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EV Home Charging Station FAQs – Is Level 2 (240v charging) worth it?

Level 2 Charging Station Options

A lot of people have asked me whether installing level 2 charging is worth it for their Chevy Volt, (Or any electric car for that matter) .  The answer to that is a function of several things.  How you use the car, and how much it costs you to install the charging equipment.  This article will cover the basics, from what Level 2 charging really is, how much you should realistically expect it to cost to install, whether you’ll find it useful, etc.  If you’re looking to buy your first electric car (or plug in Hybrid) this will answer your basic questions about level 2 charging.

The Basics:  What is Level 2 Charging?

Simply put you have two ways of putting electricity into your car while you are at home.  The way to think about it is this.  Your regular appliances in your house run on 120 volt electricity.  A regular “house” socket.  Think vacuum cleaners, TV’s, toasters etc.  These plugs can only provide so much electricity (power) at once.  If you’ve ever tried to use too much, you’ll notice your house circuit breakers shut down the circuit for safety reasons.  Specifically, the maximum power that most of these circuits will allow is about 1300 watts or 1.3 Kilo-watts (1.3 thousand watts).  These types of plugs are what we broadly call “Level 1 Charging”.  For most electric cars, this means that you can put about 3-4 miles of range into the car per hour of charging.

The alternative is to plug into 240v power, which is the types of plugs that your large appliances use like your washer / dryer or dishwasher.  These kinds of plugs provide more electricity, up to 6,600 watts or 6.6 Kw.  (Roughly up to 5x more electricity).  To use this type of power however, requires that you install a special charging station.  These charging stations are an additional appliance that handles the extra juice and pipes it into your car.  Cars like the Chevy Volt and current Nissan Leaf however, can only accept charging up to 3,300 watts, or roughly 10 miles per hour of charging due to limitations on the car’s side.  (This may change in the future however)

Where do I buy the charging station and how much does it cost to install?

There are two key costs installing a Home Level 2 EV Charging station.

1.)    Buying the actual Home EV Charge Station

-The actual equipment itself costs between $450 and $1,000 at today’s prices.  You can buy these online through several retailers and they will ship to your doorstep.  Bosch Automotive (recently acquired SPX Service Solutions) now offers low-end charging stations at $450.  Most of the cost savings come by shortening the cables down to 12 feet if you don’t need the long ones and by reducing the maximum electrical capacity to those demanded by a car like the Volt.  (3,300 watts instead of the full 6,600 that other stations can handle)  Check out their Power Max Stations Here.

2.)  Hiring the Electrician to install it.

-Depending on how much “work” needs to be done to add the additional circuit and how expensive an electrician you hire, you should expect between $500 and $1,500 in labor.  To give you perspective, when I did it, it cost about $1,400 in labor, but that involved replacing my entire circuit panel and paying “full prevailing wages” which is at the high end of a non-competitive market.  You can read more about it at my level 2 installation article here.  Luckily, I had a lot of federal and state subsidies to help offset the costs, but many of those are no longer available.  Simple installations like just running an additional circuit may be a lot less.

That seems like a bunch of work, is there an easier way?

Bosch offers turnkey services to install your EV Charging station, you can check out their site here (Remember they bought SPX who used to do this).  It is more expensive than doing it yourself, but can be more convenient especially if you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the process of hiring an electrician.  When I did it, SPX definitely had some growing pains (problems with scheduling, service, etc.)  but that was almost 2 and half years ago and I am told things have gotten better.  I would mention that once you have your appointment scheduled however, that the electrician they sourced did a fantastic job.

Is all this expense really worth it?

It really depends on how much you drive your car and whether you have a plug in hybrid like the Ford C-Max / Fusion Energi or the Chevy Volt. vs. a full electric car.  For a full electric car, it is pretty much a requirement; otherwise you’ll never have enough electricity to get around (no gasoline backup!).  For a 20 mile plug in hybrid like the Fusion Energi, the total charge times and total battery capacity is only 5 hours.  For something like the Volt, fully charging the battery after a trip can take up to 12 hours!  If you commute everyday with the Volt, you’ll find that the 12 hour charge times really get to you as it’s hard to every “fully” catch up with your charging needs.

Also, with 12 hour charging, it can be a lot harder to make full use of “Time of Use Electricity Rates” Where you get the cheapest electricity between certain hours of the day.  Where I live it is between midnight and 7 AM.  The difference in electricity cost can be 3x!  However, you should think that the biggest savings will be the times when a level 2 charge could have saved you from burning gas.

The good news with most plugins is that you can start of just using your regular plug and see how it goes, then add up all the times you didn’t leave with a full battery and started to use gasoline.  While personally I hate burning gas and would pay extra to not have to do it, many buyers today are thinking about it from strictly a cost angle.  One way to look at it is that to save the $1,000 or so minimum you’d spend on installing the charge station, you would need to save about 250 gallons of gas at today’s gas prices.  Roughly speaking, that buys you 9,000 miles of driving in a Volt.  (250 x 35 mpg)  So if displaced about 20 miles of driving each day with the level 2 charge station it would make up for the cost in about 450 days of driving.  (Think 2 years).  This would mean you are driving a lot and quite frequently though.

3 Responses to “EV Home Charging Station FAQs – Is Level 2 (240v charging) worth it?”

  1. Chris C. says:

    Good overview, Patrick. Here’s what I tell people when they ask me about this.

    For charging, you can easily get by with just using the 120 Volt (“Level 1″) cord that came with the car, and I did exactly that for the first 9 months with my Volt. So you don’t need to get anything more than that. However, for faster charging (useful on weekends) you should consider installing a 240 Volt (“Level 2″) charger near where you park your car at home. It turns out that the faster charging is particularly useful on weekends. I’ll run a bunch of errands in the morning, then be home for a few hours, then go out in the evening. During those few hours, I can get a full charge again and thus avoid burning any gas for the day.

    Unfortunately, I personally recommend against the SPX chargers that GM endorses — in the early days we heard a lot of grief from people who had to deal with them (it may be better now). Instead, spend a little extra and get a Clipper Creek charger (like the compact LCS-25) from a local distributor (in the US Southeast that would be Metro Plugin — no kickback for me, but tell Greg I sent you!). They will also get you in touch with an electrician who will already be familiar with the installation process, which often includes pulling a city permit for the outdoor circuit.

    Again, though, you don’t need to get a Level 2 charger. If you don’t get one, I do recommend that you at least get an extra Level 1 charger, just like the one you got with the car. Keep one at your house (garage) and keep one in the car for show-and-tell or using when convenient. It’s good to have a backup unit, because if you only have one cord, and it stops working (which has happened to some of us), suddenly you may have no way to charge up! And once you get used to driving electric, it Really Sucks to drive the Volt in gas mode :)

  2. Glen says:

    I bought my Volt Oct 5, 2012, and we now have almost 18,000 miles on it
    I used the standard plug for a couple of months, and my wife and I decided that the charging was too slow, so I decided to buy the 240 v charger. I did some research, and since I do have some electrical experience, I figured that you don’t need to be an electrical engineer to design and install the wiring and SPX charger. I ordered it through the chevy dealer, who have me a small discount on the purchase, and went to Home Depot , bought a breaker, wire, conduit, and all necessary wiring supplies, and went to work.
    In a couple of hours it was up and running. Really a simple install. Three wires to connect and that was it. $1000 fee for electrician is not necessary. Just common sense.
    Has worked great , without any problems. An easy install!!

  3. LL Ninja says:

    Cutting the 8 to 12 hour charging time to 2 to 4 hours has been godsend. Also if you happen to live in IL, they give you a 50% state rebate on the price of the charger and installation (in addition to the Fed 30% tax credit) so for me it was a no-brainer.

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