Every day, more electric vehicles (EV) are hitting the road, and an increase in public charging stations makes the idea (and feasibility) of electric vehicle ownership more appealing. In the US alone, there are over 16,000 charging stations and 43,705 charging outlets. Whether you’ve already purchased an electric vehicle or are considering taking the plunge, you’re probably trying to figure out the best way to charge your car.

Regardless of the EV you purchase, you’ll also need Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE)—more commonly referred to as a “charger” or “charging station.” The actual charger is in the car and can be charged through a conventional household outlet. If you decide that a household outlet isn’t enough, you’ll need the charging station.

Charge time varies widely depending on car make and model. There are three major charging types that correspond to the amount of voltage and speed of transfer. Each EV owner has different needs according to the type of EV, miles driven daily, and access to public charge stations, so you will need to make a decision based on your specific situation.

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Charging Electric Vehicles: Types of Chargers

Level 1 charger

hand plugging extension cord into outlet

Overview: A Level 1 charger is the most versatile, giving you the ability to charge your EV anywhere there’s a conventional 120-volt household outlet. The downside to Level 1 charging is the time it takes to get a full charge (anywhere from 5 to 75 hours depending on make and model).

Charge time: This is the slowest EV charging option; it provides two to five miles of driving distance per hour of charging. It’s a good option for those who drive fewer than 40 miles a day and can charge overnight.

Installation process: Level 1 chargers typically come with the vehicle and simply plug into an outlet.

Level 2 charger

hand holding plug in connector for charging ev

Overview: Level 2 chargers are what people buy for residential use and most likely what you’re seeing at public EV charging stations. These charging stations utilize 240-volt power to provide a faster charge.

Charge time: This type of charging station adds 10 to 25 miles of driving distance per hour of charging and typically cuts charging time in half (in comparison to Level 1 charging).

Installation process: You’ll need an electrician to install this station because a permit and inspection may be required. The 240-volt outlet that Level 2 chargers use is the same as the outlets that are used to power appliances like clothes dryers and ovens.

DC charger / Level 3

AC and DC charging station

Overview: DC chargers use more power than your house, meaning it’s probably not something you’re going to be able to install at home any time soon. The number of public DC charging stations is increasing as EV ownership grows.

Charge time: These chargers typically provide an 80-percent charge in 30 minutes.

Installation process: Because of the amount of electricity used and the high cost, Level 3 chargers aren’t currently available for residential use.

Home EV Charger Features (for Level 2)

Before buying a charging station for your home, consider all of your options. Because residential charging stations typically fall into the Level 2 category, this section focuses on the variety of features available with Level 2 chargers. These are the most common:

Plug-in vs. hardwire

Deciding whether you want a plug-in or hardwired station pretty much depends on what you’re looking for in terms of portability. A hardwired charge station isn’t going anywhere without the help of an electrician, while you can move a plug-in charger as long as there’s a 240-volt outlet.

If you’re fairly confident that you’ll be staying in place for a while and you want a hardwired charging station, go for it, but if you’re unsure or have plans to move, it’s probably safer to go for a plug-in charger.

Cord length

Cord lengths max out around 25 feet but vary according to brand, so remember to take charging station and parking location into consideration when making your purchase and having your EVSE installed. It would be truly devastating (and possibly expensive) if the cord to your new charging station couldn’t reach your car.

Wi-Fi

Some charging stations are Wi-Fi enabled, offering you the ability to monitor the charging status of your vehicle. Before choosing a station that’s Wi-Fi enabled, check to see if there are other ways to track electricity usage.

Enclosure (indoor vs. outdoor)

Choose an enclosure that will work wherever you’re planning on installing it. If it’s going outside, purchase a station with an outdoor enclosure so it’s protected from the elements.

Timer/Delayed start

Timer features are especially helpful for charging your vehicle during your power company’s off-peak (often nighttime) hours. EV charging stations with timers can save you money by delaying the charge until the price per kilowatt-hour of electricity dips for the night, and you won’t have to worry about remembering to plug in your car at the right time each day.

Bottom Line

  • Figure out what your needs are: How many miles do you drive daily? How quickly do you need your vehicle to charge?
  • Level 1 chargers are the slowest but simplest way to charge your EV; Level 2 chargers are much faster and an option for residential charging; and DC Fast/Level 3 chargers are the fastest but are only available in commercial settings because of their high cost.
  • What’s the most cost-effective option for your situation?
  • Which features do you really need?

Once you’ve made your decision, hire a professional electrician to install the station or outlet so you can start charging.

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