Opting for a DIY charger install job instead of hiring a licensed electrical contractor with EV charger training may cause short-term problems and long-term regret as the benefits of a more sophisticated charging infrastructure are missed
The reports of improperly installed electric vehicle charging infrastructure documented after a recent auditing blitz in Toronto are the stuff of the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario (ECAO) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) ‘s nightmares.
Cables hanging out of kitchen windows, wires lying across sidewalks and overloaded panels spell out any number of possible calamities. Best case scenario: a sprained ankle from a bad trip. The worst? An electrical fire.
The cause of these alarming installations is, largely, untrained members of the public or the unlicensed “handyman” trying to find quick (and cheap) solutions to the urgent demand for EV charging infrastructure.
“There’s this dangerous misperception that if it’s your home, you can do the electrical work, and YouTube will get you through it,” warns Graeme Aitken, Executive Director of the ECAO, which represents 550 licensed electrical contractors across Ontario.
But the truth of the matter is that a few YouTube tutorials, a relative or friend that gave some tips or an excess of confidence is not enough to safely install electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Failure to recognize that this complex piece of equipment requires specialized skills to install is putting many at risk.
Yes, a qualified electrician is more expensive. But would you rather pay a professional for a service or have to pay to rebuild your burned home and, possibly, your neighbours’? And will your insurance even cover damages if you have used someone who isn’t licensed do the work and obtained the proper permit? Well, that issue remains in a grey area, but it’s certainly a risk.
“I think the good news for the public is we have worked with the ECAO and the Ontario government to create a program that provides specialized training for EV charger installation so we can ensure the safety and quality of the work,” says James Barry, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario (IBEW CCO), representing more than 18,000 women and men working in varied electrical sectors.
Barry, along with Aitken, has been a long-time advocate of high training and safety standards to preserve the integrity of the electrical trade and has taken a leadership role by working with various levels of government to achieve that goal.
And aside from the utilitarian arguments and reasoning behind taking as much care and expense to install your EV charger as you do in choosing and buying the unit itself, there is also a strong self-interest element as well.
Future-proofing your investment
The cost for the average home EV charger installation runs between $800 to $1,300, depending on the complexity of the job. There is no denying it is an expensive undertaking.
So, with that in mind, it stands to reason that most people who are making that level of investment want to squeeze the most value out of their dollar as possible.
There are few things certain in the transition to zero-emission vehicles, but the one that is: the technology is only getting better. And therein lies the limits of a DIY or under-skilled EV charger installation (fuses, fires and trip hazards aside).
Getting a makeshift charger installed today will not future-proof you to take advantage of the imminent EV technologies coming to market, including smart charging and vehicle-to-grid (V2G). This means you may run the risk of not only having to make a second significant investment in getting a better EV charger installed in a few years, but you also may have to pay extra to undo and remediate previous shoddy work.
“Our IBEW electricians are far too often called in to fix the work of someone who was untrained and uncertified, causing increased costs for the customer and delaying completion,” notes Barry.
Value for your dollar
The two most promising technology advancements in EV charging in terms of return on investment for drivers are smart charging and V2G.
Smart charging is the ability for your charger to tailor its behaviour and charging activity to correspond to optimum times for the grid, namely, trying to operate only on off-peak times. With multiple vehicles, a smart charger is also able to measure how to distribute charge to each vehicle in order that each has an appropriate amount of battery charge by the time it needs to be next used.
The option for V2G capabilities is the area where EVs prove their worth well beyond combustion vehicles. Instead of being a constant fuel drain on your wallet, in the future, your EV may be able to save or even earn you money.
V2G is the ability for a charged EV to discharge power back into the grid — either on a micro-scale (to power appliances in a home during a power outage) or on a macro level (where the utility may pay you for the power in your EV to support the grid during peak loads).
Both of these things can be done from your EV charger, but not all EV chargers are equal. These features are more complicated than a straight plug-in-and-charge situation that you will get in a DIY job and, therefore, require a more sophisticated installation with a licensed electrical contractor who employs licensed electricians specially certified in EV charger installation.
The potential to save and make money off your charger is why it is critical to think strategically about how you want to maximize your investment. And your ability to access the flexibility that an EV charger could offer begins and ends with the person you choose to install it.
Barry says many of his members have already completed the new Electric Vehicle Training Program (EVITP) delivered through the National Electrical Trade Council (NETCO) to ensure they have the qualifications to deliver EV charger installation safely and effectively, and training within the membership is ongoing.
The EVITP provides the most comprehensive training for EV equipment installation in North America, with rigorous standards to support the integrity of the EV industry.
“Whether it’s a homeowner, a property manager or a business, the best decision for anyone is to find a licensed electrical contractor who employs an electrician with this specialized training,” adds Aitken.
Consumers can find a list of ECAO contractors who employ licensed electricians with EVITP installers certification at netco.org/evitp-installers.
This article, Improperly installed EV chargers: a safety hazard and a missed opportunity, was also featured in the online publication Electric Autonomy Canada.