Emergency Preparedness and Response: Extreme Cold

Policy Levers and Actions

There are several policy levers and programs that can and should be utilized to ensure that homes are able to protect residents against extreme cold temperatures. This page collects measures that can be implemented to improve thermal control in homes, raise the standards that guide housing to protect against extreme cold, and provide community services. These policies are especially important to provide support for low-income communities and families.

Note: Generally, there are two approaches for responding to and counting the impact of climate change. Mitigation refers to efforts to reduce or slow the causes of climate change. Examples related to healthy housing include making homes more energy efficient, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat them. Adaptation refers to efforts to improve our ability to withstand current effects of climate change. Examples related to healthy housing include retrofits and strategies to improve home insultation during extreme cold events.

Because this guide is focused on the effects of extreme cold, most of the resources we have provided are more related to adaptation than mitigation; however, both approaches are essential and related to healthy housing. And these approaches can connect to each other, too: For example, weatherizing homes to protect against cold weather provides both health benefits and lowers energy costs and output.

The following subpages provide further information on specific policy levers:

Provide Protection During Events

For more information on how to keep safe during a winter weather event, see our Extreme Cold: Prepare and Act section.

Tip Sheet: Extreme Cold Weather for Alternative Care Sites
For public health, community leaders, and facility managers.
This tip sheet compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) includes information for community leaders looking to prepare facilities for extreme cold weather. It also lists various web resources related to extreme cold and provides information on possible cold-related illnesses that those working in extreme cold conditions may experience. [pdf; DHHS, 2021]

Winter Weather Safety Social Media Toolkit
For public health and community leaders.
Ready.gov has compiled a variety of resources on winter weather safety that can be shared via social media channels. These graphics and outreach materials cover general winter storm information, emergency kits, traveling, pet safety, heating safety, and power outage safety. [url; Ready.gov]

Include Thermal Measures in Codes and Standards

Using residential housing standards is an important lever to protect residents from high heat. Codes and standards should include thermal control measures, including requirements for how HVAC systems should be kept in good working condition and minimum and maximum temperature limits.

For more general information on how housing codes work at the local level, how you can find your local code, and how to leverage codes for healthy housing, see NCHH’s Housing Code Tools.

National Healthy Housing Standard
For property owners, elected officials, code agency staff.
NCHH, in collaboration with the American Public Health Association (APHA), developed the National Healthy Housing Standard (see entry above) to inform and deliver housing policy that reflects the latest understanding of the connections between housing conditions and health. The Standard is a living tool for all who are concerned about housing as a platform for health. Individually and together, the Standard constitutes minimum performance standards for a safe and healthy home. It provides health-based measures to fill gaps where no property maintenance policy exists and also serves as a complement to the International Property Maintenance Code and other housing policies already in use by local and state governments and federal agencies. [url; NCHH, 2014]

Thermal control, ventilation, and energy efficiency are covered in Section 5 of the Standard. Some of the measures related to extreme cold include the following:

  • 5.2 Heating System
    • 5.2.2. Minimum Heat Temperature. The heating system shall be capable of maintaining a minimum room temperature of 68° F (20° C) in every habitable room, bathroom, and toilet room.
    • 5.2.3. Heating Supply. If the dwelling unit is rented, leased, or let on terms either expressed or implied that heat will be supplied, heat shall be provided to maintain a minimum temperature of 68° F (20° C) in habitable rooms, bathrooms, and toilet rooms; and at no time during the heating season shall the system allow the temperature to exceed 78° F (25° C) in any room.
    • 5.2.4. Forced-Air Systems. Any dwelling with a forced-air system shall have at least one thermostat within each dwelling unit capable of controlling the heating system, and cooling system if provided, to maintain temperature set point between 55° F (13° C) and 85° F (29° C) at different times of the day. The system shall have a clean air filter installed in accordance with manufacturer specifications at each change in tenancy and at least annually. This filter shall have a minimum efficiency reporting value of eight (MERV-8) unless the system is not equipped to use a MERV-8 filter.
    • 5.2 Stretch Provision: The heating system shall be controlled by a programmable thermostat to avoid temperature extremes.
  • 5.4 Air Sealings
    • 5.4.1. Exterior doors, windows and skylights, openings where siding and chimneys meet, utility penetrations, electrical outlets, and other openings shall be weathertight.
      • Pads, door sweeps, weather stripping, and seals shall be used and maintained to minimize air leaks.
    • 5.4.2. Openings separating an attached garage from a habitable room, including doors, ceilings, floors, and utility and ductwork penetrations, shall be sealed.

Green Building Codes/Standards and Systems: Comparison
For policymakers and developers.

This resource provides a quick comparison of thermal comfort measures of various green codes/standards, illustrating how green standards relate to each other and protect human health. NCHH compiled a list of 25 current energy efficiency, green, and weatherization codes/sub-codes, standards/sub-standards, and rating systems and compared each of their thermal comfort and core measures to those described in the National Healthy Housing Standard (using our Code Comparison Tool‘s Ventilation and Heating and Mechanical sections). The resulting resource shows (in table format) whether each code or standard meets the provisions described in the National Healthy Housing Standard provisions exist in each code/standard, citing the specific thermal comfort measure language of each. [pdf; NCHH, 2022]

Energy Efficiency and Weatherization Standards and Rating Systems
For building developers, code agency staff, energy agencies and programs, and homeowners. 
This page collects several different programs and resources for energy efficiency and green standards in homes. [url; NCHH]


Latest page update: August 21, 2022.