Support Occupant Health: A Guide to the WELL Building Standard

Aug. 26, 2015

This certification enhances wellness using the built environment.

Over 2,000 hours – that’s how much time workers spend in your building each year. Numerous studies show that offices and classrooms can have a direct bearing on occupant health, prompting many FMs to become involved with wellness initiatives. Everything from ordering ergonomic furniture and ensuring indoor air quality to providing access to daylighting can interface with your department.

Launched in late 2014, the WELL Building Standard is a unique offering among certifications as it focuses on supporting human health and wellness using the built environment. Paul Scialla, Founder of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), discusses the benefits of this program. He is joined by Chris Pollock, a design leader with the firm Cerami & Associates, which participated in the standard’s peer review process.

What differentiates the WELL Building Standard from other certification programs?

Scialla: If you look at the economic proposition, real estate is the world’s largest asset class. Health and wellness is arguably the fastest growing industry globally. By bringing the two together through innovative design and building solutions, the WELL Building Standard is giving people the tools to build healthy communities.

This evidence-based performance standard measures, certifies and monitors building features that impact human health and wellness. WELL specifically addresses seven concept categories – air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

Pollock: Other building programs focus on sustainability and energy efficiency, which are a key part of ensuring our future. The objective of the WELL Building Standard, however, is to provide the occupants of the building with a space that is supporting of both body and mind. A facility should meet its function while improving the health of its occupants wherever possible.

What are the performance requirements outlined in the seven categories?

Scialla: WELL is composed of over 100 Features that address issues that impact the health, comfort or knowledge of occupants. These are divided into Preconditions and Optimization Features. For example, some measures are intended to change behavior through education and corporate policy or provide information and support for making positive lifestyle choices.

Because health and wellness objectives vary from one building to the next, WELL provides flexibility when selecting Features that best suit the project owner’s goals. To reach the Silver level, a building must meet 100% of all Preconditions. To advance to Gold or Platinum, an owner can then pursue 40% or 80% of the Optimization Features.

For example, circadian lighting design is a Precondition Feature and daylight fenestration is an Optimization Feature within the light category. In the water category, fundamental water quality is a Precondition while drinking water promotion is an Optimization Feature.

A project’s WELL Assessor will complete an extensive set of air, water, sound, light and other on-site tests as well as perform visual inspections to confirm that the project as built and operated is aligned with the documentation that was submitted.

Pollock: Cerami focused purely on the noise aspects of the standard and outlined key construction criteria for various spaces. Strategies such as blocking sound from outside, minimizing noise from building systems, and limiting sound from neighboring spaces ensure that the acoustical environment that an occupant desires is controllable and that outside activities will not distract or disturb. Unwanted noise can cause distraction in focus, disruption from sleep for hotel guests, or simply be an annoyance that interrupts relaxation.

No doubt many facility managers receive complaints from occupants that relate to their ability to work, relax or sleep. The acoustical aspects of the standard help to ensure that commercial environments are comfortable and free from distractions related to noise or activity. Healthier, happier occupants will surely translate into buildings that are easier to operate and maintain.

How is WELL complementary to other building certifications?

Scialla: WELL works harmoniously with LEED and the Living Building Challenge (LBC) and is expanding alignment with other systems like Three Star, Green Star and BREEAM. In addition, third-party certification for WELL is provided through the International WELL Building Institute’s (IWBI) collaboration with Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the same organization that administers LEED certification.

To make the process easier for projects pursuing multiple programs, the WELL Building Standard is organized so that specific LEED credits and LBC imperatives are clearly mapped to WELL Features.

WELL also recognizes leadership standards for disclosure and certification. For example, if you look at certification programs for furniture and building materials, many of the current programs like C2C, DECLARE and HPDs are recognized by WELL, allowing projects to demonstrate a commitment to indoor air quality and occupant health and wellbeing through transparency.

Pollock: The WELL standard complements all of these energy or sustainability standards by making them personal. LEED, Living Building Challenge and ENERGY STAR have all driven the building, design and construction industry to take great strides in understanding our buildings use of resources as well as implementing best practices. In some cases the question may have been raised as to the benefits to the occupants. WELL fills that need, and by creating buildings that support individual health as well as environmental sustainability, the industry can certainly claim improvements in lowering the impact on both people and the planet.

The Seven Concepts of the WELL Building Standard

Optimize and achieve indoor air quality. Strategies include removal of airborne contaminants, as well as prevention and purification.

Optimize water quality while promoting accessibility. Strategies include removal of contaminants through filtration and treatment, as well as strategic placement.

Encourage healthy eating habits by providing occupants with healthier food choices, behavioral cues and knowledge about nutrient quality.

Minimize disruption to the body’s circadian rhythm. Requirements for window performance and design, light output and lighting controls, and task-appropriate illumination levels are included to improve energy, mood and productivity.

Utilize building design technologies and knowledge-based strategies to encourage physical activity. Requirements are designed to provide numerous opportunities for activity and exertion, enabling occu- pants to accommodate fitness regimens within their daily schedule.

Create an indoor environment that is distraction-free, productive and soothing. Solutions include design standards and recommendations, thermal and acoustic controllability, and policy implementation covering acoustic and thermal parameters that are known sources of discomfort.

Support mental and emotional health, providing the occupant with regular feedback and knowledge about their environment through design elements, relaxation spaces and state-of-the-art technology.

Jennie Morton [email protected] is Senior Editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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