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Light Nuisances - Ambient Light, Light Pollution, Glare

This page provides information related to light pollution and nuisances for local governments in Washington State, including examples of local code provisions.

It is part of MRSC's series on Nuisances: Regulation and Abatement.


Light pollution includes misdirected light, stray light, avoidable reflected light, light during hours when it is not needed, and light levels in excess of what is necessary for the task.

According to the Illuminating Engineering Society of America, light trespass complaints can usually be classified into two categories: unwanted light illuminating an area or property and excessive brightness in the normal field of vision. Problems of glare from building reflections are generally regulated through building and zoning codes.

For new development, the SEPA Checklist (WAC 197-11-960) at Environmental Element (11) covers light and glare and includes questions.

Examples of Local Ordinances

  • Model Lighting Ordinance, International Dark-Sky Association and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America - From Website: The MLO outdoor lighting template is designed to help municipalities develop outdoor lighting standards that reduce glare, light trespass, and skyglow. The MLO offers several innovations to outdoor lighting regulation, including the use of five lighting zones to classify land use with appropriate lighting levels for each. Zones range from LZ0, designed for pristine natural environments and limited outdoor lighting, to LZ4, for limited application in areas of extensive development in the largest cities. The second innovation limits the amount of light used for each property. Third, the MLO uses the IES’s new TM-15 -11 "BUG" (Backlight, Uplight and Glare) classification of outdoor lighting fixtures to ensure that only well-shielded fixtures are used. No uplight for area and street lighting is allowed in any zone. The MLO will be revised on a regular basis to include new information, feedback from municipalities using it and changes to IES standards.
  • Bainbridge Island Municipal Code Sec.18.15.040 - Outdoor lighting - Provides regulations that preserve and enhance the view of the dark sky; promote health, safety, security, and productivity; and help protect natural resources
  • Benton City Municipal Code Ch. 12.08 - Outdoor Lighting
  • Bothell Municipal Code
  • Burlington Municipal Code Sec. 17.48.020 - Light and Glare (Performance Standards) - Provisions on high light-reflective building materials and artificial lighting
  • Enumclaw Municipal Code Sec. 19.22.020 - Industrial and Exterior Lighting - Provisions on Arc welding, acetylene torch-cutting or similar processes
  • Goldendale Municipal Code Ch. 15.52 - Outdoor Lighting Fixtures - The purpose and intent of this chapter is to prevent excessive illumination, glare, and reflection in areas adjacent to astronomical research facilities, such as observatories, where such light intrusion would hinder use of sensitive optical devices.
  • Island County Working Together to Preserve Rural Character and the Night Sky - Island County Planning Brochure
  • Kennewick Municipal Code Ch. 18.39 - Outdoor Lighting - From Code: This Chapter is intended to reduce the problems created by improperly designed and installed outdoor lighting. It is intended to eliminate problems of glare, minimize light trespass into public spaces and private property, promote energy conservation, protect the nighttime character of the desert sky, and help reduce the energy and financial costs of outdoor lighting by establishing regulations which limit the area that certain kinds of outdoor lighting fixtures can illuminate.
  • Lynnwood Municipal Code Sec. 17.05.110 - Light and Glare - It is the policy of the city that any activity shall not produce light or glare so as to create a nuisance beyond the parcel within which the use is located.
  • Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Sec. 19.120.030 - Artificial Light and Glare - Addresses uses producing artificial light, utilizing light for night operation, or causing glare
  • Oak Harbor Municipal Code Sec. 20.14.060 - Light and Glare - Outlines policy and policy intent
  • Pasco Municipal Code Ch. 12.32 - Outdoor Lighting - Defines "outdoor lighting fixtures" as includes but is not limited to lighting for billboards, street lights, shopping center or parking area lights, externally or internally illuminated on -site or business advertising signs and yard type lighting - Covers shielding, unlawful acts temporary exemptions, exclusions, enforcement, and penalties for violation
  • Tumwater Outdoor Lighting 

Athletic Field Lighting

Recommended Resources

  • The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America - Publishes standards for lighting, including sports and recreational lighting, parking lot lighting, and roadway lighting
  • International Dark-Sky Association - The IDA is concerned with adverse environmental impact on dark skies by building awareness of the problem of light pollution and of the solutions, and to educate everyone about the value and effectiveness of quality nighttime lighting - Outdoor Lighting tab provides links to lighting IDA seal of approval, guidance, lighting codes, and further research. 
  • Model Lighting Ordinance, prepared by Illumination Engineering Society and International Dark Sky Association, 2011 with Annex A revisions 01/2012
  • New England Light Pollution Advisory Group - A volunteer group founded for the purpose of educating the public on the virtues of efficient, glare-free outdoor night lighting (and the benefits of no lighting at all for many outdoor applications)

Last Modified: January 27, 2023