Folks who follow the auto industry - or just watch the road as they're driving - know that crossovers, SUVs and pickups are becoming increasingly popular. But there's actually another segment of the market that's been doing quite well for itself this year: Sales of electric vehicles, or EVs, jumped 12.6 percent during the month of October as compared to last year. Deliveries of plug-in hybrids, which combine all-electric driving with onboard gas engines, were up by 64.3 percent during the same time. To put that performance into context, overall auto sales are slightly down for the year (after record-setting volume in 2015).
Obviously, all of those pluggable vehicles need a way to plug in while they're at home, and that means house-based EV-charging stations are an important new consideration in the real-estate world. Today's homebuyers may be looking for a home that can accommodate their future-forward vehicles.
Justin Fisette, PR & Marketing specialist, Bosch Automotive Service Solutions, said: "We've seen an expansion of public charging stations and rising EV sales over the last few years, with more manufacturers introducing electric vehicles into their lineup. Electric-vehicle owners typically want to charge at home and often purchase a 240-volt station for the convenience and speed of home charging. While we can't speak to the future, we are encouraged and excited by the strong commitment to and investment in electric vehicles from the global automotive industry."
For homebuyers looking to own EV charging stations, here are five things to keep in mind.
1. Home charging stations do not actually charge the car.
This is a small technical point, but one that's worth knowing: What most people refer to as home EV chargers don't do the charging. They just enable the electricity coming from the home to be properly converted and compatible to the car. The charge itself happens inside the car. The ability to make this connection comes in various types of cords or boxes that can be stored in the garage.
2. Home EV chargers are not prohibitively inexpensive.
To be sure, EVSE isn't cheap. But taking a quick look at Amazon's 10 best-selling EV charging stations shows wall-mountable hardware ranges from about $429 to $699, and that's from top manufacturers such as AeroVironment, ChargePoint, ClipperCreek, JuiceBox and Siemens.
There are also installation costs. Again, Amazon sets a handy baseline, with installation packages for roughly $250. However, this is for ideal conditions, in homes or garages that don't need wiring improvements to support the charger station. In many cases, it will be more difficult. Even newer residences, according to the remodeling pros at FIXR.com, are likely to need a utility upgrade: The typical house's 200-amp electrical service has to be made compatible with the typical 100-amp EVSE wall connector. All of which can require getting a municipal permit and ensuring the home is up to code, too.
All told, to properly equip a home for Level 2 charging - the preferred configuration, as explained below - will start at about $1,100 to $1,200 for the typical consumer.
3. Homeowners can find ways to lower the cost of charging units.
Much like EVs themselves, EV home charging stations are eligible for a variety of financial incentives designed to increase affordability. For example, under the Alternative Refueling Tax Credit, the IRS allows a 30 percent credit for EVSE, including installation costs. Just note that this is limited to $1,000 and set to expire on January 1, 2017. A number of state and local incentives also exist to encourage the installation of home charging setups, as do programs from utility companies.
Moreover, many of the EV manufacturers, including Nissan, Chevrolet, Toyota, Ford and Mercedes-Benz, have partnerships with preferred EVSE suppliers. Together, they feature package deals that not only reduce pricing for home chargers, but also allow buyers to incorporate that cost into their monthly vehicle payments, for added convenience.
4. For homeowners looking to charge at home, level 2 charging is the No. 1 option.
The SAE currently classifies EVSE charging capability into three levels, based on the amount of power that can be supplied to a vehicle's battery pack. Level 1 charging is the equivalent of plugging an EV into a standard household outlet, using alternating current (AC). For a car like the Nissan Leaf, that would take some 26 hours of charging to "fill up." Level 3 charging is limited primarily to public and commercial stations that rely on direct current (DC), and these can reduce downtime so that it takes about 30 minutes to achieve an 80 percent charge in the Leaf.
Level 2 charging hits the sweet spot for home users, with EVSE that can charge up the Leaf in approximately six hours, for an all-electric range of 107 miles. As mentioned earlier, it may take some amount of electrical upgrading to prepare a home for Level 2 capability, but because it's still using the same 240-volt service that powers most washers and dryers, significant home modifications usually aren't necessary. This handy chart is a great reference for seeing how much charge (i.e. how many miles) a home-charger can provide.
5. Utility costs for charging EVs are reasonable.
Beyond any upfront outlays for EVSE, charging an EV at home will, of course, affect a homeowner's energy bill - though not by much. Based on the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the average cost of electricity in August was 12.9 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Given that a Chevy Volt's battery pack has an 18.4 kWh capacity, that comes out to about $2.37 for a full charge using a Level 2 home station. That's enough energy to keep the Volt running for 53 miles on electricity alone (after which, its gas-hybrid powertrain provide hundreds more miles of range). A window fan, for comparison's sake, would cost a few pennies less than that to run for three hours.
For homebuyers looking for a new home compatible with EV charging stations, the answer may not be as difficult as it seems. With a few potential modifications and the right planning, an electric vehicle can be made to feel right at home.