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How to Choose the Right Home EV Charger

From understanding EV charging levels to identifying the features that’ll matter most, here are a few helpful considerations when selecting an EV charger for your home. 

June 2023

When it comes to picking out your next vehicle, the decision to “go electric” comes with a lot of new benefits.  

It also comes with a fair share of new considerations. 

The biggest one being: “How do I keep this thing charged?” 

Even with rapidly expanding EV infrastructure and more accessible public charging stations popping up throughout the country, you’re still going to need a home charging solution to ensure your electric vehicle’s battery stays ready to get you wherever you need to go.  

And selecting the right home EV charger –meaning right for your car, right for your space, right for your practical needs – means assessing the various options out there on multiple points.  

To help you get started, we’ve broken down some of the major factors to consider when determining which EV charger is right for you. 

Do a Connector Compatibility Check 

Pick a Level 

Plan for the Where and How of Your Charger Installation 

Compare Feature Sets

1.  Do a Connector Compatibility Check 

The North American standard for EV charging connectors is the SAE J1772, sometimes colloquially referred to as the J-Plug (which admittedly sounds like a celebrity nickname).  

As the standard, this connector is what is used by the majority of EV manufacturers within the North American market for use with Level 1 and Level 2 chargers (more on that later). Tesla, however, uses a proprietary charging connector for their EVs and additional auto makers, like GM, have announced that they’ll be using the Tesla connector on future models. 

As such, for those considering a Tesla electric vehicle or one that uses the Tesla connector, when selecting an EV charger for your home, you may want to weigh your options between those designed for Tesla’s proprietary charging connector and those that use the standard SAE J1772. While a Tesla-specific charger offers direct connection, all Tesla EVs also happen to come with an adapter that enables them to charge up using the SAE J1772 connector. To ensure your at-home charging station can work with any electric vehicle – the one you might be driving now, as well as any visitors’ EVs or future additions to the household – opting to install a charger that uses the standard connector is the safe bet for long-term compatibility and use.  

2. Pick a Level 

While electric vehicle charging might be a newer or unfamiliar topic for many of us, at its core, it’s just about power. Something we all already use, every day, in countless ways. As with the chargers made for our smartphones, tablets and computers, the charging solutions available for electric vehicles come in a wide variety of options that designed with different technical specifications to determine how much power it can pull and thus, how fast it can charge.   

To help make approaching the broad selection of chargers (and their accompanying facts and figures) a little simpler, EV charging solutions are actually broken down into levels. While each level still contains many options, knowing which level charger you want will help narrow the field a little faster. 

With Level 1 EV Chargers, the main benefit is that it uses power from a regular ol’ 120V outlet – like the ones you already have all throughout your home – to charge your EV. Which is convenient.  

The downside, however, is that since a Level 1 charger is using that readily available 120V outlet, it’s going to take a LONG time to charge your EV. Think about how long it takes to get your laptop to a full battery; then think about how much bigger a car is. While the specifics will vary from model to model of charger, charging times with Level 1 can require more than a day to reach a full battery and, on average, provides a driving range of 3-5 miles per hour of charging. This can be a viable option for those with shorter commutes or for folks who use their car as supplement to public transport but might be too limiting for those who rely on their vehicle for more significant daily driving.  

Moving up a notch, Level 2 Chargers require a 208-240V power source (like the dedicated outlets use for large appliances like dryers and stoves). When thinking about Level 1 vs Level 2 EV chargers, this larger power pull allows Level 2 models to charger EVs significantly faster, with an average charge time of 9 hours to take a car’s battery from 0 to 100%. The driving range also increases quite a bit, with an average of 32 miles per hour of charging.  

You probably picked up on the “higher” level of charger meaning a faster charge and will not be surprised that Level 3 Chargers are the fastest on the market. Sometimes even referred to as DC fast-chargers, Level 3 options can provide more than 100 miles in range in as little as 30 minutes or less of charging. So, why doesn’t everybody just go with Level 3 chargers?  Well, this is where things get a little more complicated and a lot more expensive.  

First, the amount of power required for Level 3 charging simply exceeds what homes have available. It would require a hefty revamp of electrical infrastructure and regulation, not to mention a headache in permitting, to support Level 3 charging in residential spaces. As such, Level 3 charging isn’t currently available for home installations. 

Secondly, Level 3 charging is extremely costly, with entry level chargers costing over $10,000 and some models priced as high as $150,000.  Sometimes, with great speed comes great financial responsibility? 

Taking all this into account, to pick the level of charger that will work best for you is about assessing your needs, expectations and budget with prompts like:  

  • How far do I drive each day?  
  • Will I have access to public charging or destination charging (ex: charging stations at work) throughout the day? 
  • How long do I go between significant trips?  
  • And, how much am I willing or able to spend?

3. Plan the Where and How of Your Home EV Charger Installation 

Ultimately, the best EV home charger is going to be the one that makes your life easiest – which means it needs to work with the space and habits you already have.  

If you park in the driveway every night because the garage has has gradually been taken over by kids’ recreational equipment, then lean into that and plan for an outdoor EV home charging station.  

If you always drive in and park in the left spot of your garage, you’ll want to go for an indoor option that can accommodate that routine and layout.  

Many of the EV home chargers available are conveniently designed to be installed indoors or out, but the accessories of the installation can vary to ensure electrical safety in a specific environment, so it’s important to keep the ultimate “where” in mind as you begin your selection process and decide what you want/need to set up an EV charging station for the home. 

Then moving on from the “where,” the next installation detail to conquer is the “how.” 

There are a variety of options on the market for EV charging at home, including those that simply plug-in to an existing outlet and those that are hardwired into the home’s electrical network. Both installation types have unique advantages (added ease vs. extra oomph) and high-performing models available, so selecting between plug-in and hardwired mostly comes down to  the specifics of your space and your preferences. 

Plug-In EV Chargers are the easier option to start charging at home. With models available for both Level 1 and Level 2 charging. As mentioned in the above section, for Level 1 chargers this means simply plugging it in to an open 120V outlet in your garage, driveway, carport etc.  

For Plug-In Home Level 2 Chargers, a 240V outlet on a dedicated 60 amp circuit is needed. Some homes already have 240V outlets available right where they need it (often previously installed for laundry hook-ups or RVs in outdoor cases), but for those who don’t, the installation of a 240V outlet can be done quickly and easily by a certified electrician. Note that with outdoor installations, the outlet should be rated for weather-resistance and should also be installed with a weatherproof box to both meet electrical code and ensure safe charging.  

Alternatively, hardwired options are available for Level 2 charging. These charger units can require more investment (of time and money) on the front end due to the nature of their installation. However, they can have a positive impact on property value as a result and are also often designed with higher specs to support faster charging, even when compared to other models within their same charging level. 

4. Compare Feature Sets 

Once you’ve whittled things down this far – by knowing the type of connector you want, the level of charging that fits your needs and budget, and the installation type that works for your home, you’ve answers the big questions (kudos!) – you might still be looking at several EV charger options and wondering which one to bring home.  

At the final stage, how to choose the right plug-in home EV charger or the right hardwired EV charger, comes down to digging a little bit deeper into the feature sets of your options. Here are some final questions to be asking yourself as you fully compare and prepare to make your choice:  

  • Is it safe? An EV charger is a pretty powerful device being added to your home. As important as all the other features will be, nothing is more important than safety. So, check a charger for its safety chops. Has it been tested and certified by the appropriate channels? Is this device from a brand you know and trust? Did it have to pass quality inspections and checks before it made it to the store shelf? Is it certified for use indoors and out? Is it free of harmful materials and in compliance with certain requirements like RoHS or Prop 65?  

For additional info on safe EV charging, check out this great infographic resource from Electrical Safety Foundation International (EFSI).  

  • How fast will it charge? As mentioned earlier, even within the same level of chargers, there’s going to be differences in the speed and range each model can deliver. Look at the specs for amps/volts/kilowatts as well as the average details provided for rate of a full charge or range of miles per hour of charging. How does a specific charger measure up against the other models of the same size, style, price range? 

  • Does it fit my space? The obvious point of this question is size. With charger shapes and dimensions varying, it’s important to check that the ones you are considering can actually fit your space with minimal disruption. This question can also be about design, however. Because aesthetics do make a difference. Whether you’ve given your garage a Home Edit-style makeover or are just trying to keep it from turning into a catch-all of chaos, there’s something to be said for that charger models that aren’t unnecessarily bulky or visually obtrusive. And if you’re going with an outdoor installation, this becomes even more of a feature to consider. Curb appeal can be as much about keeping neighbors happy as it is future resale value.  

  • How far does it reach? This one might seem nit-picky, but it’s sorta the EV equivalent of pulling up on the wrong side of a gas pump. The charger will connect to your vehicle through a charging cable, so confirm if that cable will easily reach where you usually park. Can it also even reach multiple spots in the case of multi-driver homes? And, on the flip side of those points, how easy will it be to store the cable and keep it out of the way when you aren’t charging? Take these practical details into account.    

  • Can it get me money back? And lastly, if you are reading about EV chargers, you are probably already aware that electric vehicles and their accessories can qualify users/buyers for rebates, tax credits and other incentives. Government agencies (at local, state and federal levels) as well as utility companies are currently offering financial benefits to help entice consumers to purchase items that reduce greenhouse emissions and energy waste. While the specifics of these incentives and payback programs vary based on where you are located {insert link to the resi incentive pdf}, looking for EV chargers that hit common qualifiers – such as Energy Star® certification – can lead to additional savings on top of those associated with EV charging in general (lower maintenance cost, no more cringing at gas prices). 

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