The presented paragraph about ways to evaluate housing environments provides evidence of how housing quality can be measured in practice. It proves that the increasing knowledge of subject allows delivery of high-quality living spaces that consider, e.g., sustainability, economic availability, and the needs of today’s society. Five systems are characterized, which represent a tool to objectively evaluate, compare, and improve the quality of housing projects in Europe.
The analyzed tools present a variety of evaluation methods and criteria, making it possible to obtain insightful and multifaceted partial conclusions. The diversity of criteria in the tools is caused, e.g., by aims and reasons for which a given system was created. Analyzing the assessment tools, by examining their advantages and disadvantages, and also by understanding the criteria that have a positive impact on designed housing environments, will allow a variety of quality factors to be identified. However, the structure of the evaluation systems is similar for all the reviewed examples. The inclusion of quality criteria at the design stage allows for a real improvement in the future quality of the lives of inhabitants. This is due to the fact that the quality criteria, and their importance, are based on specialized knowledge and are often the conclusion of work developed in an interdisciplinary group of experts. The criteria that are based on the current knowledge and research on residential architecture are often updated to include elements that are seen to be annoying for today’s city inhabitants, such as waste segregation, access to sustainable transportation, the impact of buildings on climate change, or environmental approaches to the construction of buildings.
For each of the five systems that are described, the same information about the methods of using the system will be presented, the criteria for evaluating the system, and the system’s applicability. The systems were selected based on the availability of research material, the variety of examples, and their potential for use in the design of housing environments. Quality factors were divided into the following categories: (i) architectural, (ii) spatial, (iii) ecological, and (iv) social.
2. Building for Life 12
Building for Life 12 (BfL 12) is a market-leading certification system in England, and is used for the planning of both new residential buildings and whole neighborhoods. The provisions of the document have been officially approved by the government. The document is intended to encourage local communities, authorities, and developers to engage in joint discussions. As a result, high-quality housing projects will be developed and will satisfy the expectations of all the parties involved in the construction process 
The BfL 12 project has lived to work on five editions, the first being in 2012, thanks to the Building for Life Partnership (made up of three organizations: Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), Design for Homes, and Home Builders Federation. The current fifth edition is from 2016 and was written by David Birkbeck (founder of Design for Homes) and Stefan Kruczkowski (urban planner and expert at the Design Council). The system was created as a result of the need to systematize and improve the quality of new residential environments designed in England. The BfL 12 system is a kind of industry guide to designing good places to live, in which researchers formulate and present their key issues in the form of open questions, in turn making the document more accessible to the local community and all participants in the design process. People using BfL 12 do not have to pay user fees, and therefore researchers encourage people to use it free of charge and to use it to refer to local plan developments 
. Unlike other certification systems used in the building industry, BfL 12 does not require a specially qualified professional to operate and coordinate the system. All that is required is meticulous familiarization with all twelve questions (main and supplementary).
One of the reasons for the success of BfL 12 is that it has been implemented within the national spatial policy and promoted by national agencies. This helps local authorities to create local policies related to the planning and design of high-quality residential environments. An example of the BfL 12 system being put into practice is the County Durham Spatial Policy Supplement document, which was implemented in the northeast of England in 2019. The County Durham Plan 
aims to improve and promote design standards that directly affect the quality of the residential environment. The document explicitly dictates that designers incorporate aspects of BfL 12 into their projects. Additionally, the evaluation system also helps city officials determine the quality of the development in question. For this purpose, the document introduces “Internal Design Review” methods (Internal Design Review), which are presented in a dedicated form for each of the twelve main questions.
3. Home Quality Mark
The Home Quality Mark (HQM) is an independent certification system for new housing in England, Scotland, and Wales, which was developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). BRE is also responsible for one of the most popular BREEM building rating schemes—used in more than 70 countries. The criteria developed for the HQM are based on the latest scientific research on issues such as energy efficiency, noise reduction, water management, and air quality. The system is one of the few to include issues such as climate change and carbon reduction. The HQM quality mark was designed to provide a reliable rating system for new housing developments. Developers can use the system to ensure that flats and buildings have been built at a high level of quality with respect to the environment. Every HQM-certified house fulfils higher standards than the minimum values specified, e.g., in the English building law. The system can also be used by potential buyers of apartments, as the certificate provides reliable facts, e.g., about the exploitation costs of a property and its technical condition 
There are many reasons for using the HQM system. By constructing a building with an impact on the quality of realization, which is included in the detailed guidelines, it is possible to improve the health and well-being of inhabitants. This is because good-quality houses require less renovation and repair, saving worries, time, and money. Another exemplary advantage of the system is the complex idea of not degrading the environment through the construction of the building. Buildings constructed according to this system are energy efficient and have a high energy performance. At the same time, the system has a tool to provide a positive net benefit from biodiversity or new plantings of trees and plants, compensating for losses caused by the construction of a new building 
. These topics are formulated in 13 main qualitative categories 
The BRE Institute has certified a development of 100 Lancaster Grange homes in Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire (England), with the Home Quality Mark being used for the first time in 2018. By using the system, developer Crest Nicholson is giving homebuyers a guarantee that their new homes are designed and built to high standards. They have a low environmental impact, low running costs, and provide health benefits. The Lancaster Grange development includes communal green spaces, play areas, and cycle and footpaths, with its close location to Radlett town center allowing easy access to schools or workplaces.
4. Housing Quality Indicators
Housing Quality Indicators (HQI) is a tool for measuring and evaluating the quality of existing, retrofitted, or designed housing environments. The main objective for the authors from DEGW was the need to create a tool that would have a real impact on the market, and which would improve housing conditions in the U.K. 
The program was initiated by the Department of Environment, Transport, and the Regions and Housing Corporation, public agencies that have been responsible for funding affordable housing in the U.K. By implementing the HQI system, it was possible to evaluate the quality of housing in relation to the costs it had incurred, already at the design stage. A positive evaluation ensured that public funding achieved the best price-to-value ratio 
. The assessment instrument was used to evaluate projects that received funding from the National Affordable Housing Program (NAHP) in the years 2008–2011 and from the Affordable Homes Program (AHP) in the years 2011–2015. The first version of the system was developed and published in February 1999 
. A major aspect of the HQI tool is its ability to assess a variety of residential projects—both public and private—according to established guidelines. The HQI tool consists of ten indicators, each with a series of questions to be answered. Through them, developers and architects can make well-informed design decisions that result in high-quality housing while respecting the economic balance of the investment 
In 1999, the project authors (DEGR specialists) conducted a series of pilot tests to verify the HQI system in practice. For this purpose, they carried out tests on a group of 31 housing developments in the U.K. The groups differed from each other in terms of scale, location, and the number of inhabitants, with the only common point being their contemporary time of construction. The qualified buildings were both new buildings and modernizations of, e.g., city-center townhouses, which were implemented in the last five years. The authors of the research invited various institutions that build social housing, and also developers representing the private sector. The developers were all asked to propose three investments of different scales and quality—one being better and one being slightly worse. This element was difficult for private investors to fulfill, as evidenced by the representation of the private sector of only 30% 
According to the pilot research, the HQI system has been shown to be successful as a tool for measuring the real quality of housing. However, researchers noted the need for further work on the system in order to increase its usefulness in the private sector. The measurements were carried out by both inhabitants and specialists, in turn confirming that the evaluation method is practical and can be used by all interested participants. In the research, the lowest score was obtained by a modernized tenement house in the city center, which was also the oldest building in the represented group. The best result—77%—was obtained by the youngest building, in which a prototype smart home system was introduced. The average final score among the respondents was 55%. This result was very interesting, as it indicated that the good points of the developments were their location and visual aesthetics, while the lowest-rated categories were building accessibility and sustainability 
5. Système D’évaluation De Logements (Sel)
Système D’évaluation de Logements (SEL) is one of the oldest tools for measuring and assessing the quality of housing environments. It was developed in 1975 in Switzerland, on the order of the federal government, to analyze the growing state-funded social housing 
The system has received several updates. The first edition, in 1975, contained 66 criteria for evaluating new developments under the federal housing finance program. Later updates were mainly aimed at adapting the system to today’s actualities and trying to make the tool as practical as possible. In 2000, the criteria were reviewed and reduced to 39 indicators 
. The current version of the SEL system was published in September 2015 by the Federal Housing Office (Office ederal du logement). The number of criteria was reduced to 25 indicators, and grouped into three categories: living place; housing development; and dwellings. The tool was tested for its usefulness in responding to contemporary housing problems such as urban sprawl, energy overconsumption, or population growth in urban agglomerations. The system has also been updated with new criteria to improve the level of participation of future inhabitants and the local community in the design of the housing environment. The system gives more points for the design of land development that improves both the quality of life for inhabitants and the quality of the built environment, which have positive effects on the local community 
The SEL system was used to present a building evaluation and comparison in the series “Residential Buildings in Comparison” (Wohnbauten im Vergleich), by Paul Meyer-Meierling. The series, published between 1997 and 2004, consisted of more than 50 publications, with each edition dealing with a different theme, including timber housing 
or low-energy housing 
. The publication consisted of a detailed overview of housing developments and a presentation of key data and conclusions. The projects were documented in detail using photographs, plans, descriptions, and costs, and compared using the SEL system.
6. NF Habitat—NF Habitat HQE
NF Habitat-NF Habitat HQE is an independent certification system for evaluating the quality of sustainable housing environments. The system was developed by the French association QUALITEL, which has been researching housing quality for over 46 years 
The beginnings of the association’s research date to 1974 when a method of measuring the quality of dwellings was created under the name Qualitel. The system was supposed to make an objective evaluation of individual apartments, thanks to which both investors and inhabitants would have complete information about the property. The quality certificate, which is issued by an objective association, was especially useful for people who decided to buy or sell a property. On its basis, it was possible to verify the rental or sale price. In its original version, the Qualitel system operated until 1988. The current version of the system was published in 2015 and is issued by CERQUAL Qualitel Certification, the certification unit of the QUALITEL Association. The unit is only involved in the certification of planned residential buildings. Developers can apply for the “NF Habitat” and its extension to the “NF Habitat HQE” certification, enriched with indicators for sustainable housing. The high level of certification and objectivity of the evaluation is confirmed by the cooperation with the French National Institute of Standardization (Association française de normalisation—AFNOR) 
. The measurement indicators cover the entire life cycle of a building—through design, construction, use, renovation, and deconstruction. NF Habitat also offers indicators relating to the various contemporary housing challenges (including thermal comfort, acoustic comfort, safety, and ecology). According to the Qualitel association, NF Habitat certification is founded on four basic pillars: (1) quality of life; (2) respect for the environment; and (3) economic result 
The use of the certification system in France is significant, QUALITEL estimates that the association has issued more than 2.5 million certificates since its creation in 1974. The association responds to the expectations of the inhabitants, in a study carried out in 2015, up to 78% of French people who were surveyed would like to have a single national reference system for housing quality, which would allow and make easier their choice of place for living. Since then, the organization has been developing research towards the creation of a leading building certification system in France, and currently offers ten evaluation systems for multi-family housing, individual housing, or retrofitted residential buildings. In the year 2019 alone, 150,000 housing certificates were released 
The increased interest in the NF Habitat and NF Habitat HQE systems is evident in the number of issued certificates. It shows that in 2018, there was an increase of 21%, mainly to the expanded application in multifamily housing. This is due to the attention to the topic of improving the quality of housing and its environmental impact by city authorities. The QUALITEL association signs partnership agreements with cities in order to implement their certification system in newly designed residential buildings—both private and social ones. An example of this is the city of Metz in northeastern France, which on 24 January 2019 concluded an agreement committing to NF Habitat HQE certification for all new housing built in Zones D’aménagement Concerté (ZAC)