By Sophia Kesteven•
Whether you’ve just ordered your first electric vehicle (EV), or you’re a seasoned electric driver, this guide covers some handy tips when it comes to charging a car at home.
Buying an electric car means you’ll be saving money on petrol and lowering your CO2 emissions (good on you). But regularly charging your vehicle’s battery means you’ll likely be using more electricity at home. A good way to keep your energy bills manageable is by switching to a dedicated EV tariff.
Plenty of energy suppliers offer tariffs designed for charging electric cars. Most EV tariffs are 2 rate, which means the price for your electricity depends on the time of day. Usually, these tariffs offer low-cost electricity for a set time overnight. You’ll need a compatible smart meter to sign up to most EV tariffs on the market.
At Bulb, we're trialling an EV Tariff that offers 4 hours of super low-cost electricity every night, between 2am and 6am. Outside of those hours, you’ll pay a standard rate. These off-peak times might look unsociable, but the Bulb app makes it easy to schedule your charging to start at 2am automatically - so you can just plug in whenever you get home and your car will be ready to go by morning.
Naturally, saving money depends on making the most of your tariff’s off-peak hours to charge your car. You might find charging little and often overnight is better than plugging in once or twice a week. If you’re using a 3 pin plug to charge your car, you could look into getting an EV charger to speed up your charging time, too (more on those later).
Encouraging drivers to charge their cars when demand on the grid is low helps suppliers to minimise that just-home-from-work peak at 6pm. During busy periods, electricity from the grid is more polluting because fossil-fuel generators are switched on to meet demand in real time. So, by charging your car during the small hours on a specialist tariff, you’ll be saving money, and there’s more green energy available on the grid to go around during the day. It’s win-win.
Economy 7 is a particular type of meter which means you already pay 2 rates for your electricity. These meters have a set 7 hour off-peak window which usually falls somewhere between 10pm and 8am. They apply a higher rate for any electricity used during peak (daytime) hours. If you had an Economy 7 meter when you upgraded to a smart meter, then you’ll still pay 2 rates for your electricity (and you’ll already benefit from cheaper overnight charging).
Generally, an EV tariff will offer a lower rate per kWh of electricity than an Economy 7 tariff, but for fewer off-peak hours. You may not be better off switching to a specialist EV tariff if you drive your car a lot and you regularly need to charge it for longer than the off-peak window. This might be more likely if you’re using a 3-pin plug to charge; your car has a big battery; or you have more than one EV at home.
If you have a smart meter, you can use your In-Home Display (or the smart charts on the Bulb app) to keep track of how much electricity you’re using, and when. This will be useful information when comparing the rates for an Economy 7 tariff and a specialist EV one.
Smart charging also means you can set a ‘maximum charge’ for your car. Most car manufacturers recommend you avoid charging to 100% to keep your battery in tip-top condition. So if you decide you need an 80% charge before you leave for work in the morning, smart charging means your EV will begin charging at the right time automatically.
Smart charging is especially handy if you’ve signed up for an overnight EV tariff, because you can schedule your charge to coincide with off-peak hours.
You can access smart charging:
through your car. Most electric vehicles come with smart charging features that you can access on your dashboard.
using a charger at home. Smart EV chargers connect to your Wi-Fi, so you can set your charging preferences using an app, rather than your car dashboard.
with the Bulb app. If you're on our EV Tariff, you can link your car to the app directly. So you can schedule smart charging from your phone, even if you don’t have an EV charger at home just yet.
monitor your battery level and your available mileage in real-time
schedule smart charging when electricity is cheapest
track the costs of charging your car
Installing an EV charger at home has a few advantages. It’s quicker than charging your car with a 3-pin plug, and it means you can monitor your charging from your phone. If you’ve been using public charge points to fill up, then you could save yourself some money (and a few trips to the local retail park) by plugging in at home, too.
Your EV will probably come with a cable that you can plug into your standard 3-pin socket. This is convenient when you first buy an EV, but we don’t recommend using a domestic socket as your permanent charging solution, because they aren’t designed to withstand a high power demand for extended periods of time. Your average wall socket is also less efficient, meaning a full charge will take longer and use more energy than if you were to use a dedicated charger for the same job.
Chargers, like EVs, go by many names. Whether you call it a charge point, an EV charger, a charge unit or even a home charger, there are a few things to consider when you’re buying one to have installed at home.
Most chargers are rated either 3 kW or 7 kW. A standard 3-pin plug comes in at 2.3kW. Depending on your car, a ‘slow’ 3 kW charger will provide a full charge in around 12-13 hours, whereas a ‘fast’ 7 kW charger will give a full charge in around 6 hours. There are even faster chargers available on the market (22kW), but you’ll need a three-phase electricity supply at home to use them, which is fairly unusual. Relatively few EVs are able to charge at that speed at home anyway.
Looks aren’t everything, but you’ll see your charger every day! EV chargers come in different sizes, finishes and colours. Most models are fully weatherproof, so they’re safe for installation on your driveway.
Tethered or untethered
This is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make about your charger. The key difference is that tethered chargers come with a charging cable permanently attached. You’ll need to specify whether you’d like a Type 1 or Type 2 cable, according to the make and model of your car. If you’d like to install your charger on your driveway, you might prefer the convenience of a tethered charger - because you won’t have to worry about packing away your charging cable into your boot or your garage each time you unplug your vehicle.
Untethered chargers (also known as universal chargers) are essentially a wall socket that you can plug any car charging cable into. Universal chargers offer more flexibility, because they can be used with a Type 1 or Type 2 charging cable. They’re suitable for any plug-in vehicle, so guests staying over can use your car charger, and if you decide to buy a new EV, you’ll know that it’s still compatible.
OZEV grant eligibility
Smart chargers which are approved by the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles are eligible for a grant to help cover the cost of installing a charger at home.
If you own an EV, and your address has off-street parking, you’re likely to be eligible for a government grant towards the cost of your EV charger.
The grant is officially called The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS), but it’s also known as an OZEV grant, because it’s paid by The Office for Zero Emission Vehicles. This grant covers 75% of the cost of purchasing and installing an OZEV approved smart charger at your property, up to a cap of £350.
Your installer will usually arrange the grant paperwork for you. The grant is designed to encourage EV ownership, so it covers most electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. In fact, you’re still eligible for the grant if you’ve ordered an EV and it hasn’t arrived yet. If you’re leasing your car or it’s a company vehicle, you’ll just need to be able to prove that you’re the primary driver of an EV for at least 6 months to be eligible.
The OZEV grant will be available until at least April 2022. You can find more detail about who’s eligible for the OZEV grant on the government’s website.
To get a charger installed at home, you’ll need off-street parking, space to put the charger and, of course, permission from whoever owns your property. Your installer will ask some questions about your setup at home to understand whether your property needs any additional work before they can safely install a charger.
Around 90% of installations are considered ‘standard,’ and won’t require any work before installation day. If you’re one of the 10% though, there are a few things your installer might recommend.
Meter tails upgrade
‘Meter tails’ is an unforgivably cute name for the 2 thick cables that carry electricity to your meter. If your installer recommends a larger main fuse, your meter tails need to be bigger so that more energy can pass through them safely. It’s likely your meter tails will need to be upgraded from 16mm to 25mm. Work on your meter tails can be arranged by your energy supplier, and should be completed before your main fuse upgrade. Read more about getting your meter tails upgraded in our Help Centre.
Main fuse upgradeYour main fuse controls the amount of power coming into your home, and it comes with a power rating, which is measured in amps (A). Most UK houses have a 30A, 60A or 100A main fuse. Depending on the type of EV charger you want to install, it’s likely that you’ll need a 100A fuse.
Your power rating is usually easy to check. You can find your main fuse close to your consumer unit (fuse box). If it's hard to spot, try following the wires that come from the bottom-left of your electricity meter. They'll join to the top of your main fuse. Its power rating will be printed on a sticker, or it might be embossed into the plastic cover.
If your installer suggests you need to upgrade your main fuse, you’ll need to get in touch with your Distribution Network Operator (DNO) to arrange this work. How quickly fuse upgrades happen depend on how busy the DNO is with emergency safety jobs and other scheduled work, so the process could take a few weeks. Find your DNO using your post code, or read more about upgrading your main fuse in our Help Centre.
Isolator switches are installed between the meter and the mains fuse box. They’re used by electricians to isolate the flow of electricity to the mains if they need to carry out work at your property.
To get an EV charger fitted, an electrician will need to route the charger through your fuse box, so you’ll need an isolator switch before your installation appointment. Your energy supplier can arrange this work for you if you don’t have one already. Read more about fitting an isolator switch on our Help Centre.