Once just a possibility, electric vehicles are now making their way to market. But just because you can buy a battery-powered car like the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt, don’t expect to simply bring it home and plug it in.

 

“It’s not viable to plug it into an extension cord out the window,” says Kevin McIntyre, marketing account manager for Eaton, which manufactures vehicle charging stations.

 

“The cars draw an awful lot of power. These run steady once they’re charging and you want to run them off a dedicated circuit if you can.”

 

Simply plugging an electric vehicle into a standard wall outlet will take anywhere from 12 to 16 hours to charge, McIntyre says.

 

“When you install a residential home charging station, it cuts it down to four to six hours. You’re connecting to 220 volts versus 110 volts.”

 

That higher voltage is similar to what a clothes dryer or oven uses, but those appliances draw power sporadically, turning the heating element on and off as needed.

“The difference is (the car) is a continuous load, so we oversize the protection and the wire that feeds it,” McIntyre says.

“You’re drawing maximum load. If it’s not done safely, you can have short circuits, start tripping breakers, and potentially have a fire if you don’t have (electrical) current protection.”

Even if you’re willing to take longer to charge your car, it should still be plugged into a dedicated circuit, which will prevent “nuisance tripping” of breakers when other electrical items in the house draw power.

Before installing a charger, Eaton’s contractors assess the house to see if its electrical system can handle the load, “preferably before you buy the car just to make sure you can charge it,” McIntyre says.

For a house with 200-amp service, an installed charger is approximately $2,000. Fast-charge, direct-current (DC) chargers can top up a depleted battery to 80 per cent in about half an hour and can provide enough power for 50 km of driving in about 10 minutes, but at around $75,000, they’re primarily intended for commercial use.