By Alex Mackenzie
Electrification: All Charged UpCanadian Contractor How-to electric vehicle EV chargers home renovation
With electric vehicles sales on the rise in Canada, many clients will be looking to add EV chargers to their homes. Here are tips you can share with your clients.
With the current state of the climate crisis, it’s no surprise that municipalities and provinces across Canada are encouraging more electric alternatives to fossil fuels. Vancouver, B.C., often a bastion for eco-friendly legislation, has even gone so far as to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new low-rise developments. At the same time, Ontario is pushing to build 400,000 new electric and hybrid vehicles by 2030 with the city of Toronto working to build a fleet of EV’s for its own municipal use.
While there is still much debate surrounding the environmental impact of building electric vehicles, and the issues of human rights violations with regard to the mining of minerals needed to produce lithium-ion batteries, the current consensus is that electric vehicles are going to be a major factor in reducing carbon emissions and eventually weening humanity off of our dependence on fossil fuels.
Despite the bright future that EV’s promise, the current reality is that they are mostly a luxury item, far out of reach to the vast majority of Canadians. Hopefully, and as we are starting to see, as the technology improves, new materials for battery production are sourced and more car manufacturers enter the market, the role of the EV will shift from luxury novelty to automotive standard. Until then, finding places to charge an EV remains something of a challenge. That is why the best solution is to have a charging terminal installed in the garage, carport or driveway where the car itself will be housed.
Bearing the load
In order to provide our readers with the most accurate information on EV chargers and their installation, in 2021 we spoke with some of the top professionals in the industry: Russell Baker, spokesperson for Toronto Hydro; Mark Marmer, owner of Signature Electric; and Lorned Hedges, national marketing manager for Schneider Electric. All three agreed that the first thing that a contractor needs to do before installing an EV charging station is to check the current load and usage to determine if there is availability to add in a charger.
“Before an EV station can be installed, there has to be adequate capacity on the customer’s electrical panel and an adequate connection to the distribution grid,” says Baker. “A licensed contractor can make this determination, and Toronto Hydro should be contacted if an isolation or connection upgrade is required. If a homeowner’s contractor determines that a service upgrade is needed, customers should submit a service connection request to Toronto Hydro. If necessary, Toronto Hydro will schedule a site visit at the home and will provide a list of requirements necessary to complete the installation.”
So, the capacity needs to fit the load, simple enough, but what do those numbers actually look like? Marmer goes into a bit more detail stating, “This load part is very important because if a charger, depending on what size it is, is going to draw 40 or 60 amps, as an example, well you can see if you have a 100 amp service, this is a significant piece of the puzzle, whereas if it was 200, not so bad…If we’re building a brand new, single family home, then maybe we can look at making the service a bit bigger than we were going to. Maybe 100 amp service would have been adequate for a certain size of home, but maybe, at a relatively small and incremental cost, we can increase that service to 200 amps. If we’re not tearing out the 100 to put in the 200, we’re just putting in a 200, maybe another 50 percent cost, that leaves us more options for loads.”
Another aspect of this added load that needs to be considered is the run time. “Some loads within your house like an oven or a hot water tank, they cycle on and off,” says Hedges. “They’re just not on all the time. The oven heats up, it turns off, it cools back down, it heats up, so it cycles. When the car charges, it’s just on until it’s full. So that’s the type of thing that has to be taken into account.” Marmer compared this charger runtime to cooking a turkey with every burner in use on the stove every single night. So, unlike the simple task of plugging in a new freezer or stove, installing an EV charger requires quite more work and consideration on the backend.
Location, location, location
Another thing that needs some forethought is where the unit will be installed. Hedges notes, “The next thing to look at is location. When the installer arrives at the owners home, they’ll ask questions like, ‘”Is it in the garage?” “Is it in a carport?” “Is it going to be mounted on the outside of the house?” All are suitable locations to put car charging stations. Once the location is determined, they need to give consideration for and have some discussion about how the car will be parked, because then the next step is considering the length of cable. In a garage, do you park it on the left-hand side or the right-hand side because are you pulling in or backing in and do you want to drag a cable over top of my car, probably not. So, these are some of those convenience considerations that customers need to think about.”
Marmer echoed this concern; “Don’t necessarily put the charger where it’s most convenient for you. You should, as best you can, ask the customer, what vehicle are they purchasing, how do they orient their vehicle and where is the charge port. Because you don’t want to get out and find out that, to begin with, the door of the car hits the charger every time or that you trip over the cable every time you get in or out of the car. It’s something you’re going to do, possibly almost every single day. If I can avoid taking 25 feet of cable across my snowy driveway, not having to wrap it up every morning. Try to keep things as close as possible so that the experience is enjoyable and not too difficult and that will add to the enjoyment of the vehicle itself. That being said, people don’t always know what car they’re getting. So, then you may have to just simply look at the shape of the garage.”
Beyond finding the best location for the charger based on which car the client has or is getting and how they intend to park it, contractors should also consider how much room they have to work with in that spot. “You’ll see, when you’re in a single-family home and you’re in a garage, you are going to soon find out that there is not a lot of just easily available real estate,” warns Marmer. “That space that you thought was so big between the two garage doors is only about six inches, barely enough to mount a charger. There’s just not a ton of real estate, so it takes a little bit of thinking as to where this is going to end up…There’s a whole variety of chargers available, but it’s a good point to be thinking about the physical size of the charger. Some of them have hooks on the front, that’s how they manage the charging cable. Is there enough room in front for you to do that? Would you rather have had the hook off to the side for the cable? A lot of things to think about.”
Even though space in a garage may be limited, Hedges notes that most chargers, “aren’t taking up a lot of room. The cable itself takes up more room than the stations. Having some place to loop that, most stations do come with a hook, I liken it to your garden hose, for looping up the cable. Make sure it’s staying there nice and tight against the wall as well so it’s not laying across the floor for when you do pull in.”
Safe and sound
Setting up the charger so that the cable can be properly stored and is not causing an obstruction within the garage or on the driveway is not only a convenience issue, but a safety one as well.
Hedges says; “The biggest safety factor is taking care of the cable. You don’t want to be running over the cable or putting the cable where it’s going to be damaged or even having the station where it could be run into or damaged in some effect. For the most part, the installation of a charging station is very similar to installing an oven or a hot water tank. The wiring is very simple from that perspective for a contractor. It’s nothing that they’re going to find technically difficult or challenging from that perspective. All charging units are built with ground fault protection in them so that if there is faulty wiring, if the cable did get damaged and it’s laying in a puddle, the station is going to turn itself off. Just like the ground faults you have around your kitchen sink or in your washer, same technology.”
In fact, there are very few other safety concerns for having and installing an EV charging unit on a residential site as the units themselves and the process for installing them is quite heavily regulated.
Baker notes, “A visit by the Electrical Safety Authority to inspect the work performed by a customer’s electrical contractor is required to ensure that the installation is done in accordance with existing codes and standards. Once the work has been approved, the equipment is safe to use.”
Marmer echoed this sentiment around safety, stating; “The charger is designed to be put in a garage. That’s what it was designed for, that’s what it’s approved for. So, when you put it in you don’t need to say, I’m putting this scary piece of equipment in the garage. What happens if it catches on fire? No, that car was designed to be put in the garage, the car was designed to be charged, this charger is designed to work with this car. You’re doing things that are completely within the approval and design of the product so there shouldn’t be any necessity for additional insurance and there shouldn’t be, generally speaking, a concern for fire. What you do need to know, is that everything that you do, certainly here in Ontario, is that it needs approval. Here it needs the approval of the Electrical Safety Authority. So, it has to pass inspection. Every single job, everything that’s done electrically needs to pass inspection. That means that, number one, the person that installed it needs to work for a licensed electrical contractor, that’s the rule. So, I didn’t say electrician. That licensed electrician needs to work for a licensed electrical contractor, those are the people that can take out permits, and installing an EV charging station requires a permit.”
Regardless of the safety measures and permits that are involved, contractors that are installing EV charging stations should still be doing their due diligence when it comes to safety.
“I think some of the obvious things, you know the wiring, the unit you bought was approved, the wiring is up to spec to match it, the connections are done properly, the kind of things you would normally do,” suggests Marmer. “Then the little tiny pitfall that you need to watch out for is protection. The unit is an electrical piece of equipment. Is it somewhere where it’s liable to be say hit by the car? That’s a concern. So, how are you protecting this unit? You’re protecting it by putting it high enough above that it couldn’t get hit by a car or we’re needing to put some mechanical protection in front of it: a bollard or a steel mount. Either way, that should be something that would be picked up by an electrical inspector, but you need to be looking at it ahead of time.”
Do I really need it?
As we’ve seen, there’s quite a bit more that goes into the process of installing an EV charger at a residence than just plugging it in and hooking it to a wall. Is it even worth the hassle? If you want to be able to functionally use your car and you don’t have the ability to charge it elsewhere, like at your office while you work, then the answer is yes.
While all electric vehicles come with a standard plug, like you’d plug in a toaster, the amount of charge that is being pulled into the vehicle in that configuration is going to be minimal. This is called level one charging.
Baker notes, “An EV will come with a 120-volt charging cord that can easily be plugged into a typical exterior wall-socket. This type of charging takes the longest, but requires the least amount of work to get you charging.”
Marmer expands, “Level one is I plugged it into the receptacle in my garage, 120-volt receptacle. So, these receptacles are charging the car at about six kilometers per hour. So, imagine that my car has 600 kilometers of range and the plug charges at six kilometers an hour. So, if I leave my car plugged in for three days I might not be too bad. And the car came with the charger that was able to plug into the wall. So, it’s a fine thing to have in terms of an emergency, it’s fine if you were staying at somebody’s cottage and didn’t move your car for two and a half days over the weekend…Usually, this is not something people use very often. It’s possible, you could have a relatively low mileage car and not use a lot of mileage every day and find that, because you don’t drive very far, you can almost manage this way. But it doesn’t make the car really functional. A functional car is, I’d like my car to operate pretty much the way my gasoline car did. I can go where I want to go. That’s the game plan. I don’t want to get in and every day be constrained because I can’t drive more than 30 kilometers.”
The type of charging station that would be installed in the majority of instances would be a level two. According to Baker; “These 240-volt chargers use a similar outlet as stoves and dryers. These are commonly found at workplaces and public charging locations and can usually recharge an empty battery in about four hours.”
Marmer notes; “A level two charger will probably be charging somewhere around 30 to 50 kilometers per hour. So, already you can see that it’s way more functional than a level one. I plug my car in at 30 or 40 kilometers an hour, I come home and I do it when I get home for dinner, I don’t really come down until the morning, I’ve probably got easily 10 hours of charging and suddenly 300 or 400 kilometers over the night.”
For the average EV driver, a level two charger will be more than adequate to provide a substantial charger in a reasonable amount of time and is by far the most common type available.
But there are times when a driver might not even have a few hours to recharge their EV. In these instances, they would need to find a level three charger. Baker says; “These fast chargers can charge your vehicle in 25 to 30 minutes. Generally, level three chargers are only found at public charging stations because of the high load and significant infrastructure upgrades that are required.”
While level three charges can be helpful in a pinch, they aren’t the best option for routine daily charging. Hedges warns; “If you deplete batteries fully and then recharge them, that’s harder on the battery and you lose some life expectancy over time. If you constantly use level three charging, then, similarly, you’re going to degrade your battery. Primarily that has a lot to do with the heating effect at that point in time, because you’re pushing so much energy into the battery that it actually heats it up quite a bit, and that heating effect on electronic components degrades them.”
Eventually, we will most likely see EVs and EV charging stations replace gas-powered cars and gas stations, perhaps even within the next few decades. So, keeping charging stations in mind when working with clients on renovations and new builds now will put you ahead of the game as the EV market continues to grow.