger installed on board, and the large box mounted on the wall in your garage only converts AC current to DC. Given how obscure the proper term is, it’s no wonder that people and most manufacturers are using something more descriptive of what the equipment is actually used for.
- HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle): describes cars such as Toyota Prius. These cars are powered by both electricity and petrol. Their range is usually much higher than what you would get from a vehicle that runs solely on electricity. Manufacturers often advertise them as an effective way how to save money on fuel and at the same time reduce pollution.
- HPWC (Tesla High Power Wall Connector): is a hardwired charging station connector by Tesla designed for 208-250V power supplies and capable of operating on up to 80A.
- J-1772: is a North American standard for electrical connectors for electric vehicles maintained by the SAE International. The connector is designed for single phase electrical systems with 120V or 240V.
The Difference between Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 Charging
Chargers are commonly divided into three categories depending on their charging speed and input voltage.
Level 1 Charging
The most basic charging method uses standard socket-outlets present in all residences. These outlets are usually limited to around 10A, resulting in approximately 4.5 miles of range per hour of charging. A simple math reviles that people who drive more than 40 miles per day would eventually completely deplete their car battery and would have to take a day off to bring it back to its maximum capacity. However, Level 1 charging still has its place as a backup solution and a destination charging method.
Level 2 Charging
Level 2 charging works on 220-240V and can supply the maximum amount of power that most on board battery chargers can handle. You can charge your EV to its maximum capacity overnight and be prepared to put it to a good use the following day. Such charging stations need a suitable circuit breaker rated at 30 or 40A.
Level 3 Charging
This type of charging uses DC current, instead of AC. Since there’s no need for current conversion, it’s supplied directly to the battery via a special charging port. These chargers draw 480 volts and are mostly used in the commercial and industrial setting.
Things to Consider Before Your Purchase
With all basics under our belt, let’s take a look at all the things you should consider before you spend a few hundred dollars on a charger.
Cost – The average price of home EVSE seems to be around $600. There are some cheaper models that sacrifice certain features, just like there are much more expensive units with plenty of bells and whistles. You need to keep in mind that the cost will ultimately end up being higher, since you also need to pay an electrician to install the unit (unless you want to go the DIY route).
Voltage – All Level 2 chargers run at 220-240V. If you cannot supply the necessary voltage, you will need to stick to a basic Level 1 charger that plugs into a standard house outlet.
Amperage – If you want to buy a 30A Level 2 charger, you will need a circuit breaker rated for at least 40 amps. Some Level 2 chargers can be configured to work in a Level 1 configuration, which is a good temporary measure until you upgrade your electric circuit.
Connector – Unless you own a Tesla, there’s really nothing to worry about when it comes to the connector. All manufacturers across the globe use the same J1772 connector. It has five prongs with open centers: the top pair carries power, the large one at the bottom is the ground, and the last two are for data and safety systems.
Cable Length – Most charging cables measure from approximately 15 to 25 feet. Longer cables usually increase the price of the charger, so you should think about how long the cable really needs to be to easily reach your car.
Portability – Installing your charger in a plug-in configuration for use with a NEMA 14-50 outlet gives you the ability to relocate the unit in the future or replace it with a new charger for no additional cost.
Smart Features – As the concept of so-called smart homes is gaining on popularity, we are seeing more and more EVSEs to come equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities, accompanied by mobile applications. Owners can remotely monitor the charging progress, set timers and meters, and get a convenient overview of all important metrics.
At the end of the day, many products are often more than just the sum of their features. Professional and customer reviews are a great source of third-party opinions and long-term experience. Since you will rely on your charger almost every single day, it pays off to take the extra time and do a proper research.