Taking a portable generator with you on a camping trip is a necessity for some, and it’s completely understandable. It’s nice to be able to recharge phones and to use a portable A/C unit on hot summer days. It can make the trip even better, except for the noise that it makes.
Anyone who owns a portable generator, or plans to own one, should know how to make a generator quiet for camping.
There are a number of factors to consider here; there are some things you might be doing that are amplifying the noise without even knowing it, and there are several things that you can do to reduce the noise just a little bit or up to 50%. So how to quiet a generator for camping, our top 10 pieces of advice:
- Choose the Generator that Fits Your Needs
- Position your Generator Correctly
- Use Soft Surfaces to Lower Noise
- Face the Exhaust Pipes Up
- Use Sound Deflectors
- Create Your Own Quiet Enclosure/ Baffle Box
- Make Your Own Quiet Box
- Replace the Muffler
- Use a Car Muffler
- Use Water as a Muffler
Below we cover each of these point in detail :
How to Make a Generator Quiet for Camping
1. Choose the Generator that Fits Your Needs
Before we get into all of the tips and tricks to make your generator quiet, there are a couple of things you need to consider before actually purchasing a portable generator.
You should have a generator that is of an appropriate size for what you plan to use it for. The more powerful a generator, the more noise it creates. To avoid excess noise, don’t go for a generator that is bigger and more powerful than necessary for your power needs when camping.
Some campers only need or want a power source to charge small devices such as phones and tablets. In this case, all that is needed is a generator with a few hundred Watts.
Other campers take generators with them to power bigger things like a camping refrigerator, microwave, portable AC unit, etc. A generator with an output of 2,000 to 5,000 Watts is needed here.
There are some models of generators out there that are specialized to have a higher Watt output while being quieter than most. These, obviously, tend to be more expensive.
2. Position your Generator Correctly
Positioning is one of the simpler ways to make a generator quiet. Whether you want to quiet your generator for yourself or for your neighboring campers, where you place the generator is the first step.
Hopefully you are in a situation where you are able to place your generator further away from wherever your tent is. Make sure you don’t end up putting it closer to other campers though and ruining their camping trip.
If you’re lucky and you are camping somewhere where there’s no other people around, then you have two other factors to consider: the length of your extension cord, and how much of a walk you want to have between your tent and the generator.
All generators have a decibel rating, which are usually measured at about 7 meters out from the generator. So, if you want your generator to operate in that decibel range you should keep it around 20 feet away from where you’ve set up camp. At this distance, the amount of noise is vastly reduced.
If you have access to heavy-duty and extra-long extension cords, you can place your generator as far away as you want.
3. Use Soft Surfaces to Lower Noise
The surface that your generator is on while it’s running greatly impacts the amount of noise created. It’s important that whatever surface it is on is dampening the noise and not amplifying it.
Avoid all hard surfaces such as wood, concrete, or asphalt because they will only make it louder. Instead, opt for dirt or grass so that the noise can be absorbed and dampened.
If there’s no soft surface where you can place your generator, there are anti-vibration mats you could put under your generator instead. They are usually made of rubber and will help quiet the loud noise being emitted, but you have to make sure that your generator is grounded beforehand.
4. Face the Exhaust Pipes Up
Make sure that the exhaust end of the generator is facing away from your campsite, and that the exhaust pipes are pointed upward and toward the sky (if the model of your generator has this feature).
This will help direct some of the noise, and the exhaust, away from you.
5. Use Sound Deflectors
The next best thing that you can do to make a generator quieter is to use sound deflectors.
It is a very simple thing to do and it does wonders. All you need are four sheets of plywood, along with a sheet of non-flammable material, such as drywall which is relatively fire-resistant. These pieces should all be around 4 feet wide and 3 feet tall, although this can differ depending on the size of your portable generator.
Prop the four pieces up against the generator at certain angles. The fire-resistant sheet is for the side of the generator that has the exhaust. The last thing anybody wants is their deflectors catching fire.
Just make sure you aren’t blocking any vents meanwhile.
By placing the pieces of wood standing up against your generator, there’s room leftover for airflow so that the sound waves get deflected down into the earth.
This lowers the decibels immediately without influencing your generator’s performance in any way, shape, or form.
6. Create Your Own Quiet Enclosure/Baffle Box
Quiet enclosures for generators are great because they can also be used to make air compressors quieter too. They sort of act like a generator muffler box if you will.
If you do plan on using this enclosure for other loud appliances, especially if you plan on building one yourself, then make sure it is big enough. Same goes if you plan to buy one ready-made, consider the size before purchasing.
If built properly, this quiet enclosure can decrease the generator noise by at least 50% or more, and it should be built in a way that is capable of being disassembled for storage in small spaces.
A good enclosure can be assembled quickly and easily, and the outside surface has to be airtight to prevent any sound leaking out.
It is absolutely essential that the enclosure allows for air intake and output to keep the generator cool.
7. Make Your Own Quiet Box
To start building your own generator quiet box, you need to take all the proper measurements first. Any air gaps will let noise leak through, even if it’s just a tiny hole. There needs to be just enough space inside the walls and ceiling for ventilation equipment.
As per your dimensions, label the sizes onto some Medium Density Fiberboard, also known as MDX, and cut out what you need using a circular or table saw.
Measure the diameter of your ventilation ducts so that you can cut out the perfect size. Draw two circles of this size, one on the roof of your enclosure at the back and not in the center. The other circle should be on a side piece that will be on the opposite side from the top duct.
It is key that you add layers of free space to allow the sound to dissipate. The best way to do this is by adding more than one layer of soundproofing material.
Attach the first layer of soundproofing using GreenGlue Noiseproofing Compound. This layer should be made from a Vinyl MLV (Mass Loaded Vinyl) sound barrier material. This blocks noise, as opposed to foam which absorbs.
For the second layer, foam matting made of closed cell vinyl nitrile is ideal. You should be able to find this at any local hardware store. Cut it to size and glue it directly onto the vinyl layer, finishing it off by caulking the edges with more GreenGlue.
To assemble your DIY generator quiet enclosure, attach all four walls one by one with nails or screws. I think screws are better because you can easily modify your quiet enclosure later on if you want to.
If you want to build your box with a hinged top for easier removal, you will have to install the vents differently because hoses will cause problems.
Air supply is crucial, so make sure your generator is getting enough ventilation inside the quiet enclosure. If there’s a lack of air, your generator will overheat to potentially dangerous levels.
Use venting ducts that are very flexible, with lots of bends in them, when venting the exhaust from this soundproof box. This is because sound waves travel in a linear path, so the bends and curves will lessen the sound.
Thread the hoses into the holes you cut out earlier and secure them in place. You should also place a small vent over these openings too.
If you aren’t into DIY, you can simply purchase a ZombieBox which can lessen the noise of your generator by up to five times.
8. Replace the Muffler
This is one of the most popular ways to quiet a generator, especially if the methods mentioned above aren’t enough. Sometimes I am asked how can I make a silencer for a generator – well replacing the muffler is one of the best ways to do this.
Since a muffler’s job is to muffle the sound that comes from the exhaust pipes, if it’s not enough you could always improve the quality of your muffler.
Inside a muffler there are perforated tubes that have been designed to deflect the sound waves coming from the engine and thus lower the noise that escapes from the exhaust pipes.
Those exhaust pipes are the second loudest parts of a generator, the first being the engine itself.
By improving your generator’s muffler, you can quiet the noise down by around 10-12 decibels.
Finding a good muffler that fits your generator is not always the easiest task because of the many different types of many generators, and even more different sizes for exhaust pipes.
It is recommended to speak with an engine repairman or a specialized mechanic to advise you. There’s always a chance that your generator needs a customized solution.
9. Use Car Muffler
This does not always work, and I have to admit that I haven’t tried it myself but I asked a friend, who is a mechanic, about it. Before you even try to install one, try this one out for size:
Firstly, I would say that this should only be attempted if you happen to have a spare one lying around or obtained one from a scrap yard. Make sure to be wearing a thick leather glove to avoid burning yourself when doing this.
With an old rag, hold the car muffler over the muffler outlet of your generator. After a few moments, wait to see if you hear any difference.
Most likely you won’t hear any difference, and you are better off just using a quiet enclosure or placing mats under your generator.
10. Use Water as a Muffler
This may seem a bit strange but hear me out; if you’d rather not go through with replacing your muffler you can try this method.
A 5-gallon bucket of water, a hose, and a clamp are needed. The clamp secures the hose to the exhaust pipe. It’s very important that the generator is on higher ground than the bucket of water. We don’t want water flowing back into the generator’s exhaust pipe.
You could poke some small holes into the hose if you would like to be extra careful about the backflow.
Set up is easy and simple. Just connect the hose to the exhaust pipe using the clamp, and place the other side of the hose into the bucket of water. The water muffles the exhaust noise coming from your generator.
Why are Generators Noisy?
Most portable generators generate electricity through an internal combustion engine that runs on fuel such as diesel, propane, natural gas, or solar energy. What this means is that, while the generator is running, little explosions are going off inside that are generating your power.
This combustion itself is quite noisy, but even if that is rather insulated the exhaust is also creating noise.
Fumes from the combustion must be vented, and so generators are fitted with an exhaust port which serves as a channel for all the noise from the internal engine.
Sometimes it even seems like a small portable generator is louder than a big engine like in cars. Well, that’s because they are (relative to their size). It’s all about how they are made.
Both types of engines rely on combustion, but portable generators’ engines are encased in thin air-cooled materials that don’t insulate sound very well. Whereas the engine of a car is encased in steel and liquid-cooled.
Other things that contribute to the loud noise a generator makes are the amount of power it can produce. More power means more combustion, and so the louder it is.
Cheaper models, especially, tend to be the loudest.
Conditions also influence the noise, such as the surface the generator is placed on, as mentioned earlier. Surfaces that are shallow and shaky amplify the noise.
If you place a generator near any walls, or even the side of an RV, the sound can bounce off of the wall and be amplified even further. Open spaces are necessary.
Remember, the sound level of a generator is measured in decibels or dB. Portable generators tend to be between 60 to 90 decibels, but there are some which go over 100 dB. For reference, most vacuum cleaners and dishwashers make around 60 to 70 decibels of noise. It’s bearable, but in small bursts.
When camping, something noisy like a generator can disrupt wildlife, violate noise restrictions, keep you up at night, and ruin your trip altogether.
It is possible to build much quieter generators, but they would be extremely heavy and thick which defeats the purpose of it being portable.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the quietest portable generator for camping?
There’s a lot of dispute about which portable generator out there is the quietest. The top 3 of 2020 are: WEN 56200i, with a noise level of 52 dB, and running/starting Watts of 1600W/2000W. Second is the Honda EU2200i, 49 dB noise level, and 1800W/2200W running Watts, with the Yamaha EF2000iSv2 as third at 51.5 dB noise level and running Watts of 1600W/2000W.
How do you soundproof a generator?
It is impossible to completely eliminate the sound coming from a generator, since you can’t completely enclose it because of exhaust ventilation and airflow. However, you can reduce the noise by a great deal by building a soundproof box.
Hard materials such as concrete, metal, or wood can increase the noise – especially if they aren’t on a flat surface.
You can place the generator on a soft surface, like grass, or to put the generator in a quiet box to help reduce the noise.
You can use Mass Loaded Vinyl, making the wall denser by 50% and decoupling your generator from the floor and dampen vibrations.
Can I put a quieter muffler on my generator?
Yes. You may need to consult with a specialized mechanic first, but improving your generator’s muffler can greatly help reduce the noise.
Why are Honda generators so quiet?
The main reason is because they are inverter generators, which uses technology to produce clean electricity. So, inverter generators are quieter on their own thanks to the technology, but on top of that Honda add other noise minimizing features their generators.
What does 52 dB sound like?
Every single sound has a decibel level. Something that is 52 dB, then the noise level is similar to that of an electric fan, a hair dryer, a running refrigerator, and even a quiet street.
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