If you’re taking the plunge and buying your first electric car, pickup or SUV, you’ll also want to buy and install a Level 2 home charger.
There are things to think about when you pick a Level 2 EV charger, but the value in one is straightforward. For the vast majority of drivers, Level 2 will limit and probably eliminate reliance on a public charging station, and it will remove the anxiety that goes with finding an unoccupied public charger when you need it. Just about any Level 2 charger should fully charge your electric vehicle’s battery overnight, even if the battery is nearly depleted.
A Level 2, 240-volt home charger will charge your electric car much much faster than the Level 1 charger that comes with the vehicle. There are more Level 2 chargers to choose from each month, and they might be less expensive than you’d guess. Set up and installation don’t have to be complicated or expensive, either, depending on your circumstances. Many Level II EV chargers can be plugged into an outlet just like the Level 1, which comes with your car. Others can be hard-wired into household electrical if that’s the better option for your purposes. Many have their own phone apps to manage charging and minimize cost.
This list aims to give you some foundation for choosing a home EV charger. I’ve studied a broad range of chargers across the price spectrum and based my recommendations on expert interviews, user feedback, personal experience and the work of testing labs such as Consumer Reports and Underwriters Laboratories. Browse the full list before you click through, then follow on for a primer on just about everything you need to know when choosing an electric vehicle charger.
The JuiceBox 40 delivers everything you need and most of what you’ll want in a Level 2 home charge station, at a reasonable price. It’s UL listed, built to NEMA 3 standards and suitable for outdoor use. It can be hardwired or plugged in. It will charge any electric car, pick-up or SUV available in North America, including Tesla with the brand’s standard J1772 adaptor, and it comes with the industry standard three-year warranty. Perhaps most important, it hits the magic charge-rate threshold of 40 amps, which means it will replenish any substantially drained EV (current or forthcoming) in an 8- to 10-hour time frame for years to come.
Beyond its foundational features, the JuiceBox 40 is finished with some polished and useful details. It’s easy to install, and it’s 25-foot connector cable allows maximum flexibility in use. Even its plug-in cord is longer than most, and that adds flexibility when mounting the box in relation to the necessary 240-volt plug. JuiceBox 40 has a built-in cable rack and security lock and, according to experts, one of the best control apps going. It can be started with voice commands through Amazon Alexa or Google Home, and you can use the app to set reminders, program charge hours and monitor energy consumption (and cost) precisely.
ChargePoint started in the EV business building public charge stations. The Home Flex represents its expansion into residential, Level 2 chargers.
Home Flex has nearly everything you’ll find in our Best Overall JuiceBox 40, with even a bit more to like. Its box is compact and stylish, and its connector locks into its holster or a charge port with a smooth, authoritative click. The holster is ringed with a softly glowing halo of an LED. More significantly, Home Flex can raise the peak charging rate to 50 amps if it’s hardwired. While that’s almost overkill in a Level 2 charger, given that 40 amps should still charge any EV overnight for years to come, Home Flex will charge a few more current EVs (a couple Teslas and the Ford Mustang Mach E) at their fastest possible rate on residential Alternating Current.
Wired for 50 amps, Home Flex is likely to add some installation cost. Its connector cable is a couple feet shorter than JuiceBox 40’s, and its box-to-outlet cord is shorter, too. Those things can matter, but they’re not what relegate Home Flex to runner-up status, in our estimation. It’s just simple, rational arithmetic. ChargePoint’s Home Flex costs at least $100 more than JuiceBox 40, and that cash would make a significant contribution to whatever installation costs there might be.
The Grizzl-E Classic car charging station is designed and built in Canada, and that could be one of the reasons we like it. The Classic ships as a plug-in, to minimize potential installation costs, but it’s also suitable for hardwiring. It’s manually adjustable from 16 to 40 amps, and that can save on installation, too, in the short run (as in you might not need a higher-rated, more expensive circuit breaker until you have a car that needs the higher charge rate).
Throw in a 24-foot connector cord, and that’s about it. There’s no Bluetooth connection or phone app here. Yet calling the Grizzl-E Classic a no-frills, charge-your-EV-fast Level 2 undervalues one of its other strengths. This thing is built like a tank, and packaged in a dustproof, fire-resistant aluminum case that’s built to NEMA 6 standards, which protect against full water immersion to one meter for 30 minutes. Most other home stations are “upgraded” at NEMA 4.
This is a great charger for folks who like it simple. The Classic is well built, well warrantied (three years) and often cited for good customer service. You’ll look a long time trying to find another home station with 40 amps of charging and this kind of quality at this price.
The Grizzl-E Duo is a carbon copy of our Best Value Grizzl-E Classic. Or maybe that’s a double copy, because the Duo adds a second 24-foot cable and connector to charge two cars simultaneously.
Beyond that, it’s basically that same no-frills, rugged, high-output charge station, though there is another feature unique to the Duo. It adds an intelligent power-sharing circuit to maximize available current between the two charging cars according to each car’s need, up to 40 amps total. That in turn maximizes charge speed for each vehicle, without risk of blowing a circuit.
The Pulsar Plus is an extra-compact Level 2 residential charge station. It’s suitable for outdoor use, with 40 amps of charging power and most of the preferred features, including a 25-foot connector cable and a mobile app. And if the app loses its connection with the charger, or you don’t feel like messing with it, you can just plug in your EV and charge.
Yet what separates Pulsar Plus from nearly all other home charge stations is its Power Sharing feature. This allows more than one unit to be connected to the same electrical circuit to safely charge multiple EVs at once without exceeding the circuit’s capacity. Built-in smart power management automatically balances charging to ensure the most efficient energy distribution among the various chargers on the circuit, no need for extra hardware. Further, Wallbox says it’s developing the capability to meter each Pulsar Plus charger separately and directly bill individuals. This might be your future if home is a multi-unit dwelling shared with other occupants.
ClipperCreek began building home and commercial chargers at its factory in Auburn, California, in 2009, and its HCS-40 Level 2 home station is one of the best-selling chargers to date. In 2022, the box that houses the hardware is larger than most competitors, and the HCS-40’s charge rate maxes out at 32 amps. That will still charge most electric vehicles on the road today at their highest rate possible on household current, but it’s about 20% less than experts recommend for the long view.
Beyond that, the HCS-40’s features still hold up well. Its case is rated NEMA 4 for extreme weather, and its connector cord measures 25 feet. It comes with a remote connector holster that you can hang where you want it — as in right next to your EV’s charge port, wherever that may be. It has a keyed lock that can secure the connector in your charge port or the holster, and there’s even an optional cord retractor. It’s warranted for three years, and ClipperCreek’s customer service is praised in EV circles.
Siemens has been making industrial electrical equipment, automotive components and imaging devices for 170 years, and it was an early adaptor to home EV chargers, too. When it was introduced in 2016, the US2 VersiCharge was consistently rated one of the best Level 2 home charge stations available.
Today, the VersiCharge console or case is bigger than just about any out there, and its connector cord is hardly the longest (20 feet). With a peak charge rate of 30 amps, it will still max charge most EVs on the market, but it doesn’t leave much growth for the future.
Still it’s prized by many EV owners. That’s partly for its charm and partly for its build quality. US2 VersiCharge meets NEMA 4 standards for rough weather, with a rugged metal case that looks like the adornment on a big Art Deco building. It even offers its own bespoke outdoor post. It has a couple of buttons that let you delay the start of charging when you plug it in up to 8 hours, and it’s known for reliability. It’s also warranted for three years, which remains the industry max.
Designed and built by Montreal-based Dcbel Energy, the R16 is much more than a Level 2 home charge station. Think of it as the electrical command center for the home of the future, with its own operating system.
The R16 allows solar-collected Direct Current to charge your EV or home batteries, and DC is by far the fastest way to charge your car. It will turn solar DC into Alternating Current to power your home, and it can turn your EV into a household power bank in the event of utility failure. The R16 can integrate and replace up to five pieces of hardware early solar and low-carbon adopters now use in their homes.
It will work like a conventional Level 2 home charge station on AC, in case you’re still in the process of building your solar array. It has two connector cables to charge two electric cars, pickups or SUVs at once. Foremost, the R16 represents the next big thing in EV charging. It’s one of the first chargers to market that allows bi-directional charging, which can turn your electric vehicle–or at least some electric vehicles, like the new Ford F-150 Lightning — into backup power for you home when it’s sitting in the driveway. Depending on the size of your car’s battery, that could power your home at full bore for at least a day or two, or on emergency rations for 10 days or more. For more on bi-directional charging, read on to EVSE 101.
The MeGear Level 1+2 Charger looks a lot like the manufacturer-issued Level 1 charge cord that comes with the typical electric vehicle. It’s 25 feet long and has an adapter that allows you to plug it into a typical, three-prong, 120-volt household outlet. If you do that, the MeGear Level 1+2 will charge your EV at essentially the same rate as the cable that came with the car. But if you happen to have access to a 240-volt outlet with a NEMA 6-20 plug (a lot of electric clothes dryers use these), MeGear Level 1+2 will raise your charge rate to 240-volt Level 2. A device like this one is the cheapest path to Level 2 charging.
Now, we’ve seen this charger marketed under a few different brand names. While the other chargers on our Best list all come with a three-year warranty, the MeGear Level 1+2 is warranted for only a year. It’s also the only one that won’t restart itself after a power interruption, even if that interruption is only momentary. You’ll have to restart it yourself, so hopefully the interruption doesn’t occur just after you turn in for the night.
Like we said: this is the cheapest path to Level 2 charging. Quite a bit cheaper, even, than buying a replacement Level 1 cord from your EV dealer. The MeGear Level 1+2 charges on 240 at the lowest Level 2 rate of 16 amps — much lower than the optimal, future-protecting 40 or 50 amps. Yet at 16 amps, Level 2 should charge your EV about three times faster than the Level 1 cord that came with it. With this charger you can continue to save your pennies for a more powerful Level 2 home station. In the meantime, you’ll be able to take advantage of Level 2 when you can and worry less about making it to work the next morning if you can’t find a public charger on the way home.
Comparison of the best EV chargers for 2022
|Charger||Level 1 or 2||Max charge rate||Connector cable length||Hardwired or plug-in||Phone app||Features|
|Best EV charger overall||Enel X JuiceBox 40 Smart Electric Vehicle Charging Station||2||40 amps||25 feet||Both||Yes||Everything you need for fast, easy home charging, and most of what you’ll want. The right features at a good price.|
|Best EV charger overall runner-up||ChargePoint Home Flex Electric Vehicle Charger||2||50 amps (hardwired)||23 feet||Both||Yes||A bit slicker than best overall, and it can raise max charge rate to 50 amps (assuming your car could take that charge rate). But it also costs more, and fitted for 50 amps, could cost more to install.|
|Best EV charger value, especially if it’s going outdoors||United Chargers Grizzl-E Classic EV Charging Station||2||40 amps||24 feet||Both||No||A simple, rugged home station that charges EVs fast. Comes with the highest weather protection standard.|
|Best EV charger for charging two cars||United Chargers Grizzl-E Duo Plug In EV Charger||2||40 amps||24 feet||Both||No||Two connectors, and internal controls that automatically balance power for maximum efficiency and charge speed.|
|Best EV charger if you need two or more ganged||Wallbox Pulsar Plus Electric Vehicle Smart Charger||2||40 amps||25 feet||Both||Yes||Safely allows multiple chargers on a single electrical circuit. According to the manufacturer, it’ll soon add separate metering (and billing) for each one.|
|Best EV charger from the start of the new EV age||ClipperCreek HCS-40/HCS-40P Charging Station||2||32 amps||25 feet||Both||No||An all-time top seller, from an early adapter known for customer service.|
|Best EV charger from an old-school brand||Siemens US2 VersiCharge Universal EV Charger||2||30 amps||20 feet||Both||No||Built like a tank, looks like Art Deco, from one of the world’s oldest electrical suppliers. Still charges most electric cars at the maximum possible rate on household current.|
|Best home EV charger if money is no object||Dcbel R16 Home Energy Station||2+||DC charging capable (with solar)||Up to 20 feet||Hardwired||Yes||More like a home electricity substation, managing solar, batteries, charging and household supply with its own OS. As a Level 2 EV charger, it’s one of the first to enable bi-directional charging, which can turn your EV battery into a power bank for your home.|
|Best EV charger for cheapskates, bi-voltage edition||MeGear Level 1+2 Home Electric Vehicle Charging Station||1 or 2||16 amps at 240 volts||25 feet||Plug-in||No||About the least expensive path to Level 2 charging, and it will work as a Level 1 until you have access to 240-volt AC. Much slower than more powerful level 2s, but still about three times faster than the Level 1 that comes with your car.|
The thing you use to plug in an electric car, pickup or SUV is not, technically, a charger. The charging hardware and control system are actually inside the vehicle’s powertrain. The plug-in thing is Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment, and it allows the transfer of energy between an electric utility and the EV. This equipment includes charge cords, charge stands (residential or public), attachment plugs, vehicle connectors and bits of electrical hardware that ensure safe operation for user and vehicle. But don’t worry. You can call your EVSE a charger.
Every electric car should come with a charger — invariably a heavy cord with a large, block-shaped device between the vehicle connector and the wall plug. If you bought your electric vehicle used and it didn’t come with its charge cord, I hope you accounted for that in the transaction price.
These cords are called Level 1 chargers, and they plug into a standard 120-volt electric outlet on your house or in your garage. They’re fine for plug-in hybrid vehicles, which typically have fairly small batteries and a gasoline engine to power the car, and a Level 1 cord will charge a full electric, no-engine car. It won’t charge a pure EV anything close to quickly. If your daily electric-car rounds amount to 20 or 25 miles, you can probably live with Level 1. But if you happen to pull your electric car into the driveway with its battery nearly depleted, it can take literally days with a Level 1 charger to replenish to full capacity.
I wouldn’t recommend buying another Level 1 charger, unless you need to replace the one that came with your EV or want a second for an alternate location. No Level 1 charger — from the vehicle manufacturer or an aftermarket supplier — will charge your EV substantially faster than the cord that came with it. The money you’d spend on a Level 1 charger will get you a long way toward something called a Level 2 charge station, and you can still take the Level 1 cord that came with your car wherever you go. If you want maximum convenience and don’t want to rely on public, high-speed charging stations, you probably want Level 2. If your daily rounds regularly use 100 miles of range or more, you absolutely want Level 2. I’ll elaborate shortly.
First, I’ll answer a question many EV shoppers are likely to have. Every electric car, truck and SUV sold in North America comes with the same connector in its charge port. Every car that’s not a Tesla, that is. This standard connection is called SAE J1772, and it means that you don’t need to worry about buying the wrong EVSE. Every charge cord and station, home or public, will plug into every electric car, truck or SUV on the road — including Teslas. That’s because every Tesla vehicle comes with an adaptor that allows a J1772 plug to fit in its proprietary charge port. And as Tesla ponders rolling out its private, national Supercharger charging network to non-Tesla owners, it’s developed an adaptor that allows its proprietary connection to fit into the J1772 port on other manufacturers’ electric vehicles.
Take it up a level
Level 2 EV chargers are a major upgrade from the Level 1 device that comes with an electric car. While it won’t charge as quickly as a public DC charger, Level 2 is the best most of us will get for home charging — or at least those of us who aren’t certified millionaires or better. There are 480-volt fast chargers that can theoretically be installed for residential use, but they’re expensive to begin with and have specific power requirements, including a dedicated power line. In short, the cost of a 480-volt charge station is prohibitive for the typical homeowner.
How big is the Level 2 upgrade? A Level 1 charger delivers about 12 amps, give or take a couple, and adds three to five miles of range to a typical electric car in an hour. A Level 2 charger delivers a minimum 16 amps and as many as 80, with a rate of 12 to 60 miles of range per hour of charge, depending on the car and the specific charger. Bottom line, a Level 2 charger can charge an EV three to 10 times faster than a Level 1 charger can, and you can buy good, higher-amperage Level 2 charging stations for $500 all day.
Level 2 chargers require 240-volt electrical supply. If you’re not up to speed on electrical current, you shouldn’t let that requirement put you off. While there may be some preparation or installation costs, drawing 240 volts from typical residential electrical is not a major or particularly expensive proposition. Many homes already have 240. Yours may, too, if you have an electric water heater or clothes dryer, and if you do there’s a good chance it’s already in the garage, where you’ll need it for a Level 2 charge station.
If you live near a major population center and don’t drive a lot, you may not need a Level 2 EV charger. If you live in a rural area with less developed infrastructure, you probably do need one. Wherever you live, the more and further you drive your electric car, pickup or SUV, the more valuable a Level 2 charger will be. Level 2 can substantially reduce the small hassles and anxiety of owning an electric car. For upwards of 90% of the driving public, it can eliminate reliance on public charging stations, unless or until you take your electric car on a long-distance driving vacation.
There are a handful of things to think about before installing a Level 2 charger, but the first comes down to where you live and who controls your electrical supply.
If you own a home, that’s probably all you need to know. You’re the boss, and you can proceed with a Level 2 charging station. If you own a condominium, you’ll likely need permission from the owner’s association. That could be as simple as filling out a form, or it could require jumping through a few more hoops, but you should start by reaching out to the association or property management company. If you rent a home or live in an apartment with reserved parking or a garage, hope is not lost. You’ll still have to get the landlord’s permission, then determine how much power is available in the parking area and how it’s metered.
If you don’t have 240-volt current, that’s not a huge challenge. The first thing you need is an electrician to tell you whether your existing electrical panel has sufficient capacity for a 240-volt line. There’s a reasonable chance it does, but if it doesn’t, you’ll have to upgrade. And even if you have existing 240-volt service, it’s best to consult an electrician as you prepare for a Level 2 charging station.
Let’s say, for example, that you already have an electric dryer, and it’s in the garage not far from where you want your Level 2 charger. There’s a good chance you can find a Level 2 charger that will plug into the same outlet as the dryer (most plug-in Level 2s offer one or two of three common 240 plugs — NEMA 6-20, 6-50 or 14-50, with NEMA standing for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association). This path means you’ll never be able to charge your car and run the dryer at the same time, however, so a good electrician seems like a good place to start. Different surveys by different organizations put the average cost of installing a Level 2 charge station between $650 and $800. That’s on top of the charger, or course.
While you’re waiting for the electrician, think about where you want the charge station to go. That’s typically on a wall inside or outside the garage, or on a post near where you park. Outside is no problem, but you should know it’s going outside before you pick your charger, and you should also know where the charge port is located on your electric car, truck or SUV. No two electric vehicle makes put their charge ports in exactly the same place, and the cords on Level 2 charge stations typically range from 12 to 25 feet.
Lastly, check what’s available in your locale when it comes to rebates, tax credits and other incentives for installing an EV charge station. The IRS offers a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost, up to $1,000. Your state and local government may offer incentives as well, and don’t forget to check your electrical utility.
Big things to think about
Home chargers for electric cars are proliferating, and there are more to choose from all the time. Nearly every vehicle manufacture offers its own, branded charge station through its sales points, typically with third-party installation. If convenience is more important than cash outlay, or if you’re a committed brand geek, you can certainly go with the manufacturer’s product. On the other hand, you’ll do at least as well on quality and performance for less money if you choose your own Level II charger. Often substantially less money.
Question 2 when choosing a Level II home charger for your electric car, pickup or SUV: Do you want one that’s hardwired or one that plugs into an outlet, like the Level 1 charger that comes with the car? Hardwiring means the station is semi-permanently connected to your home’s electrical grid, and you won’t be able to move it without opening a junction box and detaching the wiring. A plug-in station simply plugs into a 240-volt electrical outlet. Think of it like a permanently installed light fixture versus a plug-in lamp. Other things being equal, a plug-in charge station will work as well as one that’s hardwired. The primary advantage of the plug-in is that you can more easily remove it and bring it with you — if you relocate, for example.
Other things are rarely equal, though, and there are a few more subtle things to consider when choosing between hardwired and plug-in. Most local electrical code will require a charge station installed outdoors to be hardwired. Plug-in charge stations are limited to 40-amp output, and while 40 amps of charging power is more than adequate for the foreseeable future (I’ll get to that next), the ultimate future-proof charging station might have a higher charge rate. A plug-in charger won’t eliminate additional installation cost, either, unless you happen to have an appropriate 240-volt plug in your garage, in close proximity to where you want the charge station. If that’s the case, we’d definitely recommend a plug-in Level 2.
Most Level II chargers are packaged in a case designed to be mounted to a wall or post. Removal and relocation require that they be detached, which can be as simple as removing a couple of fasteners. Yet there are an increasing number of more portable Level 2 chargers, as well as bi-voltage chargers that work at Level 1 or Level 2 depending on the receptacle they’re plugged into. These look similar to the Level 1 charger that comes with the car — usually a long, heavy cord with a plastic brick somewhere between the outlet plug and the vehicle connector. Portables can be useful for travel or commuting because they’ll work at Level 2 in the event you have access to a 240-volt plug at work or a vacation residence. The drawback is simple, however. Portable bi-voltage chargers often max out at 16 amps output, or occasionally 20 amps, and while that’s better than anything Level 1 can deliver, it won’t bring the potential charge speed of higher-amperage Level 2 home stations.
With Level 2 charge stations, output amperage is king. Sort of. Level 2 delivers at least 16 amps and as many as 80, and the chargers tend to get more expensive as output amperage increases. Accounting for one important limitation, the charger with the highest output amperage will charge your electric car fastest. Yet that limitation is big, and it’s the reason you need to know the maximum charge rate your electric car, pickup or SUV will accept.
You’ll find your electric vehicle’s maximum charge rate in its owner’s manual, on the spec sheet or in the worst case from the manufacturer. It may be listed in kilowatts, or kW, and if that’s the case you should Google a kilowatts-to-amperes conversion calculator and convert the kW at 240 volts. This isn’t a safety issue: A charger with a higher charge rate won’t somehow melt your electric car. But your car’s maximum charge rate matters when you decide how much to spend on a Level 2 charger, and which one to choose. If its max charge rate is 16 amps, it’s never going to charge faster than 16 amps on household current, no matter how many amps your Level 2 charger can deliver. Find one of those expensive 80-amp chargers, which will very likely require some serious infrastructure improvements to your household electrical, and your car is still not going to accept a charge rate greater than 16 amps.
Does that mean you should never buy a charger that delivers more amps than your electric car, pickup or SUV can accept? It definitely does not mean that, unless you consider the charger a short-term investment to ditch when you get your next car. A short history of the current crop of electric cars explains why choosing a Level 2 charger based strictly on your current car’s max charge rate might not be the best idea.
When it was introduced in 2011, the Nissan Leaf could accept a maximum charge of about 14 amps on household current, adding five or six miles of range per hour of charging. With updates for model year 2016, the Leaf could charge at 28 amps. Around 2018, the Chevy Bolt, Jaguar I-Pace and Kia Niro EVs debuted with a max charge rate of about 30 amps, good for 23 to 24 miles of range per hour. Ford’s recently introduced Mustang Mach E, and some Tesla models, can charge at 48 amps on AC, adding 35 miles of range per hour of charge. And charge rates for electric cars are likely to increase further over the next several years as new models roll out.
If the point isn’t clear, we’ll put it another way. Your first electric car may charge at a max of 16 amps, but it’s very likely that your next one, brand new or used, will take a charge at a faster rate. Given the outlay for a Level 2 charge station, you probably want to protect your investment. You might save a few bucks now with a low power Level 2, but there’s a good chance you’re going to want a more powerful one when you get your next electric car.
If you’re now wondering by exactly how much you should future-proof your Level 2 charge station, we have a simple rule of thumb. Experts generally agree that a home charger output of 40 amps — or 50 amps at the extreme — will be sufficient for the typical electric car owner for years to come.
“Forty amps seems to be the sweet spot,” says Barry Woods, the director of vehicle innovation at ReVision Energy in Maine, and a board member for the trade group Plug In America. “A 40-amp charger is sized correctly for most residential locations, and 40 amps is going to be relevant for a while. That’s based on driving habits more than technology. Given the batteries we have now, and what we anticipate, 40 amps should adequately meet the needs of the vast majority of users.”
A 40-amp Level 2 charger should cover the daily range requirements of more than 95% of drivers in the United States, including those in rural areas, based on reams of data collected over decades. Your next electric car could charge at a rate faster than 40 amps, but 40 amps will still replenish its deeply depleted batteries in an 8-to-10-hour time frame. Ten hours at 40 amps will add roughly 300 miles of range, depending on the vehicle.
You could consider a 50-amp charger, to take advantage of the higher household charge rate in a few current electric vehicles, but the charger will cost more than a 40-amp max charger. The 50-amp demands heavier-gauge wiring, a higher-rated circuit breaker and a higher-capacity electric panel, so there’s a good chance it will cost more to install, and its advantage for household use is minimal — maybe just bragging rights. A Level 2 charger rated at more than 40 amps will have to be hardwired, so it eliminates the option of a plug-in charge station that you can take with you when you move.
In 2022, a 40-amp Level 2 charge station almost certainly delivers the best cost/benefit breakdown for your electric car, pickup or SUV, and it should deliver sufficient charge speed for years to come. And remember. Even if your current electric vehicle charges at a maximum rate less than 40 amps (most do), there’s nothing to worry about. The electric car controls how much electricity its battery absorbs when it’s charged, so you can’t damage the vehicle with a charger capable of a higher rate.
More things to look for
If the charge amperage thing gets confusing, think of 40 amps as the target and work up or down from there, based on cost, features and preferences. The next thing to think about when choosing a Level 2 charger is the weather — or specifically, whether your electric car, pickup or SUV is going to sit out in the weather. If you can’t or won’t park your electric car in a covered garage, the charge station probably needs to go outdoors, too. In that case, to be in code, it will need to be hardwired and not plugged in. It will also need to be rated for outdoor use.
Most Level 2 chargers, including those on our Best list, are rated at least NEMA 3, and NEMA 3 is acceptable for outdoor use. Some chargers are built to NEMA 4 standards, which add another layer of protection and shield the box against direct pressure from a garden hose. If there’s lots of rain where you live, and it’s often driven by stiff winds, NEMA 4 is a good choice. Whether your Level 2 charger is going in the garage or out, it’s always smart to choose one listed by Underwriters Laboratories or Edison Testing Labs. The UL or ETL listing designates compliance with safety standards established by these nationally recognized testing labs.
Next are the physical features of the charger itself, starting with the connector cord. Level 2 charge cords typically range from 12 to 25 feet, and longer is almost always better. A 12-foot cord can cut it close in the best of circumstances, and might require that you park your car in the same direction or orientation every time you plug it in. The 25-foot one should allow you to park in at least two different spots if your garage has two bays or more. It should cover things if you the charge port on your next electric car is in an entirely different spot than your current car’s.
Many chargers come with a horn to hold the looped cable. Others expect you to wrap the cable around the box, or a long nail of your choosing, or to simply leave the cable coiled on the ground or floor. Pay attention to these details if you’re not fond of clutter, trip hazards or excessive dust accumulation. Look for a charger that has a holster for its connector, or at least a cap to cover the connector when it’s not in use. Finally, consider the dimensions of the charger box itself. A really wide one might not fit the space between two single garage doors. A thick one that sticks out relatively far might make it more difficult to squeeze between the car and a wall in a tight, single-car garage.
Some early electric car chargers would not restart themselves if the power temporarily failed and then came back. You had to unplug the connector, then plug it back in to restart. Most current Level 2 chargers, including those on our Best list, will restart automatically, but make sure that’s the case when you choose. It’s better than waking up to find your electric car is not sufficiently charged.
Beyond that automatic restart feature, some chargers have just a few LEDs to tell you what they’re doing. Others have a few hard buttons to set features or manually delay starting the charge once the vehicle is plugged in. Still others come with a phone or tablet app that connects to the charger via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and shares a range of data and control options.
With the apps, you can typically monitor your car’s charge progress, keep statistics on energy use and know fairly precisely what it’s costing to operate your electric vehicle. Some allow voice interface with the charger (“Alexa, charge my car!”) and communication with local utilities, so you can participate in demand response programs and charge your car when the electricity is the cheapest or cleanest available. Some Level 2 charger apps let you load-share two chargers on the same circuit without tripping the breaker.
These programs can definitely be useful, but if you’re not fond of fiddling with phone apps, or you just want to plug in your car and charge it, there’s no reason to pay up for charger with a control app. If you do want some of those app features, or you’re basically a data geek, you still might not have to pay up for a charger with an app. Electric vehicle manufacturers have their own apps that communicate with their vehicles, and there’s almost certainly one that goes with your electric car, pickup or SUV. Learn what the vehicle app can do before you buy the charger. There’s no reason to pay extra for charger features that are redundant.
The next big thing
When Ford Motor Co. unveiled its 2022 F-150 Lightning in May 2021, one of the truck’s second-level features grabbed almost as much attention as Ford’s first electric, full-size pickup did on its own.
With the right Level 2 home charging station, the F-150 Lightning can essentially turn itself into a giant power bank on wheels. During a household power failure, the truck can automatically direct the electrical energy stored in its expansive battery pack back into the household wiring grid. If a Lightning with the upgrade, 155 kWh extended-range battery were fully charged when the power failed, based on the average household electrical consumption of about 30 kWh per day, this pickup should be able to power most households full speed for three or four days. With more carefully metered household usage, running essentials like the refrigerator and freezer, modest lighting and communication, the F-150 might provide power for 10 days or a bit longer.
Sounds like a nice capability to have, but if you want in with the Lightning and you’re not already in line, don’t hold your breath. Ford has promised the first Lightning deliveries by March 2022, with a base price starting just north of $40,000, but it also claims the first three years of Lightning production are sold out — even with its decision to double its initial assembly capacity a few months after the Lightning was revealed.
You don’t have to wait for a Lightning, and you definitely don’t have to use Ford’s Level 2 home charger. The power-bank concept represented by Ford’s electric pickup is sometimes called vehicle-to-grid or V2G — or, more frequently, bi-directional charging. In its basic form, bi-directional charging uses a Level 2 home charge station as a two-way bridge between an electrical utility grid and an electric vehicle’s battery. It’s more than a potential source of back-up power because many experts see bi-directional charging as a means to even out electrical demand and make utilities more efficient as electric cars proliferate. The thinking is that cars can be charged during off-peak demand, as the world sleeps, and then supplement utility power when they sit during the day during high-demand, potential brown-out periods.
It’s nascent technology, yes, but bi-directional charging can already be achieved. The Nissan Leaf is the only current EV that allows it, and its biggest battery has only about a third of the capacity of the F-150 Lightning’s (several other current EVs do allow bi-directional flow from the vehicle, but only for appliances plugged into the vehicle itself, rather than the house grid). Going forward, many and maybe most new electric cars, pick-ups and SUVs will offer bi-directional charging. Hyundai, Kia, Lucid and Rivian all have promised the capability, though Tesla seems less likely to offer it, given its commitment to its Powerwall home battery. Further, bi-directional charging is not limited by the hardware in most current EVs. It’s mostly a function of the binary bits in the control software, and some vehicle manufacturers are considering software updates to allow their existing vehicles to charge bi-directionally.
The first handful of bi-directional Level 2 home charge stations have hit the market, including our Best If Money Is No Object Dcbel R16. Yet the least expensive bi-directional we’ve found is about six times more expensive than our Best Overall Juicebox 40, and in the typical household it will require higher installation costs.
If you’re committed, and you have the resources, you might want to think about bi-directional charging for your Level 2 home station. Or you might want to limit your investment now, with the most basic Level 2 charger you trust, and wait for bi-directional to play out.
“It’s not exactly here yet, but bi-directional is coming soon,” says Plug In America board member Barry Woods. “In most respects it’s fairly simple technology, and the barrier is acceptance more than technical.
“It’s one more consideration choosing a Level 2 charger. The first step has three filters. Do you want basic charging, smart (app-based) charging or bi-directional? Once that’s clear, it’s basic consumer requirements like reliability, warranty and customer service.”
Written by J.P. Vettraino for Roadshow
EV charger FAQs
Is a Level 2 charger worth it?
The short answer: A Level 2 charger is always better at charging than a Level 1 charger, which typically comes with every electric vehicle. Whether a Level 2 is worth the additional cost depends on your living circumstances, your driving habits and your access to public charging stations. That cost runs from maybe $200 on the low end to $2,000 on the high end, installed, contingent on the charger and required electrical upgrades.
If your daily electric-car rounds amount to 20 or 30 miles, you can probably live with Level 1. But if you happen to pull your electric car into the driveway with its battery nearly depleted, it can take literally days with a Level 1 charger to replenish to full capacity. Or you can find an open public charging station in convenient proximity to your home.
If you want maximum convenience and don’t want to have to rely on public, high-speed stations, you probably want Level 2. If your daily rounds regularly use 100 miles of range or more, you absolutely want Level 2. If you live in a rural area with less developed infrastructure, you probably need Level 2. Wherever you live, the further you drive your electric car, pickup or SUV, the more valuable a Level 2 charger will be. Level 2 can substantially reduce the small hassles and anxiety of owning an electric car. The right Level 2 home charger will charge any electric vehicle from nearly depleted to nearly full in the typical overnight time frame, or say 8 to 10 hours. For upwards of 95% of the driving public, Level 2 can eliminate reliance on public charging stations, unless or until you take your electric car on a long-distance driving vacation.
Are all EV home chargers the same?
Definitely not. There are Level 1 chargers (3 to 5 miles of range per hour of charging in the typical electric car) and Level 2 chargers (12 to 60 miles of range per hour, depending on the car and the specific charger). Level 2s can be portable, plug-in or hardwired, with different max charge rates and different operating features.
That said, you don’t need to worry about buying the wrong charger, because certain hardpoints are the same. Any Level 1 or Level 2 charger will safely charge any electric car, truck and SUV sold in North America. You can’t charge your vehicle too quickly, or over-charge it, because its own on-board electronics will protect it. Every electric vehicle comes with the same connector in its charge port — or at least every electric vehicle that’s not a Tesla. This standard connection is called SAE J1772, and every charge cord and station, home or public, will plug into every electric car — including Tesla. That’s because every Tesla vehicle comes with an adaptor that allows a J1772 plug to fit in its proprietary charge port.
Which is the best charger for electric cars?
The best EV charger for you depends on a host of circumstances: how and where you plan to use it, how soon or frequently you expect to move, whether you want to use an app to manage it and even the electric vehicle you plan to charge. Read the full report above for more thorough guidance
If you’re looking for a fairly guideline on what to buy, this can help: Choose a plug-in Level 2 charger with a peak charge rate of 40 amps. In 2022, a 40-amp Level 2 charge station almost certainly delivers the best cost-benefit breakdown for your electric car, pickup or SUV, and it should deliver sufficient charge speed for years to come. A plug-in is easy to move. Even if your current electric vehicle charges at a maximum rate less than 40 amps (most do), there’s nothing to worry about. The electric car controls how much electricity its battery absorbs when it’s charged, so you can’t damage the vehicle with a charger capable of a higher rate.
Can you buy a Level 3 charger for home?
Level 2 is the best most of us will get for home charging — or at least those of us who aren’t certified millionaires or better. There are 480-volt fast chargers that can theoretically be installed for residential use, but they’re very expensive to begin with and have very specific power requirements, including a dedicated power line. In short, the cost of a 480-volt charge station is prohibitive for the typical homeowner, and rarely necessary to begin with.
Really high-voltage chargers will typically convert residential and commercial alternating current, or AC, to direct current, DC. Fast-charge public stations use DC, because DC is by far the fastest way to charge your electric car. If you happen to have reasonably expansive solar array, you can take advantage of DC at home without a full Level 3 charger. There are a couple of expensive home charge stations (and probably more coming) that can take the DC collected by solar panels and dump it straight into your electric car. When the sun shines full bore, they can charge faster than the typical Level 2. When there’s cloud cover, or it’s dark, these chargers will revert to operating on household AC and charge at Level 2.