People go camping to disconnect from the hassle and noise of city life, relax, and get lost in the calm and serene wilderness. But, some of us still need to stay connected, refrigerate our drinks, light our campsite and hook up our electric stove to cook our meal. For all these things, camping generators are pretty common and necessary on campsites.
But they come with a price.
I am not talking about the actual dollar price of the generator. I am talking about the noise it generates that not only disturbs our peaceful surroundings but also scares the wildlife. In this blog, I am going to discuss why generators are loud and how to quiet a generator for camping peacefully?
Generator noise is bad
One of the major reasons people go camping is to seek peace, quiet, and tranquility. However, this peace and tranquility are compromised when you or any tourist nearby brings a portable generator making noise all night long.
Generators are bad for the campers, but it also affects the wildlife in the vicinity of the camping site. Many animals, including vertebrates, mammals, and birds, rely on sounds to communicate, navigate, find mates and food sources. In the presence of man-made sounds that too high a decibel range, this communication gets affected. A few studies have shown the inverse effects of noise pollution on animals. Some excerpts from these studies show the effect of high noise levels on different species
- Honeybees stop moving for up to 20 minutes for noise between 300 and 1 kHz at intensities between 107-120 dB
- Flies of the order Diptera showed a startle response at 80-800 Hz (at 80 dB) and at 120-250 Hz (from 3-18 dB above ambient levels)
- Another study found 43 woodland birds species shows reduced density around interstate roads with high traffic noise.
So, if you can camp without a generator, cook your meal on a propane stove instead of electric (or bring easy to prepare meals that can be cooked on campfire), charge your phone with portable solar panels, and use battery-powered lanterns to light up your tent, that would not only be a peaceful experience for you but for the nature around you as well.
But if you can’t camp without a portable generator, read below to know how to make a generator quite.
How loud is a normal generator?
A common portable generator emits noise in a range that can be classified as “very loud”. It is in the range of 80dB – 100dB measured near the generator. But in case there is any malfunction with the exhaust muffler or the engine block, this noise can exceed this limit and can be uncomfortable for the campers.
To get an idea of how loud 50dB is, check the above chart that shows different sources of noises plotted against their decibel (dB) values on the vertical scale.
Why is your generator loud?
To find an effective solution for a problem, the first step is to analyze the problem completely. So, in, this case for reducing the noise of a generator, you need to know why it emits such noise.
Note that all generators are not the same so you may observe that some are considerably quieter than the others. In addition, generator maintenance and set-up also impact the magnitude of the noise.
The three main components that are responsible for producing noises in your camping generator are;
- Main engine block where the noise comes from the combustion of fuel in cylinders.
- Exhaust manifold and (malfunctioning) muffler where the exhaust gases produce additional noise.
- Alternator with mechanical moving parts.
Following are some factors affecting generator noise.
1. Your generator is oversized or overloaded
The extent of noise a generator produces is directly linked with the amount of power it generates. So, if you have a heavy load generator giving high power output then it is likely to be louder in comparison to compact small load-bearing types.
While choosing your generator, make sure you get one that is suitable for your use as overloading a smaller generator produces additional noises and also damages the engine in the long run.
2. Generator parts are old & worn out
A new generator is quieter than an old one. Just like your car engine, the older it gets, the noisier it becomes. The internal combustion engine and the current producing alternator has a lot of moving parts. With time, they wear out, producing noises that are otherwise not there during the early years of the generator.
3. Generator doesn’t has soundproofing
Most modern camping generators come with some level of soundproofing. Generators designed specifically for camping have external plastic enclosures to suppress some of the noise compared to ones we use at home, where you can see the engine block and the alternator from the outside.
If your generator is an older model with no external soundproofing, it will result in additional noise.
4. Generator has an older technology
Older generator types using less developed technology and relatively low efficiency generally produce more sound during operation. While in modern generator types, inverter technology has been used which ensures a high-quality AC current without load variation therefore these are comparatively quiet.
Moreover, the modern generators are also light in weight, easy to carry, and more durable while producing less noise pollution. The below table shows manufacturer-stated noise values for different generator models.
5. Generator is placed very near to your camp
Sound dissipates in the air pretty quickly, and as you go away from the source, it reduces drastically. Ideally, a generator should not be placed near your sitting area or your tent. If it is near, the decibels you receive will be quite high.
6. Generator is placed on hard surface
If your generator is placed on a hard surface, the vibrations will not be absorbed and will be reflected to the body of the generator resulting in resonance and additional noise, which could have been avoided otherwise.
How to make a generator quiet for camping
1. Install rubber anti-vibration pads
One of the ways to make generator quiet is to reduce vibrations. As the generator operates, it produces vibration. When placed on a hard or uneven surface such as hard rock, the vibration of the machine will increase its noise output.
However, sometimes it becomes difficult to find the perfect area while on a camping trip. In such cases, you can make rubber pads for the generator. The pads can be made from any soft rubber source thick enough to work as an absorber. It can be a rubber matt or even a cutout part from a used tire.
If you are not a DIY person, you can get anti-vibration pads from Amazon as well. They are pretty cheap and effective.
The rubber is a great absorber of mechanical vibrations and will help quiet down your generator.
2. Check the muffler / install secondary muffler
Exhaust gases are one of the major sources of noise in any internal combustion engine. The one component that is responsible for reducing the exhaust noise is the muffler. Be it your car, bike, or camping generator, a faulty or ineffective muffler is a big source of additional noise.
CHECK YOUR GENERATOR MUFFLER: All generators have built-in exhaust mufflers. For generators that are covered in a plastic casing (like the Honda EU2000i ), the muffler is normally hidden behind the back cover and you can only see the tailpipe that is coming out of the muffler.
To check the muffler, remove the back cover and thoroughly inspect any holes or leaks in the muffler or any of the connecting pipes. Exhaust gases are highly corrosive, so if you find a hole (especially if your generator is old), don’t be surprised.
If the exhaust is worn out, you can replace it with a new one from the company. The installation is pretty easy for most models but you can get help from your local mechanic if necessary.
INSTALL SECONDARY CAR MUFFLER: This one is interesting. You can actually install a secondary muffler at the exit of your primary muffler to further muffle a generator noise. This is especially effective if your primary generator muffler is not working as expected.
You can install any compatible car or motorbike muffler. By compatible, I mean the diameter of the exhaust pipes should match for you to weld both ends together for a leakproof seal. You can get help from your local mechanic again if you don’t have a welding machine or know how to use one. Keep in mind the following tips while installing a secondary muffler.
- Make sure the secondary muffler you get has the same exhaust pipe diameter as your generator so that it’s easy to weld both ends together.
- A motorbike muffler works better than a car one because it is designed for exhaust gases in pulses from 2 cylinders instead of a continuous stream of gases from a multi-cylinder car engine.
- Install the muffler in such a way that the exit pipe is pointed up words and away from the alternator motor. This is important because if the exhaust gases exit near the motor, the motor will suck the hot gases in with the coolant air, and thus the efficiency and life will be affected.
- Do not solid weld the muffler with the body of the generator. It will end up transferring all the vibrations to the body and hence produce extra noise. Mount in on rubber mounts so that it is flexible and don’t vibrate much.
A secondary muffler if installed properly can reduce the sound by up to 5dB. This may not sound (pun intended) too much but do note the perceived loudness of sound doubles every 10dB so a reduction of 5dB means you cut down the noise by almost 25%.
You can find custom secondary mufflers on Amazon as well and select the one that is compatible with your exhaust pipe diameter.
3. Change the position of the exhaust pipe
The position of the exhaust pipes of your generator also influences the noise emission. If the vent pipe is placed in a horizontal position, the hot air is released into the outer environment. With the air, the noise output will also disperse horizontally.
But if you turn the exhaust pipes vertically then the noise will disperse upward in all directions thus reducing its amplitude.
With most camping generators, the muffler is embedded inside the casing, and only the exhaust pipe is extruding on the backside. This disperses sound in your horizontal plan. Even if the exhaust is pointing away from you, it can point to other people camping on the other side.
To solve this, you can buy an off the shelf exhaust extension (easily available on Amazon). Install it on the exhaust exit and point it upwards and you are done.
4. Use water as sound dampener
If you cannot alter your newly purchased camping generator mechanically, you can use another trick to suppress the exhaust noise. Instead of a fancy new muffler, use a bucket of water to muffle the noise. This trick is also used by fishermen or boat owners to silence their marine engines.
To do this, you will need:
- A stainless steel pipe house (better if it is a flexible pipe like this one)
- A normal drum or bucket that can hold up to 5 gallons of water.
Connect one end of the exhaust pipe to the generator exhaust and immerse the other end inside the water. As the generator is switched on, the exhaust will be filtered through water which will help in dampening the sound of the generator.
Make sure the water bucket is kept at a lower level than the generator’s exhaust pipe to make sure the water doesn’t seep inside the exhaust and chock it.
5. Change the location of your generator
The general rule is that as distance increases, so does the dispersion of sound. So, by moving the generator away from the camping site, you can reduce the sound of the generator and have a quiet camping experience.
This can work well if you are camping at a remote location with no other campers in sight, but this might not be the best solution if you are sharing the camping site. Also, moving the generator away from your location reduces the noise for you, but the noise is still there to disturb the other occupants of the wilderness i-e animals and birds.
How far should you keep the generator? Ideally, your camping generator should be at a distance of 20ft (7 meters) from your camping location. Depending upon your extension cord, you can further increase the distance to get a better generator noise reduction.
The below chart shows how noise reduces with the distance. Do remember that with every 10dB reduction, your perceived noise level reduce to half.
6. Make a generator quiet box (aka baffle box aka generator muffler box)
A generator quiet box, as the name indicates, is a box that houses your generator while it is running. It is internally lined with sound-absorbing material to reduce the intensity of the noise.
In my experience, a properly built generator quiet box is the ultimate solution for noise reduction. All the other solutions we discussed here only take care of one or another type of noise coming out of the generator but not all. The quiet box is superior in the sense that it suppresses all kinds of noises, be it the engine noise, the exhaust noise, the stator vibration, or any other noise coming out of the generator.
If you have tried all the generator noise reduction methods and your generator is not as quiet as you would want it to be, the last thing is to build a DIY quiet box or get one from the market that is compatible with your generator.
You can find a lot of DIY quiet box or baffle box tutorials on youtube but do keep in mind the following important point while building one:
- Install an exhaust fan on one side and an air inlet on the opposite side. Almost all camping generators are air-cooled so you have to make sure you don’t deprive the engine of air.
- Do not let the hot exhaust gases inside the quiet box. Make an extension and direct the gases outside of the box.
- Install a handle on top of the box to easily carry it around.
- A modular box that you can take apart is better than a stiff one for transportation.
If you are not into DIY projects, you can simply get a pre-fabricated box from the market. I like the one made by a company called zombiebox.
Which are super quiet generators for camping?
All the tips to reduce noise we discussed above works great if you already have a generator. But if you are starting new and don’t yet have a generator, you have an opportunity to select something that is super quiet to start with.
I would consider a generator quite quiet if it has a decibel value of less than 70 dB at a 20 ft distance.
Below is a tabulated list of a few well know camping generators along with their experimentally noted noise level values near the generator and at a 20ft distance while the generators are under a 1500-watt load.
|Generator make/model||Power rating||Noise @ 1 ft||Noise @ 20 ft|
|Energizer eZV2000P||2000 watt||86 dB||68.5 dB|
|Honda EU2000i||2200 watt||90 dB||67.5 dB|
|Champion 3400 (winner)||3400 watt||86 dB||67 dB|
|Generac iQ2000||1600 watt||85 dB||68 dB|
|Westinghouse iGen2200||2200 watt||89 dB||71 dB|
|Coleman Powermate||3250 watt||99 dB||77 dB|
|Energizer eZV3200||3200 watt||95 dB||72 dB|
How to quiet a generator – FAQs
Can you put a silencer on a generator?
Yes. You can put a car or motorbike silencer on a generator as a secondary noise suppression muffler. Motorbike silencers work better because they are designed for pulsating exhausts of 2-cylinder engines.
How many decibels is considered quiet for a generator?
A generator can be considered relatively quiet if its decibels are in the range of 55dB to 65dB measured at 20 ft from the generator.
Can I extend the exhaust on my generator?
Yes. You can easily extend the exhaust of your generator by attaching an off the shelf exhaust extension pipe. These pipes are normally flexible and made of stainless steel. You can get one from Amazon or buy in your local store.
Why are inverter generators so quiet?
Inverter generators are quiet because they operate on varying load capacities. A non-inverter generator runs at full engine capacity even without any load producing high noise. Inverter generator speed up or down with load hence are relatively quieter.