Setting Up Home Electric Car Charging On A Budget

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Here we have a guide for what it costs to install electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at home, including the process of panel upgrades, permits, and 240-volt circuits. Read on as we outline the safest way to save time, money, and hassle for home charging. 

On social media, there are a lot of awesome electric vehicle (EV) fans who help out new EV owners and potential buyers. They’re providing a valuable service to the community. For example, by helping you find the right EV charging station, they may help you with your overall car charging and ownership experience. And they get things right most of the time. My hat (if I ever wore one) is off to you all! On occasion, though, we get things wrong when trying to inform the public. Home EV charging is one of the things I see EV advocates get wrong more often than the others.

I’m going to go through some common bad advice I see out there and cover one good way to safely charge on a budget.

First, I’ll be touching on how professional EV charger installations at home aren’t always the cheapest, breaking down all the components needed to install a home charging station. Second, I’ll mention all the unsafe ways people try to charge at home. Lastly, I’ll cover an innovative solution to installing a charging station using an existing 240-volt outlet. 

Professional EV Charger Installation At Home Isn’t Cheap

“Just charge it at home!” or “Don’t worry about charging stations, 90% of charging simply happens at home!” they say. Like Boromir in Lord of the Rings, I sometimes have to remind everyone that “one does not simply charge at home.”

The installation of a new 50 amp, 240-volt circuit is no walk in the park. You need wiring from the main breaker panel to the garage or outside parking space, and the wiring alone can cost $3-5 per foot. If you need to run a wire from the breaker panel, up into the attic, across a house, and back down into the garage wall, that could cost you $200–500 — and, again, that’s just the wire! Add in a NEMA 14-50 outlet, a breaker, and an EVSE unit, and even a DIY job can easily go over $1000.

If you don’t know what you’re doing with house wiring, it’s probably not a great idea to try to do this alone based on YouTube videos. In college, I helped wire up several houses during the summer to get through school, and even with that experience, I make the occasional mistake. On one Tesla charging station installation, I managed to cut into a live wire when I didn’t turn the right breaker off. I definitely wouldn’t recommend trying to save a few bucks the way I did unless your life insurance is good and you aren’t too happy with life.

Adding in the cost of doing this the right way (by hiring a licensed electrician), the cost of putting in your EV charging station can easily go over $2000, even in smaller cities. Do this somewhere with a high cost of living, and it’s even worse. On top of that, adding a new 50-amp, 240-volt outlet might require that you upgrade the house’s main electrical panel and wiring to the pole. Expect to pay another $1,000 to $2,000 for that if you’re lucky.

Service panel. (Image courtesy: Unsplash)

Table 1. Breakdown of costs for installing home car charging.

Item Cost Note
Home Charging Station (The “Charger”) $300–$700 Cost varies on charger features such as WiFi connectivity or maximum amperage.
Permit $100–$250 Cost subjective to local jurisdiction.
Electrical Materials (outlets, wiring, breakers, panels, etc.) $200–$800 Cost varies depending on charger location relative to the electrical panel. Also subjective to home’s electrical capacity.
Electrician Labor ($40–$100/hour) $200–$1500 Depends on the local market and the time spent by electricians. 
TOTAL $800–$4000 Costs may vary.

Ultimately, the cost to install a home charging station varies on a number of factors. Factors such as the age of the home, the electric panel capacity, the type of installation, and where the panel location is relative to the car charger all play a role in the cost.

If you’ve got great income and always have an extra $1,000–$5,000 ready to go for an EV charger install without wiping out a good chunk (or all of) your savings, then, yes, one can simply set up EV charging at home. You call a couple of electricians, get some quotes, and have them wire it all up in your garage. If that’s you, and you’re telling people to “Just have a NEMA 14-50 outlet put in at home,” it’s kind of like the time that Marie Antoinette supposedly said “Let them eat cake” upon hearing that the peasants were running out of bread.

I understand that there was a time when almost all EV owners were fairly wealthy, like when the original 2013 Model S went for $60,000 to $100,000. Everyone buying one had to be in relatively good financial shape and have higher income. Today, though, one can pick up a used Chevrolet Bolt EV for around $15,000. A used Nissan LEAF or Chevrolet Spark EV goes for under $10,000 now, with the cheapest (and most degraded) ones under $5,000. Even used Teslas are dropping quite a bit in price. The payment on a cheaper used EV can be under $200, and you can’t roll the cost of the home EV charger installation into the loan. Given all this, it’s not unreasonable at all to see a situation where a responsible person can afford to buy the EV, but can’t “simply charge at home.”

There’s also the issue of renting a home. If you’re renting, a landlord probably won’t let you modify the home. More importantly, you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars improving a home that you don’t own. No matter how much money you make, or how responsible you are with your money, the fact remains that most renters just haven’t had a solution available for charging at home, other than an iffy Level 1 charge via extension cord. That’s just not ideal.

The overall point: The days where everyone easily installed a Tesla charging station at home are long gone.

Unsafe Ways People Try To Charge At Home

There are various workarounds people are using to afford home charging, but it’s not always safe.

If 120V Level 1 charging is fast enough to cover your daily driving needs, many people just run an extension cord out a door or window. Assuming you have a good extension cord with thick wires, this is probably okay, but can be dangerous if you don’t have the cord plugged into a dedicated outlet on its own breaker. The big problem with this is that you can only add 3–5 miles of range per hour, meaning you only get 30–50 miles overnight. Any unexpected driving that puts you over that, and you may not be ready for the commute the next day.

Another thing people do on a shoestring budget is plug their EV into a dryer, water heater, or oven outlet. With 30–50 amps and 240 volts, this allows for Level 2 charging, adding around 25 miles per hour and a full charge overnight. The downside is that you have to climb in behind the dryer or other appliance to plug the car in, and then get back in there again to swap the plug every time you have clothes to dry. The fact is, most 240-volt outlets aren’t designed for frequent plugging and unplugging like a J1772 or Tesla plug is, and if something goes wrong, that’s a lot of electricity to get shocked by. If it doesn’t kill you, that’s going to hurt a lot and probably send you to the hospital. This can also be unsafe if you don’t use a heavy enough cord for the load.

To get out of doing that, some drivers make the mistake of using a Y-splitter cord (dryer outlet splitter). This can work (assuming you don’t pull too many amps from the stove or dryer outlet), but there’s one big drawback: safety. If you’re using an EV charger and your spouse throws a load in the dryer, you’ll trip the breaker and lose power to both if you’re lucky. If you’re not so lucky, the wiring will overheat from the double load of the EV charger and the dryer, and catch your house on fire. That’s definitely not a mistake you want to make with your home and family.

How To Charge Your EV Safely

There’s actually one good way to use a dryer outlet (or any 240-volt outlet) to charge your EV. NeoCharge makes a “240V Smart Splitter” that avoids the dangers I talked about above. Not only is it safer for the reasons I’ll explain below, but it’s UL-listed, which means it’s been tested at length by trusted experts for safety. It’s not just a dryer plug adapter — it’s a safety device.

How the 240-volt dryer outlet splitter works. (Image courtesy: NeoCharge)

Instead of just having two wires come out of the plug that could run at the same time, the Smart Splitter makes sure you don’t pull too much power through it at any given time. On one side of the box, there’s a “primary” outlet, and on the other side is the “secondary” outlet. If you plug in the dryer outlet splitter and put the dryer on the primary outlet, it gets power whenever you need it and pauses EV charging. Once the load of laundry is done, it will switch over and let the car charge. Thus, you can now effortlessly share the power with your dryer and EV and ensure you never overload your outlet. This is all done automatically with a proprietary switching algorithm — you don’t have to program the Smart Splitter, it just works.

If you’ve got two EVs but only one 240-volt outlet, the Smart Splitter can help you there, too, if you buy the Dual-EV version. Just plug one into the primary side and the other car into the secondary. If the primary car pulls full power, it will let that one charge until it’s full and then power up the other one. Again, all of this is done automatically with the smart splitting technology.

How to charge two cars with one 240V outlet (Image courtesy: NeoCharge)

If you have a Tesla or another car/EV charger that you can set the current limit in, it’s possible to charge two EVs simultaneously without tripping your breaker. If you forget to turn the charging down in one vehicle, it’s built-in safety features will keep you from tripping a breaker or burning the house down. Safety is number one.

The smart EV circuit splitter is also compatible with several common 3 and 4-prong 240-volt plugs:

Level 2 charging outlet types. (Image courtesy: NeoCharge)

(The NEMA 6-50 plug is not yet available, but it’s coming soon).

  • NEMA 10-30 — Commonly used for older dryer outlets
  • NEMA 14-30 — Commonly used for newer dryer outlets
  • NEMA 10-50 — Commonly used for stoves
  • NEMA 14-50 — Commonly used for EV chargers
  • NEMA 6-50 — Commonly used for welders and EV Chargers

The Smart Splitter is priced under $500, so that’s a whole lot cheaper than having an electrician come out. If you’re renting, it might be your only safe option to get Level 2 home charging. If you’re looking to charge up faster at home without spending a small fortune, the Smart Splitter is probably your best bet.

This article is supported by NeoCharge.

 



 


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