Buying Your First Home EV Charger

By · December 15, 2017

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Close-up EVSE

It may surprise EV newbies to learn that an electric car’s charger is found on board the vehicle. The charger is not the thing on the wall, but rather 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.

This fact doesn’t stop nearly everybody from calling the wall-mounted box that supplies 240 volts of electricity a “charger.” That box, cord, and plug have 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.

An AeroVironment installer goes to work on a home unit.

An AeroVironment installer goes to work on a home unit. (AeroVironment photo)

Cost

The consensus among experienced EV drivers is that a capable and durable EVSE will cost around $500 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.

Amperage Capacity

You 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 onboard 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 Location

Before 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.

Portability

If it’s possible, don’t permanently install your EVSE. In other words, have an electrician install a NEMA 14-50 outlet or something similar (types of outlets used for things like clothes dryers). Then put a matching plug on a pigtail mounted to your EVSE. You can then mount your EVSE right next to the outlet, 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 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.

Connectivity

In this age of smartphones, 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, touchscreens 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 remotely 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.

Popular Choices for EVSEs

Okay, 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.

ClipperCreek HCS-40

ClipperCreek HCS-40

When we reached out to experienced EV drivers, nearly all of them put ClipperCreek equipment at the top of their list. The company has been making these units for more than 15 years. Their equipment doesn’t necessarily get the highest marks for aesthetics, but the same words keep coming up with those recommendations: durable, robust, and even indestructible. No screens, no software, no problems. Recently, ClipperCreek came out with a more affordable unit, well-suited to private garages: the HCS-40. It has a compact size, a 32-amp limit, a 25-foot cord, and starts at $565. It's also available with a NEMA 14-50 or 6-50 plug (great for charging at RV parks) for $589.

Buy at ClipperCreek.com


Siemens VC30GRYU Versicharge 30-Amp EV Charger

Siemens VC30GRYU Versicharge 30-Amp EV Charger

At $359.99, the Siemens VersiCharge VC30GRYU is the most affordable full-function mounted EVSE (although not by much.) It’s a compelling option because it’s also very simple with easy-to-see indicator lights and a larger shape that makes it easy to wrap the cord in a tidy package. While not a critical function, the ability to easily delay the charging session (in two-hour increments) with a push of the button might occasionally come in handy. We recommend using your car’s dashboard controls to establish the charging schedule—to charge when the rates are low (if you’re on a time-of-use utility plan). The Siemens unit is relatively big, so it’s not the best choice if your space is tight.

Buy on amazon.com.


JuiceBox Pro 40

JuiceBox Pro 40

JuiceBox Pro 40 is a smart, WiFi-connected 10-kW Level 2 charging station. It’s currently priced at $579. Electric Motor Werks, the manufacturer based in San Carlos, Calif., is offering this charging station as a pre-configured 40-amp unit, supplied with a 24-foot J1772 cable and a six-foot input cable with 14-50P plug. The chief benefit is the connectivity and software-upgradability of the charging station. This model comes with WiFi connectivity, energy metering, scheduling, notifications, smartphone app, and it's ready to adapt with ongoing enhancements, like the ability to monitor charge rates from an app or use Amazon Alexa to initiate a charge. However, some drivers complain that the cord is unwieldy to manage.

Buy directly at Electric Motor Werks.


Aerovironment EV Charger

Aerovironment EVSE RS-Plug-in

As an alternative to ClipperCreek, you could opt for the slightly less revered AeroVironment charging station. It has the same specs and footprint, and a nicer cord-handling system that wraps around the unit. Some reviewers feel it has a cheaper in feel. Aerovironment offers a full-service installation program, better user guides and documentation and a three-year warranty. The 15-foot hardwired version starts at $539.00 and the 25-foot hardwired version starts at $699.00. The plug-In version starts at $749.00.

Buy on amazon.com.


Aerovironment TurboCord

Aerovironment TurboCord

If portability is your most desired feature, then AeroVironment’s TurboCord 240-volt charger might be the charger for you. It’s compact, light, and very portable. The $389 TurboCord is a compelling alternative to wall-mounted boxes, especially charging a plug-in hybrid. It makes it easier and cheaper to set up a home or and workplace charger. Simply install a 6-20R socket and plug in the TurboCord. The Turbocord gets high ratings, especially for low cost and portability, although some customers have complained about product failure over time.

Buy on amazon.com.


Visit the PlugShare Store for a wide selection of top-rated, best-selling EV home-charging stations.

A Word about Electricians

There’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 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, the 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:

One last note: Keep your receipts. In some locations, the cost of an EVSE and installation qualifies for state or local incentives.

Thanks to all the EV experts who contributed to this article. We encourage you to add your feedback and guidance in the comments below, and we will continue to make revisions based on new information and products.

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