How To Setup Your Garage For An Electric Car

When Ben Franklin discovered electricity, he inadvertently changed the world. By the late 19th century, people were being catapulted from the Stone Age, as arduous tasks became blindingly simple. Cities became the ‘place to be’, and their streets swelled with people working toward a better life. Electricity provided a new way to live life, and in the 21st century, it’s providing a new way to move about. So let’s throw out ye olde chamber pot, and see what it takes to make your garage compatible with the EV.

What is an Electric Vehicle (EV)?

Unlike a hybrid, an Electric Vehicle runs solely on plug-power. The drive-wheels are turned by an electric motor, which is basically the engine of an EV. It gets power from a high-voltage battery pack, which is usually located in the structure of the vehicle (floor, trunk etc.). EV batteries are often lithium-ion, or nickel-metal-hydride, and can be charged by plugging into a 120-volt outlet, or a special 240-volt outlet. But more on that in a minute.

Since there’s no petrol-powered engine, an EV emits zero pollution. However, you could argue that many of the power plants responsible for fueling your EV, produce massive amounts of pollution. Negating the positive effect of your uber-green Nissan Leaf. But ultimately, that’s between you and Mother Nature.

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Charging an EV

When you are preparing for an electric vehicle, one of the primary considerations is charging.

When you’re driving an EV like the 2013 Nissan Leaf, or 2013 Ford Focus Electric, the batteries get a small charge every time you hit the brakes. Regenerative braking reverses the polarity of the electric motor, causing it to act as a generator to charge the batteries. Similar to transmission-braking with a manual transmission, regen braking has near-instantaneous stopping power. But this system will only help you recover a few lost miles of range. To achieve a full charge, you’ve got to find a plug.

All EV’s come with two charge ports. One is considered ‘Level 1’, and it allows you to plug the car into a standard 3-prong 120v outlet. Using a Level 1 charger lets you charge your EV from virtually anywhere. But you’ll have to wait 14-20 hours to get a full charge.

Level 1 EV Charging - Charging an EV is as simple as finding a three-prong 120v wall outlet, and plugging the car in. Your EV will come with a Level 1 EV Charger that has a 15A charge coupler, connected to a 3-prong plug. All you have to do is plug the car in, and wait 8-14 hours.

With a 120v EV charger, you’re going to be pulling the equivalent of a hair dryer. So to get a good, consistent charge, it’s best if the outlet you’re using has a dedicated 15-20 amp breaker, and your EV is parked close to the plug. And you should never use an extension cord. Many EV warranties specifically state that using an extension cord to charge your EV will void the warranty. So don’t do it.

The reason that extension cords are discouraged is because your EV batteries will be getting less amperage than they need, if the juice has to travel through a long cord. It’s the same principle as plugging a refrigerator into an extension cord. Less amperage will cause the fridge’s compressor to burn out. So just imagine what an extension cord can do to your (really expensive) EV...
Trunk electric car charging kitIf you’re in an emergency situation, and must use an extension, make sure that the cord you use is 12-14 gauge, outdoor rated, and a 3-conductor. Otherwise, it’ll take forever to charge, and your EV system will probably sustain damage from the low voltage.

A 240v Level 2 plug is designed to work with a special charging outlet that you’ll need to have professionally installed at your home. Similar to a high-voltage Dryer outlet, a 240v home charger can pump more juice into your batteries. Reducing your full-charge time to 4-8 hours.

240v - While it may seem like a massive undertaking, installing a 240v home charger is actually fairly simple (for a qualified electrician). Provided the wiring in your home is up to code, they’ll usually install a separate circuit breaker inside your existing fuse panel. Wiring will then be run to your charging station, and your Level 2 charger will be connected to the grid.

Most homes built within the last 20 years, should be able to handle the addition of the 30-40 amp circuit required by a charging dock. An electrician will need to assess the electrical system in your home, to make sure that it can handle the additional amperage pulled by an EV. In many cases, an additional fuse panel will need to be installed, which can raise the installation cost from several hundred, to several thousand dollars.

A Level II EV charger (average price: $500-$900), and the installation will typically run you between $1,500-$2,500. Many states offer generous tax credits toward the installation of a 240v home charging dock, allowing you to ‘save back’ the total/partial installation cost at tax time. Your EV dealer should be able to provide you with a list of qualified local installers, along with information on the EV tax incentives available to you.

Level 2 EV Chargers - Most modern EVs (like the 2013 Nissan Leaf & 2013 Ford Focus Electric) use a universal 15A coupler to connect to the charging port on the car. This charge coupler (plug) has a special proximity circuit that enables the EV to ‘know’ when it’s plugged in. Once the plug is connected to the car, you won’t be able to drive away until it’s unplugged.

Level II home charging stations are available for a variety of applications. Some can be mounted on the wall, on a freestanding pedestal, or hung from the ceiling. If you don’t have a garage to park in, you can get 240v home chargers that are designed for outdoor use. And you can even get portable Level 2 EV chargers that plug into a special wall outlet, instead of being hard-wired to the house.

Solar EV charging systems are also available, and they can reduce your charging cost to zero. However, a solar EV charging station can cost $10k+, so the math is a bit hard to justify.