How Can I Make a Portable Generator Quiet for Camping?
Updated: Jan 22
Having a portable generator for camping might be important to you if you plan to go "off the grid," or in other words end up somewhere in the wilderness with no access to electricity.
When I was in northern Ontario fishing on a remote lake that could only be accessed by plane, a generator was all we had to power our cabin lights.
Generators can also be useful when RV camping to power your camper, or you might just need one in an emergency if the weather takes a turn for the worst.
Portable generators can be a valuable tool for the outdoors, but unfortunately they can also sometimes ruin the ambiance and the tranquil sounds of nature that we all aim to find when camping.
In this article, I have outlined some ways to quiet that incessant generator noise so you can focus on camping and enjoying the serenity of nature.
Why are generators loud?
Apart from learning how to reduce noise that your generator might make, it's also useful to know why they are so loud in the first place.
Generators make so much sound because, on the simplest level, they are an engine.
All motorized devices emit sound from the process of producing electricity, and generators don't differ in this regard.
A generator is usually powered by a petrol engine which transforms mechanical energy into electricity, thus producing the noise you hear.
The modern generator operates under electromagnetic induction by supplying direct energy or by charging the battery.
The primary sources of generator noise include the engine and exhaust.
Purchase a generator that meets your needs
Before we worry about quieting a loud generator, let's discuss the most proactive solution; avoiding a loud generator altogether.
Before purchasing any new generator, it's worth learning about the power requirements.
Depending upon which model generators you are looking at and what that specific generator will be used for, you might be able to avoid noisy generators entirely.
The more power generators produce, the louder the sound output will be.
You should try to determine the amount of electrical power you will need, what kind, and how much noise you can tolerate.
When camping, most people typically need just enough electricity to power personal electronics.
You can go with a smaller and less expensive generator for this purpose, so it might not be too obnoxiously loud to begin with.
With all that said, if finding a quieter generator doesn't match your needs, or if you already have a loud generator, read on to learn more on how to quiet a generator down.
So, how do I quiet my noisy generator?
Now that we have learned what causes the noise from generators, I want to get right into how to make your generator quieter.
There are many different methods in which to reduce the noise your generator produces, and which method you choose depends a bit on your resourcefulness, budget, and how much noise you can reasonably tolerate.
Move your generator farther away
Now, this might seem like an obvious point, but the idea is still worth mentioning.
The generator's distance from where you're camping can be increased to the point where the noise is no longer a concern.
This of course might not be possible if you are at a public campsite with other tents or RVs all around you, as you'll need to be considerate of the space you give your fellow campers.
However, if you are camping in a remote location in solitude, using extension cords and moving your generator far enough away to mitigate some of the noise might be the quickest and easiest option for you.
If you can, try to position your generator at least 20 feet from your campsite.
This doesn't involve any additional equipment, other than extension cords for whatever you are trying to power, and it doesn't require any kind of know-how.
This of course isn't the best solution if you are trying to make your generator completely silent, but it will give you at least some level of noise reduction; maybe even enough to enjoy nature's sounds rather than the loud hum of an engine motor.
Keep in mind that generators have engines that can produce up to around 95 decibels, so you might have to play around and adjust the distance at which you position your generator, depending on how quiet you want your campsite to be.
Face the exhaust pipes up or away from you
This method of reducing generator noise is not always possible, depending on which model generator you have.
It also will not provide the highest level of noise reduction.
However, if you wish to try a quick and easy method where moving the whole generator farther away might not be realistic, adjusting the exhaust pipes away from you might bring a little more peace and quiet to your campsite.
Whenever you use a generator at your campsite, it should be positioned a certain way if noise is a concern.
This is particularly true for the exhaust of the generator.
You will want to keep the side of the generator with the exhaust pipes facing away from your camping area.
In certain models of generators you can even tilt the exhaust away and upwards toward the sky.
This method isn't going to do much in reducing the vibration of the generator motor, but it might reduce the noise it produces just enough to make it less maddening.
Place the generator on a soft surface
This is yet another idea to quiet a generator that doesn't need to involve acoustic modifications or additional equipment.
An important consideration for determining the best way to quiet a generator is the surface on which the power is running.
Try to find a softer place for your generator around your campsite, such as a bed of long grass or soft dirt.
Once you have found a good spot, place the generator on the soft surface.
This will dampen the vibration rather than amplify it like a hard wood or concrete surface might. It is important not to touch a hard surface.
Generally, when camping, you can just put a small generator on a dirt or grass.
Since the noise from a generator not only comes from the exhaust but also the vibration of the motor, positioning your generator on soft ground or another soft surface will help to reduce these vibrations. Reducing decibels is a numbers game. Every single reduction in noise decibels, no matter how seemingly menial the reduction might be, can help your campsite seem quieter and more enjoyable.
When I was with my group at our cabin in the Canadian wilderness, the owner of the cabin had the generator positioned on a sheet of plywood.
While I'm sure he had his reasons for this, the generator resting on plywood with nothing in between made the noise of the generator's engine vibrations much worse.
This wasn't much of an issue for us though since we didn't need our cabin lights in the daytime, and the noise from the generator being outside wasn't too substantial anyways when we were inside.
Replace your generator's muffler
I have covered some of the easiest and quickest ways on how to make a generator quiet without making modifications to the generator or purchasing additional equipment.
Now, let's get into some of the ways that will require a little more work but will ultimately provide a more effective method of reducing the amount of noise your generator produces.
One common way to quiet a generator is by installing a muffler with a higher diameter. The purpose of a muffler is to dampen noise coming into and out of the exhaust pipe attached to the engine motor.
Inside the muffler are perforated tubes that deflect the sound from the motor to help reduce the sound coming out of the pipes from the exhaust. It's the exhaust pipes that produce the highest decibels of noise in a generator, after the engine motor.
The improved soundproofing of the wider muffler can reduce the noise from the exhaust by about 10-12 decibels which is much more significant than previous methods mentioned.
Use water as an additional sound muffler
If replacing an old muffler sounds a little too difficult then another idea on how to make a generator quiet is to consider using water as an additional sound muffler. This requires slight customization, but it is still an exceptionally quick and easy method for a quieter generator. You are essentially just running the exhaust pipe into water to muffle the sound.
First, you will need a five-gallon bucket filled with water. Try to keep your generator above the bucket of water.
You will then need a section of garden hose or other hose wide enough to fit around the tail of the exhaust pipe.
Using hose clamps, clamp one end of the hose around the exhaust pipe opening. Place the other end of your hose in the bucket of water. You can insert holes into the hose to help prevent backflow, but this is optional.
That's it. It's pretty straightforward.
This will provide a custom muffler to make your generator quiet.
Without letting sound waves travel through the air and instead forcing them through water, you will notice a significant decrease in the amount of noise your generator's exhaust produces.
Use Sound Deflectors To Quiet Your Generator
The next best way to quiet a generator is to use sound deflectors.
All that will be needed is 4 sheets of plywood and some nonflammable soundproofing material such as vinyl or sound deadening material.
While this method can be great as a more permanent solution to your loud generator, it might not be the most viable solution for generators that are portable and travel with you to various campsites.
Each piece can be positioned in different directions against a generator, as the point of deflectors are not to completely enclose the sound from the generator, but rather to change direction of the sound.
Build an Acoustic Enclosure or Baffle Box
A similar method to the deflector would be to create an acoustic enclosure or "baffle box."
This might be a better method of portable soundproofing than sound deflectors, as instead of having to construct something differently every time, you can leave a generator enclosure put together and simply place it over top of your generator once you have found how you want to position it.
The way it works is similar to why deflectors work, but instead of deflecting the sound away from you, you are trying to conceal, or baffle, the sound in the enclosure.
The enclosure contains the soundwave and dramatically lowers the noise decibel resulting from the generator.
The best thing about an acoustic enclosure is the fact that it is compact. You can pack the enclosure up in your car with the rest of your camping gear and bring it with you to the campsite.
To build the generator enclosure, you will need to build a box that is large enough in size to completely cover your generator, but not so large that it is too difficult to transport.
Line the interior of the box with nonflammable sound deadening material and use adhesive to keep the material secure to the interior walls of your box.
Be sure to make holes in the enclosure so that the generator can take in air and expel it through the exhaust to prevent overheating.
Combine this method with another, such as replacing the muffler, for the most effective way to make a generator quiet.
No camper wants to hear the obnoxious noise of a generator when trying to enjoy the peace of nature.
Fortunately, there are many ways to make a portable generator quieter.
Some methods require nothing but a little creativity, and others require a bit more resourcefulness and elbow grease.
Whether you use a method to reduce the generator's exhaust noise, or just reduce the motor vibration, either will be effective to reduce noise and better soundproof your generator.
I hope this article has been informative on how to make a generator quiet and helps give you some ideas on how to soundproof your generator so you can enjoy your next camping trip in peace.