About AustinNoise.org

This webs site is devoted to discussing and learning about acoustics as it relates to community noise in Austin, Texas. Noise is an important issue here due to rapid expansion and a high importance placed on live music. We attempt to make sense of what’s going on as the old meets the new, the “keep it downs” clash with the “if it’s too loud you’re too olds,” and new regulations are written.

I’m no longer keeping this site up to date.  Everything on the site is essentially here for archival/historical purposes.  I apologize to those who have written with questions that I have not answered.  Life changes have taken me away from community noise in Austin and onto other exciting areas of learning, such as hearing conservation).

Please keep in mind that the Austin noise ordinance changes frequently.  I’ll let you decide if that’s a good or a bad thing.  Since I am no longer keeping this site up to date, it’s possible the version of the ordinance on this site does not match the official and correct version.

47 Comments

  1. I live in an apartment complex across the street from Anderson High School on Steck Ave. and a number of residents are becoming annoyed with the high school marching band which practices for about an hour at 7:45 AM every weekday in the school parking lot. Based on your understanding of the Austin noise ordinance, I was wondering if you could tell me what time/decibel restrictions are applicable in this situation.

    Jeffrey Winkler

    • As far as I can tell from the zoning map, both your apartment complex and Anderson High School are zoned SF-3, which falls under “Residential.” Therefore Section 9-2-5 (B) of the ordinance would apply to your situation:

      A person may not use sound equipment that produces sound audible beyond the property line of a residence in a residential area between 10:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m.

      This is an impossibly difficult ordinance to satisfy, since even quiet sounds can still be considered “audible,” but it works in your favor in this situation. If the band is audible anywhere beyond a residential property line before 10:00 a.m., they are in violation of this section of the ordinance. After 10:00 a.m. they are limited to 75 dBA.

      This assumes that a marching band’s instruments fall under the definition of “sound equipment.” Section 9-2-1 (7) suggests that they do:

      SOUND EQUIPMENT means a loud speaker, public address system, amplification system, or other sound producing device.

  2. Joshua: I live on Parkview Circle and when the weather conditions are just right I too can here the Anderson High band practicing, also the trains on MoPac but I find it interesting and fascinating that the sound can travel so far. When people rent an apartment, it is their responsibility to access the area in which they chose to locate. I am sure they were well aware that there was a high school located across the street. If they had rented a place that overlooks MoPac, I hardly think anyone will agree that the traffic noise needs to be lessened just because they can hear it. People need to take some personal responsibility for their own actions, ie. renting an apartment across the street from a high school. On the other hand, a good friend built a house in the country 20 years ago. Long after they located there, Nutty Brown Cafe morphed from an abandoned building to a cafe to an outdoor concert venue. The noise from there is deafening, particularly in the low ranges. The Nutty Brown Cafe should be required to abide by the published sound regulations rather than buying off the local politicians.

    • Hi Lawrence.

      Sometimes changes in the weather can cause sound to be heard miles away from its source. I once did measurements in Sacramento concerning the concert venue that was at the State Fairgrounds. People in various places all over the city could hear the concert depending on where the clouds were that night! It turns out clouds are pretty effective sound reflectors.

      Be careful when assessing culpability based on first use. A lack of complaints does not create an exception to a noise ordinance. If my understanding is correct, the morning rehearsals by the band at Anderson are clearly not in compliance with the noise ordinance. Even if the band practiced this way for 5 years without a complaint, it is not reasonable for them to assume that no one would move into the apartment buildings that would speak up about the unwanted sound. The band director should find a way to rehearse that is in compliance with the city ordinance, or should work out some kind of agreement with the people in the neighborhood.

      Also, you should consider the point of view of the apartment complex’s owner. Is it not reasonable to assume that homes in residentially zoned area would have the protections provided to any residential property in the city? It is not up to the marching band to decide which of the surrounding properties should be exempt from the ordinance. The apartment complex will suffer a loss of renters if the correct solution is to say that people simply should not live there.

      The issue of moving next to MoPac is not a good example. Traffic noise is not caused by a single person or group, but by thousands of passing vehicles. Responsibility for traffic noise falls on the government entity that builds the road. In other states, noise studies are inherent to highway improvement projects. Texas lags behind the rest of the Union in this regard.

      The Nutty Brown Cafe issue is an interesting one because the neighbors of that venue are not protected by any city noise ordinance. The only numerical limit for them to compare measured noise levels to is the extremely vague “85 decibels” in the Texas Penal Code. My understanding is that Texas counties are not allowed to have noise ordinances (though my understanding may be incorrect).

      Interesting you should mention the Nutty Brown now, as I have just begun work on a detailed article surrounding that issue. I hope to have a complete technical analysis completed in a few weeks, including objective sound level measurements, which seem to be completely missing from that discussion. It just so happens that I have personally done measurements for some of the Nutty Brown’s neighbors through my “day job.”

      Thanks for your comments. Please feel free to share any other comments or questions you have.

  3. Hello All,
    I am eager to connect with others who are bothered by noise from leaf blowers. Leaf blowers, including electric ones, emit high-pitched, high-decibel sounds that rattle you beyond toleration. In my neighborhood, Hyde Park, where homes are very close together, the noise from leaf blowers (as well as the air pollution effects, including the re-entrainment of ground-level pollutants) is a serious problem. Perhaps others who comment here can comment on this problem. I am looking for others interested in addressing this problem.

    • This is actually a fairly common complaint. Some communities have adopted “partial” leaf-blower bans, permitting the use of the machines only during certain times of the year and allowing only machines that meet maximum noise requirements. If you search the term “partial leaf blower ban” in your favorite search engine, you’ll find examples of communities that have adopted this type of policy.

  4. Thank you, Mary Lou, for introducing me to the site, and Joshua, thanks for the site. Leaf blowers are my own particular noise issue. I don’t understand why, in the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” the noise ordinances are vigorously enforced against musicians and venue owners, but not against users of leaf-blowers.

    These gizmos are objectionable for a dozen reasons beyond the noise they make, but the noise itself is unbearable. On a typical Monday morning at my office on a “quiet” tree-lined street in downtown Austin, one can observe all-out global leaf-blower war, with landscapers using blowers all up and down the block. It’s like trying to practice law in the midst of a biker rally. It is tremendously distracting and stressful.

    I once suggested a partial ban on leaf-blowers in a letter to a prior mayor and members of the city council, and from the response I got you would think I had just hopped off my Martian spacecraft.

    Don Dickson

    • Sorry to say but sometimes Austin is just backwards. They attack people making music and allow ear protection wearing gardeners with leaf blowers to do anything they want.

      Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaf_blower
      Noise pollution is also a concern with leaf blowers. Soon after the leaf blower was introduced into the U.S., its use was banned in two California cities, Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1975 and Beverly Hills in 1978, as a noise nuisance. There are currently twenty California cities that have banned leaf blowers, sometimes only within residential neighborhoods and usually targeting gasoline-powered equipment. Another 80 cities have ordinances on the books restricting either usage or noise level or both. Nationwide, three states, Arizona, Hawaii and New Jersey, have considered laws at the state level, and five other states have at least one city with a leaf blower ordinance.[citation needed] In response to criticisms manufactures have significantly reduced the noise of modern leaf blowers. Many models now produce less than 65 dB following the measurement guidelines of ANSI B175.2-2002. In 2005 Echo announced that most leaf blowers were 75% quieter than 10 years ago.[3]

  5. Hi Joshua,

    First of all, what a great resource! I was pleasantly surprised when I ran across this site while looking for guidelines on noise limits here in Austin. I live on the edge of town (but within city limits) and my property adjoins a Farm-to-Market road; and the noise in the morning can be downright deafening. Do you know if there are any ordinances currently in place that put limits on the level of road noise that is considered to be acceptable?

    Thanks,
    Randy

    • Hi Randy,

      I’m glad you’re finding the site useful. I hear from people frequently who have questions that are similar to yours, so I will continue to develop the site as best I can.

      In some places, when a road is expanded or otherwise modified, a noise study is a required part of the associated environmental study. This was the type of work I did most often at a previous job. In those situations, there are limits to the noise that homes near the roadway can be exposed to, and if the study determines those levels will be exceeded, mitigation options, such as walls and berms, are explored. Even in states that are very proactive about noise, this is the only situation I am aware of where noise mitigation for traffic noise is assured by the government.

      In Austin and in Texas, I am not aware of any such triggers. TxDOT may have noise reviews as part of its environmental review process, but, as far as I am aware, if they are done they are done internally. I don’t think there’s anything in place in our law or government that could help you with your particular situation.

      Depending on the topography and layout of your property with respect to the road, a noise barrier may be an effective option (though not inexpensive). You may also be able to improve your windows, doors, or even walls and ceiling to reduce interior sound levels to something tolerable. Your windows would be the starting place, since that is most often the weakest link in keeping out noise. Windows can be replaced outright with windows that perform better, or “internal storm windows” can be added to provide a significant improvement in noise attenuation.

      Good luck! And feel free to comment further or e-mail me if you have more questions.

      -Josh

  6. Joshua,

    Incredibly well done. You’re tackling an important part of what’s left to “the people” to hash out and hammer into some sort of reasonable shape, after the elected official have officially mucked things up. At least they’re consistent.

    6 months ago, I proposed to City Staff a minor change in the Code, to allow multi-day Sound Permits. The need was brought about by the changes made to the Outdoor Music Venue Permit section of the code, a year ago.

    The problem is that many locations do not propose to be an ongoing Outdoor Music Venue. Some businesses only want to do one multi-day show per year, during SxSW. The simple fact is that those businesses have no choice, at this time, but to apply for an Outdoor Music Venue Permit, if they want to do more than a one-day event that includes music.

    I warned of the impending problem, especially during the Spring Break/SxSW week, for businesses that would be able to pull multi-day Temporary Use (outside) or Temporary Change of Use to Public Assembly (inside) Permits, but would not be able to pull a Sound Permit to cover multiple days, because a Sound Permit is currently only available for 1 day every 30 days per location.

    Last week, Monday, Feb 1, at the request of the Music Commission, I appeared and presented my proposed change. A simple change was discussed and formed into what the Commission unanimously passed as a proposed revision, to create a 4-day (96-hour) Sound Permit.

    The revision was immediately drafted into a Resolution to Council, in order to get on the Feb 11th Council Agenda. The item was then successfully placed on the agenda. Unfortunately, it got one too many co-sponsors, and they jumped in and mucked it up good, again.

    Hell, they may, still, not be finished mucking it up. You never know. It’s virtually impossible, I’ve found, to overestimate some of our Council Member’s propensity for making things worse.

    See Item # 17 – “an ordinance authorizing 96-hour sound amplification permits”
    Follow the “Backup Material” link, to download a Draft of the ordinance.
    http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council_meetings/public_meeting_agenda.cfm?meetingid=204

    Any of this can change at any time, even during the Council meeting.
    It should be interesting.

    Write On,
    gary etie
    http://AustinCityPermits.com/

      • Josh,

        The 4-day, or “96-hour Sound Permit” was passed on consent, at the beginning of the Feb 11, 2010 City Council meeting.

        Agenda Item 19 – “Approve an ordinance authorizing 96-hour sound amplification permits; waiving the requirements of City Code Section 9-2-24 related to permit duration; and declaring an emergency.”

        http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council_meetings/public_meeting_agenda.cfm?meetingid=204

        The final approved, Ordinance is available for download, on this page:
        http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council_meetings/item_attachments.cfm?meetingid=204&itemid=12331&item=17

        Feb 11, 2010 City Council Transcript – Including discussion, and postponement on action, regarding Appeals to two Approved Outdoor Music Venue (OMV) Permits, for Little Woodrow’s and Sustainable Waves.

        There is a TON of either accidental or purposeful misinformation being offered up by the appellants, and I am of the opinion that these Appeals will be denied, and Sustainable Waves will be able to put on great shows, at a great venue,. I’m also fairly confident that Little Woodrow’s will be able to carry on the tradition of music at their venerable location on Guadalupe.

        In both cases, my opinion is based on the fact that the venues meet the criterion set forth in the OMV Permit Ordinance adopted last March.

        Despite many, many problems, the Ordinance has been given first aid (The Riverfront Overlay and CBD Zoning Districts given extensions on OMV Permit expiration, IIANM) and “a chance to work”, for the past year.

        A series of minor miracles have occurred, in order to rescue a number of well connected unintended victims of the March 2009 OMV Permit Ordinance.

        Other locations have had to meet the current Code, in their applications, and have done so. You can read the dialogue that took place during the Public Hearing, in the transcript of the Feb 11th Council meeting, here:

        The OMV Permit Appeals are under the “4:00 PM — Public Hearings and Possible Actions”

        Items # 34 PH & 35 PH

        http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/2010/council_02112010.htm

        peace,
        gary

  7. Hi Joshua,

    I live downtown on 4th and Trinity. Short-lived loud noise is a way of life and I’ve
    learned to live with it. But then the Downtown Burger built their semi permanent trailer
    and they use a generator to run lights all night long. The constant loud drone is getting
    to me. Who can I call to make sure this is a legal use for a generator and whether it violates
    any noise levels?

    Thank you.
    Jill

    • Jill,

      Section 25-2-812 Part D of the Code of Ordinances addresses noise from mobile food establishments directly. The noise level of mechanical equipment or outside sound equipment related to mobile food establishments may not exceed 70 dBA, measured “at the property line that is across the street from or abutting a residential use.”

      To report suspected code violations you can dial 311. If it’s an urgent situation, you can dial 911. I suspect that, since Downtown Burger runs most of the time, 311 would be a more appropriate number to call.

      -Josh

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  9. First of all, sorry for the long comment, I couldn’t find an e-mail address. Thanks for the website, I may find it useful in the short-term future. I have a neighbor who recently moved their band’s practice space from within their home to their backyard. I talked to them about the noise bothering me a few days ago, but nothing seems to be coming of that and so I feel as though I have no recourse but to begin reporting it as the noise ordinance violations I believe it is. I am confused though, when you summarize the noise ordinance, you point out that a residence cannot create noise above 75dBa (measured from property line) at any time, and no noise audible from beyond their property after 10pm. I have also read that any person making noise that is audible in public requires a permit. If a neighbor is amplifying noise to the point where I can hear it clearly in my home, it follows that it is audible in public (the street). I am getting the conflicting information from the following link, which may be outdated anyway…

    http://www.nonoise.org/lawlib/cities/austin.htm

    If the former is the correct interpretation, then what is my recourse. If I call a noise complaint while they are practicing and the police arrive, do they have equipment to measure the noise at the property line or do they just make a judgment call? I’m assuming they make a judgment call. If this becomes an ongoing issue, should I invest in equipment to measure noise levels in order to demonstrate this to responding officers? Do officers ever have the authority to fine residential tenants if there is an ongoing issue and they choose to continue?

    I feel at a loss, I’ve dealt with being slightly irritated by my neighbors band practicing in the home, but now the noise level is at an unreasonable level where I can clearly hear music in half of my home and it sounds as if I live next door to a venue. I tried speaking with them, but like I said, nothing came of this, and I don’t feel like I should have to move to the suburbs or out of the self-proclaimed live music capital of the world just so that I don’t have to listen to band practice several times a week.

    -John

    • Hello John,

      My e-mail is joshua@austinnoise.org.

      One of my main complaints about the Austin noise ordinance is that it is piecemeal and inconsistent. It is sometimes difficult to find the answer to what would seem to be a simple question.

      Both interpretations are correct. The No Noise website has the same ordinance that I drew my summary from, although it is probably an older version. Generally, people playing music at their home wouldn’t apply for a permit and wouldn’t need one if they were meeting the requirements of the ordinance.

      The sections that I think are most applicable to your situation are 9-2-5(B):

      [In a residential area,] a person may not use sound equipment that produces sound audible beyond the property line of a residence in a residential area between 10:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m.

      and 9-2-5(C):

      [In a residential area,] a person may not use sound equipment audible beyond the property line of a residence in a residential area that produces sound in excess of 75 decibels.

      It is almost certain that a band practicing in their yard causes levels to exceed 75 dBA on their property line, so you are probably in the right to complain. There is some confusion about whether you should dial 911 or 311 for a noise complaint, but what I’ve read so far leads me to suggest dialing 911 while the band is practicing.

      If any officers come to investigate the complaint, they will probably have a sound level meter with them. Whether they choose to use it, I don’t know. I would guess they would just make a judgement call. If the band is loud enough, using the meter is probably not necessary.

      Violation of the noise ordinance is a misdemeanor and an officer can choose to write a ticket for the offender. Most likely, though, they will issue a warning. From what I’ve observed, they usually issue several warnings before writing a ticket. You may need to be persistent, but I think this is likely to lead to a resolution.

      If a series of complaints to the police fails to stop the problem, your next step might be to document sound levels caused by the band at the property line and present your findings to the City Code Compliance Department. With strong evidence that a code is being violated, they may work with you and your neighbor towards some sort of resolution.

      Good luck! And let us know how it turns out.

      -Joshua

      • Thanks for the quick and informative reply. I’ll go with normal 311 complaints unless it seems they continuously show up 2 hours later after they’ve finished playing. If it comes to it, I’ll consider purchasing a cheap SPL meter and documenting the issue as you suggest.

  10. I live in a residential neighborhood, have a band and have been practicing on and off for the past two years. We never go past 10:00 p.m. and I have only one neighbor on one side of me. I didn’t think it was a problem until yesterday. The one neighbor I have has rental units and has just recently rented to a new tenant, 19 year old student. She called the cops on us on Sunday and it was only 6:30 in the evening. The cop told me he didn’t have a decible meter with him and informed he didn’t need one if a call was made about noise. He later went next door to the person who complained and listened as we played. He then said it was too loud. How does he know without a meter? He also informed me if we get called on a second time it is a citation and the third time we go to jail for violating a state law. Is any of this true? And what happened to Austin? Do we have to rent space to practice now? I am starting to hate this town.
    Thanks,
    Joe

    • Joe — Your letter presumes that the only bothersome thing about noise is the decibel level. There are certain types of noise, and certain pitches, that can be extremely irritating even if the decibel level is well below what the law allows. There is also the “incessant” nature of some kinds of noise that can drive people crazy, especially if they are forced to listen to them without having any control over it — how long it will last, when it will start, when it will stop. If it will stop.

      You are lucky to live in a neighborhood where your neighbors have been so tolerant for so long. I imagine, though, that many of them have just been suffering in silence. It’s not like they have much choice. If you aren’t actually “breaking the law”, you feel free to make all the noise you want, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

      Clearly, you are not bothered by this kind of noise yourself, so it’s hard to imagine that others are bothered by it.

      Trust me. They are. it’s just that, short of moving (to another neighborhood with another neighbor who will do the same thing), there just isn’t much those of us who are bothered can do.

      But what do you care.

      You’re not breaking the law. There IS no law that forces people to be considerate of each other. And even if there were, there aren’t enough police in the world to be able to enforce it. Just talk to the communities who have leaf-blower ordinances. The law doesn’t stop the noise-makers, it just makes them sneakier.

      Like I said — you are very lucky to live in a neighborhood that indulges you so much.

      Your neighbors — not so lucky.

    • Hi Joe,

      FN has a point in saying that a sound level meter doesn’t tell the whole story. This is especially true when using a broadband A-weighted meter to measure live music. Low frequencies, which are heavily discounted in A-weighted measurements, penetrate building structures easily. Sounds that are repetitive or tonal, both being characteristic of music that do not factor into a simple A-weighted measurement, are more easily perceived by humans and therefore seem louder.

      A human’s perception of a sound is also affected by their understanding of its source. Noise is especially bothersome if you don’t know when it will end, and there’s a lot of frustration when you think the person making the noise is unaware that they’re bothering you. Or, even worse, that they know they’re bothering you but don’t care.

      If your neighbor knows that you do care and that she can count on you to rehearse on certain nights and to finish by a certain time, the sound from your band will become much less bothersome to her, regardless of how it registers on a sound level meter. I recommend knocking on her door with a plate of cookies as a peace offering and a promise that you will restrict your practices to certain nights and times in exchange for her understanding. I think most people will be amenable to such an offer.

      -Joshua

  11. Hi Joshua,
    I’m wondering what parts of the noise ordinance (if any) can be applied to waste removal. Specifically, we have garbage trucks that come and empty the dumpsters of local music venues (i live downtown) around 4am and the clanging and banging can be much worse than any music violation. I’ve looked through your site but didn’t see anything right away. Any thoughts?

    • Karen,

      Sorry, but I think you’re out of luck. My understanding is noise from vehicles is controlled by the police department, not code enforcement, and I would not guess there are any officers willing to cite the trash collectors for creating disturbing noise. I don’t know that any enumerated part of the ordinance can be taken to refer to the type of noise caused by the operation of a garbage truck, either. I do know that the banging of a large dumpster can be very loud and annoying, but I don’t think there’s anything helpful for you in the ordinance as it’s currently written. If you and your neighbors join together, you might be able to plead with the garbage collection dispatch to change the route so that the truck gets to your area later in the morning. I wish I had more that I could tell you.

      -Joshua

  12. I live in a condo development. The units are free-standing houses, but are considered condos because we have no yards and the houses are very close together. Tenants in the unit next door party frequently between 2AM and 5AM, pretty much any day of the week and most weekends. The noise penetrates their walls and into our house, which means that it is audible past the property line. HOA fines and repeated visits by the police have had zero impact, so we’re forced to escalate. How do we measure decibel levels so that the results are admissible in court or could maybe lead to citations?

    • If you plan on taking sound level measurements to court, you should probably hire an acoustical consultant. Then you can be assured that the measurements being taken are appropriate for the situation. This is not cheap.

      It’s surprising that it needs to go any further than the APD. Have the police issued a citation? They usually won’t on the first or second visit. But if they’re forced to visit the same place repeatedly they are likely to escalate from a warning to something more substantial.

  13. Good morning,

    Thank you for all of the comprehensive information on the SXSW Sound Permits. Unfortunately, I don’t see Stubbs on the list and am interested in attending a showcase that begins at 12:30am. Can you clarify for me that bands will be able to play outdoors after 10:30pm on Wednesday?

    I appreciate your help.

    Jodi Brooks

    • The rules are different during SXSW and many outdoor venues play until 2:00. I don’t know the specifics of Stubb’s constraints, but I would not be surprised if they were allowed to play until 2:00 during SXSW week.

      Another possibility is the showcase you were interested in was on the lesser-known Stubb’s indoor stage.

  14. Good morning,

    The Village of Volente (on Lake Travis) needs a noise control officer. Does one need a certificate from the INCE? And if so, what is the process? Is it possible for someone in our community to attain the training/schooling locally or will the village need to hire an outside consultant?

    Thanks,
    Frederick Graber
    Council member, Village of Volente

    • I’m not familiar with the role of noise control officer or what the requirements would be. What responsibilities would such a person have? If it’s a matter of having knowledge of how sound propagates and is measured, then I would think a one-day training class on acoustics and the use of a sound level meter would be appropriate.

      INCE certification requires passing a difficult exam and requires very in-depth knowledge of acoustics. It’s meant for professional acoustical engineers, so probably doesn’t apply in your situation.

  15. Joshua,
    Thanks for your input. Our village, Village of Volente is only 2 square miles in size with a population of around 400 people. Our noise control officer (NCO) will be responsible to handle and mediate complaints from residents concerning noise: generated by restaurants (i.e. live or recorded music), generated by residents (i.e. music, car repairs, loud parties), generated by road construction crews.

    It seems because of the education requirement to attain an INCE Board Certification that we are probably looking for a local noise consultant to be hired on a case-by-case basis. Having said that, it would be a logistically problem to have the consultant come out to the village on a Friday night at 11 pm because of a sound issue.

    Could a resident be trained to operate a sound measuring device, record levels, create a log and then at such point bring in the NCO consultant to take official readings if we have to pursue a legal remedy?

    Thanks for your help,
    Frederick Graber
    Telephone: 302-9991
    Council member, Village of Volente

    • Frederick,

      Skimming through the Village of Volente Code of Ordinances, it looks like you have a very thoughtful and well developed noise ordinance. Sound level limits are meaningful and well defined and measurement procedures are given explicitly. It appears your village had help from someone very knowledgeable in acoustics in developing your ordinance. (Where can I submit my application for NCO?)

      Having such a well-written noise ordinance will make it much easier for a resident with limited training in acoustics to be able to make meaningful and objective sound level measurements, which can then be passed on to an acoustical consultant for further analysis, if necessary. Many sound level meters are capable of storing measurement data in internal memory, including time signatures. Recording, reporting, and transmitting measurement results can, therefore, be quite simple. All that should be required is an appropriate sound level meter and a few hours of training in the basic principles of acoustics and the measurement of sound.

      Training can be provided by an acoustical consultant or, depending on the manufacturer you choose, the vendor of your sound level meter. Brüel & Kjær in particular provides outstanding customer support in this regard (though their meters tend to be on the expensive side).

      -Joshua

  16. Joshua,
    We have a council meeting tonight and on the agenda is discussion of a NCO. If you want, you can attend the meeting and speak to the subject and then you’ll further understand our needs and your offerings. The council meeting is at the Volente FireHall, Volente at 7:00pm. It takes about 40 minutes from downtown Austin. If you come, please seek me out and I’ll have the agenda item moved right to the front so as not to waste your time. You should be out of there by 7:45pm.
    Frederick

  17. Hi Joshua. Very interesting web site and thanks for your efforts towards the subject. My noise problem is not caused by a commercial venture, but by a neighbor who likes to play conjunto-style music from 11 PM into the wee hours of the morning. He lives directly behind me, so it sounds like a fiesta is taking place in my bedroom when this happens. I am well-known by the 311 operators for calling the police whenever I am disturbed. Often times, the police are prompt and the noise ceases within 45 minutes or so.

    However, occasionally, they either never show up or it takes hours and multiple phone calls. I remember one New Year’s Eve quite well. The music started at 8 PM and lasted until 7 AM when the APD night shift gave over to the day shift. The wife and I felt terribly abused by the neglect and terrorized by this neighbor.

    Anyway, even though we have called the police on this person over two dozen times in the past two years, the assault continues. Last night, the music started at 11 PM and I finally called the police at 2:30 AM. They must have come sometime after 3 AM because that is when it finally got quiet enough to get to sleep. Then, I had to get up at 8:30 AM and get on with my day. No mind, I thought. I’ll take a nap when I get home in the afternoon and get caught up. But, that was not to be either. I got home at 2 PM and the music started back up at 3 PM.

    I thought at first that maybe it was me; that I was over-sensitized to the bass “boom..boom…boom…boom” that tremors through our wood frame house. So, I bought a sound machine and a small portable fan and run them every night to provide gray noise to filter out this person’s music. It did not work. All it did was force my wife to wear earplugs to bed because she can’t sleep due to the gray noise.

    So, I’m wondering what advice you can offer, if any, towards getting this person on someone’s radar as a repeat noise ordinance offender and getting some relief from his unmitigated rudeness.

    • William,

      I wish I had something useful to tell you. My experience with APD has been very limited and I’ve never been able to get a handle on what conditions must occur for them to enforce the noise ordinance strongly. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I guess it’s a matter of what officer happens to answer the call and how familiar they are with the situation. If your neighbor has received so many visits from the police, it seems like he would have received a citation by now. But that’s just pure conjecture.

      The only suggestion I can think of is to attempt to get to know the officers that respond to your complaint calls. Either visit with them when they arrive or try to have them come to your house first. If you can establish a rapport with one or more of the officers in your area, the fact that the same neighbor is bothering the same person so often might become more concrete to them, and they may be willing to take stronger action.

      Maybe another reader has a better suggestion or some experience to share.

  18. I work at an Austin hotel. A former restaurant has been reopened as a local night club with a live band. (From the hotel, most men could hit the club with a can of beans.) Probably due to problems from previous loud music at that location (another business), the music started out in a reasonable fashion but is now ramping up at late hours, especially with the heavy bass beat. Without trying to determine the maximum distance from which I can hear the music & the beat plainly, I know I can hear it at least 400 feet away (most of that distance on our side of the fence) but the closest guest sleeping rooms are much closer than 1/4th of that distance from the source of the music.

    So far, we have taken a policy of only calling the police with a noise complaint if a guest complains to us about the noise level when they are trying to sleep, watch TV, etc. (We have not had to call about this club so far but, the music between 11 PM & 2 AM is getting louder & I think it will become a problem.) Our problem will become worse when we have to give back money because of complaints about the noise.

    If I wanted to measure the level of the noise/music myself as the City of Austin might do, what type of decibel meter or other equipment might I need? Average cost? General procedure for taking the sound readings so that if we do call APD, their findings are more likely to match ours and we are not wasting their time. Is there an established minimum at which such noise/ music is considered by the City of Austin to be in violation of the City’s noise ordinance?

    • As I understand it, when APD takes a measurement, they use a 1-minute Leq. (This is not strictly in conformance with the way the ordinance is written). Any sound level meter that can capture an A-weighted Leq will give you very similar results to what APD might get. One of the meters they use is a B&K 2240, which is a simple meter that’s angled towards this type of use.

      Meters that capture Leq are a step above the simple meters you might find at Radio Shack or Fry’s. Probably you’ll be looking at something in the $300+ range, though I’m not sure about that because I haven’t shopped for a consumer level sound level meter in quite some time.

      If you want to just get an idea, then the inexpensive (less than $100) meters can be useful. They don’t take a one-minute average, they just show the current SPL. If you watch the numbers move up and down on your meter and consider what the average is, that should be something similar to the Leq that APD will measure.

      Most likely the offending establishment will be limited to 85 dBA at their property line. APD might allow wiggle room of 1 or 2 dBA, but chances are pretty good they’re well beyond that limit if you can hear them 400 feet away.

      To take a measurement, be on their property line, and keep the meter out from your body, so that you don’t affect the sound around the microphone. Set the meter to A-weighting, and if you have a choice between the slow and the fast time constant, choose slow, as this is what the ordinance requires, and it will be closer to Leq than fast. If you are measuring Leq then it doesn’t matter whether you choose slow or fast.

  19. Hi, I have the same problem that Brett Westbrook had. I live in a Condo and I have try everything under the sun to try to fix it. Do you know if any lawsuits have been won here in Austin in regards to noisy neighbors that live in condos?

    Any other suggestions besides calling APD? The problem I had with calling APD was that my master bedroom which is in the second story and in the back where all the noise is happening cant be heard up in the front of the property or the back since there are patios in between the street entrance and the condos.

    Do you know any organizations that may help me deal with this issue? I have try to work this with the HOA but they just don’t want to get involve and continue to ignore my complaining emails. Should I file a lawsuit against both the HOA and my neighbor?

    • I am not aware of any lawsuits between condo owners specifically for this type of thing. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, I just haven’t been made aware of it.

      If you can take a police officer to the specific place that you are being disturbed by noise, it may be easier for them to understand your complaint.

      I think it’s very interesting that your HOA/Condo Association is ignoring you about this problem. It seems like exactly the type of thing a HOA is meant for.

      See if you can get a copy of the HOA/Condo Association bylaws (really shouldn’t be that difficult if you or your landlord are an owner) and look for anything to do with noise or just generally being disturbing. If you can show specific rules that are being broken, that may motivate them to take action.

      I’m not going to say anything about who you should or shouldn’t sue. Party because I honestly don’t know if you should, and partly because it’s generally a bad idea to give legal advice without being an attorney.

      Good luck!

  20. Hey Joshua – I have neighbors that are partying outdoors after midnight, but are not playing amplified music. Their laughing and screaming is keeping us up all night (it’s usually at least 4 or 5 guys). Does that count against the ordinance?

    • Whether this type of thing can be considered a violation of the noise ordinance still seems up for debate. There’s a lot of inconsistency in this area. But I do think that APD would be sympathetic and helpful if they were able to experience the problem while it occurs. I’m sure there’s something in the ordinance somewhere about not disturbing your neighbors in this fashion, and I would guess any APD officer would know quite a bit about it.

  21. I live in the Northwood subdivision nw corner of Parmer & Mopac. I’ve been kept up with the sound of what sounds like large diesel machinery revving all night 2 & 3 am. The other night it was louder than the thunderstorm. How can I find out what it is and is there a way to make it stop during the night?

    • The best way to find out where the sound is coming from is to go outside and follow the sound to the source.

      The most likely sources, according to your description, are a refrigerator truck or an emergency generator. Do you live near a grocery store? Refrigerator trucks often park behind grocery stores and run for long periods of time. Has the sound been happening for a long time? If it’s only been a recent thing, there may be a building or construction site that runs generators for power, which is almost certainly a temporary situation.

      Whether you can get the sound to stop depends on the nature of the source. If the source is a refrigeration truck, the owner of the location the truck is running might be sympathetic to your problems. If the source is a generator, probably the best you can do is find out for how much longer it’s going to go on.

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