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Appendix 2: About international housing surveys

Here are details about several international housing surveys:

American Housing Survey

The American Housing Survey (AHS) began in 1973 as the Annual Housing Survey. Since 1981, the U.S. Census Bureau has conducted the national survey every odd-numbered year. In 1984, it was renamed the American Housing Survey. The survey asks about age of dwelling, structure, type of foundations, materials, heating and cooking equipment used, plumbing facilities, quality of outside structure, and internal deficiencies. The 2011 AHS includes topical supplements on potential health and safety hazards in the home and housing modifications made to assist occupants living with disabilities. Over 60 items of housing quality are combined to form a single housing quality score.

The AHS is sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey is the most comprehensive national housing survey in the United States. The AHS provides current information on a wide range of housing subjects, including size and composition of the nation’s housing inventory, vacancies, fuel usage, physical condition of housing units, characteristics of occupants, equipment breakdowns, home improvements, mortgages and other housing costs, persons eligible for and beneficiaries of assisted housing, home values, and characteristics of recent movers.

The AHS uses a summary measure of housing quality, which has been criticised by users since it is orientated to a measure of housing adequacy and lacks the wider range of outcomes.

See American Housing Survey: A measure of (poor) housing quality housing.

Questions on housing quality include:
Age of structure
Number of storeys
Number of units in structure
Dwelling type
(eg mobile home)
(includes description of area within 300 feet – height of buildings; presence of body of water; age of other dwellings; vandalism; condition of streets within 300 feet; trash, litter, or junk on streets or any properties within 300 feet)

External building conditions, for example:
Sagging roof
Missing roofing material
Hole in roof
Missing bricks, siding, or other outside wall material
Sloping outside walls
Boarded-up windows
Broken windows
Bars on windows
Foundation crumbling

Heating equipment and cooking equipment

Source and safety of water, sewerage disposal

Internal deficiencies
Holes in floors, open cracks
Broken plaster or peeling paint
No electrical wiring
Exposed wiring
Rooms without electric outlets

Australian Survey of Income and Housing

ABS runs the Australian Survey of Income and Housing every two years, which reports on housing condition.

Questions for all households, include:

Need for repair to dwelling

0. Not applicable
1. No need
2. Desirable but low need
3. Moderate need
4. Essential need
5. Essential and urgent need

Types of major structural problems

01. Rising damp
02. Major cracks in walls/floors
03. Sinking/moving foundations
04. Sagging floors
05. Walls/windows out of plumb
06. Wood rot / termite damage
07. Major electrical problems
08. Major plumbing problems
09. Major roof defect
10. Other structural problems
11. Don’t know
12. No structural problems
99. Not applicable

Types of repairs or maintenance made to the dwelling in the last 12 months

1. Painting
2. Roof repair/maintenance
3. Tile repair/maintenance
4. Electrical work
5. Plumbing
6. Other types of repairs/maintenance
7. Don’t know
9. Not applicable

Sources of water for dwelling

01. Mains / town water
02. Rainwater tank
03. Purchased bottled drinking water
04. Bore/well
05. Spring
06. River/creek/dam
07. Water delivered in a tanker
08. Rainwater collected using a bucket, bin etc
09. Grey water
10. Other

Sources of energy used in dwelling

1. Electricity
2. Mains gas
3. LPG / bottled gas
4. Wood
5. Solar
6. Oil
7. Other

Connected to accredited green power electricity

0. Not applicable
1. Connected to green power electricity
2. Not connected to green power electricity
3. Don’t know

Smoke alarm fitted

1. Smoke alarm fitted
2. Smoke alarm not fitted
3. Don’t know

Source of power for smoke alarm

0. Not applicable
1. Mains
2. Battery
3. Both
4. Don’t know

Frequency that smoke alarm is checked

0. Not applicable
1. Weekly
2. Fortnightly
3. Monthly
4. Twice a year
5. Once a year
6. Less than once a year
7. Never
8. Other
9. Don't know

English Housing Survey

The Department for Communities and Local Government (2006, 2012a, 2012b) runs the English Housing Survey as a continuous survey. It collects information on tenure, tenure preferences, affordability, crowding, and housing condition.

Topics covered include:

Basic repair cost: Basic repairs include urgent work required in the short term to tackle problems presenting a risk to health, safety, security, or further significant deterioration plus any additional work that will become necessary within the next five years.

Damp and mould: Damp and mould falls into three main categories:

  1. rising damp: where the surveyor has noted the presence of rising damp in at least one of the rooms surveyed during the physical survey. Rising damp occurs when water from the ground rises up into the walls or floors because damp-proof courses in walls or damp-proof membranes in floors are either not present or faulty.
  2. penetrating damp: where the surveyor has noted the presence of penetrating damp in at least one of the rooms surveyed during the physical survey. Penetrating damp is caused by leaks from faulty components of the external fabric; for example, roof covering, gutters, or leaks from internal plumbing; for example, water pipes, radiators.
  3. condensation or mould: where water vapour generated by activities like cooking and bathing condenses on cold surfaces like windows and walls. Virtually all homes have some level of condensation occurring. Serious levels of condensation or mould are considered as a problem in this report.

The Decent home standard According to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, under the survey to be a decent home, a home must meet all of the following four criteria:

  1. It meets the current statutory minimum standard for housing. From April 2006, the fitness standard was replaced by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). Dwellings posing a Category 1 hazard are non-decent for this criterion, based on an assessment of 15 hazards – see HHSRS definition for more detail.
  2. It is in a reasonable state of repair (related to the age and condition of a range of building components including walls, roof, windows, doors, chimneys, electrics, and heating systems).
  3. It has reasonably modern facilities and services (assessed according to the age, size, and layout/location of the kitchen, bathroom, and toilet and any common areas for blocks of flats).
  4. It provides a reasonable degree of thermal comfort (related to insulation and heating efficiency).

Department for Communities and Local Government (2006) has detailed definitions for each of these criteria.

Estimates from the English Housing Survey are based solely on whether a home meets the four stated requirements set out in the updated definition of a decent home, and is an assessment of the property as observed by surveyors, and subject to any limitations of the information they collect.

Housing is also rated for energy efficiency
Standard Assessment Procedure: The energy cost rating as determined by the Government’s Standard Assessment Procedure is used to monitor the energy efficiency of homes. The index is based on calculated annual space and water heating costs for a standard heating regime, and is expressed on a scale of 1 (highly inefficient) to 100 (highly efficient, with 100 representing zero energy cost).

Scottish Household Survey / Scottish House Condition Survey

The Scottish House Condition Survey (SHCS) has been administered since 1991 (15,000 interviews and inspections), although the format was modified in 2003 to become an annual survey with a 4,000-household sample (3,000 households also had a physical inspection of their dwelling), which equates to a sample of 15,000 over five years). From 2012, this survey was incorporated into the Scottish Household Survey.

The redesigned survey includes some self-reported housing information, including:

  • Housing Aspirations, Repairs, Satisfaction, Water supply
  • Heating and Energy
  • Room types, Heating controls, Regimes, Costs, Suitability, Resilience in emergencies, Types, Smoke alarms
  • Condensation and Damp Problems
  • Housing and Health Adaptations, Services.

The survey format also includes physical data recorded by professional, trained surveyors to be combined with the social data from the household, covering a range of topics such as household characteristics, tenure, neighbourhood satisfaction, dwelling satisfaction, health status, and income. The physical characteristics include:

  • dwelling type and age
  • energy efficiency: the energy efficiency of the housing stock including presence and level of insulation, energy ratings, and mean and total CO2 emissions
  • fuel poverty: an analysis of the number and characteristics of households in fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty
  • housing quality: estimates of the number of dwellings passing and failing the Tolerable Standard and the Scottish Housing Quality Standard. It also covers dampness, condensation, and disrepair.

The Scottish Government sets two quality standards and monitors them through the Scottish Household Survey. The first is the Tolerable Standard, which is a ‘condemnatory’ standard. In other words, it is not reasonable to expect people to continue to live in a house that falls below it. The Tolerable Standard was redefined in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 and applies to all houses in Scotland. Local authorities have a statutory duty and specific powers to deal with houses that fall below the Tolerable Standard.

The second quality standard is the Scottish Housing Quality Standard (SHQS), which was announced by the Minister for Communities in February 2004. The agreed target was that all landlords providing social housing must ensure that all their dwellings pass this standard by 2015. Private owners and landlords are currently under no obligation to bring their properties up to the standard. However, the Scottish Household Survey collects and reports on the same data for all dwellings to allow comparison across the housing stock.

The SHQS is an aggregation of the results from about 60 different programme modules into five higher-level classifications, which in turn provide a single pass or fail classification for all dwellings. The five higher-level criteria are that the dwelling must be:

  • above the statutory Tolerable Standard
  • free from serious disrepair
  • energy efficient
  • with modern facilities and services
  • healthy, safe, and secure.

The Tolerable Standard definition was amended by the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 to include additional criteria, covering thermal performance and electrical safety. About 1.4 million, or 61 percent, of dwellings in Scotland failed the SHQS in 2010. This estimate is lower than the failure rates for 2004/5 (75 percent), 2005/6 (72 percent), 2007 (68 percent), 2008 (64 percent), and 2009 (62 percent), and is a statistically significant decrease over the 2004/5, 2005/6, and 2007 figures (figure 5).

Figure 5
Scottish Housing Quality Standard 2004/5–2010 (%s)

Graph, Scottish housing quality standard 2004-05 to 2010.

Source: Scottish government (2010). Scottish House Condition Survey: Key Findings 2010

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