Charging Your Electric Car At Home? You’re 20 Feet From Power (Probably)

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2011 Chevrolet Volt charging port

2011 Chevrolet Volt charging port

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While many car buyers today are interested in making the switch from gasoline to plug-in cars, they often worry that they have nowhere to charge it at night. 

That worry can lead to consumers ignoring plug-in options, but a new study from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (via GreenTechMedia) has proven that nearly half of all U.S. car-owning households park their car within 20 feet of an electrical outlet.

Detached houses, not apartments

As you might expect, single-family detached homes fared best in the recent Residential Energy Consumption Survey, with 60 percent of detached homes offering some form of electrical outlet within 20 feet of car parking space. 

Also unsurprisingly, apartments fared the worst, with only 14 percent of car owners in apartment complexes identifying somewhere to plug-in less than 20 feet away from where they parked. 

Location, location, location

Interestingly, the likelihood of having a home with an electric charging station within 20 feet of its parking space changes according to where in the U.S. you live. 

The study discovered that single-family homes in the Midwest region displayed the greatest potential for supporting electric vehicle charging, with over 60 percent of homes having a power source near to any designated parking space.  

Conversely, homes in the northeast, even detached single-family homes, were more likely to not have power within 20 feet of any car parking. 


2011 Chevrolet Volt 240V charging station

2011 Chevrolet Volt 240V charging station

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It’s simple: home age.

As the survey discovered, the newer the home, the more likely power outlets would be found within 20 feet of a parking space.  With a higher average home age than the Midwest, it follows that only 40 percent of single-family detached homes in the Northeast have easily accessible power outlets.

Despite electric cars being better suited to city life than country life, those in rural areas were more likely to have access to an electrical outlet than those in large cities, partly due to the higher number of apartments in urban environments than in rural areas. 

Family income influences availability

Aside from housing type and geographic location, total family income also influences the likelihood of electrical outlet availability.

The study found that for families living in detached houses, only 30 percent with annual family incomes less than $20,000 had access to an outlet within 20 feet of where they parked. 

For homes with a family income greater than $80,000 a year, that figure rises to over 65 percent. 

Outlets ≠ charging stations

The EIA’s latest report on power outlet availability is good news for would-be electric car owners, but we feel it necessary to make a distinction between a power outlet and an electric car charging station. 

In most cases, the outlets cited in the report will be the standard 110-volt domestic outlet. 

Polar Network Charging Stations

Polar Network Charging Stations

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While sufficient to power things like holiday light displays and electrical gardening equipment, using a 110-volt outlet to charge an all-electric car results in very long recharging times. 

Charge a car like the 2012 Nissan Leaf from empty from a 110-volt outlet, and it will take 20 hours or so. Charge from a dedicated 240-volt charging station, and that drops to under 8. 

In short, the presence of a 110-volt outlet means an electric car can be charged if needed, but for regular, faster charging, a dedicated 240-volt, level 2 charging station should be fitted. 

The good news? With other power circuits nearby, those wanting to install a dedicated level 2 charging station will be able to at a reasonably low cost. 


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Comments (16)
  1. I have only one outlet in my garage and it is shared with the garage door opener. I suspect even charging an EV at 100 volts would trip the breaker every time the garage door opened.

    Perhaps you could expand upon the last paragraph. How does having a 110 volt outlet make it cheaper to install a 220 volt outlet? You still have to run a new wire in whether there is an existing outlet or not.

  2. John,

    You're right: there is the requirement to lay a new cable (usually). However, if you're following an existing cable run, there may be less groundwork required.

    Secondly, if there's an existing outlet, it probably means there's a breaker box nearby, or perhaps a conduit that can be used for the new 240 V cable :)

  3. I suppose that could work if there is some type of "chase-way" for wires. That would make it cheaper and easier.

    However, none of that helps me at my house. The larger size of the 240V wire means that it will need a separate path to my garage.

    Fortunately, I upgraded from a 100 Amp to 200 Amp service years ago, so at least there is enough power.

  4. Before I left my old highrise condo, I had suggested to the Board
    that they think about installing Level 3 (not 2) chargers in the underground (secure) garage. Our building had three phase inputs
    and this would have been relatively simple. If not that, then a few Level 2 chargers would have been my next choice. People living in condos will have it much easier getting power for their parked EVs than those in rental apartments, since they control what goes on, not a landlord. Of course, they also have to pay directly for the equipment. The problem with many of the public charging stations is that they are so slow that they cannot service more than a few cars per day. Faster recharging means cheaper recharging, where chargers are shared.

  5. But the public "chargers" themselves are not the sole reason why recharging is "so slow." A LOT of it has to do with charge circuits IN the car.

    For example, a Nissan LEAF takes EIGHT hours on a 240-volt Level 2 "charger" to go from empty to full. My new Ford Focus Electric can be completely recharged in HALF of that time on the SAME Level 2 electric vehicle charging station.

    I've got my Focus hooked up right now to a standard outdoor 120-volt outlet after driving < 30 miles to work. Theoretically, in the 8 hours I'm working my Focus will recharge and gain most (if not all) of the energy I used to get to work.

    In short, MORE public Level 2 (and Level 3) "chargers" are good. BUT, BETTER on-board EV charging systems are needed too, IMHO.

  6. @Paul: To add a bit of specificity, your Focus Electric has an onboard charger rated at 6.6 kilowatts--as does the Coda Sedan and the upcoming Honda Fit EV. The 2011 and 2012 Nissan Leaf models have only a 3.3-kilowatt charger onboard, which makes charging twice as long.

    Nissan may well upgrade the charger once it starts building 2013 Leaf models in Tennessee:

  7. Sure, but on a 110V line, there is no difference as it is limited to 1.8 KW (maximum, assuming 15 A).

  8. An 8-hour at-work charge will give the driver about 30-40 miles of range. That (to me) is some pretty darn good public charging options without doing L3 or L2. An electrician can do 20 120V 15A stations for the price of 2-3 commercial 220V stations.

  9. The study basically shows that most households can at least provide a basic level 1 charge. And if you have that it's also likely that a level 2 would be easy to have installed. This is one thing I think is the biggest advantage for the electric car, it's easy to plug-in and refuel because most people have at least one basic outlet. Unlike hydrogen, E85, or bio-diesel that needs fueling stations to even become a possibility.

  10. I have a 120-volt line running to my home's detached garage in Queens, a suburb of New York City. (The home is post-WWII, the garage was built mid-80s.) But whenever I used it to charge my all-electric Mini Cooper, the circuit breaker would always trip. (Guess it's NOT designed to handle the constant 15-amp draw from the "portable" charger.)

    Solution: A 240-volt electric vehicle charging station (EVCS) was attached to the OUTSIDE of my house, adjacent to my driveway where I park.

    I recently converted the all-weather EVCS to the SAE J1772 plug that's now standard on all EVs, including my new Ford Focus Electric! You can read about it here:

  11. We lived without a Level 2 charger for 8 months before installing a Blink in our garages. Two observations:

    One: for my wife's commute it was never a problem charging 110 for our Leaf, except on the weekends. Level 2 is nice, but not an absolute necessity for this sized battery.

    Two: be very careful where you plug in. I originally plugged the car into a garage outlet until I had our 200 amp service upgraded. Found out the breaker was bad on that circuit, and some yahoo had all of the garage outlets on the same circuit as the dishwasher and disposal (both are required to have their own separate circuit). Could have burned our house down.

  12. Paul

    The term in the National Electrical Code is "EVSE" for Electric Vehicle Service Equipment, not EVCS. But no matter, no one uses it.

    I almost always charge at 120 volts at home. I carry a portable 240 volt charging box when I travel out of town. We also have 120 volt charging available at work. Those that have long commutes might need 240 volts at home, but it is uncommon.

    Most people drive less than 40 miles a day, which is about 8 hours to charge at 120 volts.

  13. I have been using my 120V EVSE that comes with the Volt for about 1 month now without problem.

    However, when I do try to charge it at work under our solar panel, the Volt EVSE resets itself so frequently and it is almost useless to charge it. I think the transform/inverter from the 1 MW solar panel at work has really dirty signal or bad neutral/grounding...

  14. Does the report give any indication of the number of electrical panels within 20ft. This would be a more useful number as we move towards the convenience of Level 2 charging. Here in Colorado, new homes have electrical panels installed in the garage which makes for a simple L2 install.

  15. Spare a thought for people who live in London where many have to park on the street. Even worse, they sometimes can't get a parking outside their home, but a few streets away as someone else might have parked in front of their house. I believe they have a lot more public charge points so I guess that overcomes the problem of not always being able to charge from home.

  16. I live in a high rise condo, with no accessable plug-in areas in the parking garage. I know some newer buildings in my area are adding charging stations in the parking garage, however my does not. With having to fight for a space for a charging station on one of the corners, etc. unfortunately it seems as if it currently would not work for me to buy an electric car, although I really would want a Chevy Volt. I am going to purchase a gas vechicle again do to this. I keep a car about 5 years on agerage, so I am hoping that over the next 5 years better long lasting battery technology, shorter time charging areas come up. Does anyone have any input on if this will become easier ovethe next 5 years to buy electric in our larger cities?

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