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Home EV Charging 101: Levels of Charging Explained

That thing on your garage wall isn't actually a charger; that and other mysteries explained.

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A huge number of new electric cars and trucks are coming to the market and that means you might be asking if now is the time to get one. The next question you have is probably how you'd charge it. Doing so at your own house is the best way to live with an EV using one of CNET's favorite charge connectors. Here's what you need to know about the process.

What is a charger?

The thing you might install on a wall at your house is actually not a charger, even though everyone (including just about every carmaker) calls it that. It's actually electric vehicle service (or supply) equipment, or an EVSE charge adapter: Basically it's a smart AC adapter that feeds the charger that is built into your electric car. 

composite image of a home charger unit and a car charger plug

The device on the wall and its associated cord and plug is technically not an EV charger, but electric vehicle supply equipment, or EVSE.

Brian Cooley/CNET

Because an EVSE is a fairly generic piece of equipment you can mix and match a wide variety of them with just about any modern EV. For example, in our video we used a Ford EVSE to supply power to the charger in a Rivian electric truck.

Level I

The simplest EVSE is the one that's included with every new EV and which gives you a Level I charge. That means it plugs into any common household outlet but charges your car quite slowly, at perhaps 2-3 miles of range per hour connected.

home charging equipment

A Level I charge adapter is easily spotted by the fact that it will have a common household plug. 

Megear

That said, don't throw Level 1 under the bus: If you only drive your car 20-30 miles a day (which is the average in the US) and park 10-12 hours overnight, Level I charging may be all you ever need. For more peace of mind, however, a lot of electric car drivers with their own home install a Level II EVSE.

Level II

Level II runs on a 240-volt circuit like an electric range or clothes dryer, not the 120 volts of a common outlet. More important than the higher voltage going into a Level II EVSE is the higher current it can pull: 16-80 amps versus the maximum 15 amps from a Level I device. Amps of current are what make the difference when you charge big batteries. The exact amount of current will vary based on what your EV can accept, what your EVSE can deliver, and what home circuit you connect it to. Level II chargers can be plugged into a 240-volt dryer outlet or hardwired via conduit to your main circuit breaker panel. 

Man plugging in to an Enel X Juicebox

Level II charge adapters can be plugged into a dryer outlet or hardwired to your home's circuitry as seen in these two examples of Enel X Juicebox installs.

Enel X

A Level II EVSE should allow your car to store 12 to 60 miles of range per hour connected, a wide variance based on the amperage factors mentioned above. Best case Level II charge rates are loudly trumped by carmakers, but make sure to ask what kind of circuit and EVSE is required to hit the top charging rate.

To support Level II charging at your house, budget anywhere from $250 to $700 for the EVSE itself and another $1,000 or so for installation and a permit if required in your area. As EVs grow in popularity, this cost is a good investment as the odds increase that you'll one day sell your home to someone who values the presence of Level II charging.

Charge connectors

The business end of all EVSE devices in North America has settled down to either an SAE J1772 plug connector or a Tesla plug. There are commonly available adapters that interface the two in either direction. Making things slightly more confusing is that the J1772 plug comes in a variant that has two additional connectors for DC fast charging, but that's not something you'd do at home.

SAE J1772 compared to Tesla connector

The two charge connectors highlighted are pretty much all you'll encounter for home charging in North America.

ENEL X

Level III

There is such a thing as Level III charging, but it won't happen at your house because it uses direct current and at levels not seen in residential wiring. Instead, look for Level III charging at locations like a Tesla Supercharger network, some car dealers or at third-party charging network locations like Electrify America.

Start out with the basic Level I charge EVSE that comes with your EV and see how it goes. If you find yourself with sufficient driving range and peace of mind, you're done. If not, the cost and effort of installing Level II charging at your house is a smart investment. If you decide to do so, check for any tax credits or other incentives that may be available at the time. The most recent federal incentive ended on Dec. 31, 2021, but others may crop up.