In adopting legislation on noise control, the state legislature recognized that inadequately controlled noise adversely affects people's health, safety, and welfare, property values, and the environment. This page provides general information, legal references, and samples of provisions regulating noise by Washington cities and counties. A separate page addresses Noise Nuisances and includes provisions regulating noises from specific sources such as animals, vehicles, and construction.
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.
This section includes some general background information on noise control.
- State v. Immelt, ___ Wn.2d ___ (2011) - The court found a free speech violation in Snohomish County’s public disturbance noise ordinance.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
Using the decibel-based standards approach is the most difficult to enforce, from a practical standpoint. 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. All of the examples below are combined public nuisance and decibel-based ordinances.
- Bellevue City Code Ch. 9.18 - Noise Control
- Edmonds City Code Ch. 5.30 - Noise Abatement and Control
- Kent Municipal Code Ch. 8.05 - Noise Control
- Seattle Municipal Code Ch. 25.08 - Noise Control - Extensive provisions on noise regulation
- Snohomish County Code Ch. 10.01 - Noise Control
- Spokane Municipal Code Sec. 10.08.020 - Public Disturbance Noise
- Tukwila Ordinance No. 2293 (), passed 07/06/2010 - Amending city noise ordinance
- Thurston County Code Ch. 10.36 - Public Disturbance 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 public nuisance/disturbance noise ordinances:
- Chelan Municipal Code Ch. 8.31 - Public Disturbance Noise
- Lakewood Municipal Code Ch. 8.36 - Noise Control
- Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Sec. 8.20.010 - Nuisance Noise
- Oak Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 6.56 - Public Nuisance Noises
- Omak Municipal Code Ch. 7.20 - Public Disturbance Noises
- Snoqualmie Municipal Code Ch. 9.36 - Public Disturbance Noises