© 2018 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Faculty of 268 Public Health. All rights reserved. Background The built environment exerts one of the strongest directly measurable effects on physical and mental health, yet the evidence base underpinning the design of healthy urban planning is not fully developed. Method This study provides a systematic review of quantitative studies assessing the impact of buildings on health. In total, 7127 studies were identified from a structured search of eight databases combined with manual searching for grey literature. Only quantitative studies conducted between January 2000 and November 2016 were eligible for inclusion. Studies were assessed using the quality assessment tool for quantitative studies. Results In total, 39 studies were included in this review. Findings showed consistently that housing refurbishment and modifications, provision of adequate heating, improvements to ventilation and water supply were associated with improved respiratory outcomes, quality of life and mental health. Prioritization of housing for vulnerable groups led to improved wellbeing. However, the quality of the underpinning evidence and lack of methodological rigour in most of the studies makes it difficult to draw causal links. Conclusion This review identified evidence to demonstrate the strong association between certain features of housing and wellbeing such as adequate heating and ventilation. Our findings highlight the need for strengthening of the evidence base in order for meaningful conclusions to be drawn.