What You Need to Know Before Buying a Charging Station
Electric cars all come with a 120-volt charging cable that can charge the battery from a household socket if there are no other options. But sooner or later, most battery-electric car owners will want a 240-volt Level 2 charging station that can recharge the car up to four times faster. Owners of plug-in hybrids with ranges below 30 miles may find the standard charging cable fine, but as plug-in ranges rise, they too may decide a charging station will increase their all-electric driving. While 240-volt charging stations aren’t complicated, there are many different options on the market.
You will likely need to hire an electrician, too, so some planning in advance is done to ensure that you get the right charging station and the installation goes smoothly.
First, be familiar with some of the terminology. Modern electric cars have the actual chargers built into them.
So the unit installed on your garage wall is not actually a “charger,” although it is commonly called that. The unit is also called an EVSE, for Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment. If you’re looking to install something to charge your electric car in your garage, carport, or elsewhere, a “charging station” or EVSE is what you want.
Key Facts at a Glance
If you are going to hire an electrician to install wiring and the dedicated circuit that charging stations need, consider asking him to put one on that carries at least 50 amps. It will likely only cost slightly more but will save you significant money in the future if you end up with a future electric car that can charge at a higher rate than today’s offerings.
Plugging in vs hard wiring
Many charging stations come with a 240-volt plug on them. Others are set up to be permanently hard-wired, with either a “pigtail” (a wire with bare copper ends) or a knock-out panel where a wire will run into the interior. Either approach works, but you should know the pros and cons of each before you Buy.
Getting an EVSE with a plug means your electrician can install an outlet without having the actual charging station there, letting you install it later on your own. It also means that if the EVSE ever fails, or you want to upgrade to a more powerful station (within the limits of your wiring), you can install a new one on your own. The plug on the EVSE also serves as a “service disconnect,” potentially eliminating the need for a local sub-panel installation or a separate disconnect box that may be required by code if your main circuit box is not within sight of the EVSE. The plug on the EVSE also allows you to quickly dismount it and take it to another location if you move or rearrange your garage.
A hardwired charging station that fails will require an electrician to come out once to remove the defective unit, along with a possible second visit to install the new one. The same scenario plays out for upgrading to a new unit. On the other hand, hardwiring can yield a cleaner installation. There is no junction box or plug to clutter things up or interfere with wrapping the cord around the EVSE to store it. In the end, there is no right or wrong approach (unless your local code specifically requires hardwiring). It is a matter of personal choice.
Not all EVSEs labeled “40 amps” are the same. Some EVSEs are advertised that way because they are to be connected to a 40-amp breaker, although they actually only output 30 or 32 amps. Other units are advertised as 40-amp because they output 40 amps, meaning they actually need to go on a circuit with a 50-amp breaker.
All EVSEs listed below are either NEMA 3 or NEMA 4 rated for either indoor or outdoor installation. The difference is that NEMA 4 can be hosed down and is a little more weather resistant. For an outdoor installation, it is probably best to have the J1772 connector at the end of the cable (the device plugs into the electric car’s charging port) rest in a holster that protects it from the elements.
It may even be worth having a carpenter build a little roof over your outdoor charging station, just so that it gets some love.
Some charging stations are remarkably large and bulky. The Leviton unit, for example, is 24 inches tall and 16 inches wide. Some are heavier than they look, too. Most garages have room for this on a wall, but the unexpectedly large size has still caught some owners by surprise. If you are looking for something small, consider the JuiceBox which is only 10 inches high by 6 inches wide.
Brands and models
There are a lot of EVSE choices on the market, almost too many. The good news is that they all seem to work well, despite some problems experienced in the earliest days of modern electric cars a few years ago. No matter which brand you choose, you are unlikely to regret it.
Note that often the same manufacturer offers multiple units and variations. Where possible, we choose to charge stations with a 25-foot cable, a plug connection, and 30 amps or more of current. Many companies offer less-expensive 16-amp versions of their product, but buying one seems slightly short-sighted. For only $100 more, you can get faster-charging capacity and are able to future-proof your hardware.
Received wisdom says EVSEs are ridiculously expensive for what they do. This is likely true, and prices are trending downward.
For the moment, the choices for a new electric-car owner come down to 1) pay $400 to $800 for a good Level 2 EVSE, 2) stick with slower 120-volt overnight charging, or 3) find a lower-cost open-source EVSE option. Including installation, the Level 2 charging station is likely to set you back somewhere around $1,000. We feel that this is well worth the investment, in order to get the best use out of an electric vehicle. After reading hundreds of reviews and talking to many people about their EVSEs, not a single person expressed regret of having spent the money.
Rebates, tax credits, incentives
The Federal government offers a 30-percent credit on your income taxes for the purchase and installation of an electric-car charging station at a personal residence, up to a maximum amount of $1,000. (There are separate rules for businesses.) As always, consult your tax professional about your specific situation. Still, this incentive might take some of the stings out of the cost of an EVSE. Some states and localities have had various incentives to install EVSEs as well. Again, check with a tax professional after you do your research.
This review is long, so here’s some quick advice if you don’t want to spend too much time reading the details. If you don’t want to think too much about your choice of a charging station, get a ClipperCreek HCS-40. The reliability and the company’s customer support, both verified with long-time owners, make this unit the go-to choice. If you want a more fully-featured unit with internet connectivity and the ability to schedule your charging (to take advantage of overnight rates), the ChargePoint Home 25 is likely your best choice. If the price is your main consideration, the $399 GE DuraStation is going to be tough to beat—and despite its low price, the unit is reliable and does the job.
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