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The buyer's guide to electric-car charging stations

It's easy to give your car some juice at home if you have an electric-car charging station, and there are many different options on the market to choose from.

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    The charging plug of an electric Volkswagen Passat car is pictured at charging station at a VW dealer in Berlin, Germany (February 2, 2016).
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Electric cars all come with a 120-volt charging cable that can charge the battery from a household socket if there are no other options.

But sooner or later, most battery-electric car owners will want a 240-volt Level 2 charging station that can recharge the car as much as four times faster.

Owners of plug-in hybrids with ranges below 30 miles may find the standard charging cable fine, but as plug-in ranges rise, they too may decide a charging station will increase their all-electric driving.

While 240-volt charging stations aren't complicated, there are many different options on the market.

You will likely need to hire an electrician, too, so some preplanning is in order to ensure that you get the right charging station and the installation goes smoothly.

First, be aware of a little bit of terminology. Modern electric cars have the actual chargers built into them.

So the unit installed on your garage wall is not actually a "charger," although it is commonly called that. The unit is also called an EVSE, for Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment.

If you're looking to install something to charge your electric car in your garage, carport, or elsewhere, a "charging station" or EVSE is what you want.

We've used both terms interchangeably throughout this article.

Wiring

If you are going to hire an electrician to install wiring and the dedicated circuit that charging stations need, consider asking him to put one in that carries at least 50 amps.

It will likely only cost slightly more, but will save you significant money in the future if you end up with a future electric car that can charge at a higher rate than today's offerings.

Plugging in vs hardwiring

Many charging stations come with a 240-volt plug on them.

Others are set up to be permanently hard-wired, with either a "pigtail" (a wire with bare copper ends) or a knock-out panel where a wire will run into the interior.

Either approach works, but you should know the pros and cons of each before you press the "BUY" button.

Plugged in: Getting an EVSE with a plug means your electrician can install an outlet without having the actual charging station there, letting you install it later on your own.

It also means that if the EVSE ever fails, or you want to upgrade to a more powerful station (within the limits of your wiring), you can install a new one on your own.

The plug on the EVSE also serves as a “service disconnect,” potentially eliminating the need for a local sub-panel installation or a separate disconnect box that may be required by code if your main circuit box is not within sight of the EVSE.

The plug on the EVSE also allows you to quickly dismount it and take it to another location if you move or rearrange your garage.

Hardwired: A hardwired charging station that fails will require an electrician to come out once to remove the defective unit, along with a possible second visit to install the new one. The same scenario plays out for upgrading to a new unit.

On the other hand, hardwiring can yield a cleaner installation. There is no junction box or plug to clutter things up or interfere with wrapping the cord around the EVSE to store it.

In the end, there is no right or wrong approach (unless your local code specifically requires hardwiring). It is a matter of personal choice.

Terminology

Not all EVSEs labeled "40 amps" are the same.  Some EVSEs are advertised that way because they are to be connected to a 40-amp breaker, although they actually only output 30 or 32 amps.

Other units are advertised as 40-amp because they output 40 amps, meaning they actually need to go on a circuit with a 50-amp breaker.

This confusion in labeling is partly the result of code compliance. For a device to be operated continuously for hours, it must operate at 80 percent or less of the maximum capacity of the circuit breaker and wiring.

The reviews listed on the following pages clearly show the output rating of each EVSE.

Enclosure

All EVSEs listed below are either NEMA 3 or NEMA 4 rated for either indoor or outdoor installation. The difference is that NEMA 4 can be hosed down and is a little more weather resistant.

For an outdoor installation, it is probably best to have the J1772 connector at the end of the cable (the device plugs into the electric car's charging port) rest in a holster that protects it from the elements.

It may even be worth having a carpenter build a little roof over your outdoor charging station, just so that it feels some love.

Physical size

Some charging stations are remarkably large and bulky. The Leviton unit, for example, is 24 inches high by 16 inches wide. Some are heavier than they look, too.

Most garages have room for this on a wall, but the unexpectedly large size has still caught some owners by surprise.

If you are looking for something small, consider the JuiceBox which is only 10 inches high by 6 inches wide.

The image at the top of this article shows the EVSEs covered here at the same scale, so their differences in size can be better appreciated.

Brands and models

There are a lot of EVSE choices in the market, almost too many. The good news is that they all seem to work well now, despite some problems experienced in the earliest days of modern electric cars a few years ago. No matter which brand you choose, you are unlikely to regret it.

Note that often the same manufacturer offers multiple units and variations. Where possible, we chose charging stations with a 25-foot cable, a plug connection, and 30 amps or more of current.

Many companies offer less-expensive 16-amp versions of their product, but buying one seems slightly short-sighted. For only $100 more, you can get faster charging capacity and future-proof your hardware somewhat.

Price

Received wisdom says EVSEs are ridiculously expensive for what they do. This is likely true, and prices are trending downward.

For the moment, the choices for a new electric-car owner come down to: 1) pay $400 to $800 for a good Level 2 EVSE, 2) stick with slower 120-volt overnight charging, or 3) find a lower-cost open-source EVSE option.

Including installation, the Level 2 charging station is likely to set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000. I feel this is well worth it to get the best use out of an electric vehicle.

After reading hundreds of reviews and talking to many people about their EVSEs, not a single person expressed regret of having spent the money.

Rebates, tax credits, incentives

The Federal government offers a 30-percent credit on your income taxes for the purchase and installation of a electric-car charging station at a personal residence, up to a maximum amount of $1,000. (There are separate rules for businesses.)

As always, consult your tax professional about your specific situation. Still, this incentive might take some of the sting out of the cost of an EVSE.

Some states and localities have had various incentives to install EVSEs as well. Again, check with a tax professional after you do your research.

Summary

This review is long, so here's some quick advice if you don’t want to spend a lot of time reading the details.

 If you don’t want to think too hard about your choice of a charging station, get a ClipperCreek HCS-40. The reliability and the company’s customer support, both verified with long-time owners, make this unit the go-to choice.

If you want a more fully-featured unit with internet connectivity and the ability to schedule your charging (to take advantage of overnight rates), the ChargePoint Home 25 is likely your best choice.

If price is your main consideration, the $399 GE DuraStation is going to be tough to beat—and despite its low price, the unit is reliable and does the job.

And now, on to the detailed listings!

ClipperCreek HCS-40

  • Manufacturer: ClipperCreek
  • Price: $589 + $36 shipping with plug ($565 + $36 shipping hardwire)
  • Rating:  4.9 out of 5 Stars (Amazon)
  • Power: 7.7 KW (32 Amp)
  • Cord Length: 25 feet
  • Enclosure: NEMA 4
  • Plug: 14-50
  • Warranty:  3 year
  • Size: 19.7”H x 9”W  x 5.3”D

The Scoop: Both ClipperCreek and the HCS-40 score the highest ratings from customers and almost without exception get recommended. While the HCS-40 is a newer model, ClipperCreek built its reputation on the older CS-40 unit that is more suited for business installations than home use. But the high quality and proven reliability of the CS-40 has been translated into a HCS-40 that is smaller and more suited to home installation and backed by reportedly stellar customer service.

 The unit itself, which is proudly announced as Made in America, is a basic looking black housing around which the cord can be wrapped. That enclosure is NEMA 4 rated for outdoor use. A separate holster can be installed as a storage location for the J1772 connector when it is not plugged into the car.  This can be very convenient when the logical location for the EVSE in the garage is not the same as the logical location to store the end of the connector. There are no buttons to press and no timer or connectivity options, just basic lights indicating power, charging, and faults.

 Many people’s search for a quality EVSE ends when they get to the ClipperCreek HCS-40, and perhaps yours should too.

ChargePoint Home 25

  • Manufacturer: ChargePoint
  • Price: $749 Plug-in ($699 hardwire)
  • Rating: 4.6 out of 5 Stars (Amazon)
  • Power: 7.7 KW (32 Amp)
  • Cord Length: 25 feet (18 feet is $50 less)
  • Enclosure: NEMA 3R
  • Plug: 6-50
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Size: 11.2”H × 7”W x 4.5”D

The Scoop:  (Full Disclosure: The author purchased this unit, but has no relationship with ChargePoint and was not compensated in any way).

 ChargePoint Home is easily the nicest looking, compact, connected EVSE on sale today, and it is also one of the priciest. Fully configured with a 6-50 plug and the 25’ cable, the price is $749, although the shorter 18’ cable and hardwire version drops the price to $649, putting it more in-line with the price of other chargers.

Confusingly, ChargePoint refers to this EVSE as the “Home 25” unit which is their way of indicating that you can add up to 25 miles of range per hour.  While well intended, it might confuse people into thinking it is a 25 amp model, which it is not. It provides 32 amps of charging. This adds to the marketplace confusion that already exists with some manufacturers referring to their 32 amp chargers as 40 amps because that is the breaker size needed. So don’t rely on product names to tell you how many amps EVSEs output.

 One other point to get out of the way; the cable is sold as a separate item. So don’t get too excited when you see the ChargePoint Home 25 advertised for, say, $523 because that does not include the cable. By separately selling the EVSE and the cable, the manufacturer reduces the number of SKUs (Stock Keeping Units), which simplifies inventory. Cable installation is simple and does not require any tools. A small magnet in the cable assembly confirms to the main circuit board that the cable is both installed and not flipped left/right. Keeping the cable as a user serviceable item has a potential advantage that upgrading from an 18’ to a 25’ cord is easy, as is replacing the cord if it ever gets damaged.

The ChargePoint Home is very easy to install. The manufacturer is thoughtful enough to include the needed lag screws, drill bit, and hex driver for installation. The WiFi connectivity is set up using the ChargePoint app and a mobile phone. First the phone connects to the EVSE and then the app is used to configure the connection to the home WiFi. The app allows for remote start, scheduling, reminders, and charging history (both for your home EVSE and public ChargePoint stations). The system also integrates with Nest thermostats to provide both home energy and EV energy consumption in one report. The EVSE software itself can be updated over the WiFi connection. If you have TOU (time of use) metering, the connectivity and scheduling available in this device is very valuable. Also, you don’t need to sneak out to the garage to see if the car is plugged in, you just need to check your phone or use their web interface.

The physical device has a ring light that glows green when ready, flashing green when ready and scheduled, blue for charging, and red for fault. There are no buttons on the EVSE itself. Just plugging in the J1772 connector to the car starts the charging process. The unit is second only to JuiceBox for smallness of footprint. However, the routing the power in cable through the bottom of the unit is less aesthetically pleasing than having it come through the back as is the case with many models of EVSE. One clever owner did manage to close-off the infeed wire hole on the bottom of the ChargePoint Home and route the wire through a knockout on the back for a very clean, small footprint installation.

 One nice feature, if you want to charge your car immediately, but the charging timer is set, you can overcome this by unplugging the car and replugging it in again within 7 seconds. That simple action overrides the charging timer.

So if you are looking for the least expensive EVSE on the market, ChargePoint Home 25 is not what you want. But if you would like a high quality, attractive, connected unit, made by a company with a great reputation, and are willing to pay a little more, you may have found the unit for you.

eMotorWerks JuiceBox 40A EV Charger

  • Manufacturer: Electric Motor Werks, Inc, a.k.a. eMotorWerks
  • Price:  $499 ($599 pro, and $899 pro 75A)
  • Rating:  4.6 out of 5 Stars (Amazon)
  • Power:  9.6 KW (40 Amp)
  • Cord Length: 24 feet
  • Connector: 14-50R
  • Enclosure:  IP66 (NEMA 4)
  • Warranty: 1 year
  • Size: 10"H x 6"W x 3.5"D

The Scoop: Started as a kickstarter campaign a few years ago, eMotorWerks is now a successful company with many avid fans. Inside the rugged industrial aluminum enclosure are components with a good reputation. The “classic edition” version is capable of delivering 9.6 KW, which is significantly more than most units which typically are 7.2 or 7.7 KW. The JuiceBox is at a lower price point than most, to boot. Unless you own a Tesla, you are likely to only be able to use 6.6 KW. But it is nice to know that 9.6 KW is available in case your next EV can use it.

 The housing is one of the smallest on the market which many customers enjoy for the ability to take the EVSE with them in their car to a remote location.

 While the functions are basic on the “classic edition” for an additional $100 the “pro” version adds Wifi connectivity that allows a smartphone app and web interface to control charge scheduling and energy monitoring.

If you happen to have a Tesla with the optional 20KW charger on board, eMotorWorks has you covered with a 75A model for $899.

But the classic edition is the most price competitive with a nice small unit, a good reputation, no bells or whistles, and a rather basic industrial look.

GE DuraStation

  • Manufacturer: GE
  • Price: $399
  • Rating: 4.7 out of 5 Stars (Amazon)
  • Power: 7.2 KW (30 Amp)
  • Cord Length: 18 feet
  • Enclosure: NEMA 3R
  • Plug: None
  • Warranty: 3 year
  • Size: 14”H x 12”W x 7.5”D

The Scoop: A very basic no frills EVSE at the lowest possible price. This unit consists of a commercial standard gray plastic electrical box with no features to wrap up the cable or holster to store the J1772 plug in when not being used. However, customers using it are very happy because it works well despite the no frills nature.

 The unit is so basic that you must drill your own hole in the box just to install the incoming electrical wire. That box, in addition to not being very attractive is quite large. Installation is hampered by poor instructions (Tip: look online for better instructions as paper copies are barely legible). There is certainly no timer, or WiFi connection, heck there isn’t even a power switch. But many customers are perfectly fine with that. There is a jumper that allows selection from 15, 20, 30, and 40 amps which is very useful where existing wiring cannot carry the full current. You do get a red/green LED on the front of the unit which shows if the system is charging or has a fault, but no LED light at the business end of the cable to aid plugging into the car at night. That cable, by the way is only 18 foot long, so plan accordingly.

 If you want a basic charging station at the lowest cost, this just might be the unit for you. If you would like to have a holster to go with it just search for a J1772 EVSE Secure Holder / Dock for EV Charging Station, Wall Plate on Amazon or eBay.

GE WattStation

  • Manufacturer: GE
  • Price: $545
  • Rating: 4.4 out of 5 Stars (Amazon)
  • Power: 7.2 KW (30 Amp)
  • Cord Length: 20 feet (older units 16 feet)
  • Enclosure: NEMA 3
  • Plug: NEMA 6-50
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Size: 19.5”H x 16.9”W x 12.5”D

The Scoop: The WattStation is generally well regarded by owners. It is more stylish than its much less expensive GE DuraStation cousin, with a black shiny color and silver trim. The front face is even customizable with GelaSkins removable skins.

Other than that, it is a pretty basic unit with no timer and no internet connectivity. A power switch allows the unit to be shut off completely. A ring of bright LEDs illuminate on the charger which functions as a night light in the garage—which is good, because electric cars are afraid of the dark (little known fact).

But several owners thought the lights were too bright and ended up covering them with black electrical tape. A green LED indicates charging and a red one indicates a fault. The unit mounts on a bracket in such a way that it can be moved for transport, or locked in place to prevent theft.

The WattStation is large, shockingly so. Many owners were taken back when the box arrived on their doorstep. The power cord (for the plug-in version) is short at 12” which requires planning and possibly mounting the NEMA 6-50 outlet upside down.

Older units have a loud thunk when the contactors close and a hum during operation. New units are reported to be much quieter.

WIth its attractive, if large, enclosure and affordable price, the WattStation is a great choice for anyone that has sufficient space for the unit and no need for connectivity or timer functions.

Siemens VC30GRYU Versicharge

  • Manufacturer: Siemens
  • Price: $549
  • Rating: 4.7 out of 5 Stars (Amazon)
  • Power: 7.2 KW (30 Amp)
  • Cord Length: 20 feet
  • Enclosure: NEMA 4
  • Plug: NEMA 6-50 (ground facing down)
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Size: 15.2”W x 20.6”H x 6.5”D

The Scoop: Siemens is a giant in the electrical industry, but perhaps not a household name in the U.S. The Versicharge provides reliable service and includes an integrated holster for storing the J1772 connector when it is not being used.

A “halo” light indicates status: pulsing green when charging, solid green for fully charged, and red for fault. That light can be turned off, a feature more than a few users have taken advantage of. The enclosure is attractive although somewhat large.

Mounting is flexible; the unit can be purchased with or without a NEMA 6-50 plug. As with other units, the cable on the 6-50 plug is extremely short so plan accordingly. One clever feature is that you can install it with a plug but have the plug connection hidden behind the unit for a very clean look.  

The hardwire can come in with a bottom or rear feed for units without a plug. Maximum charging rate is adjustable via a board-level selector switch that can be useful to take advantage of pre-existing wirng that isn't capable of handling its full 40 amps.

A very popular feature is delayed start. The user can delay the start of charging 2, 4, 6, or 8 hours so that charging can occur later at night to take advantage of lower rates or to just ease the burden on the grid. (Note: this may not presently work with the Volkswagen e-Golf or Fiat 500e, which is probably an issue with the car rather than the EVSE).

The installation guide is on an included green thumb drive that looks like a key chain, which some owners have mistakenly discarded!

A handful of users have had a red gasket move out of position in the J1772 connector making charging impossible.  Others have had the retaining clip on the J1772 connector fail. The good people at Siemens have sent out replacements. Some users say they are disappointed by the sloppy fit of the J1772 connector into the holster.

Overall, the Versicharge is a great EVSE supported by an established company, offering a useful delayed-start charging feature. A promised future SG model will have WiFi connectivity.

Leviton EVB40-PST Evr-Green 400

  • Manufacturer: Leviton
  • Price: $699
  • Rating: 4.4 out of 5 Stars (Amazon)
  • Power: 9.6 KW ( 40 Amp)
  • Cord Length: 25 feet
  • Enclosure: NEMA 4
  • Plug: NEMA 6-50 (ground down for indoors, ground up for outdoors)
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Size: 24”H x 16.2”W x 9”D

The Scoop: For customers owning a Tesla, RAV4 EV, or Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive, or those looking to future-proof their EVSE, the Leviton Evr-Green 400 is worth a look. It can charge at 40 amps (9.6 KW), notably more than most chargers that offer only 30 or 32 amps (7.2 or 7.7 KW).

The unit comes in an attractive, if large, case with an integrated holster. Three lights on the front show power, charging, or fault, giving a simple and clean user interface with no advanced features to complicate the experience. For the plug-in version, a 6-50 outlet is required, and buyers should plan placement carefully, as the cable is only 12 inches long.

One point of frustration for some users is that the version with the 6-50 plug doesn’t come with a bracket. That must be purchased separately, as part of an $84 installation kit that includes several other components that may not be needed.

Early teething problems from 2013 and 2014 seem to have been resolved, and users report the current Leviton unit to be rock-solid. Although there is no power switch (you'll have to use the breaker), the unit only consumes 5 watts when idle, probably about the same as your microwave oven.

For electric-car owners looking for a true 40-amp EVSE as a future-proofing option—and have sufficient room on their garage wall—the Evr-Green 400 is one of the few options available (the JuiceBox is the other one).

Bosch EL-51254 PowerMax

  • Manufacturer: Bosch
  • Price: $838 Amazon ($749 from Bosch)
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars (Amazon)
  • Power: 7.2 KW (30 Amp)
  • Cord Length: 25 feet
  • Enclosure: NEMA 3R
  • Plug: N/A
  • Warranty: 1 year (3 years if installed by a Bosch Certified Contractor)
  • Size: 14”W x 16”H x 5”D

The Scoop: The PowerMax is a little on the pricey side for a unit without connectivity or advanced features, but is a solid unit from a well-known company. It's only offered in a hardwired version, although some electric-car owners have converted their Power Max units to use a plug.

The design is minimalistic with only a power switch, a stop switch, some LEDs, and a holster for storing your J1772 connector when not in use. The case is attractive, if a little large, made from white plastic with a horizontal black accent stripe.

 One thing to watch out for: The three-year warranty on the Power Max is only available if a Bosch Certified contractor is used for installation.  Otherwise the warranty is a scant one year—which has left a couple of owners with an $800 box that is out of warranty and cannot be repaired.

However, the Power Max has a good reputation and failure is not likely. In the end, it is a solid EVSE, particularly for owners who have had other good experiences with Bosch products.

AeroVironment EV Charger

  • Manufacturer: AeroVironment
  • Price: $749 with plug ($649 hardwired)
  • Rating:  4.4 out of 5 Stars (Amazon)
  • Power: 7.2KW (30 Amp)
  • Cord Length: 25 feet
  • Enclosure: NEMA 3R
  • Plug: 6-50
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Size: 12”W x 12”H x 8”D inches

The Scoop: While the company AeroVironment is hardly a household name, it really should be, particularly if that household happens to include an electric car.

AeroVironment played a significant role in the resurgence of modern electric vehicles by creating the GM Sunraycer and GM Impact, a predecessor of the EV1. It created much of the electronic technologies that exist in modern EVs.

It may be that reputation that led Nissan, Ford, Hyundai, Fiat, Kia, BMW, Mitsubishi, and Volvo to partner with AeroVironment to offer their charging stations, often rebranded. But there is no mistaking the distinctive round white plastic EVSE for anything other than an AeroVironment product, even if the label on the front says Ford or Nissan or BMW.

This EVSE has a simple start and stop button to control the unit, along with five LEDs that indicate charging status. It has a reliable reputation but lacks connectivity to the internet or any other data channel.

The price is on the higher end of the range of non-connected EVSEs, but AeroVironment’s long experience may simply be worth paying for.

 (Note: An advertised network connectivity version, called the EVSE-RS+, does not seem to be widely available, and support for its features in the broader electric-car community appears to be weak.)

This article first appeared in GreenCarReports.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best auto bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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