Noise pollution: What you need to know about the City ordinance

single-meta-cal August 2, 2017

So, how loud is too loud? 

Maybe that’s parallel to the “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it” line. 

If you wonder if you’re too loud – whether it’s your lawn mower or your souped-up truck – you probably are. Just because you can’t sleep past 6:30 on a weekend morning doesn’t mean your neighbor can’t. And the thunderous pipes on your truck? The last time that impressed anybody, “Urban Cowboy” was in theaters. 

And don’t get us started on your taste in music and how none of the rest of us waiting at the stoplight want to be drawn into your orbit. 

The City of Huntsville has some simple, obvious laws about noise pollution. They’re not nearly so much a set of grouchy, “get-off-my-yard” edicts as you might believe. Mostly, they are reminders of the graciousness of common courtesy. 

A quick aside, you’ll often hear laws enacted by municipal or county governments referred to as an ‘ordinance’. Ordinances govern local issues not already covered by state or federal law.

Back to the topic at hand – Scott Cardno is the Director of Natural Resources for the City of Huntsville. On a recent evening, he had a brief conversation (60 decibels) about noise, excusing himself from a crowded break room (85 decibels) to let a larger audience hear the rules. 

“Though he has a sheaf of paper with the ordinances, Cardno said, “Just think about what you’re doing. Before you go out at 6 o’clock in the morning and mow your yard, think, ‘Would I appreciate it if somebody did that?’ It’s courtesy.'”

There are three categories for which there are noise ordinances: residential, commercial and industrial.  Decibels, as defined by a quick google search, are “a unit used to measure the intensity of a sound or the power level of an electrical signal by comparing it with a given level on a logarithmic scale.”

The decibel limits, as measured from the property line of the site: 

— Residential (which also includes open space and agricultural): 55 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., 50 decibels from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. 

— Commercial: 62 decibels 

— Industrials: 70 decibels 

There are more than a dozen exemptions, ranging from aircraft to animals, church bells to cars. Recreational activities are exempt. And you’re not going to be cited if you slam the back door (90 decibels) or slam the back door on your hand and yell a bad word (80 decibels). It’s the sustained noise, or regular outbursts of noise, that breaks the law.  

Lawn mowers (80 decibels) and other domestic power equipment are exempt from the 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. as is construction work. 

(The City of Huntsville is impacted by, and abides by, noise ordinances. The sirens of emergency vehicles naturally have an exemption. Public Works does not begin collecting garbage or doing noisy maintenance work until 7 a.m., and the Huntsville Police Department is making necessary adjustments to its expanded firing range on Triana Blvd to address neighbors’ noise concerns.)

READ: Get to know the new Director of Natural Resources

Vehicle noise is often the biggest nuisance, especially in a downtown where more people are spending time outdoors, strolling the park or sipping coffee on a sidewalk. The nuisance is amplified – literally – when trapped in a canyon between a couple of buildings and it comes from a car or truck running straight pipes with no muffler (95-plus decibels). 

The decibel limit is based on vehicle gross weight and speed limit. 

— Motorcycles: 82 decibels at 35 mph or less, 86 decibels at 35-plus 

— Vehicles over 10,000 pounds: 86 decibels at 35 mph or less, 90 decibels at 35-plus 

— Vehicles under 10,000 pounds (standard passenger vehicles): 80 decibels at 35 mph or less, 84 decibels at 35-plus 

As for the speakers-on-wheels that blare music, anything audible from 25 feet away from the vehicle is unlawful.  

Noise ordinances on public streets and property are enforced by Huntsville Police. Residents who have concerns on other noises should reach out to the City via the online and app service request platform Huntsville Connect.