EV chargers: Everything you need to know about plugging in at home
Charging your EV at home can be pretty simple, and you might not even need to buy or install any special equipment. Most EVs come with a charging cable that plugs into a regular outlet. It's slow, but it works. That said, you'll probably want something that works faster—and you'll probably need to hire an electrician to set it up. And what if you don't park in a private garage or driveway? We’ll get into all the ins and outs of how to charge an EV at home, share some notes on the most-popular and top-rated EV chargers, and help you find an installer if you need one.
How to charge
Electric vehicles all have a charging port, usually in a similar spot where you'd fill up a gas car.
Most EVs use a common type of charger (the J1772). That is, one standard plug fits into the majority of EV models. Tesla is the exception. But plenty of home chargers are available in a version with a Tesla-shaped connector, and a simple clip-on adapter lets Tesla vehicles charge through the common J1772 plug.
Cost to charge
This depends on the cost of electricity (usually), measured in cents per kilowatt-hour or kWh. A kWh is the basic unit of EV charging economics, sort of like a gallon of gas for a traditional internal combustion car.
If you're charging at home, the cost per kWh is generally the same rate you pay for the rest of your electricity. (As of early 2023, the average cost by state ranges from 10 to 45 cents per kWh, according to the Energy Information Administration. You can look up the precise rate on your utility bill, or your utility company's website.)
It usually costs much less to charge an EV than to fuel up a gas car—though not always.
Time to charge
A typical at-home recharging rate with a typical charger is about 20 or 30 miles of range for every hour that the car is plugged in—so it'll completely fill the battery if you leave it plugged in overnight.
If you plug in with a standard wall outlet, you'll get about 4 miles of range per hour of charging. At that rate, it'll take a few days to completely charge a long-range EV, though it should give you enough of a charge overnight to get to and from work.
For at-home use, EV chargers are broadly classified as either Level 1 (slower, less expensive) or Level 2 (pretty fast, more expensive).
Level 1: No installation required, but it's slow
So-called Level 1 chargers plug into any standard 3-prong, 120-volt household outlet, technically known as a NEMA 5-15 receptacle. They draw about as much power as a portable electric space heater (12 amps, 1.5 kW).
The best part of Level 1 charging: No upfront costs, usually. Most EVs come with a Level 1 cable, and as long as you have a standard outlet close to where you park your car, you won't need any electrical work. You just pay for the electricity.
But Level 1 chargers are slow. They're sometimes called "trickle chargers" because they only add a few miles of range for every hour they're plugged in. It takes around 12 hours to fully charge a car like the Toyota Rav4 Prime, which only has a 45-mile electric range. And the 315-mile Tesla Model 3 Long Range would need a couple of days before its battery was full. (Of course, you can always drive on a partial charge.)
We've previously reported at EnergySage that 24% of EV owners rely exclusively on Level 1 charging, though it's not clear how much that might have changed in the last few years as longer-range, fully electric EVs have hit the mainstream.
Level 2: Much faster, but you'll usually need an electrician
A Level 2 charger uses a 240-volt circuit, like most electric stoves and clothes dryers do. That makes it at least twice as speedy as a Level 1 cord, and typically much faster than that.
The challenging part: Most people will need to hire an electrician to do a little work before they can install one—about 75% of people, according to the JD Power survey. That'll usually mean new wiring, a new circuit on your electrical panel, often a new four-prong outlet, and sometimes an electrical panel upgrade.
There's a ton of variation among so-called Level 2 charging:
Some low-end cords provide just 16 amps (3.8 kW at 240 volts). It'll take about 4 hours to charge a Toyota Rav4 Prime, for example, and 18 hours for the Tesla Model 3 Long Range.
Many of the best-rated, best-selling models provide 32 amps (7.7 kW at 240 volts). That Rav4 Prime now charges in about two hours, while the Model 3 Long Range finishes in less than 10 hours—a full charge overnight, in other words.
Some trucks, like higher-end versions of the Ford F-150 Lightning, can accept a whopping 80 amps (19.2 kW at 240 volts). It's still considered Level 2 charging because it's a 240-volt setup, though it's 5 times as fast as the slowest Level 2 option. Very few EVs work with such a speedy Level 2 charger, and your electrical panel might need an upgrade to support it anyway.
Are there any downsides to Level 2 charging? Not really, besides the cost of the equipment and installation. It's even slightly more energy efficient than Level 1 charging, according to one study. (That is, more of the electricity from your outlet makes it into the car's battery, without getting wasted as heat as it travels along the charging cable.)
Level 2 charging also seems to be fine for the long-term health of an EV's battery. In theory, faster charging is worse for rechargeable batteries (of all types) because it creates more heat, and heat can damage the system. But we couldn't find any studies suggesting that it's a problem in the real world. Thousands of EVs have been on the road for a decade now, and there's no obvious downside. (If battery health is still something you're worried about, you can always buy a Level 2 charger and set it to run at a relatively low speed by default, then bump it up when you need it.)
Do you really need Level 2 charging at home?
Not necessarily, though you'll probably be happy to have it.
Lots of people will be just fine with Level 1 charging. Slow as they are, they can still add 20 to 50 miles of range overnight, depending on the car and how long you leave it plugged in. You don't necessarily need a full battery every day, either, and you can always find a public charger if you need a quicker fill-up. So if your daily commute isn't too long, or if you drive a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that can fall back on gas when you need it, Level 1 can suffice.
That said, nobody regrets buying a Level 2 charger. According to a recent EV charging study by JD Power, people who rely on Level 2 charging at home are substantially more satisfied than people who have to rely on Level 1 cords.
There's no downside to having a full battery every morning (or at 70% or 80% anyway, as many EV brands recommend for battery health). A Level 2 charger pretty much guarantees that'll always be the case, even after a long trip.
Another advantage: A Level 2 charger lets you preheat or pre-cool your car from your home's electricity supply, rather than drawing down the car's battery. It improves the battery's range in cold weather and is better for the long-term health of the battery. Bonus: It's much easier to scrape ice off your windshield once the cabin has been warmed up for a few minutes. Level 1 cords don't supply enough power to run an EV's heating and cooling systems.
What about Level 3 charging?
Level 3 chargers—aka DC Fast Chargers or Tesla Superchargers—are even faster still than Level 2. The exact speeds vary (and some plug-in hybrid EVs don't even support Level 3), but the general idea is that you'll get about an 80% charge in about 30 minutes, give or take. On a long road trip, it's more than enough range to keep you going for several hours—until the next time you'd need to use the bathroom, probably.
They're also wildly impractical to install at home. The charging equipment itself is pretty expensive for starters. The bigger obstacle is that most homes simply don't have the electrical supply you'd need (480 volts, 400 amps), and utility companies can't easily add it to a home in a residential neighborhood. It'd be like installing a gas pump at your house.
So essentially, you’ll only find fast chargers in public spaces: along highways, near major shopping centers, and maybe in some public parking lots.
First, it depends on where you park.
If you park in a private driveway or garage: You can usually find a way to charge your EV at home. If you rent, and your landlord doesn't want to pay for electrical upgrades, then you might have to settle for a Level 1 charger plugged into a standard outlet. But if you own the home and property rights aren't an issue, you can almost always get a Level 2 charger. There are very few technical reasons that would prevent it from happening.
If you park in a shared lot: There are sometimes ways to charge your EV. Some landlords and HOAs have charging stations installed on the property for residents' use. If not: Do you have a deeded parking spot? Is there a clear path for you to run wiring between your electrical panel and the parking spot? It gets complicated, but sometimes it's possible.
If you rely on street parking: You'll probably need to rely on public chargers. If your car supports it, Level 3 / DC Fast Charging can be a good way to juice up relatively quickly, though EV manufacturers caution that heavy use of super-fast charging could reduce the lifespan of your battery pack. You could also try to charge while you work or shop: Some office buildings and shopping centers have Level 2 chargers in their parking lots. And cities have even begun to install streetside public chargers, including some built into streetlights. Some people have even written testimonials about how they've kept their EVs charged by flopping a cord across their sidewalks, apparently without incurring fines. It's probably illegal to do this, or at least a trip hazard for pedestrians—even if it's covered in a conduit. Extension cords make it even sketchier.
Next, it's down to the details of your electrical system.
Is there an existing outlet within 20 or 25 feet of your parking spot? That's the typical length of an EV charging cable. If you're within that range, you're all set at least for a Level 1 charger, which plugs into a standard 120-volt household outlet. There's even a chance that you might have a 240-volt, 4-prong outlet that can support a Level 2 charger. Maybe it's a new house built with EVs in mind. Or maybe you park near your electric clothes dryer—some products let you use the circuit for both a dryer and an EV charger. But if not, you’ll need to hire an electrician to install a new hookup. (Extension cords and EV chargers are an unwise pairing.)
Is there a feasible path for a wire between your electrical panel and the parking spot? In a private driveway or garage, the answer is almost always yes. The best-case scenario: Your panel is in an unfinished basement right near your spot. But electricians know how to find workarounds for all kinds of other situations, like digging a trench through your yard up or snaking the wires above a finished ceiling. An electrician will know how to find a spot and have the tools to make it work.
Can your electrical panel support an EV charger? Again, the answer is usually yes. First, go check out your panel: If there are at least two open “slots” for breakers, you're in great shape. If the number on the big switch at the top of the panel is 200 amps, that's another strong sign it'll be an easy installation. A smaller number (often 100 amps) is usually fine, too—it just depends on how many other high-draw items you have, and how fast of a charger you're trying to install.
Or do you need some kind of electrical workaround? If your panel doesn't have the capacity for a new 240-volt circuit, or there's already a lot of demand on your panel and EV charging might trip the breaker regularly—you still have plenty of options. According to Joe Miller, the Director of Technical Support at Qmerit, the largest network of EV charging and other electrification technology installers in North America, and an EnergySage corporate partner, about 20 percent of homes they've worked on have needed one of these upgrades.
While the traditional approach has been to install a larger panel and have the utility company provide a service upgrade, more cost-effective and simpler alternatives have emerged, such as circuit-sharing and load-shedding devices. Fast becoming the industry standard, Qmerit advises their electricians to use these innovative devices whenever feasible, Miller says.
EV chargers aren't as sophisticated as you might think. They're less like a major appliance, and more like a USB brick for charging your phone. The car itself does most of the work managing the flow of electricity. Pretty much any charger can work with any EV, so it's hard to go too wrong. We've written overviews for a bunch of the most popular Level 2 chargers on the market, and that's a good place to start (though as of 2023, the reviews are falling a bit out of date). Some of the most popular models include:
Beyond that, it's up to you: Lowest price? Highest speed? The most useful app? There's no right answer. Sometimes new EVs even come with chargers as part of a package deal, and those are a perfectly valid option. If you'll be shopping for a charger on your own, here's what you might want to consider, in what we think is a descending order of importance for the average buyer.
EV chargers are generally safe. Just make sure that it's UL Listed, an industry-standard mark of safety based on third-party testing by Underwriters Laboratories. As long as it's got that UL approval, and you use it as directed, the charger itself is highly unlikely to cause a fire. All the models we listed above are UL Listed—but some of the lower-cost models sold through Amazon are not.
Outlet vs. hardwire
Some EV chargers use a hardwired electrical connection—no plug, no outlet. Others plug into an outlet—for Level 2 chargers, that's typically a 4-prong, NEMA 14-50 outlet, like many electric stoves or clothes dryers. A lot of models come in both types.
Either type is valid, and it's a matter of personal preference. Here's what to know about each style.
It's a cleaner-looking installation—shorter cable runs, no visible plug, and no outlet.
Since the electrical connection is hidden, the charger is more weatherproof, without the need for a bulky outdoor-rated outlet.
If your car and electrical wiring can support it, they're capable of faster charging speeds than plug-in chargers.
You will need an electrician to install it—and to uninstall and replace it when it wears out, so the costs can add up over time.
If you already have an outlet, you don't need to hire an electrician to install it. And even if you do need a new outlet, you won't need an electrician to swap out chargers in the future. This can save money in the long run.
Certain models are weatherproof (for outdoor use), though they'll need to be plugged into an outdoor-rated outlet.
They have a maximum charging speed of 40 amps (20-30 miles of range per hour). That's the safe limit for a NEMA 14-50 outlet.
Connector type: Tesla vs. everything else
In North America, for at-home use, EV chargers come with one of two connectors:
A Tesla connector, shaped for the port on a Tesla (surprise!)
A J1772 connector, shaped for the port on literally every other make and model of EV
It makes some sense to get a charger with a connector that matches your car's port. But it doesn't actually matter, because they're cross-compatible. Adapters to get a Tesla EV to work with a J1772 charger cost about $50. For the opposite, to plug a J1772 vehicle into a Tesla charger, the adapters are about $150. It's just like the USB dongles a lot of us still use—at worst, a slight inconvenience or eyesore, with no significant technical downsides.
We've all pulled up to the gas pump on the wrong side, and we'll all end up parking our EVs too far from the charger at least once. A longer cable is more forgiving—and you probably won't regret having the extra length.
The maximum safe cable length is 25 feet, according to the National Electrical Code, and most Level 2 chargers are at least 20 feet long. Aim for something in that range.
Technically speaking, longer cords could be less energy efficient than shorter ones—more energy can get wasted traveling along the longer wire. But real-world testing by Car & Driver didn’t find any meaningful difference from model to model.
EVs draw a lot of electricity. So if you can find ways to pay less for electricity, you can end up saving a bunch of money over time. Solar power is an excellent way to save (and EnergySage can help you get quotes for rooftop or community solar). And you could also look into discounted rates from your utility company.
More than 60% of households in the US are eligible for discounted electricity at certain times of day, according to the Energy Information Administration. Utility companies usually call these programs "time-of-use" or "dynamic pricing" plans.
If you sign up for one of these plans and do most of your EV charging when power is relatively cheap (overnight, usually), you can save a ton of money.
An EV charger with a scheduling feature (via mobile app) can help you take advantage of those discounts. (Some EVs also have this feature baked into the vehicle's app.) You can physically plug in the car whenever it's convenient, but it won't start charging until a time that you've specified in the app. You can always override the schedule if you need to start charging immediately.
Some lower-end chargers have a timer rather than a scheduling feature. You'll set it on a basic LED interface, built into the power "brick" on the cord. It's not elegant, but it works.
Other notable features
An app: Most Level 2 charging stations can connect to Wi-Fi and have some sort of mobile app. It's where you'll set charging schedules (see above), adjust the power output (see below), monitor the charging status, and track your energy use over time. They all basically do the same thing, but some are better looking, others more prone to glitches, and a few try to shoehorn in an extra interface for public charging networks, too. If you think this will be something that matters to you, check the app store ratings before buying.
Output control: This lets you control the charging rate. So if you own a 32-amp charger, you can usually set it to supply just 24 amps, 16 amps, or even 8 amps to your car. Why would you do this? You never really need to, for the sake of your car anyway. The EV itself will only ever draw as much power as its battery can safely handle, and there's no good evidence that Level 2 charging is any worse for an EV battery's longevity than Level 1 charging. But maybe you're trying to manually manage your home's electrical load to avoid tripping an underpowered breaker, or you’re acting out of some sense of courtesy for the electrical grid. If you want this option, most Level 2 chargers provide it, though not all of them.
Demand response: Certain EV chargers are also compatible with so-called demand response programs through your utility company. If you opt in, it gives the utility some control over your charger (via software), typically in exchange for a small cash rebate. The obvious scenario: They can turn off or turn down an EV charger at times of peak demand, to help avoid overloading the grid. That might be during the early evening on the hottest days of the year, as people arrive home from work and crank the AC or frigid winter mornings in regions with a lot of electric heat. All the demand response programs that we're aware of give you the option to override the utility company's control, but you might lose out on the rewards (something like $25 per year).
If you already have the right outlet for your preferred charger, around 20 feet from where you’ll park your car, you don’t need a professional installation. Just hang it up, plug it in, and you’re good to go.
But if you need a new outlet, or you’re installing a hardwired charger, then you’ll need an electrician.
Pretty much any residential electrician can handle the job—it’s fairly basic work for a trained pro. (You can read more about the technical details in this article.) The tougher part is finding someone with availability, amidst a national shortage of skilled tradespeople. And it’s hard to figure out whether you’re getting a fair price, without taking hours of time to invite multiple electricians to your home and wait for quotes to trickle in.
One way to increase the chance that you’ll get a timely, reasonably priced installation is to combine multiple tasks into a single visit, so it’s a better use of the electrician’s time. For example, if you have a gas stove and think you’ll want to replace it with an induction range at some point, you could get the outlet installed now so you’re ready for a replacement as soon as the old unit dies.
From Qmerit: With Qmerit’s network installing over 269,000 charging stations in North America, Qmerit has more experience than any other company in the EV charging space performing both residential and commercial installations. After you answer a few questions about your home and your charging needs on Qmerit’s EV Home Charging Assessment, Qmerit can give you an upfront price estimate and connect you to a rigorously trained, Qmerit-certified installer. Qmerit will also handle the billing once you accept the quote, making the process especially seamless.
Your EV probably comes with some kind of charger—at least a Level 1 cable, sometimes a Level 2 unit as a purchase incentive. So you won't necessarily have to pay extra for your charging equipment. (And again, some EV dealers include a free or discounted installation.)
But if you do need to pay out of pocket, here's what to expect.
A super-basic charging cord, for Level 1 or sometimes lower-amperage Level 2 charging, will start at around $130. Higher-speed models, with sturdier components, can cost up to $320 or so. There are more than 100 of these low-cost models listed at Amazon, and they're often indistinguishable (except for the near-nonsense brand names like Godiag, Polspag, or Evjuicion, likely crafted to glide through the US trademark process). None of them have companion apps as far as we can tell, but many of them have basic LED interfaces built into their power bricks. Most of these product listings don't specify whether the chargers are UL Listed, so watch out for that if you decide to go this route. Many are for indoor use only. And pay attention to which kind of wall plug they're equipped with: Some come with a four-prong NEMA 14-50 (the standard for Level 2), some with a plug for a regular NEMA 5-15 outlet (for a standard household outlet). But others come with plugs that were more common a few decades ago, like that big 3-prong outlet that your old clothes dryer might be plugged into, for example.
Standard Level 2 charging stations—boxes that hang on a wall, with a holster for the connector and a hook for the cable—start at $400, and range up to about $750 for some of the most popular, highly rated models. These models are probably what you're thinking of when you picture a home EV charger. They cost more because they're sturdier, generally charge faster than basic Level 1 cords, and often work with mobile apps that let you remotely control some aspects of EV charging.
High-end Level 2 charging stations often cost more than $1,000. These are the models with top-of-the-line features like 80-amp charging speeds, two cables for charging two cars at once and even allowing certain EVs to power your home like a backup generator (with a lot of additional electrical work).
If you need electrical work to install a Level 2 charger (most people do), the prices can range significantly.
The best-case scenario is something like $300-500. So you park your car very close to your electrical panel, and the panel has plenty of room for a new circuit and ample load capacity. An electrician can bang out this job in a couple of hours, with only a short run of wiring.
A more typical scenario is around $1,000-1,500. In this case, your electrical panel has plenty of space and capacity, but the electrician will have to run new wire for the circuit through some walls, maybe across a finished ceiling, or through a trench in your yard.
If your electrical system can't quite handle a new circuit for an EV charger, that could add close to $1,000 to the cost. Something like a circuit-sharing or load-shedding device could let you squeeze an EV charger into an electrical system with a panel that has no open slots, or a lot of demand but only 100A of service. It's pricey, but it sure beats the alternative of…
The worst-case scenario: A full panel and service upgrade for $3,000-$5,000. That's in addition to the cost of installing the EV charger and the circuit. This pricey update can also take weeks or months to complete if the utility company is involved. But sometimes it's actually the only good option. If you live in a cold climate and plan to switch away from fossil fuels for heating, cooking, and driving, the extra electrical capacity could end up coming in handy.