This page provides examples of local noise control policies in Washington State, as well as relevant statutes and court decisions.
Inadequately controlled noise can adversely affects people's health, safety, and 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 of the smaller cities and towns have chosen the "public disturbance noise" approach.
Statutes and Administrative Regulations
- State v. Immelt, 173 Wn.2d 1 (2011) - The court found a free speech violation in Snohomish County’s public disturbance noise ordinance
- 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 Seattle's noise ordinance. The prohibition of "unreasonably" disturbing others with "loud or raucous behavior" 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 person in the 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
Decibel-Based and Combined Public Nuisance/Decibel-Based Ordinances
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 the state Noise Control Act. This Act empowers the Department of Ecology (DOE) to establish maximum noise levels in identified areas or environments. See RCW 70.107.030(1). Local governments may enact similar provisions establishing noise limitations for areas within their jurisdictions. Any difference between the local regulations and those provided for by the state must be approved by DOE. See RCW 70.107.060(3). If DOE has not acted within 90 days after a local ordinance has been submitted to it, the local provision is automatically approved.
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 usage and can usually be transferred to previously-established classifications in existing zoning ordinances or comprehensive plans.
- Chapter 173-62 WAC, relating to motor vehicle noise performance standards, 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.
Quite a few Washington cities and counties have adopted combined public nuisance and decibel-based ordinances. The examples below are combined public nuisance and decibel-based ordinances.
- Bellevue City Code Ch. 9.18 - Noise Control
- Kent Municipal Code Ch. 8.05 - Noise Control
- Seattle Municipal Code Ch. 25.08 - Noise Control - Extensive provisions on noise regulation
- Spokane Municipal Code Ch. 10.08D - Noise Control
- Thurston County Code Ch. 10.36 - Public Disturbance Noise
- Tukwila Municipal Code Ch. 8.22 - Noise
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 some constitutional questions. Provisions must be sufficiently detailed to place a person on notice. Prohibitions cannot be so broad as to prohibit free speech.
The following are examples of comprehensive public nuisance/disturbance noise ordinances:
- Chelan Municipal Code Ch. 8.31 - Public Disturbance Noise
- Lakewood Municipal Code Ch. 8.36 - Noise Control
- Oak Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 6.56 - Public Nuisance Noises
- Omak Municipal Code Ch. 7.20 - Public Disturbance Noises
Common Noise Nuisances
This section provides examples of some of the most types of common noise nuisances. A few of the examples listed are regulated by state law and have been noted so with the appropriate citation. The page section on Animal Noise nuisances deals principally with barking dogs. For automobile generated noise nuisances, see Automobile Nuisances
- Bellevue Municipal Code Sec. 9.18.042 - Quiet Zones - Audio devices, horns, signaling devices
- Ocean Shores Municipal Code Sec. 10.08.060 - Operation of Portable and Vehicle Stereo Equipment
Some jurisdictions regulate construction site noise by establishing designated hours for permitted construction for certain zones, such as in or near residential zones. Others regulate construction noise through a provision in their general noise control ordinance.
- Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 16.35 - Construction Hours
- Poulsbo Municipal Code Ch. 15.32 - Regulation of Construction Hours
- Tumwater Municipal Code Sec. 8.08.030 - Unnecessary Noises Described - Subsection G covers various construction activity
Heat pumps and air conditioners are generally regulated by the building and zoning codes.
- Lynnwood Municipal Code Sec. 21.44.400 (B) - Public and Semi-Public Zone - Accessory Structures and Uses
- Mercer Island Municipal Code Sec. 19.02.020(C)(3)(e) - Residential - Lot Requirements - Intrusions into Required Yards- Heat Pumps, Air Compressors, Air Conditioning Units, and Other Similar Mechanical Equipment
- Seattle Municipal Code Sec. 23.44.014(D)(12) - Yards - Mechanical Equipment Heat Pumps
While hand and power tools and tools such as power blowers are viewed as labor saving devices, they can be viewed as nuisances because of the noise and dirt blown into the air, and, in the case of gasoline powered devices, because they contribute to air pollution. Many cities have regulated the times in which they may be used.
- Kirkland Zoning Code Sec. 115.95(2)
- Shoreline Municipal Code Sec. 9.05.010(C)(9) - Noise - Illustrative Enumeration
- Tumwater Municipal Code Sec. 8.08.030M - Unnecessary noises described
- Woodland Municipal Code Sec. 17.16.080(A) - Performance standards - Exterior Mechanical Devices
Rock Crushing, Gravel Operations
Generally, noises from manufacturing and extraction are regulated through performance measures.
- Jefferson County Code Sec. 18.20.240(2)(f) - Mineral extraction, mining, quarrying and reclamation - Performance Standards - Noise
- Thurston County Code Sec. 17.20.110 - Mineral Extraction and Asphalt Production - Hours of Operation