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Monday, May 11, 2015

Noise ordinance would allow louder sounds in residential areas

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will consider a more detailed noise ordinance May 12 that will in some cases allow louder sounds in residential neighborhoods. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center. [Update: the board deferred a decision until June 23.]

One key change would raise the maximum noise level for high school sports events from 55 decibels (dBA) to 72 dBA.

The current noise ordinance has maximum decibel limits of 55 in residential districts, 60 in commercial districts, 65 in mixed-use area, and 72 in industrial districts. There is no distinction between daytime and nighttime noise levels or between residential and nonresidential uses, such as a church or school, in residential districts.

The proposed ordinance would set different levels for daytime and nighttime sound. It also makes a distinction between continuous sound and impulse sound. Examples of impulse sound are weapons fire, pile drivers, and blasting. In residential areas, the proposed maximum for impulse sound would be 80 dB (unweighted sound pressure levels) between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Certain sound-producing activities that are plainly audible inside another person’s residence and are discernible would be prohibited. Examples include motor vehicles, musical instruments, barking dogs, and crowing roosters.

The proposed noise ordinance would allow certain exceptions, including emergency work, back-up generators during power outages, motor vehicles on the public right-of-way, helicopters, and air condition units on single-family lots.

Some activities or sounds would not be subject to the noise ordinance during the day, but would be prohibited at night, including certain loudspeakers, outdoor construction, trash and recycling collection, operation of lawn equipment, and the use of dog parks.

Certain activities allowed during the day would be subject to maximum decibel levels at night. These include the  routine testing of alarms and back-up generators, bells or other calls to worship, band performances or practices, athletic contests, and other such activities on school or recreational grounds.

Activities subject to maximum decibel levels during the day and prohibited at night include most loudspeakers, outdoor motor vehicle or mechanical device repair, and truck loading.

Certain activities currently prohibited would remain prohibited at night, including the operation of most loudspeakers, outdoor construction, outdoor motor vehicle or mechanical device repair, outdoor powered model vehicle operation, trash collection in residential districts, and the loading and unloading of trucks within 100 yards of a residence.

Generally, the time frame for prohibited activities would extend from 9 or 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Certain activities, such as the use of loudspeakers and outdoor construction, would be prohibited until 9 a.m. on weekends and federal holidays.

The zoning administrator would be allowed to approve waivers under the noise ordinance if determined that the noise would not endanger public health, safety, or welfare.

The noise ordinance could be enforced by the zoning administrator, Department of Code Compliance, Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, and the Police Department.

A violator convicted of a misdemeanor would be subject to up to six months in jail and/or up to $1,000. An alternative would be a civil penalty of up to $250 or $500 for each subsequent offense.


  1. I wonder how much impulse sound is required before it is deemed continuous. One 80dB noise in the middle of the night isn't the worst thing. One 80dB noise every 10 minutes all night is a serious pain.

  2. What! I want LOWER sound levels in residential areas! How much money has the county collected in civil penalties in the last year?

  3. We can't enforce illegal housing issues. We can't enforce neglected houses or trashy yards with cars parked on front lawns, so how are we going to enforce this? Way to go Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.!

    1. I know, right? Yay! More unenforced codes on the books!

    2. Send your feedback/comments to the Board of Supervisors at
      prior to the hearing tomorrow.

    3. Before you all get too concerned, 55dB is not very loud. More or less normal speech.
      The airplanes that fly over all the time are louder than 75 dB.

      This change in the rule is most likely meant to make sure that having a normal conversation in your backyard does not qualify as an infraction. (Or playing my banjo on my front stoop!)

    4. No, nothing to be concerned about: At least 34 speakers at the Board hearing and a deferral on the decision.

    5. Anon, 5/11,3:33pm

      Are you kidding me? Farifax has the most efficient code officials in the business....they get the job done.

      Here is how a complaint is processed: Say your neighbor is playing really loud salsa music, your house is shaking, paintings falling down and walls cracking. You call the County's code office and leave a voice mail, they process it the next day because they are not open in the eves or on weekends. They come by in a few days and ask your neighbors if they were playing loud music, mind you their windows are all broken from the intense base. The violators first say they don't speak english, so the County comes back with a translator. The Code Officials ask again, (note the music is shaking the officials vehicles), your neighbors are drinking beer on their front lawn and they tell the translator that they are not playing any loud music. The translator tells them that she cannot hear what they are saying, and they repeat the question with a bull horn. The violators report that they do not hear any music, particularly loud salsa music. The County official say ok. They go back to the office and process the complaint on their data base website as resolved and closed.

      Tremendous efficiency, their case closure rate is unprecedented.

    6. If there is a noise issue, call the police, not zoning.

      If they are not out fighting crime and keeping the peace in the rest of the neighborhood, they will come by and take care of your music. I've had tremendous success with this: for the loud salsa music, for barking dogs, and for late dance parties.

      And by the way, I live on Melvern Place, Mason District, I'm flattered that you think I live in a "tony" neighborhood.

  4. Unacceptable! Mr Shumate perhaps you live in one of those toni areas that has political influence, a strong HOA, and/or you may have the good sense to be appropriate w your banjo but many do not. We have people living in Mason that still think they are living in the rural areas of the Amazon. Many of us experience loud and constant dog barking, blasting car stereos in driveways and rowdy beer parties. This is a VERY BAD idea on the part of the BOS. Perhaps the BOS needs to move out of their houses in Mantua and into Mason to experience the cacophony of loud and intrusive noises that we live with daily.

    Another BOS BAD IDEA-BBI. BOS can you come up with some plans that will actually make our miserable quality of life in Mason better, and that will get my vote.

    1. I think all those examples you cite would still be prohibited.