We’re considering getting a new electric vehicle. We have a garage and can charge at home, but we’re wondering whether we need to get a home charger installed. We have friends who have an older EV who say they just use a standard 120-volt outlet. We’re also wondering how much a home charger will cost, including installation. – Dina, Ottawa
For most people buying a new electric vehicle, the advice is to get a home charger.
“It doesn’t make much sense nowadays not to install a [Level 2] charger, in most cases,” said Daniel Breton, chief executive officer of Electric Mobility Canada, a Montreal-based national non-profit that promotes EV ownership. “Most EVs batteries now range from 60 to 120 kilowatt-hours – and the bigger the battery, the more energy you need. If you plug a Ford F-150 Lightning into a 120-volt outlet, it will take you a week to fill the battery.”
Why are batteries getting bigger? Car makers are building bigger SUVs with more range. That takes a bigger battery.
Of the three levels of EV charging, Level 1 – a standard 120-volt wall outlet – is the slowest.
That wasn’t a problem with early EVs that had small batteries, such as the 17.6-kilowatt-hour battery in a 2017 Smart fortwo electric. Plugged into a 120-volt outlet, it charges from empty to its full 160-kilometre range in about 16 hours, Breton said.
But for a 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning with an extended-range 131-kilowatt-hour battery and 483 kilometres of range, you’d gain about three kilometres an hour at a Level 1 charger. So it would take about 150 hours – more than six days – to charge from empty to full.
A Level 2 charger uses a 240-volt outlet, the kind used for clothes dryers. Depending on the car, you can top up by about 30 to 40 kilometres an hour. So, with many EVs, you can plug in after dinner and go from empty to full overnight.
But if you don’t use much of your car’s full range regularly, you may be able to make do with just a regular 120-volt outlet, Breton said.
“I know some people who don’t drive that much and they never do install a Level 2 charger,” Breton said. “A friend of mine had a Tesla Model S and he had a Level 2 charger at home but not at the cottage, where he’d just plug into the 120-volt outlet. He’d say ‘I’m spending the week here anyway.’”
Most people don’t use as much of their EV range as they think they will before they buy, Breton said.
“For most cars on the market, when you get home, you might have … 40 or 50 per cent of the battery charge left instead of 10 or 15 per cent,” Breton said. “You might have driven 50 or 100 kilometres, but you have a [total] range of 400 to 500.”
Generally, Level 2 chargers range from $500 to $1,500, Breton said.
“I would say most chargers are around $800 to $1,000,” he said. “Make sure it’s CSA- [Canadian Standards Association] or UL [Underwriters Laboratories]-approved [for safety]. Some people would rather go to Amazon and buy a cheap Chinese charger or something and they may not necessarily be approved.”
Also, some Level 2 chargers are faster than others, Breton said. Generally, higher-current chargers are faster, especially if you have a bigger battery. It’s a good idea to see what size your auto maker recommends.
“Most chargers right now are either 30-, 32- or 40-amp chargers. But now we are starting to see more powerful chargers, up to 80 amps,” he said. “We have two chargers at home. My wife’s EV has a 17.6-kilowatt-hour battery and she uses a 30-amp charger. I have a Tesla Model 3 with a 75-kilowatt-hour battery and I use a 40-amp charger.”
A 30- or 32-amp charger will give you about 40 kilometres per hour of charging, but a 48-amp charger should give you close to 60 kilometres an hour, Breton said.
Another thing to keep in mind: If it’s going to be outside or in an unheated garage, make sure it’s designed to handle Canadian winter temperatures, Breton said.
Once you buy a charger, be sure to have it installed by a certified electrician – ideally one with experience installing EV chargers, he said.
“I was surprised to realize that some electricians don’t understand that if you have a 40-amp charger, the breaker needs to be 50 amps so you have a buffer,” Breton said.
Installation costs can vary, depending on the age of your home. Quebec, for instance, requires that newly built single-family dwellings be EV-ready.
“With a newer home [that’s EV-ready], it might cost you $200,” Breton said. “But with an older home, it might cost more. Four years ago, I bought a home [built in 1976] with fuses. So I had to change the whole electrical panel and it cost me $2,000.”
To help with costs, several provinces and territories, including British Columbia, Quebec and the Northwest Territories, offer rebates on home Level 2 chargers.
Breton wants Ottawa to add electrical upgrades for EV installation to its Canada Greener Homes Initiative, which offers up to $5,000 to cover home upgrades, including solar panels and energy-efficient windows, that boost energy efficiency.
“If you have a home that’s 40 years old or older, this would help you install a charger without having to pay a whole lot of money to upgrade your panel,” he said.
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