Quiet portable generators
Generators are broadly accepted to be fairly noisy machines when operating under load, although the range of portable generators available that operate at much lower noise levels has improved dramatically in recent years. A common question amongst buyers - particularly those with domestic or smaller-scale uses in mind - is always ‘what portable generator is the quietest?’.
In truth, there isn’t generally a hard and fast answer to this question; the designs and build qualities of different generator models and brands vary widely and are constantly being evolved and refined. However, certain manufacturers and models are specifically marketed as quiet portable generators for those buyers looking to prioritise reduced volume levels over raw power delivery.
There are a number of factors which influence how loud or quiet a portable generator is while running. These include:
- Engine size (and associated power output capabilities)
- Overall build quality, most crucially of the engine itself
- Whether or not the engine is running inside an enclosure
- The precise setup and build quality of the exhaust system/muffler
- Cooling method (more cost-effective air-cooled portable generators are usually a good deal louder than water-cooled versions)
- Frame/housing design and construction
Typically, the quietest portable electricity generators on today’s market will often be more expensive than cheaper but louder versions. These pricier models tend to be the inverter-type generators, which usually feature very compact designs based around a smaller but more efficient engine, which is able to produce an equivalent electrical current from smaller-scale components.
Most inverter generators will also feature a fully enclosed plastic housing lined with noise-dampening materials, making them a lot quieter to run than the traditional open-frame versions (which naturally allow far higher levels of noise vibration to escape into the surrounding environment). They’re also smaller and lighter to transport than standard models, due principally to the reduced engine size.
Additional features to look out for when shopping for a quiet portable generator include an automatic or ‘smart’ throttle: this prevents the generator’s engine from having to run at a constant speed while ever it’s powered on, as is the case with many baseline or budget models.
An automatic throttle will sense what sort of power load the portable generator is being asked to supply at any given time and step down the engine speed to match this demand. As well as allowing for much quieter operation when not under full load, this is also significantly more fuel-efficient over extended run times.
Portable generators for homes
Portable generators for the home tend mostly to be kept on hand for those occasional situations where mains electricity is unavailable for a temporary period. They’ll typically only be used during long power cuts, and might be wheeled out for that exact purpose maybe once or twice a year at most (depending on where you live, the typical local weather conditions, and what the overall condition of the neighbourhood power grid is like). There is a wide range of portable electricity generators made and sold with occasional home users in mind. Many of these will be at the lower power end of the scale and may be marketed as ‘recreational’ units, intended only for powering one or two basic appliances.
Lights, fridges and freezers are the most common targets of portable generated power in extended outage scenarios at home, followed by communications or entertainment devices such as phones, computers and TVs/radios.
A good rule of thumb when shopping for an occasional home-use generator is to calculate the total power draw of any appliances or devices you’d definitely like to be able to keep running and choose the smallest available portable generator that will meet these power needs (with a little extra headroom for safety and peace of mind).
In terms of picking out what portable generator to use for the home, bear in mind the following rough guides to average power draw from common household appliances and devices - add them up, and subtract the total from the rated power output of any portable generator units you’re considering to see if they’ll meet your needs:
- Fridge-freezer - anywhere from 150W-600W, depending on size and features
- Incandescent light bulbs - generally around 60W-100W per bulb
- LED bulbs - usually 8W-12W per bulb
- Laptop computer - 50W-200W, depending on processor power and peripherals
- Smartphone charger - usually around 5W-15W, depending on make and model
- Home air conditioner - anywhere from 1000W-4000W, depending on size
- Kettle - 1500W-2000W
- Toaster - 800W-1800W
- Hairdryer - 1500W-2500W
- Microwave - 700W-1800W, depending on size
A lot of common domestic appliances can vary significantly in terms of overall power draw depending on make, model, age, condition, and eco ratings - so it’s always sensible to check the manufacturer guidelines for any specific devices you definitely want to keep powered on before calculating what size of portable generator to buy for home use.