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Cerritos homeowner has had it with new transformer's humming

Southern California Edison recently replaced the electrical transformer in the man's backyard. The constant humming of the latest one, he says, is keeping his house up at night.

September 05, 2009|Bob Pool

The noisy dispute in Cerritos has become a humdinger.

John Davis contends that a new electrical transformer behind his home of 33 years produces a constant humming sound that resonates through his house and keeps family members awake at night.

But he says complaints to Southern California Edison about the problem have produced a corporate ho-hum.

The transformer is enclosed in a 4-foot-wide metal box in the southeast corner of Davis' backyard on an otherwise quiet cul-de-sac called Rusty Fig Circle. It converts high-voltage electricity into household current that is fed to about a dozen nearby homes through underground conduits.

Until four months ago, a circa-1976 transformer was positioned in the backyard. Installed when his subdivision was originally being developed, it operated silently for decades, according to Davis.

On April 16, however, Edison workers upgraded their equipment by replacing the original transformer with a newer unit. To Davis' dismay, the new transformer emitted a loud whine, much like a refrigerator laboring on a hot summer day.

When he reported the noise, electric company workers replaced the new transformer with another one. It's somewhat quieter, but it hums nonstop, according to Davis.

"It's 13 feet from the head of my bed," said Davis, a 59-year-old retired postal worker. "At 2 in the morning when everything else is quiet, it wakes you up."

After he filed another complaint, power company employees returned to his backyard with a sound meter. They informed Davis that the transformer was operating within accepted industry noise levels.

"They basically told me I'd have to live with it," he said. "They said there wasn't anything else they could do for me."

Davis said he suspects the electric company is cutting corners with its equipment upgrade.

"The old transformer was made by GE and it worked with no complaints or problems," he said. "Southern California Edison apparently purchased noisy, inexpensive units because of its cost."

Edison officials dispute that.

"We use equipment that meets our requirements and have a high level of reliability," said company spokesman Steve Conroy. He acknowledged, however, that the first replacement transformer placed in Davis' yard was noisier than it should have been.

"We're going to send it back to the manufacturer. The one that's there now is a different model. It's brand new and considered state of the art," Conroy said. "At this point we have exhausted what we can do."

Davis said he wants the company to move the device -- a single-phase distribution transformer that is mounted on a concrete pad -- out of his backyard if its sound cannot be muffled.

Although there are no moving parts in the 3-foot-high box, the humming sound is produced by vibrations created by the magnetically generated elongation and contraction of the transformer's internal core.

Davis said he has used a guitar to determine that the hum is a similar frequency to that of a musical B note. The transformer is in a corner formed by a concrete block wall that funnels the sound toward his house.

Although shrubs and an overhanging avocado tree somewhat screen the device from view, utility company rules prohibit Davis from building a sound-diffusing wall in front of it. Electric workers require an 8-foot clearance for access.

Davis said he would be obligated to disclose the transformer sound to any future buyer of the three-bedroom home. But he won't be a humbug about it.

The master bedroom he and his wife, Nancy, use would make a good children's nursery in the future, he said.

"At night after you've finished singing lullabies to the children there will still be humming."

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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