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Eliot Brenowitz on noise levels in Seattle

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 - 16:00

Seattle’s current noise code dates back at least to the 1970s, when Seattle was much smaller and little was known about the health impacts of noise. But as Seattle undergoes explosive growth, residents are being exposed to some of the most chronically high noise levels from construction of any city in the nation.

Beyond the obvious annoyance of noise, chronic exposure has detrimental health effects, including temporary and permanent hearing loss, increased blood pressure, and increased risk of stroke. It is time to update the code to provide better protection to all residents.

The current ordinance allows noise-producing construction activity in non-commercial residential areas 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Noise levels cannot exceed 75 decibels, averaged over a one-hour period and measured 50 feet away. We compared Seattle’s noise ordinance to 33 other cities, and several points became immediately apparent:

1. Of the cities we’ve examined across the country, only Seattle and Houston allow construction to continue as late as 10 p.m., on any day of the week. In most cities construction must stop by 7 p.m. or earlier. This is generally a restriction on any after-hours construction activity.

2. Most cities do not allow construction on Sundays, and Saturday construction must stop by 6 p.m.

3. Only Seattle and San Diego measure averaged noise levels. Every other city on this chart with a noise limit uses a maximum level of 75-85 decibels produced by a single construction activity. For reference, commonly used belt sanders generate sound above 85 decibels at 50 feet away.


Read the full article by Eliot Brenowitz and Edwin Rubel on Crosscut.

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