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Sound Off: Should Village Relax Permanent Generator Regulations?

Resident recommends noise level be capped at 70 decibels or lower.

Kildare Road resident Amanda Mancuso asked village officials to consider a decibel rating change for standby generators to ensure the unique needs of her premature daughter, and those of her neighbors with medical conditions, are met during the next possible prolonged power outage.

"Nobody wants to hear the droning of the generator but in reality our storms are getting worse," Mancuso said. "For people like us who would really like the generator, not to have all the comfort and convenience of TV, but to make sure we have heat and/or air conditioning for our premature daughter, and to know people, our neighbors who are elderly, if we needed to accommodate them we would certainly do that. I think it's something that we need to reconsider."

Current village code requires a decibel rating of 56 or lower. Noting that the average decibel rating of a vacuum cleaner is 70 decibels, Mancuso recommended the code requirement be changed to 70 decibels or lower, a rating, she said, that accommodates most major manufacturers.

She also cited safety concerns, especially during Superstorm Sandy where a large portion of the village was without power for weeks. "One way to certainly offset intruders is illumination. I think it would certainly keep people away from a home and keep police where they need to be," she said, referring to the extensive police patrols in powerless areas during and after the storm.

Building superintendent Mike Filippon said a random sampling of various towns and villages found a range of decibel requirements from a low of 50 in neighboring Floral Park to 55 in Great Neck and a "low number" in Scarsdale.
The Town of  Hempstead itself, which is the noise ordinance Garden City is referencing, requires 56 decibels.

"What's very important is that the decibel rating the village is requiring is at the property line," Filippon said, noting that the ratings Mancuso mentioned are the ones given by manufacturers, which provide a decibel rating of seven meters - or 23 feet - around the unit.

According to an article in the Scarsdale Daily Voice, the community's board of trustees relaxed permanent generator requirements in January. "Previously, generators could only produce a maximum of 55 decibels of noise and had to be installed 20 feet behind houses. Now, generators can create between 66 and 70 decibels while in maintenance mode and can be installed in the rear or side yards, anywhere from three to 20 feet away, depending on the size of the lot."

Filippon said the building department is advising residents to engage an acoustical engineer early in the process - before a generator is purchased - because there are three paths to compliance:

1. an acoustical engineer can take the data supplied by the manufacturer and interpolate the decibel rating at a greater distance, such as at the property line.

2. A permit will be issued as long as the generator is in the right location. Once the unit is installed the acoustical engineer can do a field test at the property line to see if in fact at that distance it meets the sound requirement.

3. If options 1 and 2 fail, that same engineer can design an acoustical barrier and re-test it at the property line to ensure it meets the decibel requirement.

The village first invoked the sound requirement after Hurricane Irene, when the building department received inquiries about permanent generator installation.
"After Hurricane Sandy we got a flurry of inquiries about generators and we're invoking the same requirements we invoked the year before," he said.

Requirements have been listed on the village's website since Sandy. Ultimately the village board must decide whether or not to change the requirements.  "This needs to be codified but for now we're proceeding on this basis," Filippon said.

The department received 10 or 12 applications for installation after Irene, out of approximately 7,500 households in the village. "You have to weigh, in effect, the needs of 10 to 12 individual families against our obligation to protect the remaining 7,500," he said, adding that the department has its own acoustical engineer who uses data from that Town ordinance to come up with the village's required decibel level.

Trustee Dennis Donnelly saw the dichotomy - the differentiation between portable and permanent generators. "If someone is installing a permanent standby generator and therefore coming to the building department for a permit ... they have to abide by all these noise requirements. But if that same couple decided to buy a portable generator they could have it be at any decibel rating they wanted because there would be no permit required to do it. I think we have a structural problem in how we approach generators in general. I think it's important that we figure this out."

Though he hasn't experienced problems with issued permits thus far, Filippon noted that part of the overall problem is location.

The village's accessory structure rules apply to the installation of permanent generators - they must be in the rear half of the property.

While most accessory structures have to be in the rear half of the property they are allowed to be as close as three feet to the property line. The department  amended the code to say that any kind of equipment, including generators, would have to be at least 10 feet from the property line.

"They want to put it on the side of their house relatively close to the property line. We recommend that if they want a better chance at achieving the decibel rating that it be placed somewhere in the middle of the property," he said, adding that many people don't want to do that because of patios or they just don't want to feel and/or hear the impact while sitting in their yards.

"It's a question of who should suffer the impact, if any. Should it be the homeowner itself or should it be the neighbor?" he asked. "We're not Solomon. We're trying to solve a problem by being reasonable and achieving some sort of a compromise which will allow them in the first place but at least we've taken steps to protect the neighbors as much as possible."

What's your opinion? Should trustees change the decibel rating? Let us know in the comments section below.
Lurman February 27, 2013 at 07:59 AM
1. An Emergency portable generator, on wheels, to be used only when there is no electricity supplied to the residence, should have no noise limit. That's why they call it an "emergency." 2. A Standby Generator, permanently connected through the wall to the residence's electrical panel should have a 65 decibel rating measured at 10'. - These generators self test at random times during the month. Scary! - They must be natural gas generators - no one wants gas tanks next door to their homes on 95 degree summer days with expansion factors. - These generators must have baffling fences surrounding the 3 sides not facing the house - and a cover! 3. The Fire Department should be involved in the process, no?

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