One of the features that many people look for in a generator is a low noise level and while finding it can be a challenging task, there are many good options that can be considered. When you are searching for a model that won’t hurt your your ears or cause you headaches, it is important to consider the factors that have an impact on the way sound is produced and measured. Unfortunately, there are many generators that offer a powerful performance but that should come with a health warning because they are unbearably noisy.
The good news is that if you opt for inverter generator, you would be able to enjoy a quieter experience without compromising quality or power. What allows these generators to provide a quieter performance is the way they are constructed and how they work. Inverter models are the right choice if you are focused on getting the quietest generator available. However, there are a few things that you need to consider to determine which is the quietest generator.
How can you tell which is the quietest generator?
The right way to establish which is the generator that produces less noise is to pitch the models against each other in the same conditions and considering the same factors. This means that you would need to put them side by side and start them up simultaneously. The surroundings and connections have to be the same and you would also need to stand at the same distance from each generator. Of course, in order to get exact measurement of the level of noise produced, you would need to use a decibel (dB) meter. It is likely that the dB reading that you get would not match the information provided by the manufacturer because the conditions affect the results.
Generator manufacturers would determine how noisy or quiet a generator is by considering the decibel meter. However, decibels are only a measurement and while they serve as a reference, they are a subjective way to look at the sound produced by a generator. You would need to ask yourself if you are interested in finding out what generator is louder or if you are concerned about what would cross the line between noisy and annoying. Think about the way temperature is measured in degrees. The same temperature would have different impact depending in the circumstances.
What may be too hot for you, may feel cold for someone else. In the same way, the sound of a generator may be too loud for you but may be considered as normal for others, in spite of the actual decibel measurement. The constant noise of a generator may pass almost unnoticed for some people, but for others it may be exasperating. If you love to play music loudly or go to concerts, you will probably be able to handle high noise levels but if you have a low tolerance for noise, you may prefer the quietest generator that you can possibly get.
If you are searching for a quiet portable generator, it means that noise matters to you, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take into consideration other factors such as fuel efficiency, cost per watt produced, eco-friendliness and portability. With the exception of solar powered generators, it is not possible to get silent generators but you can get inverter models, which as previously mentioned, are the most quiet options. The downside is that inverter generators are considerably more expensive than standard generators that offer the same power.
Measuring Sound and Decibels
Sound is energy that travels in sound waves. When sound is produced the vibration of the object that emits the sound affects the air molecules that surround it. These air molecules also affect the ones around and a sort of chain reaction is created until it gets to the air molecules in your ear, prompting your ears to pick up the sound wave pattern so you can hear the original sound produced. If more energy is applied over the object that emits the sound (for instance if you hit a drum harder), there is an increase in the amplitude of vibration and you would hear a louder sound. Sound “intensity” is determined by energy and area and there are some complex mathematical equations to represent this. The intensity is measured on a scale of decibels. If a decibel reading is zero, that doesn’t indicate that there is no sound at all. This would only refer to the lowest sound that the human ear can hear and it is known as threshold of hearing.
It is important to note that a decibel rating of 100 is not double of a rating of 50. This is because decibel scales are logarithmic, which in simple terms means that every increase in 10 dB’s represents 10 times more. For instance, from 1 to 10, 10dB is 10 times more than 1dB but from 1 dB to 20dB, 20 is 100 times more than 1. 30 would be 1,000 more than 1 and 40 is 10,000 more. It is crucial to keep this in mind when it comes to choosing a quiet generator, because if you find a portable unit that is rated at 70dB, it means that it would be twice as loud as a model that is rated at 60dB. One more thing to note is that decibels are not additive, meaning that if you place together two generators that are rated at 60 dB, the total rating won’t be 120dB but more likely around 63 dB instead.
In order to understand better decibel intensity levels, take a look at some examples of common sounds and their respective estimated decibel rating.
- Whisper 20 dB
- Normal Conversation 60 dB
- Vacuum Cleaner 80 dB
- Front Row in a Rock Concert 110 dB
Quiet Portable Generators
One of the models that is worth considering in this category is the Yamaha EF2000iS, a generator that supports a reduced noise level thanks to its smart throttle and super-quiet muffler. At nearly $1000 it is considerably more expensive than standard models that offer the same power and similar features, but it has a lower dB rating. Compare for instance this Yamaha generator to the All Power America APG3014, a standard model that is available for under $250. While both support around 2000 Watts, the All Power is rated at 68 dB while the Yamaha EF2000iS’ decibel rating goes as low as 60 dB. However, it is important to consider that the decibel rating of inverters can changed depending on the amount of load that is being put on it.
Keep in mind that as the power output (wattage) increases, the decibels go up as well because in order to get more power output, you need a larger engine. Take for instance an inverter model that offers less power than the EF2000iS and that only runs at 900 watts, with a decibel rating of 47-57 dB. This would make it a less noisy generator than the All Power unit. Usually when the power output of inverter generators goes from 1000 watts to 6000 watts, the decibel level in increased from 47-57 dB to 58 – 64 dB. When it comes to standard generators, the dB rating increases from 65 dB to 75 dB with the same power output level. According to decibel scale, the difference between 65 and 75 would make 75 twice as loud as 65.
As a general rule, if your main concern is to get a quiet generator then you need to go for an inverter unit. However, if you are on a budget and would prefer to get a standard generator due to its affordability, keep in mind that some brands offer a quieter performance than others. You can consider the WEN 56352 3500-Watt 212cc 7 HP (horsepower) generator, which is rated at 67 dB and costs less than $320. The DuroStar DS4000 4,000 Watt 7.0 HP OHV 4-Cycle Gas Powered Portable Generator is another good choice with similar power and it is available for less than $290. However, it is rated at 69 dB.
The quietest portable generator would be a small 1000 watt inverter model rated at 47 dB and the highest rate of 76 dB would be for a 15 HP 10.000 watt standard generator. While the inverter generator would be the obvious choice for someone who wants a quiet unit, you also need to consider of it provides enough power and if the price suits your budget. Furthermore, you need to consider how are the dBs measured by the manufacturers as their reading could be misleading. Keep in mind that if the sound intensity is measured from far away, the results won’t be the same as if the readings are taken from a closer distance. The norm is to take the measurement at a distance of 7 meters, but it is difficult to confirm if that standard is being applied.
Additionally, the density of the air between you and the source of the sound can make measuring decibels even more challenging. The absorption of the sound by the ground and what surround you and the sound source also have an impact and you also need to consider that the measuring tool can also include the ambient noise into the rating. This means that if you measure the noise produced by a generator next to street traffic, you may get 80 dB, while the same generator in a quiet area may deliver a result of 77 dB.
Although the dB rating listed by a generator brand can serve as a guideline, it shouldn’t be taken as an exact measurement. Inverter generators do tend to be the quietest generators but in order to find the quietest inverter unit, you would need to compare similar wattage. The greater the engine size, the higher the noise level. There are generators that have muffler systems that work well at reducing noise output. The best thing is to think about what is your level of tolerance when it comes to noise and select a generator that suits your overall needs. After all, there are options to reduce the noise or to make it more tolerable. You can operate the generator further away, use sound absorbing materials to block it or wear protective earbuds while it is in use.