Last Update: July 25, 2021
Buying and installing an electric car charging station at home is easier than it may seem. Because we weren't required to install home refueling for gasoline/diesel cars, the idea may seem strange and unfamiliar. The unfamiliarity might make it seeem complex, but the task isn't too different from installing something like a washer/dryer combo. What's required is choosing the charging station with desired features, and to set up an electric circuit with sufficient capacity.
We have two scenarios to consider, one of which is a charging station at home. The other is whether to carry a portable charging station in the car for use while on trips, or to cover extra-ordinary charging needs. In either case we're primarily talking about "Level 2" charging, which means single-phase AC at 3 kiloWatts or more power. In some cases "Level 1" charging (120 volts at about 1.2 kiloWatts) is adequate. DC Fast Charging at home is possible, but is an unlikely need.
Electric car owners are strongly recommended to install a charging station at home. That's because ones home is the most convenient, and lowest cost, place to charge an electric car. We typically spend 10 hours or more at home, per day, making it possible to handle even a long charging session while we're doing other things like eating or sleeping. As for cost, a typical fee at public charging stations is $0.49 per kiloWatt-hour, while at home the average electricity cost across the USA is $0.12 per kiloWatt-hour. That's a fraction of the cost at public charging stations, and a fraction of the cost for gasoline.
Which electric car charging station best fits your needs is up to you.
The parameters to consider when selecting a charging station are your daily driving needs, whether you need advanced features in the charging station like scheduling or tracking energy consumption, and the cost of running electrical wiring to your parking spaces.
- The charging rate determines the number of miles of range is gained per hour of charging. An overnight charge at 3 kiloWatts can easily gain 100 miles of range, and at 6 kiloWatts that can be over 200 miles range. See What electric car charging rate do we need at home, at the office, on road trips, at airports, or elsewhere?
- A large part of the installation cost is running electrical cable from the service panel to where your charging station is installed. The more difficult that task, the farther it is, the more installation will cost. You might want to install multiple charging stations to plan ahead for supporting multiple electric cars, which of course will cost more. See How to plan for and install 240 volt circuit to charge an electric car/vehicle?
- When away from home you may frequent a destination with no charging station, but there is a power outlet you might use. This requires that you carry a portable charging station. Your trip to that cabin in the woods will be far more comfortable if you've brought a charging station to use at the cabin. See Can you drive an electric car away from charging network coverage areas?
- In the extreme case of using regular power outlets, you will need to learn how to safely use extension cords while charging your car. See Safely use Extension Cords when charging an electric car or electric motorcycle
What follows is a catalog of electric car charging stations for personal use, that are useful at home, or taken on trips.
For home-based charging our primary need is supporting our daily commute. This means a charging station delivering an overnight recharge sufficient to cover daily driving needs. In most areas of the world, the public charging network can be used for those days when you need to drive further than usual.
Before getting into the frequently asked questions, and the charging stations, let's briefly go over a little bit of terminology:
- Electric Vehicle Service Equipment, or EVSE: This is the technical term for an electric car charging station.
- Electrical Circuit, or Circuit: This is the electrical wiring leading from one circuit breaker in the service panel to any power outlets on that circuit.
- Service panel: This is the grey box containing the circuit breakers for each circuit in the house. The service panel is also connected to the electricity grid.
- J1772: The committee in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) that oversees development of electric car charging protocols. The standards developed by the J1772 committee have been adopted in most countries around the world.
- Level 1, Level 2: The phrase Level N is bandied about to quickly describe different types of electric car charging. There isn't a precise definition for this phrase, despite it having originated from SAE standards documents. Level 1 typically refers to AC charging at 120 volts. Level 2 typically refers to AC charging at 240 volts, and 3 kiloWatts minimum. Level 3 typically refers to DC Fast charging. However, the SAE standard actually described two parallel sets of terms, AC Level N and DC Level N. See Charging levels - Level 1, Level 2, DC Fast Charging, etc
- NEMA 14-50, etc: In North America, NEMA is the authority which develops the electrical code. A part of that code is specifications for different power outlets, each of which has a code. The 14-50 outlet supports 240 volts, has four wires, and is rated for 50 amps capacity, while the 6-50 outlet has only three wires and is otherwise the same. Outside North America electrical standards, and plugs, are different. See Electric car charging within electrical code and power outlet limits
- NEMA 2, or NEMA 4: Another part of the NEMA code is how weather resistant a product is. EV charging is sometimes handled outdoors, and therefore we must consider whether an EVSE is water proof or whether it must be protected from rain. A NEMA 2 rating means the EVSE is safe in mild rain conditions, while the NEMA 4 rating means it is safe in all conditions.
- Networked EVSE: Some charging stations connected over the Internet to a web service operated by the manufacturer. These come with smart phone applications for accessing that web service. Other EVSE's have BlueTooth allowing a smart phone app to directly access the EVSE. The smart phone apps let you monitor the charging session, track total electricity usage, configure charging levels or schedules, and more. Many charging stations have none of these features, and simply turn on or off.
- Level 1 electric car charging stations (North America)
- Hybrid Level 1/Level 2 electric car charging stations (North America)
- Level 2 electric car charging stations (North America)
- Level 2 electric car charging stations (United Kingdom, Europe)
- DC Level 1 electric car charging stations (North America)
All electric cars have J1772 ports for normal "level 2" charging, using normal single-phase AC power. Therefore, every J1772 charging station is compatible with every electric car. Because J1772 is common to all electric cars you can buy any EVSE (EVSE means Electric Vehicle Service Equipment) from any manufacturer. The phrases "charging station" and "EVSE" are interchangable, and refer to the same device.
Owners of Tesla electric cars, in some regions (North America primarily), have a slight wrinkle to this. In some regions, Tesla uses a non-standard charging socket that is not physically compatible with the normal J1772 charging plug. But, Tesla provides an adapter with the car to allow use of normal J1772 charging stations. In this case you either buy a Tesla home charging station, or you buy a standard J1772 charging station and use the adapter.
The J1772 plug is different between regions. In some areas the Type 1 plug is used (North America, primarily), while in other areas the Type 2 plug is used. This is unlikely to cause a problem, because it's unlikely that a North America EV would be used in Europe, or vice versa. If you do run into this issue, adapter cables are available.
Your freedom of choice means you can buy whatever charging station you like from any vendor.
Every electric car is sold with a low-power portable charging unit is sold with. Many car dealerships also sell level 2 EV charging stations, and can arrange installation by an electrician. But you are free to make your own arrangements for buying the charging station, and getting it installed. See these:
The most convenient place to charge an electric car or motorcycle is at home. The vast majority of the time, you will want to charge your electric vehicle at home. You arrive home, plug in, and a few hours later it is charged up.
Always having a fully charged electric vehicle is a luxury that gasoline vehicle owners do not enjoy.
You'll be certain every day to have enough fuel for the commute to work. Gasoline vehicle owners instead must go out of their way to find a refueling station, and they sometimes run out of fuel.
The best choice is to install a heavy duty 240 volt 50 amp power outlet, with GFCI protection, and a weather-proof cover. In addition, make sure the charging station has a matching plug. Any electrician should be able to install such a power outlet for very low cost. Once the power outlet is in place, you simply plug in the station to the outlet.
Installing the charging station this way is more flexible than hardwiring it to a junction box. For example, if you decide to move elsewhere it's easy to take the charging station with you simply by unplugging and packing it along with your other household belongings.
It can be beneficial to use a lower-power charging station, for lower cost. In such a case a 20 amp circuit would do, and would support a 3 kiloWatt charging rate. Likewise, some people simply use the low-power charging cord supplied with the car. In such a case, make sure to have a matching power outlet near where your car is parked.
There are two costs for installing an electric vehicle charging station:
- The cost of the charging station
- The cost to wire the charging station to power
Study the list of charging stations below and you'll find prices from $399 US to $1000 US, or more. This is due to various features, and of course what the manufacturers feel their equipment is worth.
If you're lucky, the charging station can be installed on an existing power outlet for an essentially "free" installation. More likely some wiring is required, that might require hiring an electrician for $500 or so. In some cases the electrical work will be more expensive, for example a long wiring run to get to the service panel, or a service panel upgrade.
The cheapest charging station setup is to simply use the low power (120 volt) line charger supplied with the car. An overnight 10 hour charging session gives about 40 miles of range, which is sufficient for most daily commutes.
If you require faster charging for your needs, a higher power charging station is required. That requires a higher power electric outlet, and a higher power charging station.
Electric cars do not have a regular plug for charging the car. The J1772 protocol was selected for a wide range of reasons including safety. That means connecting electricity to the car must be done using a J1772 plug. See Safely use Extension Cords when charging an electric car or electric motorcycle
The best choice for electric car charging extension cords:
The J1772 charging protocol has lots of built-in safety checks, and the system is innately safe. Beyond that there are at least two considerations: Whether the EVSE is weather-proof, and whether the electrical connection is sufficient to handle the load of charging a vehicle.
Determine whether your chosen EVSE is rated as weather safe. If not, it can be installed inside a garage or otherwise protected from the weather. The charging cord itself is safe to use in the rain because of the built-in safety checks.
As with many tasks, a shoddy installation can create several kinds of problems.
UL, or Underwriters Laboratories, is a testing and certification organization with decades of experience. They work with industry stakeholders to develop all kinds of standards for certifying safety and fitness for purpose. UL standards come with test procedures to verify that a product conforms to the requirements.
UL 2594 is the applicable standard for charging stations. In theory products with UL certification are safer and more reliable than others. In some situations it is required to utilize UL certified equipment. Therefore, buyer beware for the products that lack UL certification. You want to be in the news because your electric car is helping solve for climate change, and not because of an accident.
Underwriters Laboratories is applicable to the USA and Canada. Other countries have similar product safety standards organizations.
In most cases charging an electric car (or motorcycle) requires a J1772 charging station. But, there are several other EVSE attributes to consider. Your needs may allow you to use an inexpensive low-power charging station, or might require use of a high power charging station. Using advanced features like adjusting the power level, or scheduling charging sessions, will require an advanced charging station, and may require that it be connected through your WiFi to the Internet. See Installing cheap/inexpensive electric car charging at home
Since some Tesla cars have a proprietary charging port, it may be best to buy Tesla charging equipment. This means either the Mobile Connector or Wall Connector. On the other hand, Tesla supplies a J1772 adapter allowing Tesla car owners to charge at regular J1772 charging stations. It's perfectly feasible to charge a Tesla car at home using a standard J1772 charging station.
To recharge quickly requires a higher power charging station. The table below summarizes the tradeoff between charging rate and range gained per hour of charging. Fortunately most don't need high powered home charging and can make-do with a lower power EVSE on a lower power circuit. Be careful about the capacity of your service panel since that upgrade can be expensive.
A useful way to estimate the power required is to determine your daily commute distance, then divide by the number of hours desired per charging session. For example, a 40 mile round-trip commute is the average in the USA. To recharge that distance in five hours requires a charging station capable of 8-10 miles range gained per hour of charging. Going by the table below, a 240 volt 16 amp charging station would suffice for a 5 hour recharge time.
Useful links with answers
- What electric car charging rate do we need at home, at the office, on road trips, at airports, or elsewhere?
- Electric car charging speed and effective trip speed on road trips
- Installing cheap/inexpensive electric car charging at home
|Range per hour of charging||Power required||Circuit required|
|4 miles||120 volts 12 amps||120 volts 20 amps|
|10-12 miles||240 volts 16 amps||240 volts 20 amps|
|20-25 miles||240 volts 32 amps||240 volts 40 amps|
|25+ miles||240 volts 40 amps||240 volts 50 amps|
Calculating the required circuit capacity is simple. Because electric car charging is a continuous load, the circuit must be rated for 125% of the charging rate. Hence,
40 x 1.25 = 50.
Home electric car charging stations are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Most home EVSE's are built to mount to the wall, and size is an afterthought. But not all of us can do that, as we briefly discussed earlier.
Take on trips When away from home we can't always find regular charging stations. We might stay the weekend at a friends house, or have rented a cabin in the woods, or we're at a church retreat center for the weekend, or whatever. In other words, if our destination has electricity we're allowed to use, but no charging station, we must bring our own charging station (along with any power adapters we need).
Tight home parking Many parking situations don't have room for a full size charging station. Maybe the garage is already full of stuff. Or we can't always use the same parking spot, and constantly need to reroute the charging equipment to match.
Avoid having equipment stolen A similar issue is cases where the charging station would be in the open, and should instead be put away when we're not at home. Maybe the house has a simple carport and no secured outdoors storage. A portable charging station can easily be put away when we leave, and taken out when we return.
Lower cost In some cases the portable charging stations are lower cost than the full size charging stations.
We bought our electric car to drive us around. What if we want to drive to an area with no charging stations? Do we keep owning a gasoline car for those trips? Do we rent a gasoline car? Or, do we learn how to manage with a portable charging station and plugging into "any" power outlet?
The typical home charging stations are too large to take on trips, since they're meant to be bolted to the wall. Portable charging stations exist, provide up to a 6-7 kiloWatt AC charging rate in a small package, and can be taken in the car. It is a feasible thing to do, and as the charging network expands it won't be as necessary to do so.
Carrying a portable charging station means also carrying power adapters. You'll not be able to predict what power outlets you'll find, and there's a certain frustration at being in front of a power outlet, needing to charge, but being unable to do so because of incompatible power outlets.
Adapters are readily available, see: Safely use Extension Cords when charging an electric car or electric motorcycle
To understand the electrical code, see Electric car charging within electrical code and power outlet limits
Elsewhere we make the case to buy a portable charging station that plugs into a power outlet. Doing so gives you the freedom to take the charging station on trips or if you move to another home. Your electrician would install a 240 volt 50 amp power outlet, a matching plug for the charging station.
Charging station manufacturers frequently recommend hardwiring the charging station to a junction box as is shown at the right. This may be safer because of the solid connection all the way to the service panel. However, it's less flexible, since the charging station is affixed to one location. While the charging station will serve that location, you don't have the freedom to carry it somewhere else.
Charging station installation to a power outlet is a minor change to what's shown in this picture. Instead of wiring to the junction box, the junction box has a power socket, and the charging station has a matching power plug. You then plug the charging station into the outlet. Q.E.D.
For the most part these issues are in the future, as the necessary standards are not settled.
Some home charging stations can connect to a networked control system, for example ChargePoint. It is convenient to check and/or control charging from anywhere in the world. But an expensive feature is not always worthwhile.
Both Smart Grid and V2G features are still out in the future. The idea is for automated control of charging rate to help balance the electricity grid, and even to siphon power from the car in case of power outages. All of this and more is still a matter of research and standards development and implementation in charging stations. Be on the lookout for these features in the future.
Level 1 electric car charging stations (North America)
Level 1 charging - 120 volts - is better than having no charging at all. With a level 1 charger, an electric car gains 4-5 miles range per hour of charging. It is primarily useful at home, or other situations where charging time is not an issue.
In North America, a Level 1 charging stations is typically sold with the car. Therefore it's not clear why you would buy an EVSE that only supports level 1 charging.
Hybrid Level 1/Level 2 electric car charging stations (North America)
Some charging stations support both level 1 (120 volts) and level 2 (240 volts) charging. These are useful by dint of flexibility, meaning you will find a greater variety of power outlets which can be used.
To switch between level 1 and level 2 charging means you must be aware of charging rate limits, and adjusting the car and the charging station appropriately.
Level 2 electric car charging stations (North America)
Some charging stations only support level 2 (240 volt) charging.
Level 2 electric car charging stations (United Kingdom, Europe)
This charging station list covers level 2 charging in either the United Kingdom or Europe. These countries only support 240 volt electric outlets, meaning they are unaware of what Americans are talking about with level 1 charging.
One issue to look out for is the practice of selling the charging lead (a.k.a. charging cord) separately from the charging station. The charging station, in such cases, will have a Type 2 socket. The car owner is expected to carry either a Type 1 to Type 2 charging lead, or Type 2 to Type 2 charging lead, depending on the charging socket on their car.
Another issue to be aware of is the plug type used to connect the EVSE to a power outlet. Some use the 3-pin UK (kettle plug), others the Europlug, others the Schuko plug, others the CEE plug, and still others are meant to be hard-wired to the electrical service panel.
DC Level 1 electric car charging stations (North America)
Some of us need fast charging even at home. Some have jobs requiring driving hundreds of miles per day. In such a case one's home charging must support as fast a charging rate as we can manage.
The phrase DC Level 1 refers to DC charging in the lowest power range available. The other charging stations on this page use AC charging, to supply power to an on-board charging unit. With DC charging, the charging unit is in the charging station, and the DC power is connected directly to the battery pack.
The JESLA charger from Quick Charge Power. This is a modified Tesla portable charging unit that has a J1772 cord. It supports switchable plugs to automatically change the power level, and can run up to 240 volt 40 amps. It's also very pricey.
The OpenEVSE is an open source portable charging station which you can build from a kit and whose power level is easily changeable from the front panel. The result does everything we want in a portable high power charging station, and at a reasonable price.