Federal agencies are joining forces on a new effort to make homes healthier, which may lead to new requirements for multifamily developers.

The initiative represents a vision for addressing the nation's health and economic burdens caused by preventable hazards associated with the home. "Advancing Healthy Housing—A Strategy for Action" encourages federal agencies to take pre-emptive actions that will help reduce the number of American homes with health and safety hazards.

People in the United States spend about 70 percent of their time in a home, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), one of the participating agencies. Currently, millions of U.S. homes have moderate to severe physical housing problems, including dilapidated structure; roofing problems; heating, plumbing, and electrical deficiencies; water leaks and intrusion; pests; damaged paint; and high radon gas levels. These conditions are associated with a wide range of health issues, including unintentional injuries, respiratory illnesses like asthma and radon-induced lung cancer, lead poisoning, result in lost school days for children, as well as lost productivity in the labor force.

On the issue of radon, HUD issued a notice requiring testing as part of the environmental report for Federal Housing Administration-insured multifamily housing mortgage applications for new construction, significant rehabilitation, and certain refinancing programs.

The department also issued a notice to public housing agencies about the dangers of radon.

The moves were applauded by the National Center for Healthy Housing. "Radon kills more people than drunk driving each year and is the top cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers," said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the center. "Healthy housing deserves to be a national priority."

The Strategy for Action unifies, for the first time, federal action to advance healthy housing, demonstrating the connection between housing conditions and residents' health. It also promotes strategies and methods intended to reduce in-home health hazards in a cost-effective manner.

"It is clear that unhealthy and unsafe housing has an impact on the health of millions of people in the United States, which is why we must do everything we can to ensure that individuals and families have a healthy place to call home," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a statement. "Today's announcement will help the federal government unify action to controlling and preventing major housing-related exposures and hazards."

The Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality are also involved.

For more on the Strategy for Action, visit http://healthyhomes.hud.gov.