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 people in the market for their first electric vehicle, charging at home can be a bit of a mystery and a source of anxiety. But once EV owners develop their charging routine, they will realize that it is not only far less expensive than fueling a gasoline car but far more convenient, as well.

Level 1 Charging

Most electric vehicle owners charge at home. That is likely to change as more and more people purchase EVs, which are now purchased by homeowners with higher incomes than the average consumer. 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.

One of the conveniences of charging at home is that you may not need to upgrade any of your electrical outlets. Electric vehicles come with a standard 120-volt charging cable, which you can plug into an ordinary 120-volt household outlet. Called Level 1 charging or, pejoratively, “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. That's not very quick, but many EV owners get by without anything more.

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. The average American drives 29 miles per day, so an average EV would need 8.2 hours of charging time on a Level 1 charger to recharge those 29 miles of range. Many recent EV models have over 200 miles of driving range, so, for example, a vehicle that can travel 250 miles on a single charge may only need to be recharged once or twice a week.

Don't Forget the Charger

If you buy a used electric vehicle, make sure the previous owner provides you with a charging cable. Otherwise, it could cost you a few hundred dollars to replace it.

There are likely to be instances when faster charging is needed, such as arriving home late from a road trip while needing to commute to work in the morning. Rather than install a faster charging station, use an EV charging app like PlugShare to find any high-speed charging stations in your area. You may be able to drive to a nearby charging station for a 15-20 minute stop. If you're lucky, you may even be able to charge your car while doing your weekly grocery shopping or having a cup of coffee at a nearby café. Consider the number of times per year you may need a fast charge and compare the cost of charging at a public station over the lifetime of your vehicle with the cost of installing a higher-speed charging station at home.

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 consider the various weather conditions at your home. You don't want to run over any cables with a lawnmower or snowblower. Also know that you can't run an extension cord from your house to your car unless it's specifically manufactured for that purpose.

If you have only outlets inside your home or you need faster-charging speeds than Level 1 charging, you may want to install a charging station.

Level 2 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, the kind that runs a clothes dryer. Known as Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (or EVSE), a level 2 charger can charge an EV in 3 to 8 hours, depending, of course, on the size of a car's battery and the original level of charge. They use an SAE J1772 plug, which is standard for every electric vehicle sold in North America, except for Tesla vehicles, which have their own charging plugs but come with a J1772 adapter.

You can have an electrician install the charger for you, as many chargers need to be hard-wired directly into your circuit breaker panel. Other chargers can be plugged directly 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. In that case, you just plug the charger into the outlet, then plug the charging cable into your vehicle.

Keep in mind that 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.

Many “smart” level 2 chargers come with a phone app so that your charging can be managed remotely, such as for scheduling your charging sessions for different times of the day. But most EVs also have a phone app that can already do the same thing, so you may be paying extra for something you don't need.

Home charging stations are eligible for federal tax credits. There may also be available incentives from your state or municipal government, or even your local utility, which can cut or even eliminate the cost of your charging station and its installation.

Some Popular EV Home Charging Stations Manufacturers

If you want expert reviews of many of the most popular charging stations, Tom Moloughney's YouTube channel State of Charge is a reliable source.

Tips for Charging at Home

Think long term: If you own a garage that can fit two cars, consider that in the future you may have two electric vehicles rather than just one. Different charging stations have different length cables, so make sure you place the charging station where both vehicles will be able to reach it. Dual charging stations do exist, though they are more costly and it may that you won't need to charge both vehicles at the same time.

If you're worried about security, a thief is less likely to cut a live 240-volt wire than unplug a plugged-in charger.

Electric vehicle manufacturers recommend that you keep your EV charged between 20% and 80%, unless you're planning a long trip and need to fill it up to 100%. Depleting the battery below 20% or always keeping it charged to 100% reduces the lifetime of a battery.

The most convenient and usually most economical time to charge your vehicle is overnight. If you live in an area where electricity rates vary depending on the time of day, charging at night is also the most economical, since fewer people are using electricity at night. 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 on your electric bill. Most EVs come with phone apps that allow you to set your charging times, so you can plug in your vehicle when you get home but set it to charge at a later hour.

A Chevrolet Bolt charging during a snowfall in Saint-Hughes, Quebec.

SOPHIE-CARON / Getty Images

Pre-heat or pre-cool your vehicle while it's plugged in. EV batteries are less efficient in colder weather, so if you live in a cold environment, you can set your vehicle to turn on and warm up both the battery and the cabin for you while it's still plugged in. That way, you can avoid using climate control while you're driving and just rely on seat heaters to keep you comfortable since they use far less energy. With zero emissions, you can even safely do that in a closed garage without the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. In warmer months, you can also use the climate control to cool your cabin while the car is still plugged in.

View Article Sources
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  2. "National Household Travel Survey Daily Travel Quick Facts." Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2017.