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Home charging is a great option but many EV owners can get by without one.Illustration by Glenn Harvey

Charging an electric vehicle at home sounds like a pleasure: no waiting, no fussing and you can sleep in your bed while your car battery charges.

The problem is that not everyone has access to a dedicated home charger. Do you need one?

After driving an EV in Toronto for the past nine months without a dedicated charging station at home, I’m beginning to think the answer, in my case, is no. Perhaps in your case too.

But let’s back up a step. There are three levels of charging.

  • Level 1 is the slowest option because you are drawing electricity from a standard 120-volt outlet. It can take a day or more to get a full charge on a large battery. Generally, these chargers are for emergencies, top-ups and very patient people.
  • Level 2 is a more powerful charging station that uses a 240-volt outlet similar to what a clothes dryer uses. Charging times can vary, but generally you’re looking at several hours.
  • Level 3 is a specialized fast charger that you often find along highways. These powerful beasts can charge a battery in less than 30 minutes, but are definitely not an option for home.

Discussions about home charging, then, usually revolve around Level 2 chargers. We are blessed with a parking space, giving us the option of getting our own charger. Yet, I’m the “stall” in “installing.”

My reasoning? We are surrounded by readily available and cost-effective alternatives. I count five Level 2 charging stations within a 30-minute walk from our house. When I need a substantial charge – and slow Level 1 charging won’t do – these work just fine.

For me, the inconvenience is minimal because charging is a once-a-week routine. And I can’t stress this enough: I do not miss gas stations.

There is some financial appeal here, too. Using a public charger costs us about $10 a charge, on average. Doing that once a week comes to $520 a year.

According to my rough estimates, it would take me two years to break even with the cost of a typical Level 2 charging station, which can easily run up to $1,000. It would take as much as a decade if I add the cost of electrical work, wiring and the cost of electricity (some generous provincial rebates on EV chargers can alter these estimates).

I have to admit, my family thinks I’m being ridiculous. Apart from saving you a walk-and-wait, Level 2 home charging also makes it easy to power up an EV overnight, which is ideal for road warriors and taps into lower off-peak electricity rates in some provinces.

Fair points.

Yet, overnight charging comes with some issues, I discovered. Mostly, research suggests that it could put strain on the electricity grid if all car owners start charging at the same time – say, after dinner.

“Everybody doing the same thing in the same way was creating a new problem,” Erin Burbidge, director of policy and programs at Clean Foundation, based in Dartmouth, N.S., told me, in relation to one research project.

And in any case, what if you don’t have the choice of home charging? Perhaps you are limited to street parking, or you rent a place, or your condominium doesn’t offer charging.

For many people, that might make EV ownership look like a non-starter. But it doesn’t have to be: Though you need access to a convenient charger, you might not need to own one.

To discover the public options in your area, download an EV-charging app that will identify charging stations on a map. I use ChargeHub, FLO and ChargePoint, among others. They’re free to download.

Then, peruse the charging stations near your home. Depending on where you live, you may be delighted. And keep in mind that more chargers are likely on the way, both on streets and in new buildings.

In Quebec, where the provincial government has encouraged EV ownership, there are currently more than 900 Level 3 fast-chargers available in the province.

The goal is to have more: 6,000 fast-charging stations – and far more Level 2 stations – to serve an estimated 1.6 million EVs by 2030, according to Simon-Pierre Rioux, president of the Quebec Electric Vehicle Association.

“We know that, in certain areas, a ratio of one charger per 100 cars is plenty, because not everybody needs to charge at the same time,” Mr. Rioux told me.

In the meantime, do not despair. There may be charging stations at some of the malls and stores you visit, where Level 2 charging is sometimes free. Swedish meatballs at our local Ikea never tasted better!

Also, don’t forget about your place of work, especially if you are in a newer development. My office building in Toronto, for example, has several Level 2 chargers. In this case, if you pay for parking you can charge up for free. That’s a powerful incentive for regular commuters, though I’ve noticed the chargers here can get busy during weekdays.

And lastly, you might pass Level 3 chargers during your commute, especially if you use highways.

Yes, home charging is a great option. And I’ll probably cave in to family pressure and get a dedicated charger some day.

But can many EV owners get by without one? Absolutely.

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