South Lake Tahoe planners to discuss noise policies with surge of permit requests for home generators

Residential house natural gas backup generator.
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — With a surge in inquiries and permit applications for whole house generators, the city of South Lake Tahoe Planning Commission on Thursday will discuss and provide feedback on whether noise policies should be revisited by the city council.

The City, like most local governments, has historically maintained noise standards for permanent household equipment and nuisance noise standards to protect residential neighborhoods from intrusive noise. 

City residents experience power outages due to heavy winter storms for multiple reasons, when infrastructure maintenance is needed, potentially when the threat of wildfires can force shutoffs to avoid lines sparking flames, and potentially during peak power demand periods when customers are requested to limit power use. Power outages can have a variety of effects on a household including the ability to work or run a business from home, ability to protect food from spoiling, ability to run medical equipment, ability to heat a home, and ability to conduct regular household activities without power. These issues are exacerbated during prolonged power outages.

An option available to alleviate these effects is to install a partial or whole house standby generator. These are differentiated from portable generators in that they are larger, permanent installations that sit outside of the home and are hardwired into the electrical system. Also, portable generators typically will keep the most basic electrical items running but aren’t backup power for the whole house. 

Permanent standby generators, wired into the home’s electrical panel, can also sense a power interruption to the house and automatically turn on, ensuring minimal loss of power and limited potential damage to the home and its systems. A standby generator is connected to a backup power source such as a natural gas line or liquid propane tank. A typical whole-house generator costs between $1,500 and $8,500 depending on the size, the power source, the type of start, and the cost of labor and permits. Installation of a whole house generator requires a building permit due to the need for permanent electrical and gas connections and the potential need to install a transfer switch. The cost of this type of building permit is currently $216.

“With the availability of whole house generators on the market we have had quite a few inquiries and permit applications to install them,” said the city’s Director of Development Services Hilary Roverud. “A building permit is required for the gas and electrical connections.  

Complying with the noise standards often requires additional cost of a sound mitigating enclosure, which has caused frustration from homeowners who want a whole house generator.

“We are bringing this discussion item to the Planning Commission to get their feedback on whether these standards should be revisited in order to better accommodate this new technology or to maintain the standards as is,” Roverud added.  

During full load operation a whole house standby generator creates noise at levels between 60 and 70 decibels measured from 20 feet away, which does not meet the city’s General Plan standard of 45 dB at night and 55 dB during the day. Portable generators, in contrast, generally create noise levels around 80 dB.

Installation of air conditioning units has not been common in South Lake Tahoe homes, therefore adverse impacts from residential units have not been common either, said the staff report in the meeting agenda. However, although not as clear of a trend as interest in whole house standby generators, there has been an increased interest in installing air conditioning units and an anticipated interest in installing mini-split heat compressor units. Air conditioning units and mini-split heat pump compressors are also subject to the non-transportation noise source standards.

Advances in technology since the modern air conditioning unit was introduced have reduced noise levels of air conditioning units in operation, especially since the 1990’s when the energy efficiency of the units significantly increased. The more energy efficient a condenser unit, the quieter it will be. A central air conditioning condenser unit will typically have a noise level of 65 to 75 decibels while a ductless heat pump mini split system will have a noise level of around 55 dB.

Provided/City of South Lake Tahoe

The commission may also pass a resolution recommending the city council adopt an ordinance amending the code for expediting permitting processing for electric vehicle charging systems.

The full agenda may be viewed here.

The meeting will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at City Hall, located at 1901 Lisa Maloff Way. It was also be live-streamed on Channel 21, city website at, YouTube at and via Zoom at

An example of a residential house natural gas backup generator.
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