Backup Generator and Neighbor Complaints

cactuscatieJune 11, 2012

We live in the city, our neighbors are very close. Our backup generator kicks on once a week for approx. 20 minutes. It is loud and they are complaining. No matter when we adjust the time, they still complain. Is there anything we can do to muffle the sound. They are threatening to call the cops.

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Is this unit louder than a lawn mower or gas powered string trimmer? Assuming the unit isn't running during whatever "quiet" hours you municipal ordinances specify, I can't see the cops doing much about it. Assuming they showed up inside the 20 minutes the unit was running.

Don't your neighbors work?

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 11:54AM
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You can improve the muffler or use an enclosure. If the muffler is old/rusted you should replace it. Using two or more is an option, but may affect engine operation.

Enclosures can actually make it worse if they are no more than a box around the gen. An enclosure with soundproofing will help. You may want to research "mass loaded vinyl" soundproofing material.

Some generators are very noisy, but none are so noisy the cops are going to do anything about a gen operated only during the day for 20 mins/wk.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 1:46PM
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Depending on the local noise law you (some places do not allow audible noise over a property line) you may have to install a better muffler.

Lawn equipment that is not permanently installed is usually exempted except at night.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 5:52PM
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Generator is definitely louder than a lawn mower. Our noise ordanance is in affect after 10pm. We have lots of neighbors around us, some work, some are moms with children and some are retired. We are also surrounded by pools, so everyone is out in the summer.

We are just trying to pacify everyone. Don't know if that is possible. Like my husband says - if the power goes out and we are the only ones on the block with electric, they will be asking to run an extension cord. Don't think the noise will bother anyone than.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 7:09PM
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"Don't think the noise will bother anyone than. "

Sure it will if you tell them "no" since you are not likely to have enough capacity.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 10:12AM
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Exhaust system components are not expensive. While rain must not be able to enter the exhaust pipe, extending the pipe up to roof level may help with noise as perceived by neighbors, especially if their houses are single story. Sound levels drop dramatically with increased distance. Look for ways to get the end of the pipe as far away from them as possible. Check about adding resonators in the system which help reduce noise while adding little back pressure. Ask at a muffler shop.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 7:12PM
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and they pissed you off by complaining in the first place. Tell them to suck the big one. They can thank their lucky stars you are not a biker connected to the under world.
Even if you are tell them to suck it. You have the right to power as every one else. I couldn't think of anything else but the biker thing. No offense to anyone.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 7:16PM
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I agree with bus drivers suggestion regarding relocating the exhaust as an option to reduce the perceived noise level but just wanted to add that you can also check RV parts stores, such as Camping World, for generator exhaust converter kits that route the exhaust up and over a motorhome - if for nothing else other than ideas - although there's no reason that they could not be adapted to home generator systems.

Also though, in my experience, unless you live in an area with an atypical climate, exercising a generator weekly may be a little bit more than is needed for a residential backup generator.

Many units offer programmable weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly exercise schedules. I'm quite comfortable exercising mine once a month - although I admit, when there is major weather coming in, I may do a good old "double check" just to make sure.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 9:34PM
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I currently own 2 generators and occasionally buy and repair them as a hobby. A surprisingly large percentage of the noise doesn't come out of the muffler, so you can only do so much with a muffler. I have noticed that it helps a lot to have trees, bushes, etc. between the gen and the neighbor. A fence with bushes around it will knock the sound level down.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 9:04AM
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"You have the right to power as every one else."

And they have the right to not have your noise polluting the neighborhood.

Excessively load pipes will get you a citation in many places.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 10:40AM
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I'm in the tell them to suck it camp. If the noise ordinance is in effect after 10PM then let them call the cops.
Some people whine WAY too much.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 4:17PM
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Why does it run once each week? Does it have an internal battery that needs to stay charged? Why does battery discharge in 1 week? Does house power keep battery charged? Is it an antique? Old?

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 10:36AM
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Cavell, ALL automatic standby generators exercise once a week or so. This is SOP.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 7:18AM
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Once each week? Is this some poor design criteria the manufacturers made to ensure units would wear out sooner? We have 7k onan genset on our motor home we start 3 times each year. We push button and it starts? Always has. Never once failed to start. Hmm.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 2:25PM
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Realistically or not, we expect backup devices to be more dependable than the primary device(s). A parked motor home not actually in use ordinarily has a lesser priority. I would "exercise" an automatic backup generator not less than once a month in any event.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 3:47PM
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Cavell, you cannot be serious. "Poor design"??? "Wear out sooner"???

A genset in a motor home is NOT an automatic standby unit. It is assumed you will use it a few times a year at least.
Some automatic standby units may sit for a year or more. When do you want to know about a problem, during a routine 15-20 minute exercise, or when your power is out on a Saturday?
If that happened you'd be all pissed that your $$$ generator didn't start and then you'd be looking for someone to point a finger at for that "design flaw".
I get the impression that you don't very often point a finger at yourself, do you?

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 9:39PM
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I am surprised at some of the comments here. These people are your neighbors, and regardless of what the law or some internet poster says, you should be treating them in a considerate way.

That you have a whole-house generator at all suggests that you are prudent and willing to take reasonable steps to guarantee that your future runs smoothly. These neighbors are part of that future. If there is even one complaint, that means it is time to work on keeping the neighbors happy.

The manufacturer is a good place to start. They will have dealt with this problem a thousand times, and know in detail how to muffle this exact unit effectively. In particular, they should know how to set it to self-test less often and for a shorter period of time. Once a week for twenty minutes is a bit much for your situation.

As Startle said, there are two parts to the noise. The exhaust is a big one, and then there is noise that comes directly from the machine itself.

For the machine noise you may be able to sink the machine into the earth, put up a shed around it, hang one of Startles sound absorbing curtains around it, or at the very least surround it with evergreen bushes (assuming they grow out your way)

For the exhaust there is something called "Back Pressure" which refers to how much resistance the exhaust gas meets on its way out of the motor. You can't just throw stuff on the pipe. You need someone who is familiar with motors to design your muffling so the machine doesn't have too much or too little, as it could hurt itself.

The entire problem is perfectly solvable. It will just take a little effort on your part. If you would care to post back here what you do, and how well it works, I imagine a number of us would be interested to read about it.

Good luck, Ken McE

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 8:36AM
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To much back pressure is a problem. Too little. I don't believe it. Do you have any documentation for that?

    Bookmark   July 2, 2012 at 2:20PM
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So you're within the law if the generator exercises before 10 PM? Neighbors who would make a major issue of 20 minutes/week of legal noise, at a time of their choosing, sound like a PITA whom I wouldn't spend money to appease. They're not showing any regard for your concerns, just their own. And some of the suggestions here (e.g. sink the machine into the earth) would be pretty expensive where I live, especially if you can't DIY. Of course, if you have a real relationship with these people then it's more complicated.

A couple of other points:

If your generator is like mine (2-year-old air-cooled Generac), it exercises at half-speed. It'll be noisier when it's supplying backup power.

It's a good idea to simulate a power outage occasionally, to verify that the transfer switch works and the generator can actually supply power to loads.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 11:20AM
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I have a 17 KW Generac whole house generator. It is set to come on every SATURDAY at 2 PM and runs only 10 minutes. This is necessary under warranty to keep the expensive engine properly lubericated.

My generator does not make any more noise than a 5 ton air conditioning unit, and no one complains about that.

The problem I have with my unit is the exhaust air which is very hot if run for long periods like 2 days during tornado, completely kills out any vegitation surrounding it. I asked the installer if I could put up something to reflect the heat and he said no that the heat does not need to be able to get back to the engine itself as it could cause it to overheat and void the warranty.

Don't want to do anything that will have me to spend another 8,000 bucks.


    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 11:36AM
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I'd bet those doing the complaining do not have one!! You know you can't please everyone - no matter what you do, they will complain. Put your teflon jacket on and let it roll off your back. I am fortunate, I live where there are plenty of them, and it is life. Oh, if the power were to go out in your neighborhood and it is extremely hot/cold, bet the complainers would accept your offer to run an extension cord for their frig! Ron

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 11:27PM
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I would put a straight pipe with 3" chrome tip on it for a couple of months and then put the muffler back on. They will welcome the old sound.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 12:05AM
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I used mass loaded vinyl and mineral wool to quiet my portable generator. These products can be added to attractive wooden panels. Below is a Standby Generator pictured with these products used.

Here is a link that might be useful: Soundproofing

This post was edited by Hardwarenutz on Sat, Dec 14, 13 at 12:13

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 6:04PM
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Do your best to appease the whiners. Maybe rotate the times of the gen test. Next time the power goes out, invite the whiners over to eat, drink, play cards, or whatever.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 11:02AM
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