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

Tesla electric car in driveway being charged at a home with an EV charger in residential neighborhood, Moscow, Idaho.

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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…

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