A big EV purchase decision that’s not about the car model you buy

Environment

Tesla electric car in driveway being charged at a home with an EV charger in residential neighborhood, Moscow, Idaho.
Ucg | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

As all-electric vehicles become more popular and incentives for renewable energy proliferate, many early EV adopters may be reconsidering their home charging needs.

The decision to upgrade from a standard Level 1 charger to a Level 2 charger at home is on many owners’ minds. Sixty percent of current Level 1 users say they are likely to upgrade their home charging station to either a Level 2 permanently mounted charger or a Level 2 portable unit, according to a J.D. Power survey published in March.

It can be an important decision given that about 80% of all charging takes place at home, according to Department of Energy estimates. But upgrading isn’t necessarily a slam-dunk personal finance decision. Consumers need to take into account several factors, including usage, vehicle type, the number of EVs in the family and cost versus potential incentives. 

According to Brian Wilkerson, head of product with Ford Pro Charging, a division of Ford Motor Company focused on commercial electric vehicle charging, the decision to upgrade can be driven by “customer behavior such as driving patterns and EV size, along with the added flexibility to manage your optimal charging times.”

Here’s what drivers need to know when considering an at-home EV charging upgrade: 

Typical driving needs are key to EV decisions 

Many people may find Level 1 sufficient since maintaining a full battery may not be necessary for routine driving, and faster public chargers are available for one-off needs.

Consider that the vast majority of Americans commute 30 miles or less a day, according to federal government statistics. “For the most part, if I’m going out on my daily commute, I’m losing very little battery and I can happily charge it at home,” said Mark Barrott, a partner and automotive/mobility practice leader at Plante Moran, an audit, tax, consulting and wealth management firm.

Differences between Level 1 and Level 2 charging

Level 1 chargers plug into any standard three-prong, 120-volt household outlet and draw about as much power as a portable electric space heater, according to EnergySage, which helps consumers compare home energy solutions. Most EVs come with a Level 1 cable, so it’s an easy, albeit slow solution for home charging. Level 1 chargers can take 40 to 50 or more hours to charge an EV to 80% from empty, assuming a 60 kWh battery, according to Department of Transportation estimates.

For a faster charge, some manufacturers make charger cables that can be used in 120-volt, or 240-volt outlets. The latter will give you Level 2 charging capabilities at home, assuming your electrical panel can handle the higher power needs. You might not need Level 2 charging capabilities at home, however, since they can often be found at retail establishments, workplaces, restaurants and grocery stores. 

Another option is a Level 2 at-home charging station that’s permanently mounted, which can allow users to customize charging schedules to better control charging. There may also be rebates that help defray the cost of this type of solution. This option typically requires electrical work, which can be costly. 

Home electricity limits and costs

Most people have the capability to use a Level 1 charger without any electrical upgrade, said Vikram Aggarwal, chief executive and founder of EnergySage. But that may not be the case when it comes to a Level 2 home charger, which could require significantly more power. This could mean significant electrical work — and potentially thousands of dollars — depending on where the panel is located and what wiring is necessary, Aggarwal said. For example, if someone’s electrical panel is in the basement, the cost to run wiring to the garage could be prohibitive.

Cost and feasibility should be weighed against incentives available through the Inflation Reduction Act that can help mitigate the outlay, Aggarwal said. 

For low-income households, IRA Electrification Rebates cover 100% of your electrical panel costs up to $4,000. For moderate-income households, up to 50% is covered, up to the same limit. Total electrification rebates discounts across all qualified electrification projects are capped at $14,000, according to Rewiring America, a nonprofit that focuses on electrification.

What faster charging offers auto owners

The convenience of charging quickly, if needed, and knowing you may only have to plug in once a week versus once a day could be helpful, said Albert Gore, executive director of The Zero Emission Transportation Association, a federal coalition that advocates for EVs, and a former Tesla and SolarCity executive. 

Level 2 chargers can charge an EV to 80% from empty in four to 10 hours, assuming a 60-kWh battery, according to Department of Transportation estimates.

A Level 2 charging station could also be a good option for drivers who want smart charging capabilities, in which the charger essentially communicates through data connections with a consumer’s car, the charging operator and the utility operator. The home charger can know what times make the most sense to charge and how to optimize charging based on overall usage, saving the consumer money since rates can be higher at certain times of the day, Wilkerson said.  

Bigger batteries mean more charging need

Batteries are trending larger and take higher charging speeds, which could make a Level 2 home charger a more optimal choice. “If you get a larger vehicle, having a home charger is almost essential,” Wilkerson said, offering the example of a F150 Lightning. With a Ford Charge Station Pro, it can take eight hours to fully charge an extended range battery. By contrast, a mobile power cord that offers Level 2 charging for this vehicle could take 23 hours to fully charge, according to an example on Ford’s website.

Another consideration is how many vehicles you have in the family. Barrott said with two or more vehicles, a Level 2 home charger might make sense for reasons that include ease, convenience and speed.

Potential tax credits, rebates and other promotions

Costs can vary, but as a general guideline, an EV owner might expect the cost of a home Level 2 EV charger that’s 32 to 40 amps to be between $500 and $800 for the hardware, plus any potential accessories and setup-related installation costs, according to EvoCharge, an EV charging station company. Once they get a more specific estimate, they can weigh it against potential rebates they may be eligible for.

In addition to the rebates for any electrical work required to handle Level 2 charging, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes a tax credit for installing a home EV charger, equal to 30% of the total cost including installation, up to $1,000 — if you live in a rural or low-income area, according to EnergySage. 

Some state governments also offer tax credits, rebates, and other incentives for installing EV chargers. This could result in hundreds of dollars in cash or tax credits. These programs change regularly, but consumers can check the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy to research local savings options. Utilities are another good place to check for direct rebates and other programs. 

Manufacturers may also offer promotions. Chevrolet, for instance, will cover the standard installation of a Level 2 permanently mounted charging outlet for eligible customers who purchase or lease a 2022 or 2023 Bolt EUV or Bolt EV. 

Especially if you are replacing a gas car with an EV, you might consider taking advantage of a range of programs from states, municipalities, utilities and car companies to offset the costs with a Level 2 home charger, Gore said. Consumers can research some opportunities on a website maintained by the Department of Energy.

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