How to Prepare Your Home To Charge an Electric Car

If you own an electric car or are just considering a purchase of one, you are probably painfully aware of the lack of public charging facilities. Many electric car owners even carry maps of where public charging facilities are when they are away from home. The most natural solution is to have a car charging station at home where you can be sure that you can always get a charge. The trouble is that most electric car owners don’t know the first thing about recharging stations and whether or not their home can even accommodate one. If this sounds like you, read on to learn more.

It’s All in the Preparation

Do you know what you need to do to prepare your home for electric vehicle charging? If you don’t, you are not alone. In fact, if you are like many people, your knowledge of how an electric car is charged is severely limited. You are probably aware that electric cars serve to dramatically reduce emissions and fuel costs, they also improve fuel economy and increase energy security. And, when you consider the rising cost of gas, electric cars are a great alternative to gas guzzlers. 

Unfortunately, switching to an electric vehicle entails much more than new driving habits and a conversation starter with strangers. It’s also a change in your lifestyle since recharging stations aren’t quite around every corner, at least not yet. This is why the option of installing an electric vehicle charging station in your home is becoming a very attractive option for some car owners.

Selecting a Charger: Level 1 or Level 2?

Before you begin, it is important to understand that you will need to familiarize yourself with the two primary levels of vehicle chargers before you make any decisions. This is provided by home-based charging equipment and most public charging stations.

Electric car chargers come in two types: level 1 and level 2. A level 1 charger delivers the standard household current of 110 volts or 120 volts. These come with most plug-in vehicles when they are purchased. You can tell these types of outlets when you see them. They are three-pronged household plugs that are connected to the control box. These cords are normally very short. A longer cord, running 15 to 20 feet, will run from the opposite side of the control box and plug into the car itself.  

Most electric car owners who don’t have a lot of time constraints will opt for the level 1 charger despite the fact that it takes longer to charge. Level 1 chargers will give you three to five miles per charging hour. This means that, if you want to charge a Nissan Leaf, for example, you will need to charge it for 24 hours to get a full charge if you connect to a standard 120-volt household outlet.

The advantage of this system is that it doesn’t entail an elaborate setup of circuit breakers or dedicated electrical lines that many other appliances require. Another benefit of this type of system is that you can plug your vehicle into practically any standard outlet, providing it’s not the same as other appliances are demanding. In these cases, the excess power required will probably trip the circuit breaker.

A level 2 charger is more complex but can offer 25 miles of range per hour of charging, making it a much faster option. The voltage for this charger ranges from 208-240 volts. If a homeowner needs more time with their car, then the level 2 charger is the best option. However, they will need to install a complete charging station in their home because a normal outlet just won’t cut it. 

Setting Up a Charging Station

Now that the decision has been made, it’s now time to prepare your home for an electric vehicle charger. When most people arrive at this point, they are usually very anxious to determine where, when, and how they can charge their electric vehicles. The good news in this is that once a system has been set up, doing so will be as easy as plugging in your smartphone for a charge. Once your electric vehicle charging station is set up, you can wave the local charging station goodbye since you can get your next charge from the convenience of your home, and there are probably a few things that can be as satisfying as leaving home every morning with a full charge.

If you have decided that a level 1 charger is for you, you can begin by using a standard 120-volt plug. Just plug in your car and you will soon be ready to go. The primary drawback to this is that to use this level of amps on a modern electric vehicle with a range of 200 miles on a full charge, you would need to keep your car plugged in for up to 50 hours. For most people, this is entirely too slow. 

It’s for this reason that many electric vehicle owners opt for level 2 charging that will deliver a full charge in five to six hours from a 240v socket. This is obviously much quicker than the alternative. The setup time can be considerable, not to mention expensive, but what follows is a rundown of what you will need to accomplish this if you want it in your own garage.

Step 1: Locate the Power Panel

On a scale of one to ten, the power panel is the most important part of your recharging system. The power panel is where everything starts and ends. The power panel is where all the power that comes into a home is distributed to every part of the house where it is used.

Power is rated in terms of amperes (or amps for short), which is the measure of a basic unit of electric current. The current flow is set for maximum. Older panels that were installed before 1965 are often rated at 60 amps, while later systems were, on average, 100 amps. Installations after 1990 usually have power panels rated for currents as high as 150 to 200 amps, with some rated even higher.

Most electrically upgraded homes today run on a 100 amp power panel. It’s easy to determine the capacity of your home. All you need to do is to look for the amperage that is printed on the main circuit breaker that manages the inflow of power for your home’s system.

Step 2: Audit the Power Consumption

The amp rating is the measure of the maximum use. It is important that you understand how much electricity your home consumes before you decide to use a 240v level 2 charging system. This is because with the new charging consumption added to the current use, you may overload the electrical consumption capability of your home. The answer to this problem is to perform a home energy audit. If you don’t know how to do this, you can pick up a brochure from the Department of Energy that will show you how to do it. The Department also has a website that will show you how to perform this energy audit.

When you are planning to install a home charging station, it is critical you remember that it is unwise to take your energy panel beyond 80 percent of its full capacity. For example, if your current energy audit indicates that your current consumption is less than 50 amps, this will give you another 50 amps to accommodate a level 2 charger.

Step 3: Installation of the Charging Station

As wonderful as the thought of having your own power station in your home might be, it is important to realize that, if you don’t feel comfortable with installing your charging system, call a professional to do it for you. Working with these systems can be very dangerous. In fact, it can be fatal to anyone who is the least bit ill-informed about these systems. Performing an audit is one thing, but electrical services are something entirely different.

If your energy audit indicates that you have sufficient power for a charging station, your next step should be to install a 240-volt plug or have a circuit hardwired into your power panel. It is best if an electrician handles this part of the installation even if it does cost several hundred dollars.

If it is finally determined that the power panel in your home is not up to the task of powering a charging station, it might cost significantly more since you will probably have to install a larger distribution panel. This kind of work can cost between $1,000 and $3,000. The final increase in cost will depend on the complexity of the work to be performed. Your electrician might also tell you that, in order to install a charging station, he might have to cable back to the power pole on your street for the additional capacity. Infrastructure changes of this sort could increase your costs significantly. This doesn’t include other related costs, such as breaking and removal of concrete and other labor. On the bright side, this work would be plenty to bring full-charge capabilities into your home.

Step 4: Buying a Suitable Electric Vehicle Charger

There are several key factors that should be considered before you buy an EV charger. First, the vehicle you plan to charge will have a very specific battery capacity and range. Modern electric vehicles offer a very long range—up to 250 miles—on a single charge. This includes the Tesla Model 3, Nissan Leaf, and the Chevy Bolt, among others. With any of these, it’s good to have a higher-capacity charger to get your battery charged as quickly as possible.

It is also important that the charger you buy fits within the supply capacity of your main power panel. Under most circumstances, a 30-amp, 240-volt Level 2 charger will be your best choice. This level of charger will give you the option of adding a charge to your vehicle at about 21 miles within the range of your charge per hour. This should be more than enough to give your vehicle a charge at its highest capacity overnight.   

Less Expensive Charging Option

If all these options leave you a little short of cash, take heart. There’s still another option that will give you a charging station, but at a lower cost. Many electric vehicle owners have an option in their homes that is much more economical and will still give you a level 2 charging station. Not only that, but it will involve far less expense and hassle than the option above.

Most American homes already have a 240v amp socket in their garage. This is most commonly known as the “dryer plug.” It is most often used to power a dryer or similar heavy appliance. A simple and less-expensive solution to the problem discussed above is to purchase a 30-amp charger with the required plug and connect it directly to the existing socket. And, when you charge your electric vehicle, simply unplug your dryer and plug in your vehicle. This option makes several charging issues moot since your system is already upgraded to accommodate the additional wattage with a dryer.

EV Charging: Be Prepared

It doesn’t take much foresight to see the dawn of electric vehicles on the horizon. It’s for that reason that most homeowners would do well to consider the installation of an electric vehicle charging station in their homes. As this article explains, the process is much easier than most people would have you believe, especially since, if one option doesn’t suit you and your capabilities, another probably will.

It probably goes without saying that forward-looking homeowners would do well to check to see what their existing power capabilities are in their effort to accommodate what they might want in the future. And, if there is one technology that is steadily making headway into the world, it’s electric vehicles, and preparing our homes for their introduction might be one of the smartest moves that any homeowner can make since, sooner or later, someone in the household will probably own an electric vehicle.