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Are Generators Noisy?

The noise level of both portable and permanent standby generators can vary by manufacturer and by model.  But as a general rule, noise levels have been reduced substantially in recent years, driven by consumer preference along with improvements in technology.  A brief review of the two kinds of generators may be helpful:

Portable generators are smaller systems that can be wheeled to any location outside of the home (workplace or vehicle) and are powered by gasoline.  Extension cords running from the generator deliver voltage to specific appliances such as a furnace, refrigerator, stereo, TV or lighting fixtures.  These units can be purchased at your local home improvement store and do not require installation by a licensed electrician.  While portable generators are less costly than permanent standby generators, their main drawback is their limited ability to deliver high amounts of voltage (i.e. they cannot power an entire home, only select appliances within the home).  As their name suggests, portable generators can be used almost anywhere–different locations outside of your home, on camping or RV trips and at tailgates.
Permanent standby generators are larger systems placed on a pad outside of your home or business and are powered by fixed energy sources such as a natural gas line, a diesel fuel tank or a liquid propane tank.  These permanent systems detect a loss of power from the grid and once turned on, they take over the workload from your utility.  Permanent standby generators can assume a larger workload (i.e. an entire home), can operate without human intervention.  In some instances, they can operate at a lower decibel level than many portable gas-powered generators.
Most generators (portable or permanent) have a decibel (dB) rating so that you can measure the amount of noise it will throw off.  Technology has improved to where many portable generators generate between 50-60dB, with larger generators generating between 60-70dB.  As a means of comparison, here are decibel levels generated by everyday sounds:  rustling leaves (20dB), quiet office (40-50 dB), refrigerator (50dB), normal conversation (55-60dB), city traffic (90dB) and a rock concert (110-120dB).  So, if you shop around and pay close attention to decibel ratings, you should have no problem in finding a generator which satisfies your “noise” requirements.
Leading generator manufacturers such as Generac, Honda and Kohler understood the importance of noise reduction early on when they looked at where and how generators were used.  Homeowners are often subject to noise restrictions by local municipalities.  They also want to minimize noise if they have neighbors close by.  Campers and RV enthusiasts using generators out in nature or in fairly close quarters need to be sensitive to the noise factor as well.  So for these reasons and more, consumer preferences drove manufacturers to adopt noise reduction technology found in many popular models today:  sound restricting casings, noise suppressors, silent mufflers, soundproof materials, rubber pads, etc.  It’s hard to believe but many generators are quieter than the average conversation!
What Generators Are The Quietest?
Portable Generators.  If noise reduction is important in your selection of a portable generator, you should consider an inverter generator which runs the engine only at a level that equals the voltage required, often at less than full power (which throws off more sound).  Beyond inverter technology, many portable generators are now constructed with sound minimizing materials.   There are many portable generators on the market today which throw off noise at a decibel level less than or equal to human conversation!
Permanent Standby Generators.  Because permanent standby generators are larger and designed to provide full power to an entire home, the question of quiet operation becomes more important.  Remember, the choice of a generator is subject to local noise ordinances as well as a homeowner’s desire not to offend neighbors.  Manufacturers have risen to the occasion thru the use of technologies that include noise cancelling enclosures, foam dampeners and “quiet” exhaust systems.  Some larger permanent standby generators have decibel levels in the 65dB range, a bit above an electric toothbrush (60dB) and below that of a washing machine (70dB).  Remember that a typical permanent standby generator “self tests” itself once a week even when the grid is intact, and the frequency of testing cycles makes quiet operation even more important.
What Brand of Generator Is The Quietest?
Remember when you shop for a generator (either portable or permanent standby) be sure to pay close attention to the decibel rating for each unit.  Generator technology has advanced to a point where the “noise” factor should not be an issue if you choose one of the leading brands (INSERT SOME LEADING BRANDS HERE?).  To supplement your due diligence at generator dealers, you can turn to independent analysts (such as Consumer Reports), who publish their results on the internet.
As an example, GeneratorMag.com published a review of portable generators in December 2018 which listed their “top 6” generators.  Each had a decibel rating between 49dB and 53dB (remember, human conversation is said to have a decibel rating of 55-60dB).  Their “top 6” brands included:  Honda EU3000iS, Yamaha EF2000iS, WEN 56200i, Champion 73536i, Westinghouse iGen2500 and Generac 6866iQ2000.  Note that all of these units were “inverter” generators, meaning they throttle the engine up and down to meet demand, as opposed to running at full tilt constantly.  Inverter generators are said to be quieter and also produce lower emissions.  Another example is Chainsaw Journal, which published a review in November 2018 on the quietest portable generators.  This review featured the following “quiet” models:  Champion 755337i, Honda EU2000i, Yamaha EF2000iS, Champion 73536i, Briggs & Stratton P3000 and WEN 56200i.  Note: three models were included in both reviews (Yamaha EF2000iS, WEN 56200i and Champion 73536i).
In terms of permanent standby generators, Consumer Reports (subscription required) recently published a review that highlighted two models as producing less noise (Generac 7031 and Kohler 14RESAL).  Decibel levels were not included in this survey but both were rated “Very Good” on the noise factor.  Because most homeowners contract with licensed electricians for the installation of a permanent standby generator, your contractor can provide you with decibel levels on all units that you will consider for your home.
What Is The Quietest Camping Generator?
Campers definitely want generators that operate very quietly.  If they are in a remote, natural setting they don’t want to be disturbed by man-made noise.  And for those camping in closer quarters with other campers (like at a campground), they do not want to disturb their neighbors.  Portable generators with inverter technology are a good choice for those who place a premium on quiet operation.  Inverter technology refers to a system that matches the engine speed to the load placed on the generator.  If there is a smaller load, the engine will run more slowly (and more quietly).  Beyond inverter technology, most portable generators are now constructed with noise reducing components–soundproof casings, rubber mounts, sound reducing mufflers, etc.  As you shop for a camping generator, be sure to check the decibel level of each unit.  Generally speaking, anything less than 60 dB (decibels) should be fine (human conversation is 55-60dB).
How Many Decibels Is A Quiet Generator?
Portable generators are smaller than permanent standby generators and because they have smaller engines, can be expected to operate more quietly.  In recent years, generator manufacturers have designed products that throw off less noise, mainly because of consumer demand but also because of zoning ordinances.  The noise thrown off by generators can be measured in decibels (dB) and all generators, both portable and permanent standby, carry a decibel rating.  In general, a portable generator that scores well on noise will have a noise level between 48-65 dB.  A permanent standby generator that scores well will have a noise level somewhere between 60-69dB.  To put these dB levels into perspective, human conversation is 55-60dB, a central air conditioner is 68dB, a vacuum cleaner is 70db and a car is 77dB.
What Is The Quietest Generator For Homes (Standby)?
Homeowners purchasing permanent standby generator systems (as opposed to portable generators), usually turn to a licensed electrician who is experienced with whole house generator installations.  Your contractor will be familiar with local zoning ordinances, including those pertaining to noise.  Because most homes nationwide are subject to local noise ordinances, generator manufacturers have made their equipment compliant with virtually all local noise ordinances.  Your electrical contractor can explain what generator solutions best fit your power needs and each will have a noise rating expressed in decibels.  Generally speaking, a system that is rated for less than 70 decibels should be adequate.  If quiet operation is paramount, look for a system that is in the 60-65 decibel area.  By way of comparison, human conversation is 55-60 decibels.
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