And do you hear the mighty rumble? Yes, this is the sound of suburban South Africa: generators that hum on time (and sometimes untimely) due to the ongoing load shedding that plagues the country – and in some cases can cause ugly discord between neighbors.
In addition, the City of Cape Town and the Tshwane metro say they have certainly received more complaints about the noise generated by generators in the past few months.
A resident of Irene in Pretoria is one of those whose generator got him into trouble with the neighbors – and almost with the Tshwane metro.
Earlier this month, an official from the municipality arrived at the home of the resident, who asked that his name not be mentioned, and delivered a reminder stating that his generator does not comply with the city’s regulations.
The reminder states that if he does not stop using the specific generator, he can be fined up to R20 000, imprisoned for up to two years – or both.
It also states that the Tshwane metro’s environmental health department has received several complaints about the generator that “makes constant noise and disturbs the peace of the neighbours”.
“No person may use or permit any machinery, saw, sander, drill, grinder, lawnmower, garden power tool or similar device in a residential area if it causes a noise disturbance,” the letter reads.
According to the notice, no one may install a plant (such as a generator) with a total power input of more than 10 kW and/or 10 kVA on any premises without the prior approval of the local authority. The metro claims the resident’s generator is bigger than that.
The man says the neighbors have complained before that the generator is noisy and apparently causes smoke pollution. He then made great efforts to better insulate the generator and position it in such a way that possible exhaust gases do not disturb his neighbours.
It didn’t seem to help much.
The man says that in a search for specific regulations on the use of generators, he found, among other things, an information pamphlet from the Tshwane metro which states that the requirement for the installation of an emergency generator may not exceed an overall power input of 10 kW. However, it does not refer to any provision about kVa.
The size of a generator is usually indicated in kVA (kilovolt-amperes), explains a mechanical engineer. A generator of 10 kW is usually close to 12.5 kVA – and the man’s generator most likely complies with the metro’s regulations.
Pieter Els, co-owner of Talisman City Generators in Gezina in Pretoria, says different generators have different noise levels, but there are ways to reduce the hum.
New technology also means that some generators these days are “super quiet” when operating. A generator of 12 kVA is usually sufficient for an ordinary residential house, while diesel-powered generators are usually much quieter than their petrol-powered counterparts. The generator can also be built in a silent box with sponge on the inside to reduce noise even further.
Els’s recommendation for an ordinary house is a generator of 10 kVA, with a diesel engine enclosed in a silent box – and if it is placed in the right place, it should help keep the peace with the neighbours.
Many more noise complaints
The Tshwane metro and the City of Cape Town said in response to inquiries that they had received many more complaints about noise in the past while.
“This is accompanied by load shedding and especially its higher phases,” says Lindela Mashigo, spokesperson for the Tshwane metro.
However, he says noise is a subjective issue; and two people can experience the same sound in different ways. When the city investigates a noise complaint, it looks, among other things, at the environment and specific legislation to resolve complaints.
“However, when a complaint is not resolved after compliance notices have been issued, the city will prepare a dossier and refer the case to court. The court then decides on a punishment for an offender,” says Mashigo.
He also confirmed that the size of a domestic emergency power generator may not exceed a size of 10 kW.
Patricia van der Ross, mayoral committee member for community service and health at the City of Cape Town, says here too the department has “received a definite increase in generator-related complaints about noise”.
The Department of Energy regulates the approval of built-in low-voltage generation installations in Cape Town, although various other regulations may also apply.
The city’s municipal provisions on air quality also deal with the use of generators and contain, among other things, provisions on disturbance of rest.
Van der Ross says that when a complaint is received – about, for example, exhaust gases or smells – it is also dealt with in terms of municipal provisions. “We require the complainant to make a sworn statement about the effects of the exhaust gases on his or her health and well-being,” she says.
The metro can then, for example, request that modifications be made to the exhaust system of the device. “Therefore, the installing engineers must take the necessary care in the design and installation of the exhaust system to ensure that it does not cause any disturbance when in use.”
Noise control regulations also apply to the use of generators.
Be merciful neighbors
The engineer with whom Rhewal spoke says that rather than simply focusing on the enforcement of regulations, greater awareness must also be raised about the safe use of power generators – especially because it is an increasingly everyday phenomenon in ordinary households.
Great awareness is needed, for example, about the safe storage of fuel, proper installation, thorough ventilation and of course compliance with the various regulations.
“We live in a time of load shedding. We must at least also take into account the situation in which we find ourselves,” he says.
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