Cold Weather Freezes House-Building Nationwide

Construction on new homes down 16 percent in January

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Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images

A contractor frames a new home under construction in Lake Forest, California, February 2014

Frigid winter weather and thick snow on the ground in many regions of the country have stalled U.S. housing starts for the second month in a row, and experts say it is uncertain when builders will begin projects again.

Data released Wednesday morning by the Commerce Department show that privately-owned housing starts in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 880,000, down 16 percent compared with December, and down 2 percent compared with January last year, despite hopes of an improving economy and healthier construction market.

But even once the weather improves, underlying changes to the economy might continue to slow growth in single-family home construction, with increases in student debt, tightening credit standards, and homeowners looking to cut down on their commutes discouraging buyers from investing in private homes.

“We had very severe weather in December and January, and it might be March or April before we start to see numbers come up,” Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America told TIME. “But I┬ádo believe over the course of this year single-family housing market is going to slow down a lot.”

Meanwhile, building permits in January were 5.4 percent below the December rate and 2.4 percent above the January 2013 estimate, indicating mixed forecasts for future construction.