Electric Vehicle Charging Outlets... Essential Home Prep?
Being a technologist I'm often asked questions about electric vehicle (EV) charging... I guess humans view EVs more as technology than as a "traditional" vehicle. Even though an EV is not in my future, I have thoughts & opinions on the matter (go figure). Plus I plan to ensure my home is ready for EV charging, as the benefits of being ready can help home value and be convenient for friends & family members. Today I'll outline some basic concepts and ideas. Oh, like my other posts, I'm assuming you're a typical USA-based human.
EV charging is a complex topic, but for many... much of it can be ignored, mainly just understanding three commonly known charging "levels". Most entities have embraced the "SAE" standard for charging, using the identifiers Level 1 & 2, along with DC Fast Charging. So... in a nutshell:
"Level 1" utilizes a typical household circuit (120 volt / 15+ amp) via standard plug.
"Level 2" increases on Level 1 by utilizing at least two typical household circuits (240 volt+ / 30+ amp) via more robust wiring & plugs similar to your electric dryer or oven.
"DC Fast Charging" provides a massive jump, but unless your very wealthy, you'll only find this at specific Fast Charging Stations.
There are other types of charging, mostly vendor specific like Tesla's Supercharger, but we're just focusing on home-based charging here, so we'll just chat about Level 1 & Level 2. To illustrate the differences between "levels", here are some rough estimates on charging using Chevy's estimates, and an 8 hour charge window:
Level 1 may provide about 32 miles of driving (+/- 15 amps)
Level 2 may provide about 200 miles of driving (+/- 50 amps)
DC Fast may provide about 300 miles of driving in just under two hours.
As you can imagine, Level 2 would likely handle most typical commutes whereas Level 1 might not unless you're also charging at the destination. The other consideration with Level 1 is whether the outlet is shared with other items in your home... hopefully not the refrigerator... as it could trip the circuit breaker and you'd end up with both a dead car and spoiled food. In many circumstances, it's a forgone conclusion that Level 1 is reserved for limited (i.e. emergency) use, and Level 2 (or greater) would be optimal for typical / daily charging.
An aside on battery charging here. Without getting into electro-chemical details of differing battery technologies, the rate of which you charge specific batteries can adversely affect performance and lifetime. Charge some batteries too slow and you could reduce capacity / capability. Charge the battery too fast and you could reduce longevity / life expectancy. Furthermore, charging when battery is too low or even too full can also degrade it. These are long-term issues, but something to consider based on your specific EV situation, and especially before you plug your nice little EV into a 480V DC Fast Charger. #KnowYourBattery #UnintendedConsequences
Another aside on costs. Many entities throw a bunch of money around at EV "infrastructure". Oh, and using the pre-2021 (non-political) definition of infrastructure. 🤨 So, it's critical to understand what benefits are available related to your EV plans, whether from utility (electrical) companies, governments, or other agencies, as such could affect your timing and/or decisions. For instance, to get maximum credit you may have to have your outlet installed, charger acquired, and/or EV purchased within a certain time-frame. So, be informed before you make any decisions!
Ok, so what are some general options for charging? Lets keep it simple here with just two common scenarios; 1] have a hard-wired manufacturer direct / supported EV charger installed that's specific to one brand of vehicle (a la Tesla), or 2] have a standardized (universal) electrical outlet installed in your garage and simply purchase a charger from the myriad of vendors out there... similar to how you'd charge your phone... but bigger obviously.
Personally, I like the second scenario, as when you change EV brands, you can simply buy a new charger rather than needing a specialized contractor to come back out and hard-wire a new brand-specific charger. Also, while you can certainly have a provider install the standardized outlet and hang your charger at same time, you also can have the outlet installed first and plug in whatever charger you want later... at your leisure... being able to change the actual charger out as your EV needs change. Additionally, brands like Clipper Creek offer chargers with the ability to charge multiple EVs if your needs change, showing advances in the tech. Basically, if you have the right plug, changing chargers becomes easy.
With either scenario, the cost to install can vary greatly. While the price of a charger is easily known by simply looking at vendor pricing, many things can affect the price of the electrical outlet / work... like proximity of breaker box to destination outlet, availability to add more breakers, and supply of volts (juice) to the panel. Be sure to always get a quote first.
For the electrical part, don't become a victim... NEVER attempt doing electrical work yourself! Always hire a professional electrical contractor who's licensed, insured, has a great rep, and will handle the requisite jurisdictional (i.e. building department) permits for you. If you're using the outlet approach (not hard-wired), just make sure they install a standardized outlet, like a NEMA 14-30/50 or similar, which will offer the most compatibility, also ensuring the outlet can be hooked up to a variety of other things via certified adapters & dongles. You could even likely use that newly installed plug with your RV... just unplug the charger... and plug in your RV... great for pre-camp staging. If the electrician is not installing the charger, be sure to note down the NEMA type for when you order your charger... to specify the correct connection / adapter. BTW, NEMA is just the spec for connectors.
So... going with the outlet scenario and ready to order a charger... but which one? Well, there's a huge variety of EV chargers out there, BUT, do exercise caution and don't buy the cheapest thing you can find. Remember, there's a lot of juice going through that thing, so you don't want to fry your new prized EV or create electrical safety concerns in / around your home. Research and buy from a reputable manufacturer where you'll often find prices are not that much higher than cheapies. Additionally, you'll want someone who can provide good post-sale support. Buying local is great too, if you can... for instance, the above noted Clipper Creek is a recognized quality brand supplying chargers for most EVs, and is based right here in Northern California.
Almost done here... as noted I don't plan on buying an EV, but do plan to install a NEMA 14-50 or similar in my garage for potential EV and other uses. I've chatted with a few electricians who can put me on a wait list for work during their slow / off season, thereby providing best value. I won't get any incentives, but might be able to have it done for just a couple hundred dollars. If I do change my mind on getting an EV, I can just have a charger overnighted to me.
If you are thinking of buying an EV, some FWIW thoughts... Have you looked at your electricity bill? Guess what... unless you have solar, that EV will make it go up... A LOT! Do you know if it'll be cheaper than gas? How does this affect your auto insurance? Also, things you may not have considered, like home solar energy end up being a key part of your long-term EV plans, as charging your EV on a sunny day via solar can provide big savings. Also, knowing where charging stations are located for road trips & avoiding "range anxiety". Lastly, you'll need a small investment in redundant charging adapters / cables, so you're not stuck if yours get damaged or stolen. Some advice... talk to a trusted friend or family member who's owned an EV for a while before jumping in.
Hope you found this informative... now skip the EV and go buy something with a big V8 that sounds less like a sewing machine and more like a car should sound. JK. 😎
Always feel free to e-mail me comments. You can find my info on the "Team" Page.
DISCLAIMER: I'm just a guy who's been around tech and knows some stuff. I always remind others that what I say is purely FWIW, IMO, FFT, FYI, and many other acronyms... so while I strive to convey quality deets... you get no promises on accuracy or validity. I'm sure a lawyer would say; information not guaranteed, actual results may vary, and use at your own risk.