When electric cars started to become more prominent, one of the most urgent and burning questions in many people’s minds was what to do about charging when it was raining outside. Some owners had their home charging infrastructure installed inside of their garage, and therefore had much less to worry about. The car was always going to be charged inside while at home, so there’s no fear there.
For others, however, whose garage either didn’t permit charging or for where there is no garage space, need to use outdoor charging solutions. The problem of rain and charging emerges and is genuinely concerning. We are so well trained to keep all things electrical far away and separate from water, that the idea of plugging something in while it’s raining out is enough to give us anxiety.
In today’s blog, we’re exploring questions surrounding waterproofing of electric vehicle charging ports and the chargers themselves. We’ll also be looking at some of the solutions that are out there to allay these fears and further weatherproof EVSE chargers and EV charging ports.
How Rainproof are EVSE Chargers and EV Charging Ports?
One article on marketwatch.com confidently claimed that “some of the only things more waterproof than an electric car include submersibles, buoys, or similar oceanic equipment.” That’s quite a bold statement and in this section of the blog we will see how that stacks up with reality.
Let’s start with the EVSE chargers themselves. At home or in public charging stations, they are hard-wired into the ground. The units themselves undergo a very strict regimen of testing to ensure that they can last in any weather. The testing itself typically goes on in OSHA-certified laboratories, meaning they conform to federally mandated safety standards. They also have to meet standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
Every part that could come into contact with water is rigorously tested for waterproofing. The most rigorous test actually involves using a fire hose where the charging connector is subjected to high-pressure spray to ensure proper waterproofing. It’s quite hard to top that. No rain fall anywhere in the country would be as pressurized or intense as a fire hose, suggesting that for the charging connector there is nothing to fear.
When you buy a home charger that you plan to use outdoors, you may notice that certain brands like to push their Ingress Protection “IP” ratings for weatherproofing, protection from particulates, and waterproofing. The rating is the letters IP followed by two numbers. These numerical suffixes are the crucial part that indicate the level of waterproofing and weatherproofing that something boasts. Here’s how to decode the IP rating:
- The first digit from 0-6 indicates the protection from foreign body and particulate ingress
- The second digit from 0-9K indicates protection from moisture ingress
If you therefore purchase an outdoor charging station that is rated at IP67, for example, you are getting a very high degree of protection. This means that for particulate and dust protection, the charger has “full protection against dust and other particulates, including a vacuum seal, tested against continuous airflow.
In terms of moisture protection, the IP67 charger has:
“protection against full immersion for up to 30 minutes at depths between 15cm and 1 meter, with limited ingress permitted with no harmful effects.”Official IP67 protection explanation.
Most chargers would get IP66 or IP56 ratings, since level 6 is the highest that would be required for a charging station: “Protection against powerful jets (12.5mm nozzle) of directed water from any direction.” That’s essentially the fire hose test. Still, it’s interesting to know that an IP67 charger could even get partially submerged in flooding and still come out working fine.
For your EVSE charger housing, you should also look at the NEMA enclosure ratings. These range from NEMA 1 to NEMA 12 (but not every number in between), and the best outdoor EV charger enclosures will be rated at NEMA 4. This offers, according to the official nemaenclosures.com website:
- Indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection to personnel against access to hazardous parts
- Provision of a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and windblown dust)
- Provision of a degree of protection with respect to harmful effects on the equipment due to ingress of water (rain, sleet, snow, splashing water and hose directed water)
- Protection from any damage caused by the external formation of ice on the enclosure.
EV Charging Port
The port itself into which you insert the charging connector is typically set back within the opening and is therefore not exposed to the rain even when opened:
The interior has a huge amount of protective technology designed to detect any sign of water ingress. In the unlikely event that water was able to get into the system, the cars will typically shut down the charging process, and it will be safe to remove the connector and close up the port again if needed.
Once connected to the charger, however, the gaps are sealed up and the charging process won’t be interrupted by any water ingress.
From this, we can see that the charging station and the connector — the two parts that sit outdoors constantly exposed to the rain — are very well protected from the rain as they are. Most OEMs advise that so long as the charging connector is always left hanging down, then water cannot and will not get into the connector and thus by extension won’t get into the charging port or the interior of the vehicle.
When you have strong IP and NEMA ratings, it means that the enclosures are protected enough as they are from not only water and rain, but from other potentially harmful contaminants like dust and debris, too.
But does this mean that no additional protection is advisable? In the next two sections we will dive into other weatherproofing solutions, what they are and if they are really necessary or perhaps just gimmicks by the manufacturers.
Weatherproofing Solution 1: Port Covers
For some drivers, rain isn’t actually the primary concern, but rather another form of wintry precipitation. We’re talking of course about snow. If you live in the American Midwest, northeast, or in Canada, then winters can get pretty brutal, with temperatures dropping far below freezing. For this added threat, as well as the existing rain problem, you may consider getting a port cover.
Some electric cars have large openings where the connector joins together with the charging port. The Kia Soul EV is a good example of this, with a front-mounted charging port that is much larger than you’d find on the likes of a Tesla, for instance. Let’s say you plug in your Soul EV overnight and during the night there’s a snowstorm? The opening where the charging port is can get jam packed with snow and ice, which is a real pain to clear out in the morning.
This is why some in these environments consider using port covers as a way to put an enclosure around the opening while the car is charging up. Some of these are like large, thick mats that at the top and bottom contain magnetic strips that you can attach to the hood and bumper of your car.
They have a Velcro opening that you can then fit around the charging connector. This is a simple, elegant and affordable solution to the snow problem, and would also protect against rain if you feel the charging port area is too wide or exposed. There are even side flaps to cover any side exposure.
For newer-generation model cars like the Kia Niro with aluminum hoods, the magnet attachment doesn’t work in the same way, because aluminum isn’t magnetic. One solution that was developed are similar covers but that can be held in place by one edge being slid under the hood and then secured by simply closing the hood.
These port covers are arguably the simplest solution to weatherproofing concerns. Assuming you have a charger that is outdoor rated and hard-wired, then the only other areas to protect are the port and the connector (see below for connector). To construct something larger around the charging port is impractical, so these smaller more contained solutions are very neat.
The main issue is finding good products to suit charging ports placed in different positions. The above-mentioned products are for vehicles where the charging port is at the front. They wouldn’t work the same on side-mounted ports.
Weatherproofing Solution 2: Additional Protection for the Connector
The other part of the system that will be concerned about is the connector. Once again, if we assume that you have purchased a unit with an IP67/NEMA 4 enclosure, then for that part you have nothing to fear. The dangling connector, however, is protected mostly by everyone remembering to always leave it facing downward. Can you guarantee that every time?
To help with this, some companies have come up with cases, covers, and protective mounted housings to use for the connector. But how effective are these solutions, in reality?
Protective Covers and Cases
These are simply made from synthetic cloth materials, which while durable and waterproof do not offer much of a solution to the more serious wintry problems that we described above. This is why those facing heavy snow and ice would more likely go for the full port cover idea.
For those times you leave your connector hanging around your charging station enclosure, however, on whatever rack is provided or installed separately, then a cover or case will help to provide an additional layer of protection in the event that someone leaves it at a less-than-optimum angle.
The below is a very informative video that’s worth checking out to learn more:
Other solutions are to make use of wall-mounted “holster” covers that give your home charging point more of a gas station feel. These are made of hard plastic and can be mounted on the wall next to your charging station. It’s a simple solution that ensures the connector is stored at a good angle, and that it receives additional protection from the elements.
Since many connectors are criticized for being made of very cheap plastics, the addition of such protection should be a welcome addition. Do you really need it, though? That’s the question. The simple answer is no. You don’t really need it because as long as you store the connector as recommended by the manufacturer of the charging station, you shouldn’t encounter any problems.
For those who live in areas with more extreme weather, however, or where there might be additional threats that could damage the connector, such as hailstones, then the additional protection of a proper housing is not a bad idea in-case you start getting ‘unable to charge’ type errors in your EV.
Conclusion: How Necessary Is It To Weatherproof Your EV Charging Infrastructure?
The good news is that existing protections put in place by EVSE OEMs is more than sufficient in protecting it from rain and other water. Car port covers are a good idea for those who have larger and more exposed charging port areas, especially those located at the front of the vehicle. They not only offer additional protection from heavy rain, but also from snow and ice. What’s more, they are very portable and can be easily stored in your car, in your garage or in just about any drawer in your home.
The best thing to do is to look at the particular conditions of where you live. There are some places for which these kinds of additional protections are warranted. Extreme winters, regular heavy rainfall, monsoon climates and similar environments are places where additional measures are helpful. Given that much of the US is temperate and not suffering from excess rainfall, these measures are rightly seen as a bit gimmicky.
In the modern context, the better policy is to seek out solutions to protect your outdoor charging not from weather but from thieves and vandals. This is a more worthwhile kind of protection that will ensure your investment in a home charging solution doesn’t get squandered by the actions of unruly individuals.