How will you charge your electric car?

There are lots of options to consider in home chargers

Published: June 27, 2014 04:45 PM

Photo: AeroVironment

If you decide to buy an electric car, the next thing you’ll need is a home charging station. Studies show that the vast majority of electric-car charging is done at home, a convenience that adds greatly to electric cars' appeal. It can be challenging to determine the right charge solution for your needs and budget, but we can offer guidance.

Technically known as EVSE’s, these “chargers” are essentially safety devices on electric car charge cords. (Technically, chargers, which convert alternating current wall power to direct current to charge the batteries, are hidden on-board the car.) Mainly, EVSEs disconnect the power to the cord any time the cord is unplugged from the car. Charging an electric car requires too much power for the plug to be live when it’s not connected to anything, particularly for an outdoor charger. They also control the amperage of the charge, so you can plug a car with a lower-powered on-board charger into a higher-powered circuit and charge safely. All 240-volt chargers use the same plug, called a J1772 connector, so they can all charge any electric car.

Home chargers are available from at least 10 major companies, and they are easily found at major home improvement and electronics stores, starting at about $500. Added conveniences push up the price rapidly from there.

Here are a few features that might be worth buying.

  • More power. The cheapest 240-volt EVSEs operate at 15 amps. That will get you about 70 or 80 miles worth of charge overnight. But it isn’t powerful enough to take  advantage of the faster on-board chargers in some of today’s electric cars. With an appropriate EVSE, the Ford Focus Electric and higher-trim versions of the Nissan Leaf can charge fully in less than five hours. But they can’t do that on a 15-amp EVSE. Several EVSEs are available that charge at 30 amps, including models from AeroVironment, Bosch, GE, Siemens, and others. Prices start at about $630. A few are available at 40 amps or more, including one from Leviton and a dedicated Tesla High Power Wall Connector. Their prices start at about $1,200.
  • A longer cord: Copper is expensive and makes up a big percentage of the cost of a charger. So the cheapest chargers have cords as short as 15 feet. That’s less than the length of some electric cars. A longer cord can be convenient and prevent you from having to get a new charger if you get a different electric car with the charge port in a different place. Some chargers come with cords as long as 25 feet.
  • Cord management: Some high-end chargers have reel-up cords, and some lower end units have offered curly cords (like really big versions of those on old-fashioned telephones). Either one is much quicker than uncoiling and recoiling the cord every time you want to plug in.
  • Portability: If you have a garage to mount your EVSE indoors, you may not need to spend hundreds of dollars to have an electrician hard-wire it in. Instead, you could just have standard 240-volt outlet installed, like one for an electric clothes dryer. Then hang and plug in the EVSE yourself. This has the advantage of allowing you to take the charger with you if you move. But that approach doesn’t meet code for installation outdoors. Many new EVSEs come in models with and without wall plugs.
  • Remote access: Many EVSEs come Wi-Fi enabled, so you can monitor and control them via a smart-phone app. We don’t think this is necessary for most consumers, because all the EVs on the market also currently have apps and connectivity that allow you to do the same thing.
  • Display: Sometimes it’s easier to look at the EVSE than the car to verify that the car is plugged in and charging, or whether the charge is complete. Mounted displays are available mainly on models with Internet connectivity, but most units provide lights to indicate they are in operation and when the charge is complete.

Charger comparison

Here are a few chargers on the market, with prices and retail locations, that exemplify these options. Most are available in several different model numbers with various features. Here we list what features are available. Consumer Reports has not tested any of these chargers. Although we have a number of chargers installed at our offices and Auto Test Center, in Yonkers, N.Y., and East Haddam, Conn., respectively, they serve different purposes, and are not directly comparable. The market for EVSE’s is small enough that we don’t plan on testing them at this point.

These chargers are sold, Home Depot, or Lowe's; the ClipperCreek model is available at the company website.

Charger Power (amperes) Cord length (ft.) Portability Remote connectivity
AeroVironment ($799 to $999) 30 15, 25 No
Bosch PowerMax ($561 to $936) 16, 30 12-25 No
ClipperCreek ($395 to $899) 15-48 22-25 Optional
Eaton RLC EVSE ($999) 30 24 Optional Yes
GE Watt-station ($1,099) 30 24 Optional Yes
Leviton Evr-Green ($649 to $1,099) 16-40 18, 25 No
Schneider Electric EVlink ($599 to $789) 30 18 No
Siemens ($699) 30 20 Optional No

Eric Evarts

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