An unusually cold January in much of the U.S. caused housing starts to tumble last month.

Starts declined 16 percent to a seasonally adjusted 880,000 units, the National Association of Home Builders said, citing government data.

Permits for the construction of single-family homes dropped 1.3 percent to a 602,000 seasonally adjusted annual pace.

"Cold weather clearly put a chill on new home construction last month and this is also reflected in our latest builder confidence survey," said Kevin Kelly, the new chairman of the NAHB and a builder and developer from Wilmington, Del. "Further, builders continue to face other obstacles, including rising materials prices and a lack of buildable lots and labor."

NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said he doubts the decline is the start of a larger trend.

"Though the decline in starts is largely weather related, it is worth noting that on the upside housing production for the fourth quarter was above 1 million for the first time since 2008 while single-family permits held relatively steady," Crowe said. "The less weather sensitive permits data suggests that our forecast for solid growth in single-family housing production in 2014 remains on track, as pent-up housing demand is unleashed."