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Noise Control

This page provides examples of local noise control policies in Washington State, as well as relevant statutes and court decisions.

Overview

Inadequately controlled noise can adversely affects people's health, safety, welfare, property values, and the environment. Cities and counties in Washington follow three basic approaches to control noise problems:

  • (1) Adoption of noise control provisions based upon the state Noise Control Act, Ch. 70.107 RCW, utilizing decibel-based standards;
  • (2) Adoption of subjective "public disturbance noise" standards, which do not require the use of decibel meters for enforcement; or
  • (3) A combination of these two approaches.

Many smaller cities and towns have chosen the "public disturbance noise" approach.

Noise Control Laws

RCW 70.107.030(1) empowers the Department of Ecology (DOE) to establish maximum noise levels in identified areas or environments. The rules adopted by DOE establishing maximum permissible noise levels are contained in chapter 173-60 WAC, relating to maximum environmental noise levels, and chapter 173-62 WAC, relating to motor vehicle noise performance standards.

  • Chapter 173-60 WAC establishes three classes of environmental designations for noise abatement (EDNA), which are the areas or zones within which the maximum permissible noise levels are set. These EDNA zones are defined with respect to land use and can usually be applied to previously-established classifications in existing zoning ordinances or comprehensive plans.
  • Chapter 173-62 WAC relates to motor vehicle noise performance standards and establishes maximum permissible sound levels for motor vehicles on all public highways. 

Court Decisions

  • State v. Immelt, 173 Wn.2d 1 (2011) - The court found a free speech violation in a Snohomish County  ordinance that prohibited sounding a car horn except for public safety reasons.
  • Holland v. City of Tacoma, 90 Wn. App. 533, 954 P.2d 290 (1998) - Tacoma's noise ordinance, which prohibits the playing of car sound systems at a volume that would be "audible" at a distance of greater than 50 feet, was held to be constitutional.
  • Seattle v. Eze, 111 Wn.2d 22, 759 P.2d 366 (1988) - The court upheld a Seattle ordinance that prohibited "unreasonably" disturbing others with "loud or raucous behavior" while on a public bus. The ordinance met constitutional requirements of sufficient certainty to provide adequate notice and to avoid arbitrary enforcement.
  • Spokane v. Fischer, 110 Wn.2d 541, 754 P.2d 1241 (1988) - An ordinance prohibiting frequent and habitual dog barking that disturbs or annoys “any other person or neighborhood” was found unconstitutionally vague.
  • Everett v. O'Brien, 31 Wn. App. 319, 641 P.2d 714 (1982) - The court upheld Everett's public nuisance noise ordinance in response to a claim that decibel measurements are required in order to establish a violation.  The court affirmed that violations could be established under a public nuisance approach.  

Decibel-Based and Combined Public Nuisance/Decibel-Based Noise Nuisances

From a practical standpoint, the decibel-based standards approach is the most difficult to enforce. This method requires the adoption and/or enforcement of noise control provisions enacted pursuant to RCW 70.107.030(1). Local governments may enact similar provisions establishing noise limitations for areas within their jurisdictions. RCW 70.107.060(3) requires that any difference between the local regulations and those provided for by the state must be approved by DOE. If DOE has not acted within 90 days after a local ordinance has been submitted, the local provision is automatically approved.

Quite a few Washington cities and counties have adopted combined public nuisance and decibel-based ordinances.  Some pair the DOE environmental designations for noise abatement (EDNA), set forth in chapter 173-60 WAC, with zoning codes to establish maximum permissible environmental noise levels for specific areas. 

  • Chapter 173-60 WAC establishes three classes of environmental designations for noise abatement (EDNA).  EDNA zones are areas within which the maximum permissible noise levels are set and are are defined with respect to land usage.  These zones can usually be transferred to previously-established classifications in existing zoning ordinances or comprehensive plans.
  • Chapter 173-62 WAC relates to motor vehicle noise performance standards and establishes maximum permissible sound levels for motor vehicles on all public highways. The chief problem with enforcing the state Act (or an equivalent local ordinance) is the focus on decibel readings. Not all communities have the equipment or the necessary training to enforce such provisions. One benefit to the decibel approach, though, is that there is less likelihood of a successful constitutional challenge under it than under other methods of noise control enforcement.

Examples of Decibel-Based and Combined Public Nuisance/Decibel-Based Ordinances

The examples below are combined public nuisance and decibel-based ordinances.

Examples of Public Nuisance/Disturbance Noise Ordinances

Another approach to the problem of noise control is through the enforcement of "public disturbance" noise ordinances. Public disturbance noise ordinances are based upon a subjective standard as opposed to measures of maximum decibel readings. Public disturbance noise provisions, while perhaps easier to enforce, may raise constitutional questions. Provisions must be sufficiently detailed to place a person on notice of what constitutes a violation but prohibitions cannot be so broad as to impinge on free speech.

  • Chelan Municipal Code Ch. 8.31 — Defines a public disturbance noise as loud, raucous, frequent, repetitive or continuous and includes, but is not limited to, construction activity at non-approved times, audio equipment, including portable  or vehicle audio, and vehicle horns or sirens clearly heard by someone at a distance of 75 ft. or more from the vehicle
  • Lakewood Municipal Code Ch. 8.36 — Provides that yelling, shouting, whistling, or singing on a public street in a manner that disturbs the peace is a violation. Restricts the hours that noise from construction and/or lawn/ground maintenance are allowed, from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. on the weekdays and 10:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. on the weekends
  • Oak Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 6.56 — Includes among possible public disturbances: the keeping of any animal and/or bird making frequent or long, continued noise
  • Omak Municipal Code Ch. 7.20 — Includes among possible public disturbances: yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling, or singing on or near public streets at any time or place 

Common Noise Nuisances

This section provides examples of some of the most common types of identified noise nuisances. Our page on Animal Noise nuisances deals principally with barking dogs while automobile-generated noise nuisances are covered in Automobile Nuisances.

Examples of Audio Device Noise Ordinances

  • Bellevue Municipal Code Sec. 9.18.042 — Creates quiet zones in which noises such as those coming from audio devices are prohibited if they can be heard from over 30 ft. away
  • Ocean Shores Municipal Code Sec. 10.08.060 — Restricts sound from portable and vehicle stereo equipment such that it not be audible more than 50 ft. from the source, increasing the distance to no greater than 100 ft. for portable stereos on the ocean beach 

Examples of Construction Noise Ordinances

Some jurisdictions regulate construction site noise by establishing designated hours for permitted construction for certain zones, such as residential zones. Others regulate construction noise through a provision in their general noise control ordinance.

  • Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 16.35 — Permits construction noise from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. during the weekdays.  Allows individuals or entities to apply for extended hours via a permit process
  • Poulsbo Municipal Code Ch. 15.32 — Prohibits construction activity within 1,000 ft. of any residence between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. on weekdays and on federal, state, or city-observed holidays. Weekend prohibited hours are 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.
  • Tumwater Municipal Code Sec. 8.08.030(G) — Limits construction activity that is audible from a dwelling to certain hours  

Examples of Mechanical Equipment Noise Ordinances

Noise from mechanical equipment, such as heat pumps, is often the subject of code enforcement complaints. Noise-generating mechanical equipment is generally required to meet the noise limits set by DOE in chapter 173.60 WAC, as well as local ordinances. Mechanical equipment is also regulated by building and zoning codes. Some jurisdictions provide that mechanical equipment may be located in a setback if the applicable EDNA noise levels are met at the property line.

Examples of Power Equipment Noise Ordinances

While hand and power tools and tools such as power blowers are viewed as labor saving devices, they can also be noisy. Many cities have regulated the times during which they may be used.

Examples of Rock Crushing and Gravel Operation Noise Ordinances

Generally, noises from manufacturing and extraction are regulated through performance measures.


Last Modified: August 17, 2017