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Electrical Vehicle Chargers Explained

Master electrician Heath Eastman teaches This Old House host Kevin O’Connor everything he (or anyone else) needs to know about choosing an electric vehicle charger for their home.

Master electrician Heath Eastman teaches host Kevin O’Connor about the different types of electric vehicle chargers. Heath explains Level 1, 2, and 3 chargers, how they work, and who they’re suited for. He even goes over the installation requirements for each type of charger and how many miles of charging the owner can expect. He even puts to rest some safety concerns on the topic.

Electric Vehicles Need Chargers

Electric vehicles run on power stored in their batteries. As they drive the power depletes, and most vehicle owners use overnight charging to boost their stores. To do so, they use an electric vehicle charger which plugs into the vehicle and transfers power from the energy grid to the vehicle. By morning, the owner unplugs the vehicle, wraps the cord, and goes about their day.

Types of Chargers

There are three types of vehicle chargers; Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. Level 1 and Level 2 are the most common for homeowners, while Level 3 are the rapid charging models found at gas stations, shopping centers, and other public places.

Level 1 Chargers

Level 1 electrical vehicle chargers plug into a standard 120-volt outlet in a home or garage and then stretch to the vehicle’s charging port. These chargers typically come with the vehicle and can boost the battery life up to 2 to 3 miles per hour of charge.

For folks who only drive locally, this may be all they need, as overnight charging could yield around 20 to 30 miles of charging. For those who have longer commutes, these chargers are insufficient, though they should keep one in their vehicle at all times.

Level 2 Chargers

Level 2 chargers are much heavier duty. These chargers require 240-volt electricity on a 50-amp circuit, similar to an electric stove or dryer. An electrician will have to come to the home, assess whether the panel needs to be upgraded or not, and install the wall-mounted charger.

Level 2 chargers are capable of charging a vehicle around 25 to 30 miles per hour of charging time. These chargers are the most common home-based charging stations as they can typically fill an electric vehicle’s battery stores completely overnight.

Most Level 2 Installations Require a Panel Upgrade

Before bringing an electric vehicle home, have an electrician assess the home’s panel to determine whether it can handle a Level 2 charger. One-hundred-amp panels with all gas appliances may be okay, but in most cases, anything less than a 200-amp panel requires a service upgrade—an additional cost the homeowners need to consider.

The Cost of Electric Vehicle Chargers

Just as their capabilities range, so do the prices of Level 1 and Level 2 chargers. Most electric vehicles come with a Level 1 charger, but if one needs an additional charger, they can expect to pay a couple of hundred dollars. However, for a Level 2 charger, expect to pay $500 to $1,500, but $800 or $900 will net a quality model with upgrades.

These are just the cost for the chargers, installation will cost more.

Upgrades Galore

The variation in Level 2 pricing often involves additional features. There are basic models that simply plug into the vehicle and charge it. There are also upgraded models with apps, WiFi, scheduling, or even those that help find other charging stations when necessary.

Electric Vehicle Chargers are Safe

Electric chargers are safe, so vehicle owners don’t have to worry about their children zapping each other or running over a cord in the garage. While the base station is always charged, there are contacts inside the plugs that need to complete a signal with the vehicle before the actual cord and plug are energized.


Resources

Heath and Kevin breakdown the basics of EV Chargers and the different levels of chargers available to electric car owners.

Heath explains that there are 3 levels of chargers available, however level 1 and level 2 are the main options available to the average homeowner. Heath then breaks down each level's necessity and benefits. Then Heath explains where these EV Chargers should be located and how they work. He explains the common locations, such as inside garages, but outdoor locations can be just as safe. He also explains the proper installation and requirements for an EV Charger port. Kevin gets clarifications on how often one should charge their car, and when it’s necessary to upgrade ones service from 100 to 200 amps.