The last time single-family homes were built at this pace was 13 years ago, just before the housing bubble burst.
Housing starts in November were up 12.8 percent from the same period last year, when just 1.37 million units were under construction.
Residential construction accounted for 44 percent of total construction spending in October, the most recent period for which data is available.
But homebuilders, which have been reporting unprecedented levels of optimism for the housing market, are beginning to rein in expectations. This month an index tracking homebuilder sentiment dropped for the first time since April.
Building permits were up 6.2 percent to 1.63 million units, seasonally adjusted, compared to October. Permitting was up 8.5 percent year-over-year.