How to Make a Generator Quiet for Camping

Generators seem to have become almost as essential to camping as marshmallows. Only louder. As much as we want to spend time with nature, we also seem to want (need?) as many of the comforts of home as possible at the same time. A generator helps provide the comforts. A quiet generator lets a person hear the birds. It also keeps the person camping at the next site happier–which may be more beneficial than hearing the birds.

Here are 9 suggestions you can use to quiet your generator and help preserve camping tranquility.

9 Ways to Quiet Your Generator While Camping

1) Distance – Move the Generator Farther Away

The decibel rating listed for your generator is measured at a distance of 23 feet (about 7 meters) from the machine. (Some kind of industry standard that I do not understand.) You can bet that the generator will be louder, the closer you get to it, so if you want the decibel rating stated by the manufacturer, get it out there a ways. In theory, farther away is better but in a lot of cases, such as campgrounds, it may be difficult to place the generator much more than 23′ away without infringing on someone else’s privacy.

Man and woman camping in a tent with a generator sitting outside

Another thing to take into consideration is the length of extension cords you have, or are, using. And how heavy they are. The longer the extension cord, the less power will get to the appliances you are using. A 100 foot long 14 gauge extension cord will lose 6% of voltage by the time it delivers power. That is enough to cause motors to run hotter and it will dim lights noticeably. You will eventually be able to feel the heat in the cord itself. It is better to use a heavy 12 gauge extension cord (with multiple female outlets) to get the power close to where you need it, then lighter 6′ cords–if necessary–to plug in your appliances.

Note: Having an inexpensive decibel meter to check the noise levels at different distances might be instructive, and could possibly help prevent hearing loss. This CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) pamphlet states that 2 hours of continuous exposure to 85 decibels of sound (lawnmower or leaf blower volume) could damage hearing.

BAFX Products - Decibel Meter/Sound Pressure Level Reader (SPL) / 30-130dBA Range - 1 Year Warranty (Standard)

 

2) Place the Generator on a Soft Surface

The older, or more powerful, your generator is, the more likely it will vibrate. Vibrations on a hard surface like concrete or wood will only amplify noise. Make sure you carry BXI Anti Vibration Isolation Pads or a RevTime Anti Vibration Mat to set the generator on. Although most generators are tougher than a bent concrete nail, and will run at all kinds of weird angles, try to make it as level as possible. It will thank you by performing better and lasting longer.

I think that a mat is the better choice for a few reasons:

  1. Noise Echoes. Although most generator noise comes from the exhaust pipe, some will come from the motor itself. Most sound waves will flow out horizontally or vertically, but some will hit whatever is below the generator. A rubber mat covers the entire area below the machine and absorbs any noise before it has a chance to echo–eliminating at least a small amount of sound.
  2. Ease of Use. It is just much easier to drop the 28″ x 28″ x 5/8″ thick rubber mat on the ground, or concrete, or wherever you plan to locate your generator. The pads are excellent at reducing vibration, but a little more annoying to position under the four feet of the generator. 
  3. Protection. If the generator motor happens to leak oil, or a little gas gets spilled when refueling, the mat offers some protection from staining. (Note: This mat is not absorbent so it will not soak up any large spills. They will just run off.)

BXI - Anti Vibration Isolation Pads - 6 X 6 X 2 inches 2 Pack Rubber & Cork Pad - Thick & Heavy - Excellent at Low Frequencies, Great Acoustic Isolation for Speakers, Washers, Machines, etc

 

RevTime Anti-Vibration Mats, 28

 

3) Positioning the Generator’s Exhaust

This should be obvious, but it bears mentioning. Much, if not most, generator noise comes from the exhaust. Once you have decided where to locate your machine, make sure the exhaust points in a neutral direction–not at your tent/fire/RV or at any of your neighbors. 

Re-route the Exhaust

Most generator exhaust systems vent horizontally, which has a tendency to be noisy. An exhaust that points straight up is much quieter because the majority of the sound is directed upward where it will find very few people to annoy. Depending on the make of your generator, you can use something like the Walker Flex Pipe Kit or the Walker 41785 Intermediate Pipe to redirect your exhaust. There are so many different sizes and configurations of generator exhaust systems, you will have to get the thing apart, do some measuring, and probably have to get clamps and/or pipe reducers to do the job properly.

Note: The biggest downside of having the exhaust pointing vertically is getting rain into it. You can find all kinds of devices to prevent this. When I was a kid, we used a pretty low tech device to protect the tractor exhaust–an empty soup can.

Walker 36319 Flex Pipe Kit

Walker Exhaust 41785 Exhaust Intermediate Pipe

 

4) Attach an Automobile Muffler to the Generator Exhaust?

I am including this option–with the question mark–because I have seen it recommended. It has also been suggested that adding an automobile muffler is a waste of time and money. I have seen claims of up to 15 decibel sound reduction using a car muffler. Most people seem to feel that getting a used muffler from a wreckers is the way to go. If I were to try adding a muffler to my generator, I would try something like the Walker 22022 Muffler (designed for use on agricultural equipment) because it is new and not very expensive.

Walker 22022 Muffler

If I were considering this option, I would probably try something like the Badass Shark Motorcycle Silencer Exhaust instead of an automobile muffler. The reviews are very good, and if it can quiet something as obnoxious as a motorcycle or dirt bike, it should certainly help a loud generator. (Note: Full disclosure–I know next to nothing about motorcycles or their exhaust systems. This just seems like a reasonable idea to explore.)

Badass Sharks 22mm Motorcycle Exhaust Muffler Pipe System for Motorcycle Street Dirt Bike Pipe Silencer Racing

 

Replace the Original Generator Muffler

Most generators come with some kind of muffler–some of them quite rudimentary. Mufflers become plugged or wear out, or rust out. If your generator has been around for a while, it might be good idea to replace it before moving into something exotic like automobile mufflers. Your owners manual will usually provide part numbers and purchase options. Amazon also offers many after-market options that are compatible with many makes and models such as the Dalom GX 160 Exhaust Silencer Muffler.

Dalom GX 160 Exhaust Silencer Muffler for GX110 GX120 GX140 GX160 GX200 5HP 5.5HP 6.5HP Engine Predator 212CC Generator Replaces 18310-ZF1-000

Note: This may be a perfect time to also get a 90 degree pipe extension enabling the exhaust to vent vertically.

 

5) Generator Maintenance

Generators are tough. Some of them will take an enormous amount of abuse and still keep running. But all of them will run better, longer, and quieter with a little tender loving care–most of which is not difficult, expensive, or time consuming. Your owners manual should provide all the information you need–such as timing of the maintenance, types and weight of oil, air filters, fuel filters, spark plugs, mufflers. Or check the website for a manual, tips and tricks, maybe contact info if you have questions. 

Note: Regular maintenance helps prevent motor backfiring. Which is way louder, and more annoying than the noise a generator makes while in operation. Often loud enough to require a change of underwear.

  • Change the oil. Clean, fresh oil always makes motors run quieter and smoother and longer. 
  • Air filter. Sufficient air intake is necessary for smooth motor operation. Make sure the filter is cleaned or replaced as required.
  • Fuel filter. Even if you think your fuel is always clean, it never hurts to change the fuel filter when your owners manual suggests.
  • Check the spark plugs. Spark plugs usually will last for a few years. But removing them, cleaning with a wire brush, and checking the gap with a spark plug gap gauge does no harm. Clean and properly gapped (owner’s manual) spark plugs last longer and help the motor run smoother.
  • Muffler. Your owner’s manual may recommend muffler replacement after a certain amount of hours of operation. Failing that, you can remove it every year, and inspect it for holes, rust, rattles, or other defects. When in doubt, replace it.

One of the other potential noise-making areas to check regularly is bolts and nuts. Tight or loose? Loose feet, wheels, motor mounts can cause rattles and vibrations that only increase or magnify the noise of the your generator. Make sure things are tight.

CTA Tools 3235 Ramp-Type Spark Plug Gapper, Original Version

 

6) Surround the Generator with Sound Suppressing Barrier.

Suppressing the sound from your generator can be as simple as leaning pieces of plywood around it, or with a little creativity, you can have a barrier made of soundproofing material like Mass Loaded Vinyl. MLV can be attached to the generator side of 5 pieces of plywood with nails, screws, or staples. (It has an STC rating of 23 which means a reduction of up to 23 decibels.) One of the big advantages to this type of soundproofing is portability. Five pieces of 3/4″ plywood–even with MLV attached is only around 4″ thick meaning you can stack it against walls or lay it on a truck deck without taking much room.

Pretty simple to place your generator, lean your soundproofing plywood against the machine, wrap it with a ratchet strap or really long bungy cord to hold it in place, and drop the fifth piece of plywood on top. Done. Make sure you cut a couple of holes for air intake and exhaust. 

Note: You should keep an eye on the heat build up–specially if you have an older generator. Most of them were not made to idle slower when the load comes off them. You may have to open up the top some to allow for cooling.

Noise Grabber Mass Loaded Vinyl 4’ x 25’ (100 SF) 1 LB MLV Soundproofing Barrier, Best Quality, Made in The USA

RHINO USA Ratchet Tie Down Straps (4PK) - 1,823lb Guaranteed Max Break Strength, Includes (4) Premium 1

NAGU 70

Keep in mind that almost anything you can place between you and the generator will work to diffuse and decrease noise. Even something as simple as placing the generator behind a tree (big tree) or bushes or a fence will decrease the amount of decibels reaching you. Take some readings with the decibel meter before, and after, you get it into position. Quite likely you will be pleasantly surprised.

 

Heavy Duty Removable Generator Covers

IGan Generator Running Covers will provide a weatherproof cover while your generator is running and it will also decrease noise. Although not made for noise suppression, any heavy duty tarp will help reduce sound. It is quite user-friendly with flaps that open and close for access to all necessary parts of the machine–while running.

IGAN Generator Tent Running Cover, Ultra Heavy Duty Tarpaulin Enclosure, Portable All-Weather Generator Rain Shelter for Most 3500w-12000w generators, Black-1

 

7) Build a Soundproof Generator Box

DIY soundproof box

Building a soundproof generator box is a good way to reduce noise–specially if you have to locate the generator closer to your campsite or RV. There are probably almost as many designs and ideas as there are builders–and many of us want to change it almost before we get it finished. One type of design is represented by this picture. You can also find one with wheels in our article How to Make a Generator Quiet, and more in our article 9 Ideas and Plans on How to Build a Soundproof Generator Box. Almost all of these soundproof box plans are for generators that stay pretty close to home, or go as far as job site. Here is a plan based on a camping generator. At least one that I would use.

This plan is really just a more refined version of ‘lean 4 pieces of plywood around the compressor and strap it in place with a ratchet strap’.  Portability and storage space are usually important factors when camping is involved. So I am suggesting this generator box with both those in mind–along with providing a quiet enclosure. And quick, and easy assembly. You probably do not want to spend hours setting this up. (Cuts into birdwatching and beer time.)

Material:

Note: You can use MDF or OSB instead of plywood, but they absorb water easier–and it will probably be out in the rain occasionally. 

8 Packs 4⅝ x 3¾ Inches Lift Off Hinge Flag Hinges Detachable Door Hinges, Aluminum Alloy Hinge with 10 Mounting Countersunk Holes, Thickness 2.2mm, Max Load 110 lb One Pair(Screw not Included)

How to:

  • Measure the size of your generator and add 4″ in each direction.
  • Cut 5 pieces of plywood to size–2 sides, 2 ends, 1 top.
  • Attach Mass Loaded Vinyl to the inside surfaces. (Yes, I know that some of the ends will be exposed, but I am trying for quick, easy, functional.)
  • Set up the sides and ends on a level surface and use your ratchet strap to hold them together. (You can also screw them together temporarily while you install the detachable door hinges.) Make sure the box is square. You can use a carpenter’s square and some scrap lumber to screw square backing onto your workbench for the box to sit against.
  • Install 2 detachable door hinges on each inside corner–top and bottom. Make certain they all operate in the same direction. 
  • Fit the lid onto the box. It should be flush all the way around. 
  • Install 4 detachable door hinges–2 on each side. Make certain they all operate in the same direction.
  • Drill a 4″ hole in each end for air intake and exhaust venting. Install a Vent Cover over each opening. They have fins that will direct some sound down towards the ground. (The vent hoods make stacking and transporting a little tougher, so you may want to use a spare piece of MLV stapled at the top only as a vent flap. Attach the exhaust flap to the outside of the box; intake flap to the inside of the box.)
  • Cut 2 or 3 half-round holes in the bottom of whichever panel your electrical cords are coming out of so they are not being pinched.
  • Finish the exterior with one coat of good primer sealer and 2 coats of exterior paint.
  • Mark the ends and sides so you know how they go together. Because you may have one hinge a bit higher or lower than the corresponding one on the other side, making the box fit together less than perfectly. Which will make you say bad words.

You should now be able to pull it all apart and stack it ready to take camping. 

I would set the generator on the RevTime Anti Vibration Mat, plug in the cords I need, then assemble the box around it. This should provide a fairly quiet campsite–even when the generator is running.

Swanson Tool Co S0101 7 Inch Speed Square, Blue

 

8) Buy a Generator ‘Zombie Box’

Zombie Box is a company that specializes in the manufacture of quiet generator boxes–small personal generators to industrial sized. These are portable, weatherproof, noise-reducing enclosures for all kinds of equipment including generators. Reduces noise between 50% and 75%. City and county noise ordinance-compliant in all 50 states. They are being used by all kinds of federal and state agencies to protect sensitive equipment–even against EMP emissions. Which might be a little more than you need.

Zombie Boxes are collapsible, making them ideal for camping. Somewhat like the plywood idea in section 7, the box can be taken apart for transportation. Then you can build it around your generator once it is in place. A little pricey, but will absolutely do the job.

 

9) Buy a Quiet New Generator

You might want to consider buying a new generator. For many reasons. Some of the new inverter generators are quiet–less than 65 decibels at maximum power (just a little louder than normal conversation). They are light–under 50 lbs. They are efficient–over 10 hours run time on a gallon of gas. And some of them are a little on the pricey side. Here are a couple you might want to consider.

For more detailed information about many quiet generators from 2000 watts to 10,000 watts please see our article The Best Quietest Generator of 2021.

 

1) Champion 100692 2000Watt Inverter Generator

Champion Power Equipment 100692 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator, Ultralight

This Champion 100692 2000 Watt Inverter Generator only produces 53 decibels of  generator sound. It weighs 39 lbs. making an easy carry to wherever you decide to position it. Runs up to 11.5 hours on just over a gallon of gas. Comes with two 120 volt outlets, a USB adaptor and is parallel ready if you need to attach another generator for more power. It is an excellent generator for providing sufficient power to a campsite not requiring a lot of demand.

 

2) Champion 100302 4000 Watt RV Ready Generator

Champion Power Equipment 100302 4000-Watt RV Ready Open Frame Inverter, Yellow

The Champion 100302 4000 Watt RV Ready Generator is made to power an RV campsite. Weighing 81 lbs. it is a little heavy for one person to carry too far. (There is a wheel and handle kit sold separately for old guys like me.) It only makes 64 decibels of noise (a little louder than normal conversation), and will run for up to 17 hours on 2.9 gallons of gas. The control panel comes with two 120 volt standard plugs, one 30 amp RV plug, a dual USB adaptor, and is parallel ready to attach another generator for more power.

 

3) Alternate Sources of Power for Camping

Jackery Solar Generator 1000, Explorer 1000 and 2X SolarSaga 100W with 3x110V/1000W AC Outlets, Solar Mobile Lithium Battery Pack for Outdoor RV/Van Camping

Solar generators are a quiet alternative to gas-powered units. By definition, they are going to be quieter–no motor, no exhaust. The Jackery Solar Generator 1000 has no where near the power of a 4000 watt generator. It is not designed to power an RV, but for smaller appliances like a CPAP machine, a couple of lights, a fan, phone, laptop, electric grill, coffee maker, etc. Weighing in at around 22 lbs. including solar panel/charger, it is ideal for outback camping and hiking. Comes with one AC port and two USB ports and can be recharged with the solar panel (5.5 hours), wall outlet (3.5 hours), or vehicle (5 hours).

This is not really a ‘generator’ but a rechargeable battery with a 1000-watt capacity. But the solar recharging station allows it to go anywhere there is sun.

 

End Notes

Where I will try not to bore you with what camping was like in ‘the olden days’. But my idea of communing with nature does not include cell phones, TVs, laptops, or video games. Probably no microwave, electric can opener, toaster oven, or ice maker. I have all that. It is called home. My idea of camping tends a lot more to peace and quiet, a good book, good beer, and good company. All of which probably puts me way out of step with the modern world.

 


Terry Schutz

I have worked as a contractor, sales person, and business owner in the construction industry for over three decades--mostly in home renovations and also as a home builder. I have been married to the same wife for 46 years. We have 3 children and 4 granddaughters. I have also been writing semi-professionally for about 20 years--construction articles, personal stories, and politically incorrect social commentary.


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