Chesco family says EV charger nearly caught home on fire: What you should know

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Friday, April 5, 2024
Family says EV charger nearly caught home on fire
Chesco family says EV charger nearly caught home on fire: What you should know

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- More and more drivers are turning to electrical vehicles.

And many opt for a charging station at home for convenience, which is often installed in a garage.

But experts tell us too often they're being improperly installed and that could lead to serious fire risks.

Jay Becraft was one homeowner who had a very close call.

Last July, he smelled a waft of smoke coming from his garage.

"I smelled something burning and immediately looked over the charger outlet and saw that it was smoking," he said.

That outlet was the EV charger used for his Tesla.

He showed us the charred and melted piece of plastic is what's left. Belcraft also wondered what could have happened if his senses had not alerted him.

"My daughter's bedroom is right above the garage. I called a master electrician independent from the builder who came out and said we were minutes from a house fire," he recalled.

Becraft is just one homeowner among a growing number who are having EV chargers installed in their homes.

His was done by his home builder.

Sandy Munro, a longtime automotive engineer from the Detroit area, has also raised concerns about the dangers of residential EV charging stations.

Munro said, at times, substandard work is done by some electrical contractors.

He had this warning: "Get the right electrician. Get somebody who knows what they're doing. Not Uncle Charlie. Not your friend of a friend, Not for the lowest bid. Get somebody who knows what they're doing."

Munro said contractors often put in cheaper outlets and use aluminum wire versus copper.

Munro said inside a typical electrical panel you will see what are called circuit breakers. He said an EV charging station should have its own dedicated breaker, and be directly wired into a wall box from the vehicle manufacturer or other notable company.

"Tesla sells them. Wall box sells them. ABB sells them. All kinds of people sell them. That's what you want in your house," he added.

The Action News Investigative Team enlisted the help of Nathan Simcox to show us what to look for.

Simcox is a master electrician and trains future electricians at Delaware County Community College.

"It's a danger you can't see until it's too late," he said.

Simcox said electrical vehicle owners need to make sure their equipment is all UL certified, meaning it's been through specific testing. He also says to look for an important symbol that says UL certified.

"It also shows that UL certified device, if it catches fire, your homeowners insurance will cover it. If it's used correctly," he added.

Simcox said the biggest mistake he often sees is people using adapter plugs or dryer plugs not rated for charging cars.

"But an EV charger can go for 10-12 hours at full capacity," he said. "These wires can't cool off. They're in the walls with insulation, and before you know it there's a fire."

It's information Becraft wished he knew. He told us a master electrician said his issue was a substandard outlet and the wires were not torqued down correctly.

He is now set up with a wall box and a dedicated circuit in his electrical panel.

"I learned that these setups are very common," he added.

Experts also told us some counties and municipalities also require a permit to install a charging station inside your home.