It may surprise EV newbies to learn that an electric car’s charger is found on board the vehicle. It’s the equipment buried in the guts of the car that takes an AC source of juice from your house, and converts it to DC—so your car’s battery pack can be charged.
That's a fact. But it doesn’t stop nearly everybody from calling the wall-mounted box that supplies 240 volts of electricity a “charger.” Actually, that box, cord and plug has a technical name—Electric Vehicle Service Equipment or EVSE—and if you have an EV, you’re going to want to install one at home.
So, it’s slightly misleading to say we’re providing guidance about chargers, because we’re really talking about buying an EVSE—which is essentially no more than an electrical device allowing drivers to safely connect an electric car to a 240-volt source of electricity. It’s not rocket science, and you should not overthink the selection and installation of an EVSE.
That said, there are important differences between the various home chargers (uh, I mean EVSEs). And there are a few best practices to keep in mind.
CostThe general consensus among experienced EV drivers is that a capable and durable EVSE will cost around $600 to $700. You could spend a little bit less, or twice as much, but that’s the ballpark. This does not include installation. Read on to see which key features—such as portability and connectivity—can send the price higher, or can be avoided to reduce the cost.
By the way, from 2010 through early 2013, many EV drivers could get a free EVSE, courtesy of The EV Project, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. But as of March 11, 2013, the program reached its threshold for handing out residential charging equipment, so no more freebies—you’ll need to buy one on your own.
Amperage CapacityYou should buy an EVSE that can handle at least 30 amps. The rule of thumb is that 30-amp service will roughly give you the ability to add 30 miles of range in an hour—just as 15 amps will add about 15 miles in an hour of charging. (These range numbers are somewhat optimistic.)
Keep in mind that most plug-in hybrids (and the Nissan LEAF prior to the 2013 model) don’t take full advantage of the faster rate. That’s okay. It’s still wise to have the capacity to charge at least at the 30-amp level, even if your current car can't fully utilize the higher amperage, so you don’t have to upgrade in a few years if/when you buy a new EV that has a faster on-board charger. Also, it’s nice to allow friends with faster-charging EVs to get a full charge from your garage.
Note: A 30-amp EVSE will need a circuit breaker rated for at least 40 amps.
Length of Charging Cable, and EVSE LocationBefore you buy an EVSE, imagine where your electric car will be parked. Think about the ideal location for this piece of equipment. Now measure the distance between where the EVSE will hang on your wall, and where the charging port is on your car. Cables usually run from approximately 15 to 25 feet. Make sure your cord can easily reach where it needs to go, and think about its length for a potential second plug-in car in your driveway or garage.
Depending on where you locate your EVSE, an electrician might have to run just a few feet of conduit—or dozens of feet. Longer copper runs will add installation cost, but because you’ll charge almost every night, you want it to be as convenient as possible.
PortabilityIf it’s possible, don’t permanently install your EVSE. In other words, have an electrician install a NEMA 14-50 outlet (commonly used for clothes dryers). Then put a matching plug on a pigtail mounted to your EVSE. You can then mount your EVSE right next to the EVSE, and simply plug it in. If the time comes when you move, or decide to relocate your EVSE, simply unplug it—and plug it back into another NEMA 14-50 outlet.
This approach costs exactly the same as a hard-wire installation, and makes the device instantly moveable without additional expense. If your EVSE is outside—because maybe you don’t have a garage—then local code might require that you hard-wire the charging equipment. Otherwise, keep your options open.
ConnectivityIn this age of smart phones, smart grids, smart this and smart that, you might feel compelled to buy a Wi-Fi-enabled EVSE. That might not be so smart after all. While these fancier products sound cool because they have timers, meters, touch screens and capabilities for monitoring and changing charging events over the web, most long-time EV drivers believe that connectivity adds unnecessary complexity, as well as cost. In some cases, when connectivity is lost, the EVSE can shut down. Besides, many of these remote controllable features are available directly on the car, or from mobile applications. So, the smart money is on dumb but durable EVSEs.
If tracking electricity usage of your EV (for work or tax purposes) is an absolute must, you'll want to either meter your charging separately, or keep your eye open for add-on devices that perform this function via integration with the smart grid. These solutions are currently being evaluated in pilot projects.
Popular Choices for EVSEsOkay, we’re finally ready to talk about specific EVSEs. There are at least a dozen different manufacturers, but we won’t cover all of them in detail. Instead, we’ll focus on the EVSEs most highly recommended by the EV intelligentsia. We’ll also briefly mention a few others worth considering.
Clipper Creek HCS-40/>
When we reached out to experienced EV drivers, nearly all of them put Clipper Creek equipment at the top of their list. The company has been making these units for more than 15 years. They equipment doesn’t necessarily get the highest marks for aesthetics, but the same words keep coming up in those recommendations: durable, robust, and even indestructible. No screens, no software, no problems. In late 2013, Clipper Creek came out with a more affordable unit, well-suited to private garages: the HCS-40, and selling for $590 on the Clipper Creek website. It has a compact size, the necessary 30-amp limit, and a 25-foot cord.
As an alternative to Clipper Creek, you could opt for the slightly less revered AV charging station. It has about the same specs and footprint, and a nicer cord handling system that wraps around the unit. Some reviewers feel it’s a bit cheaper in feel. Aerovironment offers a full service installation program, better user guides and documentation and a three-year warranty. The hard-wired version starts at $999, with portable versions dropping to $899 for a 25-foot cord, and $799 with a 15-foot cord, both allowing for the portability discussed above. AV offers an online shop, or convenient toll-free number for sales and service: 888-833-2148. And if the offer lasts, free shipping.
Bosch Power Max
Bosch offers a line of affordable hard-wired charging stations, varying from 16 to 30 amps. As we mentioned, it makes sense to go with a 30-amp home charger. The Bosch Power Max, available on eBay, Amazon and other outlets, is a good deal for just under $600. The unit has a nice style, and is compliant with all of the major EVs on the market. This affordable unit comes with an 18-foot cord, which if you want with a 25-foot cord, bumps the price to $750. Purchase of a Power Max includes a free Trained Vehicle Charging Advisor who does on-site cost estimation, then works with the customer on installation and inspection. Bosch Automotive Service Solutions is the former SPX Service Solutions, which Bosch acquired in December 2012.
GE Watt Station 30A
The GE WattStation Wall Mounted 30A is offered on Amazon for $799 with free shipping. It’s an attractive station, although the price is higher than competitors, and some users see the unit as too big. Others have complained of a louder than normal buzz or hum. The power button allows for zero energy consumption when the unit is not in use, when other units—especially those with connectivity—continue to drain energy. An LED ring surrounds the plug inlet and will illuminate white when the charging station is powered on or in standby mode. A green backlit charging icon will illuminate to signal that the EV is in the process of charging. The cord for this unit is slightly shorter at 16 feet. Make sure it reaches all the way around your electric car. In sum, this EVSE is fancier and therefore pricier.
Schneider Electric EVlink 30 Amp Generation 2.5 Electric Vehicle Charging Station
Manufactured by Schneider, a well-established brand associated with Square D products, the 30-amp Level 2 charger hits the competitive purchase price of $600, while earning consistently high rankings from EV drivers. While some mention that the body is made of relatively cheap plastic, nearly all owners believe that’s a minor issue, because the unit is effective, reliable and affordable. Its low-depth (it doesn’t protrude far from the wall) and overall small size mean that it doesn’t take up any more room than necessary. This unit is available from Home Depot, which provides free in-home consultations about installation.
Siemens VC30BLKB 30-Amp Bottom Fed VersiCharge Electric Vehicle Charger
At a reasonable although not class-leading price of $800, the Siemens 30-amp Level 2 charger gets very high rankings from consumers. It has a high-quality German-built finish, good cable management, and is smaller and lighter than some competing products. Its 20-foot cord is adequate, and users appreciated the “charge-delay” function. Some EV owners have reported incompatibility issues with the Ford Focus Electric and Toyota RAV4 EV, but those are rare and have been reportedly resolved. The only serious ding against the product is poor customer service, in the rare occurrences of problems covered by the three-year warranty.
Eaton RLC EVSE
The Eaton RLC EVSE Level 2 30-Amp Wall Mounted Single Electric Car Charger, with 24-foot cord, is listed on Home Depot and Lowe’s websites for $999. We can’t see a compelling reason to spend a few hundred dollars more for this Eaton charger.
Leviton Evr-Green 300
Selling for more than $1,000 on Leviton’s website, the Evr-Green 300 Level 2 charging station with 18-foot cord is not competitive priced. It comes with a three-year limited warranty, that is fairly common, but which Leviton says is “industry leading.”
A Word about ElectriciansThere’s some debate about whether or not you should use a contractor referred by your dealership. The general view is that any qualified electrician can handle the installation, and that you’ll avoid premiums charged by so-called EV installation specialists. The key is if you can absolutely identify a skilled electrician—because a bad electrician can mess up the job.
EV owners who aren't certain of their ability to judge the quality of an electrician are advised to go with a manufacturer's recommended certified installer.
The cost of installation will vary depending on installation quality, distance that wires and conduits need to run from the breaker box (a.k.a. service panel) to the EVSE, and labor rates of the electrician. Some jobs can cost as little as $200, if the EVSE is mounted next to the breaker box. Or the installation can run as much as several thousand dollars if a conduit needs to be run from another part of the house, or if new or upgraded electrical service is required at your home.
DIY is a low-cost installation option, with a big caveat: don’t take on this job if you don’t know what you are doing. It can be dangerous. Besides, local codes may require permits and inspections to be carried out on your EVSE installation.
As long as we’re talking about DIY alternatives, some EV drivers swear by low cost alternatives from these groups:
Thanks to all the EV experts who contributed to this article. We encourage you to add your own feedback and guidance in the comments below, and we will continue to make revisions based on new information and products.