The APHA’s housing standards seek to improve health by improving housing.

Concept shot - a hand with a magnifying glass inspects a small wood house. A check box next to it has a red check mark.Since the days when tuberculosis, typhoid, and dysentery were spreading through filthy tenement buildings, we’ve understood that housing conditions and health are tightly related. Unfortunately, even now, millions of people in the U.S. live in substandard conditions.* What can we do about it? The American Public Health Association’s (APHA) National Center for Healthy Housing has a solution: the National Healthy Housing Standard (NHHS).

Developed by the APHA in 2014, the NHHS provides new guidelines designed to help municipalities and housing occupants better ensure homes are safe and healthy. In all, the NHHS includes 209 provisions. Here are the top five things you need to know about why those provisions are needed and what they’re designed to achieve:

Substandard Housing Directly Impacts Health

The NHHS lists a number of health consequences of substandard housing. They include:

  • About 20–30% of asthma cases are linked to home environmental conditions
  • 21,000 lung cancer deaths result from radon in homes
  • Over 24 million homes that have lead-based paint hazards put children at risk of the irreversible disease of childhood lead poisoning
  • Home injuries are the leading causes of death for young children and put 6 million adults over age 65 in hospitals and nursing homes due to preventable falls

Recent Efforts to Improve Housing Have Fallen Short

Lowering the number of substandard housing units in the U.S. has proven to be a difficult task. For instance, the Healthy People 2010 initiative set a bold goal of reducing the number of substandard housing units by 52%. However, despite the initiative’s efforts, the number of substandard housing units didn’t budge. There were 6.3 million units in substandard condition in 2001 and there were 6.3 million units in substandard condition in 2011.

The NHHS seeks to overcome the inherent challenges of improving existing housing by focusing on specific improvements. The practical, comprehensive provisions in the NHHS can be implemented in total or in part, allowing localities to address the healthy housing issues most urgent to them.

Building Codes Are Typically Insufficient

Most state and local building/housing codes seek to ensure a building’s structural integrity, while other codes mandate certain levels of energy efficiency and general occupant safety. Some areas even have codes regulating aesthetics. But few places enforce codes that are specifically focused on ensuring the overall health and well-being of housing occupants.

Most codes do not address such issues as:

Noise levels
Indoor smoking
Presence of a fire extinguisher in the residence
Presence of carbon monoxide alarm
Lead paint in existing buildings
Asbestos in existing buildings
Radon levels
Identifying and eliminating methamphetamine exposure in multifamily housing
Use of pesticides

The NHHS offers comprehensive recommendations to address all of these issues and others typically left out of building/housing codes. To help inspire and ease adoption, all provisions of the NHHS are written in housing-code parlance.

We Need to Focus on Seven Areas of Housing

The provisions of the NHHS are divided into seven areas of housing, including:

  1. Duties of Owners and Occupants
    These provisions are designed to help ensure building owners provide occupants with the resources and information they need for healthy living, and that occupants take proper advantage of the resources and information they’re provided.
  2. Structure, Facilities, Plumbing, and Space Requirements
    These provisions seek to ensure the physical aspects of the home are safe and healthy. They cover overall structure, plumbing, kitchens, bathrooms, living space, flooring, and noise abatement.
  3. Safety and Personal Security
    These provisions are designed to ensure occupants are alerted to emergencies and can easily escape if needed. They also provide guidelines for reducing the causes of household accidents such as chemical exposure, falls, and drownings.
  4. Lighting and Electrical Systems
    These provisions seek to ensure all aspects of electrical systems are safe to use and not in danger of being overtaxed. Provisions also seek to ensure occupants have proper natural and artificial lighting.
  5. Thermal Comfort, Ventilation, and Energy Efficiency
    These provisions are designed to ensure heating and cooling doesn’t put the health of occupants at risk or cost more than necessary.
  6. Moisture Control, Solid Waste, and Pest Management
    These provisions seek to prevent the spread of disease by eliminating the risks associated with mold, improper waste removal, and pest infestations.
  7. Chemical and Radiological Agents
    These provisions seek to limit the possibility of human contamination by chemicals and other dangerous/toxic agents including lead paint, asbestos, radon, and pesticides.

Public Awareness Is Key

Without public awareness, the provisions in the NHHS will go unnoticed and unused. Fortunately, there is a way you can help. With an MS in Health Education and Promotion, you can gain the skills you need to help ensure that policy makers and the public at large understand the ways improving our homes can improve our health.

If you’re currently working, you might think earning a health education and promotion degree isn’t feasible. However, thanks to online education, earning a master’s degree is more convenient than ever before. That’s because online university programs give you advantages you can’t find at campus-based programs.

When you choose to earn a master’s in health education and promotion online, you can complete the majority of your coursework from home. Plus, an online master’s in health education and promotion program offers you a flexible schedule, allowing you to take classes and handle your studies at the time of day that works best for you and your job.

With a career in health education and promotion, you can help improve housing conditions for millions. And thanks to online learning, you can gain the skills you need to start that career sooner than you might think.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Health Education and Promotion degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*A. Campbell, Gas Leaks, Mold, and Rats: Millions of Americans Live in Hazardous Homes, The Atlantic, on the internet at www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/07/gas-leaks-mold-and-rats-millions-of-americans-live-in-hazardous-homes/492689.

†National Center for Healthy Housing, National Healthy Housing Standards, The American Public Health Association, on the internet as a PDF at https://www.apha.org/news-and-media/news-releases/apha-news-releases/2014/national-center-for-healthy-housing-and-apha-release-national-healthy-housing-standard.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.