Picking The Right Electric Car Charger For Your Home


The folks at Consumer Reports are very good at offering people good, practical advice. Whether the issues is which vacuum cleaner is best for homes with long haired pets like Golden Retrievers or the best electric car charger to buy, CR can be relied upon to do the research people need to make informed decisions that are right for them.

Level One electric car charger

As more and more electric cars come to market, many people considering buying an electric car are curious about whether they need to install charging equipment at home. The answer, according to Consumer Reports, is “It depends.”

The idea that is foreign to most people driving an electric car for the first time is that the car has been plugged in all night and begins each new day with a fully charged battery. It’s as if someone came by the the garage and filled the gas tank of a conventionally powered car each evening.

In North America, 110 volts is the standard for residences and small businesses. It’s enough to charge most electric and plug-in hybrid cars overnight so they have a full battery in the morning. Chargers that operate on 110 volts are called Level One. They are plentiful and fairly inexpensive, topping out at about $300. The more expensive models have an internet enabled app that allows the driver to monitor the charging rate and level of battery charge remotely.

Level 2 chargers operate on 220 – 240 volts. That’s that same as an electric stove or clothes dryer. Chargers that operate on the higher voltage can recharge a battery much more rapidly than Level 1 equipment is capable of. What takes 10 to 12 hours with Level 1 needs only 4 hours or so with Level 2 charging equipment.

Level 2 chargers costs a bit more.  They also require the services of a licensed electrician to install properly. Charger and installation may cost $1,200 to $1,500 but keep in mind there is a federal tax credit available that will cover 30% of that cost. Consult a qualified tax professional for details. The credit is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2017 unless extended by Congress. Having a Level 2 charger installed at your home may also increase the resale value of your property.

Level 3 chargers can replenish a battery in one tenth the time but are usually not appropriate for residential applications. They can cost $10,000 or more for the unit itself plus installation. For the vast majority of people, the cost is more than saving a few hours of charging time would be worth.

Consumer Reports suggests that for people who drive less than 20 miles to work and have access to a charger during the work day, a Level One charger is fine. Even if no work place charger is available, the vast majority of electric cars can go 40 miles during the day and still be fully charged overnight.

Longer distances driven daily may justify the decision to install a Level 2 charger. People who live in cold climates should keep in mind that some of the electricity stored in the battery is used to preheat the battery pack and interior of the car. A Level 1 charger may not be able to preform those functions and charge the battery at the same time.

In general, owners of plug-in hybrid vehicles have less to worry about. It they run out of battery power, the onboard gasoline engine takes over to provide as many miles as needed. Consumer Reports does suggest that people with a pure electric vehicle like a Chevy Bolt or Tesla Model 3 are more likely to benefit from having Level 2 charging available.

CR also recommends that EV shoppers check to see what the “acceptance rate” is for the vehicle they are considering. The higher the acceptance rate, the faster the battery will be recharged. Some cars have only a 3.3 kWh acceptance rate, which means they could take up to 20 hours to fully recharge if the battery is completely depleted. A 6.6 kWh acceptance rate cuts charging times dramatically. The lesson is that even if you have a Level 2 charger, your car may take a long time to recharge if it only has a 3.3 kWh acceptance rate.

Gil Tal, a researcher at the University of California at Davis who specializes in transportation and travel behavior, says EV and plug-in hybrid owners should drive their cars for a while first and learn about how they fit into their daily driving habits before deciding on which charger is best for them.

“Buy it and drive it,” Tal says. “Drive your car and see what makes the most sense for you.” You may find a less expensive Level 1 charger is more than adequate for your needs.

Source: Consumer Reports

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • Epicurus

    Then there are multiple connector/receptacle standards, right?

    What amazes me is why the non-Tesla EV manufacturers didn’t just buy into the Tesla infrastructure system and adopt Tesla’s connector/receptacle standard instead of adopting another standard and doing nothing about building out the recharging stations for them. It makes me think they really aren’t serious about the success of EVs.

    How successful would ICE cars have been if each manufacturer’s cars required a type of gasoline nozzle incompatible with the gasoline tanks for other manufacturers’ cars? Is that where we are now with EVs?

    • kvleeuwen

      One reason is that three phase charging, common in Europe, is not possible with the American standards.
      Even Tesla uses two standards.
      Luckily, electrons are electrons and adapters are easy to build.

      • Epicurus

        If the manufacturers had to provide all the adapters relevant to the buyer’s country, the number of standards might start to dwindle.

    • ilikecheesedoyoulikecheese

      The SAE J1772 standard EV connection has been around since 2009, several years before the recent Tesla “standard” plug on the Model S and X. Companies don’t make standards, standards bodies (like the Society of Automotive Engineers) do.

  • Roy Irving

    Are level 2 chargers more efficient than level 1 chargers? When I had an electric motorcycle it took about 7kWh of electricity to charge my 5kWh battery using a 110 volt charger. Would a level 2 charger use less energy to charge my Ford C-max Energi than a level 1 charger?

  • bioburner

    We use a AeroVironment TurboCord 240 volt . Its light weight and the cord does not get stiff and difficult to handle in the cold weather. Plugged it into an existing NEMA 6-20 receptacle so no electrician was required ( for us ). The odd thing with this device is its designed to run on 240 Volts and you have to buy an adaptor to charge on 120 Volts. The “brick” part is very small and plugs directly into the receptacle so no worry about the weight stressing the cable/connections.
    No problems at all charging a Volt over night.

  • mb

    Tesla’s mobile connector can plug into a Nema 14-50 outlet. For a Nissan or Chevrolet you’ll need to purchase a charging unit if you want to charge at 240V as far as I know…