Charging an Electric Car With Long Cord
February 18, 2018 6:58 AM   Subscribe

I want to get a plugin hybrid but the closest I can get a car to my house is 70'. Do I need to give up on 220V charging and just get a very heavy extension cord and use the Level 1 handle that comes with the car (which would mean letting it sit out in the weather--and put a plastic bag over it)? Other solutions? Thanks!
posted by Mitchla to Technology (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know if 220V extension cords are very common, or if they would have to be custom made to keep up to code. Depending on the electrical code this might not even be allowed.

IANAE (I Am Not An Electrician) but I think the "to code" solution would be a buried conduit carrying 220V to a weather rated freestanding housing on a post near your driveway, and a Level 1 plug out of that. That is how garages / outbuildings usually get their power.

Even with a 120V cord, you will have to look for a heavy gauge of wire, and rugged for long outdoor service, something usually seen at construction sites.

Is there the opportunity to charge at any other time of the day? Near work or school?
posted by nickggully at 7:13 AM on February 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Above answer is right - if this is a home you own, you'll want to put in a 220v charging area, even if it's not the garage.

110v charging takes forever, and there are safety issues and I'm sure durability issues with using extensions and outdoor-always charging.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:17 AM on February 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Agree with the above. You need an electrician. A 70 foot extension cord is not a solution, it is a problem waiting to happen.
posted by mygoditsbob at 7:18 AM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. Burying a 220 conduit— even a 110 conduit —just isn't possible here. It would have to run under a stone wall (which means removing the wall) and then running up through 60' of woods (tree roots and everything). Which is why I've been assuming that the RV-type 110 extension cord would be my only option. Sadly, my place of work (Ohio State U) has almost no electric chargers, despite my constant haranguing them and their declarations that they want to do it… someday).
posted by Mitchla at 7:57 AM on February 18, 2018

Talk to a good electrician (that does sitework) before you give up. Stone can be bored, conduit can be run without making a trench. Here, the gas company is running new plastic lines in the space between the sidewalk and the curb by directional boring. The machine sits at one end at a small excavation, and runs the pipe down about a block to the next small excavation. Water pipe is put in this same way.
posted by rudd135 at 8:31 AM on February 18, 2018 [8 favorites]

I have a plugin hybrid (Chevy Volt) that lives outside & charges at 110. The L1 charger that comes with the car is intended for all weather use. It terminates in the garage, running under the garage door where it has an externally mounted holster (when not in use). We do not run the 110 on an extension cord as a general practice but did run when charging overnight on a road trip.

There are local active facebook groups in my area for EV enthusiasts - as well as national groups for my car specifically. These types of electrical questions are very very common there as well. You might ask an EV group for more suggestions.

Generally it's not recommended to run an extension cord for 110 or 220. If you need to do this, buy a extension cord that is safe for the electrical load you are running. DO NOT coil the cable while the cord is in use.

Outdoor charging - without the extension cord issue - is really very easy and reasonable. We holster the charger when not in use to keep the "plug" clean, dry & free of debris. When the car is at home, it is almost always plugged in.

L1 charging is also somewhat reasonable depending on the car you are looking at. Our Volt needs about 12 hours for a full charge at L1 (40-60miles of range) but realistically the car is plugged in overnight for 12 hours so this isn't insanity. I would *not* recommend trying to charge an EV only on L1.

Feel free to memail me if there is any other EV advice you're looking for. I'm still an EV newbie but I *love* my EV and charging is a lot easier/more natural than it seems once you're setup for it.
posted by countrymod at 8:48 AM on February 18, 2018

There are horizontal utility drilling services that are adept at going under and through lots of things without digging anything up as an alternative to removing a stone wall.
posted by nickggully at 9:31 AM on February 18, 2018

The need to use 220V over 110V increases proportionally to the distance you need to cover. 70' @ 110V, you're going to want a 10 gauge extension cord, which I think will be somewhat difficult to source.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:12 AM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's not ideal but you certainly can use an extension cord for Level 1 charging. People who live in northern climates have used extension cords to connect engine heaters to their cars for decades, so its nothing new.

You want a heavy duty contractor grade 10-gauge with W designation for outdoor use. I would recommend that you replace the outlet with a dual arc/ground fault outlet.

You can also buy a 240 volt extension cord for Level 2. This one has a NEMA L6 twist lock connector so you would need the corresponding outlet. You would want the circuit breaker for that 240 volt outlet to be dual arc/ground fault type.
posted by JackFlash at 10:17 AM on February 18, 2018

Mitchla: "It would have to run under a stone wall (which means removing the wall) and then running up through 60' of woods (tree roots and everything)"

The Wall can be handled with a single 1.5"ish hole (easily done in most cases with an SDS hammer drill). Tree roots etc aren't much of an impediment to a back hoe/mini excavator. It's a bit more complicated than a straight run through loam but it is certainly doable.

Alternatively you could go overhead. 70' is span-able with a single pole at your parking location using neutrally supported cable.

humboldt32: "you're going to want a 10 gauge extension cord, which I think will be somewhat difficult to source."

Any electrician can make you one.

JackFlash: "
You can also buy a 240 volt extension cord for Level 2. This one has a NEMA L6 twist lock connector so you would need the corresponding outlet

This is a fairly expensive way to go. The receptacle is $50, the recommended breaker a couple hundred at least.

PS: technically extension cords aren't supposed to replace permanent wiring. If you go the extension cord route you'll want to inspect the cord at least monthly for damage.
posted by Mitheral at 12:52 PM on February 18, 2018

Yes you can buy 220V extension cords 100' long. They are used by welders, RVs and food trucks/stands.
But burying a conduit is easy, they will use a Ditch Witch, and will just dig up to the edge of the wall from both sides, then poke through the foot or so of soil
posted by 445supermag at 2:33 PM on February 18, 2018

The receptacle is $50

$10 at amazon.

the recommended breaker a couple hundred at least.

$85 at Home Depot

I would definitely recommend an arc fault breaker for a 240V extension cord. Arc fault breakers are especially intended to detect the types of short circuit faults that an extension cord can cause and are undetected by older breakers. These are mandated for new circuits in areas that frequently have extension cords such as living rooms, bedrooms and hallways. While not mandated, they are a good idea for the same reason for a 240V extension cord.
posted by JackFlash at 4:35 PM on February 18, 2018

Also, I would highly recommend checking out these guys if you decide you want a Level 2 charger.

You ship them the Level 1 cord that comes with your new car and they modify it so that it supports both Level 1 and Level 2 charging, depending on whether you plug it into a 120V or 240V outlet, using an adapter. You can get a Level 2 charger saving hundreds of dollar or more compared to a commercial EVSE. You will need to have an electrician install a 240V outlet near your breaker panel using the 240V outlet I linked above. But you don't need an expensive EVSE.
posted by JackFlash at 9:46 AM on February 19, 2018

JackFlash: "The receptacle is $50
$10 at amazon.

Oops. Yes, deals can be had on cheap items. I actually forgot Leviton made twist lock stuff and the difference in exchange rate.

JackFlash: "the recommended breaker a couple hundred at least.
$85 at Home Depot

That's a combination device not a dual device. 2 pole GFCIs all by themselves are around $100 up to a couple hundred dollars for most systems though HD has this 15A Murrary for $76. I can't even find a dual two pole device though I thought SqD was making them. That means to get dual protection you have to chain an CAFCI after a GFCI meaning at best $250 and maybe closer to $500 all in if you DIY.

Personally for an outside the home circuit I'd much rather GFCI protection than arc fault. GFCI protects the user against some electrocution hazards, AFCI against some bad connections and cord damage causing fires.

JackFlash: "Also, I would highly recommend checking out these guys if you decide you want a Level 2 charger."

That's pretty interesting. I wonder if their product is listed.

At any rate I'd still recommend hard wiring if at all possible. The difference in cost isn't much for reduced hassle and maintenance long term. Permanent wiring generally has a life measured in decades and even the best extension cord exposed to the elements, mechanical damage and rodents for 12-24 hours a day will be lucky to make it ten years. It's also, IMO, less aesthetically pleasing.
posted by Mitheral at 11:54 AM on February 19, 2018

They aren't listed (from an email inquiry to the company):
We do not re certify the units. We use all UL approved parts and we have done more than 18K units and we have a 99% plus reliability rate with no issues.
For those not hip deep in electrical law: A listing is a statement from an independent lab that a piece of equipment has passed specified safety testing. A lack of a listing doesn't mean the device is unsafe per se; it just means no independent testing has been done and one is taking the word of the company that it won't injury anyone. Any changes to a listed product even using listed materials voids the previous listing. Technically it is illegal to plug in an unlisted product in jurisdictions governed by the NEC or CEC (IE: essentially everywhere in the US/Canada). It's also an OSHA violation at workplaces in most cases (exceptions exist for companies to take the liability for inspection on themselves). As a manufacturer getting your facility and product listed costs money which is why a lack of a listing at the hobby level is common but it can also indicate a more rules skirting approach to safety and production levels rise.

It is however curious, as claimed by the company, that no auto manufacturer offers this sort of charging system. This would make me cautious that there is a safety or regulatory risk the supplier is ignoring.
posted by Mitheral at 12:59 PM on February 19, 2018

It is however curious, as claimed by the company, that no auto manufacturer offers this sort of charging system.

Primary reason is that in the U.S., the NEC says that a Level 2 (240V) EVSE must be fixed, not portable. However, the same portable car manufacturer EVSE is used throughout Europe on 230V circuits so this limitation is just a quirk of the local NEC. It's primarily just a firmware difference for communicating the voltage and current limits to the car, depending on which voltage you are plugged into.

The U.S. allows other portable 240V cable connections -- RV, welder, etc. -- so it's a mystery why they wrote this limitation for the EVSE. Use your own judgement.
posted by JackFlash at 6:00 PM on February 19, 2018

Response by poster: I wrote to a guy at a company that makes chargers and asked him about the safety running a 10 gauge extension cord to his. He wrote back this thoughtful letter. So that's that -- no extension cord for me. Thanks everybody for your responses.

"This is NOT safe. There are a couple of concerns, you should never use an extension cord with any charging station or cord. This can overheat and cause a fire, The NEC (National Electric Code) specifically states that a 25’ cord is the maximum allowed.

Also, you should not use a ‘plug-in’ charger outdoors. Only hardwired chargers are ‘outdoor rated’.

The Dostar portable charging cord is not outdoor rated. It is a plug-in, plus isn’t sealed to withstand the weather. It is also designed for occasional use, not every day use.

We recommend a higher quality, outdoor rated charging station, not a portable charging cord. This should be installed closer to the vehicle and hardwired. You may have to trench for underground conduit/wire to supply the power safely."
posted by Mitchla at 7:47 PM on February 20, 2018

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