Electric Car Charging at Home: How It Works and What You'll Need

You can't pump gas in your sleep, but you can charge an EV that way.

A Tesla electric vehicle charging at home

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For first-time electric vehicle (EV) owners, charging at home can be stressful. But once EV owners learn about charging, they'll find it convenient and less expensive than gasoline.

Who Can Charge EVs at Home?

Most electric vehicle owners charge at home. But this requires a garage or easy street parking access. As more people purchase EVs, other options may become more common.

Apartment dwellers who live in buildings without charging stations or without on-street charging stations must rely on charging at work or at public charging stations. For those able to charge at home, charging an EV can be as simple as charging your phone.

Can I Plug My EV Into a Wall Outlet?

Electric vehicles come with a standard 120-volt charging cable, which you can plug into an ordinary 120-volt household outlet.

If you have a garage with electric outlets, you're all set. If you have outdoor outlets adjacent to your driveway, you can plug your EV in there too, but this is riskier. You don't want to run over any cables with a lawnmower or snowblower. Additionally, you can't run an extension cord from your house to your car unless it's specifically manufactured for that purpose.

Outlet charging is called Level 1 charging or, “trickle charging." The rate of charging is roughly 1.3 to 2.4 kW per hour or around 3.5 miles of range per hour. Many EV owners can charge overnight and get by without anything faster.

How Long Will It Take to Charge My EV?

To calculate whether or not you'll need a faster charging speed at home, consider how long it will take to charge your EV. Rarely does an EV owner need to charge a vehicle from empty to full, so factor in how many miles you plan on traveling per day and what the maximum range of your EV is.

There may be instances when faster charging is needed, like if you need to go to work after a road trip. But if this happens infrequently, it may not be worth the cost of installing a faster charger in your home.

If you don't have outlets accessible or you need faster-charging speeds than Level 1 charging, you may want to install a higher speed home charging station.

Faster Home EV Charging

A Level 2 SAE J1772 plug
A Level 2 SAE J1772 plug.

Sven Loeffler / Getty Images

Many EV owners install a Level 2 charger at home, which uses a 240-volt socket. This is the same outlet that runs a clothes dryer.

Known as Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (or EVSE), a Level 2 charger can completely charge an EV in 3 to 8 hours. They utilize an SAE J1772 plug, which is standard for every electric vehicle sold in North America, except for Tesla vehicles, which come with a J1772 adapter.

Installing an EVSE

Many chargers need to be hard-wired into your circuit breaker panel. This should be installed by a certified electrician.

Other chargers can be plugged into a 240-volt socket, so if you're able to mount the charger on a wall yourself, all you need is a 240-volt outlet installed.

Treehugger Tip

Not all Level 2 charging stations are weather-proof. If you're mounting the charger on an exterior wall, be sure to purchase one that is suited to your climate.

In the United States, home charging stations are eligible for federal tax credits. There may be additional incentives from your state, municipal government, or local utility, which can reduce costs.

Tips for Charging at Home

If you own a garage that can fit two cars and install a home charging station, place it where both vehicle can reach. Dual charging stations are more costly, but you may not need to charge both vehicles at the same time.

  • Keep your EV charged between 20% and 80%. Keeping the battery at extremes reduces its lifetime.
  • Peak electricity rates are usually in the early evening, so if you can put off charging your vehicle until after 8:00 p.m., you're more likely to save money. Most EVs come with phone apps that allow you to set your charging times, so you can plug in your vehicle and set it to charge later.
  • Pre-heat or pre-cool your vehicle while it's plugged in to improve battery efficiency. With zero emissions, you can do this safely in a closed garage.
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Do you need a special charger for an electric car?

    You don't need to install anything fancy at home in order to charge your electric car. You can plug it into any old 120-volt outlet so long as you're not using an extension cord.

  • Is charging at home the cheapest way to charge an electric car?

    Charging at home is three to six times cheaper than charging at a public charging station, which can cost up to $0.60 per kWh. The cheapest way to charge your EV is to do it overnight or at least outside of peak electricity times.

  • Is charging at home the fastest way to charge an electric car?

    Trickle charging your EV—i.e., plugging it into a regular wall socket—is the slowest way to charge your car. Installing a Level 2 charger will expedite the process, but the quickest option is to use a Level 3 charger, which can take a battery from zero to 80% in as little as 15 minutes. Level 3 chargers are great for charging on the road, in public spaces, but they're not very practical for home charging.

  • How much does it cost to install a Level 2 charger at home?

    Level 2 chargers, which can typically charge a car fully in two to five hours, cost between $850 and $2,000 including installation. It isn't recommended to install an EV charger yourself unless you're an experienced electrician.

  • How much does it cost to charge an electric car at home?

    The average price of electricity in the U.S. is about $0.14 per kWh. At $0.14 per kWh, you can fully charge an electric car with a 200-mile range for about $10.

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