Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly popular, and you have probably thought about whether swapping out your daily gas-guzzler for a battery-powered car is right for you. However, once you start to dig in to learn about EVs, you may come across terms such as hardwired EV charger, with which you are familiar.
With all the different options available in the market, it might not be easy to know precisely what you need to invest in. In this article, we will dive deeper into the different types of charging stations, namely plug-in vs. hardwired EV chargers. By covering the basics, pros and cons, safety considerations, and cost, you will get a complete picture of EV charging options and ultimately be able to make the best choice for your needs.
What is the difference between hardwired and plug-ins?
To fully grasp the differences between hardwired and plug-in EV chargers and the considerations as a potential or current EV owner, a great place to start is understanding the concept of electric vehicle supply equipment.
Also known as EVSE, electric vehicle supply equipment functions as an all-in-one system for controlling the power supply to one or multiple EVs during charging. One thing to note is that the EVSE doesn’t include the charging component, which comes standard on board any EV and converts incoming AC power to DC power to charge the battery. Ultimately, EV owners can choose how and what type of EVSE they want installed to meet their needs.
The first significant decision to make regarding your EVSE is the charging speed. At-home charging systems come in various power levels that influence charge time or how much battery charge can be gained during a given charging period (for example, overnight). While all EVs come standard with a Level 1 charging cord (compatible with a 120V wall outlet), most people choose to upgrade to Level 2 (240V). L2 chargers can fully charge an EV battery overnight, making them an excellent choice for people transitioning away from traditional cars or daily drivers.
With this “beefed up,” the L2 system comes with added safety risks such as overheating the battery in the event of electrical shorts, power surges, or other malfunctions. Even routine actions such as connecting and disconnecting the EVSE from the vehicle, or wall outlet in the case of plug-in systems, could introduce opportunities for fire. For this reason, L2 systems are more costly, given their added communication and safety functionalities.
Once you have decided which charging speed is right for you, installing your system in your garage or outside your home is next. The big question is whether you prefer a permanent hardwired system or a more portable plug-in system.
In short, a hardwired EV charger provides a dedicated electrical line from a home’s circuit breaker to the desired charging location. Hardwired systems do not come standard with your EV and must be purchased separately and installed by an electrician. Think of the hardwired EVSE like an HVAC unit which also needs a dedicated line of power and cannot simply be plugged into the wall outlet.
The plug-in charger is just that; it directly plugs into a wall outlet and potentially requires no installation if you have a compatible wall outlet handy. A plug-in charger is very similar to your laptop charger, the only difference being that it shouldn’t be repeatedly connected and disconnected.
You may have spotted one or more hardwired EVSEs in your neighborhood. They are those light-up boxes usually nestled right beside a home’s circuit breaker on the outside of the house. Hardwired stations can be installed both outdoors and indoors. The three major components of the hardwired systems are (1) flexible conduit cable, measuring anywhere from 3 feet up to 25 feet; and (2) service wires extending from the conduit line, which connects the EVSE to a junction box; and (3) the EVSE unit.
A hardwired charger is strongly recommended if you plan to charge your EV outdoors. In the event of rain or turbulent weather conditions, a plug-in charger, if not appropriately shielded, could pose severe shock and fire hazards, as with any electrical device operated near water. If you rent, you may not have the option to install a hardwired system. In this case, a plug-in charger can be used safely with a “while-in-use” weatherproof outlet cover.
As always, the unique use conditions of your at-home charging station will influence what EVSE you purchase. Consider speaking with your EV dealer about recommended EVSE providers and a licensed electrician to understand what system will work best for you. For example, you might need more than 3 feet of conduit cable to reach your vehicle. Or you might be planning to purchase an additional EV in the future, meaning you want a dual EVSE. Before investing in your EVSE, research (like reading this article) will go a long way.
Pros & Cons
- Enable outdoor use
- Generally safer than plug-in systems since there is no risk of repeated plugging and unplugging
- Can be located anywhere in the home – indoors or outdoors
- Not portable and will require an electrician if relocated
- Expensive to buy and install
- Not an option for renters (in most cases)
Cost of Hardwired EV Charger
The cost of the hardwired EVSE will break down into equipment plus installation costs. In some cases, permitting is required, which will incur additional costs. Based on HomeAdvisor, L2 charging stations’ average price ranges from $500-2200 depending on the selected system. Install labor costs vary from $300-3300 (based on an average hourly rate of $50-100 per hour) since it will require a certified electrician.
If installing an L2 hardwired EVSE, your city or state might require a permit to perform the electrical work. Count on spending an average of $40-60 on the permit application, $80-100 on the license itself, and $20-40 on processing fees.
Plug-in chargers are EVSEs that can directly plug into a matching wall outlet, like your household appliances. Typically, they are wall-mounted inside the EV owner’s garage near the outlet and vehicle. These plug-in units do not need flexible conduit cable and instead have a shorter supply cord to attach to the wall outlet.
If using an L1 charger, any 120V outlet will do; chances are you have several of these sprinkled throughout your home and garage. In the case of using a more common L2 plug-in charger, you will need a 240V outlet. These are the same outlets in the laundry room, specifically for washing machines and dryers. If you do not already have a 240V outlet in the garage, you’ll need an electrician to install one.
A few considerations unique to plug-in chargers are around plug and outlet safety. The circuit breaker must be turned off to plug in or unplug an L2 (240V) EVSE. The identical apples for household appliances utilizing these types of outlets. 240V outlets are not designed for regular unplugging and replugging (think, when was the last time you opened your clothes dryer?) Therefore, if you need to unplug your EVSE often, consider a different setup or hardwired option. It is recommended that a NEMA receptacle is used, preferably one that is not worn out, as they tend to become hot when operated. If you are unsure about the safety of an existing outlet, it is always a good idea to ask your electrician for a second opinion. Never use the EVSE with an extension cord as it is designed to be plugged into the outlet directly.
Pros & Cons
- Minimal installation. It only requires wall mounting and, in some cases, receptacle installation.
- Generally, the most inexpensive option
- An excellent choice for renters
- Potentially limited charging speed if using an L1 system
- Not recommended for outdoors. If using outdoors will require a ‘while-in-use’ weatherproof cover over the outlet
- Not designed to be unplugged and plugged back in frequently
- Requires an outlet in good condition. Potential fire hazard if using an old or worn outlet.
Cost of Plug-in EV Charger
Installing a plug-in EV charger can cost you $0 if you already have the compatible outlet conveniently located in your garage. All you’ll need to do is wall mount the unit, which can be a DIY job if your device comes with a mount. If you purchase the wall mount separately, you are looking at $7-300, depending on how robust the equipment is. If you need a 240V outlet installed, plan on spending between $500-1500 for an electrician to get the job done.
Safety Measurements for Hardwired vs. Plug-In EV Charging Installations
Safety is undoubtedly the most critical aspect of electric vehicles and their charging systems. Since EVSE can be found in domestic environments, the risk of fire and shock must be considered when selecting your EVSE. The key is purchasing safety-certified equipment; not all systems carry this pedigree.
Intertek and Underwriter’s Laboratory are two of the most common nationally recognized testing laboratories (NRTL). Both labs’ engineers develop a detailed rubric of safety tests for products to be certified with an ETL mark or UL mark. If you look closely at your EVSE rating plate, you should find one of these marks. Any minor changes made to the product in question will be subject to re-certification. Furthermore, random factory inspections are performed by the NRTL throughout the year to ensure manufacturing produces a product that matches the tested and certified units.
The critical thing to take away here is that if no NRTL certification mark is found on the product itself, then that’s a red flag to continue your EVSE search. Even if the product webpage claims their EVSE is certified without the NRTL logo on the product, then there is no way of knowing if this is the case. Be careful of deceptive markings as well. Some manufacturers will attempt to appear certified by inserting a “CE” mark. Don’t be fooled by these markings, as CE represents a self-certification, not one performed by an NRTL.
Should You Get A Hardwired or Plug-In EV Charger Installation?
Still not sure what type of EV charger is right for you? Your final choice will depend on many factors: where you live, what type of residence you live in, your EV use requirements (range, use frequency), your charging environment, and your budget.
If you are renting, you probably aren’t interested in installing a hardwired EVSE. In this case, your best bet is a plug-in charger. If you are not a driver or drive small distances daily, you could quickly get away with the L1 charger that comes with your vehicle. But if you need more charging speed, consider installing a conveniently placed 240V receptacle to support an L2 plug-in EVSE.
Opting for a hardwired system will provide a great setup if you are a homeowner. This will afford you the most convenience and can even support charging multiple vehicles if you decide to buy another one. Hardwired systems are also safer and easier to operate than plug-in systems.
Suppose you are already an EV owner or considering buying one, congratulations on taking this big step to improve the environment and your gas bill! With all the new technology around the EV lifestyle, transitioning from gas station trips to optimizing your charging setup and routine at home can be challenging. At least when it comes to the type of EVSE you need, your decision-making just got a lot easier!
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