Generators make a positive impact on our lives by providing power when we need it and where we need it. When the electric utility supply is interrupted, we can rely on standby generators to fill in the gap until the utility power is restored. They keep our homes cool, our food safe, and prevent the basement from flooding while providing light and entertainment.
On job sites, at sporting events, and while camping in the wilderness or traveling in an RV, generators supply electric power for a wide variety of needs and conveniences that range from refrigerators and air conditioners to coffee makers and strings of festive camping lights.
Noise associated with a internal combustion engine can be bothersome if it is too loud or too close. Many communities have noise regulations and they apply to air conditioning units and standby generators alike as well as other noise producing machines. Campgrounds also enforce rules designed to reduce noise pollution. Even if your generator is quiet, turning it off at night is polite and friendly.
The ‘bel’ is named in honor of Alexander Graham Bell, but the unit of measure is rarely used. Instead, we measure sound using the ‘decibel’ which is one-tenth of one ‘bel’. For comparison purposes, the base level that most sounds are compared to is 70 decibels.
Consider these everyday sound levels:
- Passenger car going 65 MPH heard at 25 feet – 77dB.
- Music in a living room – 76dB.
- Vacuum cleaner – 70dB
- Central Air Conditioner at 20 feet – 68dB
70dB is twice as loud as 60dB which is considered fairly quiet, and four times as loud as 50dB which is very quiet. Office or restaurant conversation weighs in at 60dB, and quiet conversation at home at about 50dB.
Moving the other direction, we have a garbage disposal at 80dB, an electric blender at 88dB, and a jack hammer at 100dB. Front row seats at a rock concert can top 110dB which is painful to many people and can cause serious, long-term damage.
Levels from 80 to 100dB can cause damage after eight hours of exposure, and each increase in sound level increases the likelihood and severity of damage.
Generators and Noise
The good news is that home standby generators designed for use in residential areas comply with noise levels that allow you to keep your sanity and won’t anger the neighbors if they have their windows open.
Many central air conditioners are rated at about 68dB when heard from 20 feet away. The Generac Guardian line produces just 66dB at 23 feet. Kohler Power Systems and Briggs & Stratton are slightly louder at 69dB for their 20 kilowatt units, and Cummins Power Generation weighs in with just 62db – not much more than conversation in a restaurant.
If you’re planning to go camping or RVing, it’s good to know that your generator won’t bother nearby campers. Inverter models are very quiet. The Generac iQ2000 produces an estimated sound level of 62dB while the Westinghouse WH1000i comes in at about 59dB – quiet enough to stand next to and hold a conversation without trying to talk over the generator.
It’s important to note that while there are no real standards for measuring portable generator noise, the National Park Service prohibits generators louder than 60dB(A) measured at 50 feet.
Even commercial standby models like the Generac Protector Gas Series are noise friendly with ratings from 59dB(A) to 65dB(A)—quieter than most central air conditioning units.
Updated June 21, 2017