Tropical storms, derechos and large snowstorms have led to an increase in generator sales in the region and more generators can mean more noise during power outages.
Generator sales have doubled every year for the past three or four years, said Jim Fab, owner of Fab Electric in Gaithersburg. When he first started installing generators 25 years ago, he would install perhaps one or two per year. In 2012, his company was installing 20 generators per month.
“Ninety-five percent of our sales are people tired of losing power — 5 percent is medical related,” Fab said.
The loudest generator he sells has a maximum level of 63 decibels, he said.
Montgomery County’s noise ordinance stipulates that levels must not exceed 55 decibels when measured at the property line.
Barriers can be erected to mitigate the noise, but Fab said most people don’t buy those. He said generators, which he said are quieter than lawn mowers, are used only a couple of times a year during power outages and are life-safety equipment. He said he hasn’t heard of many noise complaints because of them.
The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection received 15 complaints about generator noise in 2012, said spokeswoman Esther Bowring.
Each complaint is investigated and if no immediate resolution can be reached, a notice of violation is issued, Bowring said. Four notices were issued in 2012 for generator noise violations, but no citations have been issued for 2012 complaints.
Every time a storm has knocked out power in the past few years, Kinzie Inc. has received hundreds of inquiries about generators, said Robert Kinzie, chief marketing officer for the Bethesda company.
The Cummins generators his company installs reach 62 decibels, he said, and most customers are conscious of the noise they cause.
There are plenty of reasons people want to install a generator, from those running home offices to people with medical problems and older people who can’t be without power for long, he said.
The generators his company installs — depending on capacity — can cost from $18,000 to $80,000.
Nancy Navarro, president of the Montgomery County Council, said her family purchased a small portable generator before Tropical Storm Isabel hit in 2003 and is considering purchasing a partial home generator. Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said she hasn’t received any complaints about noise from her neighbors.
Somerset has seen more residents applying for generator permits and Mayor Jeffrey Slavin said residents who install generators are required to mitigate the noise.
“People who have installed generators are very interested in being good neighbors,” he said. “They place them where they have the least impact as possible.”
Some Somerset residents don’t see a need for homeowners to have generators and don’t want Somerset to be known as “generator city,” while others have a real need for continuous electricity for health and safety reasons, Slavin said.
The increase of generators in Somerset started after the big snowstorms, dubbed “Snowmageddon,” in February 2010 that left thousands of people in the region without electricity.
Slavin said Pepco’s service has “marginally improved” since then, but there are still “way too many power failures. It’s unacceptable.”
Slavin said he hasn’t installed a generator for his home because he doesn’t want to deal with the expense or decide where to put it.
“I’d rather rough it for a few days, but it’s very frustrating,” he said.
Pepco is working to improve its service and began a plan in September 2010 to improve reliability both day-to-day and during storms, and that plan helped with better response times during Sandy in October, Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal said.
“If customers decide to purchase a backup generation system, we strongly recommend they have a professional install and configure it to ensure that it will operate safely,” Beal said.