How to Install an Electric Car Charging Station

If you’ve been paying any attention to the buzz coming out of the car industry lately, that humming sound you hear is electrical. Automaker after automaker has either introduced new electric vehicles (EVs) and has announced plans to do so. And many more are on the way. Several car companies claim that half or more of the cars, trucks, and SUVs they sell in 2030 will be electric.

Closer to home, you probably know of several people who’ve taken the plunge and already purchased an EV. If they’re like typical EV owners, they sing the praises of their new rides. According to most, EVs are smooth, quiet, reliable, and — perhaps best of all — they never require their drivers to stop at a gas station to fill 'er up. 

All of those attributes are definite benefits, but the last one, never stopping at a gas station, has an implication of its own. The electricity to recharge the vehicle has to come from somewhere. Unless your plan is swap short stops at the gas station for lengthy sessions at the public charging station, you’re going to want to recharge your EV at home. And, typically, that means you’ll need a home EV charging station.

How do you install a home electric car charger?

Man Using Home Charging Station to Charge Electric Car

The answer to this question is both extremely simple and very complex. And those adjectives can be used to describe just about everything attached to EVs and the industry they have spawned. 

The goal is this article is not only to tell you how to install an electric car charging station but also to answer several associated questions. Example include: 

  • What is an electric vehicle charging station?
  • What types of electric charging stations are there?
  • How much does an electric charging station cost? 
  • How long does it take to charge an electric car?
  • How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

What you'll find is that several of these queries are the modern equivalents to the age-old question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

What is an electric vehicle charging station?

Woman Using Home Charging Station to Charge Electric Car

First, it is helpful to define what an electric vehicle charging station is. A simple way to explain that is to look at the smartphone in your pocket or purse as a surrogate for the electric vehicle. 

Just like your phone, an EV has a battery that enables it to operate. If there is no electricity stored in your phone's battery, it won't work. Similarly, if there is no electricity stored in an EV's battery pack, it won't go anywhere. And just as with a smartphone, the electricity stored in the EV’s battery is consumed when you use the car. You must replenish that electricity by charging the car’s battery.

How do you charge your smartphone? Why, you plug it in, of course. But in reality, you use a charger that converts the 120-volt alternating current (AC) available from a typical wall outlet into current that your phone can use to charge its battery. 

That conversion of power into a form that an EV's battery pack can accept is exactly what an electric vehicle charging station does. It takes the type of electrical current available in your house — 120-volt or 240-volt AC — and converts it into a current flow the EV battery system can accept. 

Commercial electric vehicle charging stations, like those you see in mall parking lots and along some major interstates, utilize much higher voltages and thus can charge batteries much faster than an at-home charging station. However, they are extremely expensive to install. Plus, even if you had the money to spend on a commercial charging station, your home electrical system and even the electrical grid where your home is located might not be equipped to allow that.

What types of electric vehicle charging stations are there?

Garage Equipped with Home Charging Station

There are three basic types of electric vehicle charging stations, which are often referred to as "electric vehicle service equipment" or EVSE. They range from basic and simple to more complex than you would ever contemplate installing in your home garage.

What is a Level 1 Charging Station?

A Level 1 charging station is the simplest of the three types. The charging cable that comes with the purchase or lease of an EV is essentially a Level 1 charger. These chargers use basic house electrical current — 110-120-volt AC — and many simply plug into a standard grounded wall-socket using a common three-prong plug. 

The simplicity and low-cost of Level 1 chargers is appealing but their downside is slow — sometimes agonizingly slow — battery recharge times. A good rule of thumb for recharging an EV using a Level 1 charger is four miles of battery range for every hour of charging. If your EV has 200 miles of range on a full battery, it can take 50 hours to fully recharge the car.

We recommend using Level 1 charging solutions only with plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). With a typical PHEV, you can easily recharge the battery overnight.

What is a Level 2 Charging Station?

Next up on the EV charging station scale is the Level 2 charger. Level 2 units use 240-volt circuits, the kind of electrical circuit that is typically used for electric clothes dryers. 

Some Level 2 charging stations are portable and use the special multi-pronged plug and associated outlet that are used for clothes dryers. Many homes have such a circuit and outlet in their laundry rooms. But, of course, it is inconvenient to unplug your dryer so you can plug in the charger for your electric car. 

For that reason, the vast majority of people who install a Level 2 charging station in their home hire an electrician to run a 240-volt circuit to their garage. Once the power is accessible in the garage, consumers can have the charging station "hard-wired" into that circuit. Or they can plug a portable Level 2 charger into that special 240-volt socket in their garage, while also enjoying the ability to take the charger on the road with them.

Certainly, hiring an electrician and changing the home's electrical system can be a costly hassle. But the big advantage is much faster recharging rates that speed recharge times. A Level 2 charging station will often recharge an EV battery in a quarter of the time it would take with a Level 1 charging unit, making it the best charging station for people who buy a purely electric car.

For an EV with 200 miles of range, you can recharge the battery in about 12 hours or less. Use a Level 2 charging station with a PHEV, and you can recharge in a couple of hours. 

What is a Level 3 Charging Station?

The third type of electric car charging station is a Level 3, and it is designed for commercial use. 

Level 3 charging stations enable DC Fast Charging, which provides much quicker charging times. Some Level 3 charging stations can bring an EV battery up from discharged to a full charge in an hour or less.

Full installation of a Level 3 charging station could easily cost $50,000. But even if you have that kind of money to spend, it is unlikely that your electricity-supplying utility would authorize a Level 3 charger installation in your home because the electrical grid in many residential areas won't support it.

How much does an electric car charging station cost?

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge Using Home Charging Station

If you are considering an electric vehicle you certainly want to know how much it will cost to install an electric vehicle charging station. The answer, as with so many things regarding EVs, is "it depends." 

If you are content with very slow Level 1 charging it might cost you nothing. You simply plug the charging cord into a socket in your garage or even outside your home and charge your vehicle's battery that way. New EVs include a Level 1 charging cord compatible with your home’s electrical outlets. But if you’d rather not wrangle with it every time you need to charge your vehicle, you can buy a Level 1 charger for about $180 to $300 depending upon its sophistication and complexity. They mount to the wall, and plug into an existing outlet.

Level 2 charging stations are more expensive. They start at about $300 and can easily exceed $700 for a sophisticated, hard-wired, wall-mounted unit. For a Level 2 charger installation, you almost certainly will need to hire an electrician, and, depending on the age of your home and the load on the existing electrical panel, you might also have to upgrade your home’s electrical system. It is also likely you will need to get a permit from your locality authorizing the work. Costs can easily run $1,000 to $2,000.

Installing a Level 3 charging station at home is, as we said, cost-prohibitive. Do you have a spare $50K lying around doing nothing?

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge Plugged In and Charging

We've given you an idea of how long it takes to charge an electric car in our descriptions of the various charging stations available, but again the real answer is, "it depends." 

One important thing to consider is recharging an EV is a different process than filling up a conventional car with gasoline. With a home EV charging station, and especially if you also have the ability to recharge your car at work, many EV owners never come close to depleting their vehicle's supply of electricity. Keep the battery topped off and recharging time should never become a concern.

Now, let’s say you’re away from both home and the office, and your EV’s battery is almost empty. How long does it take to charge an electric car in this scenario? 

Use a public DC Fast Charger and you could recharge your EV in an hour or less. Connect to a more common (and affordable) Level 2 public charging station, and you can recoup 25 to 35 miles of driving range for each hour the EV is plugged in. If you’re visiting friends or relatives, it could take as long as four days to trickle-charge the longest-range Tesla by plugging it into the same household wall socket you’d use to charge your phone. 

Recharging time depends on the battery's overall capacity, its state-of-charge, and the type of charging station you use.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

2020 Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid Charging Up

By now, you can guess the answer to this question is, "it depends." The factors involved include how much your utility charges you for electricity and even the time of day that you charge your vehicle. 

First of all, electricity rates vary widely depending upon where you live. Further, electricity providers often offer a variety of rate plans, so you might be paying more for electricity than your next-door neighbor but a lot less than your cousin in Connecticut. 

Many utilities also charge different rates for electricity depending upon the time of day it is being used. Rates can be most expensive during the day when demand is higher, and lower at night when electricity demand is much lower. This is why you’re able to program many EVs to start charging at a specific time in order to take advantage of low electricity rates.

Generally speaking, a reasonable estimate is that charging an EV will cost the typical consumer between 3.5 cents per mile driven and 12 cents per mile driven*. Compare that to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, which costs between 4.4 cents per mile driven and 38.75 cents per mile driven**.

Electric Car Vs. Gas Cost

Let’s compare apples-to-apples using the Volvo XC40, which comes with a choice between an internal combustion engine and an electric drive system. 

According to the EPA, a 2021 Volvo XC40 with all-wheel drive consumes four gallons of gas for every 100 miles traveled. Based on the average price of a gallon of gas ($2.88) in the U.S. on March 18, 2021, it costs $11.52 to drive this SUV 100 miles. This is for gasoline costs only and does not include the cost of oil changes and other maintenance and repair expenses common to internal combustion engines.

Volvo offers an electric version of the XC40. The EPA says it uses 43 kWh of electricity for every 100 miles traveled. At an average U.S. electrcity rate of 13.19 cents per kWh, it costs $5.67 to drive this SUV 100 miles. This is for electricity costs only and does not include the amortized cost of a charging station and charging station installation. It also does not take into consideration that the electric XC40 costs $14,500 more than an equivalent gas-powered XC40 (before applying the federal tax credit, state and local incentives, or manufacturer incentives).

Summing Up

In addition to the price differences between gasoline and electric vehicles, going fully electric requires some initial investment in terms of purchasing and installing an EV home charging station. But, as we’ve demonstrated, the per-mile cost of driving an EV is substantially lower than an equivalent vehicle with an internal combustion engine. 

With that settled, electric cars simply need to be more competitive in terms of purchase price, and public charging stations need to become more widely available, in order for Americans to give up the dino juice in favor of electricity.

* This range is based on the lowest (24 kWh/100) and highest (50 kWh/100) kilowatt-hour per 100 miles rating assigned to 2021 model-year EVs by the Environmental Protection Agency, and measured against the lowest (Louisiana) and highest (Hawaii) average electricity rates in the U.S. in February 2021.

** This range is based on the lowest (10 mpg) and highest (59 mpg) average mile-per-gallon EPA rating assigned to 2021 model-year vehicles with internal combustion engines, measured against the lowest (Mississippi) and highest (California) per-gallon gasoline prices in the U.S. on March 18, 2021.