The Beginnings of the WELL Building Standard
WELL was started in 2014 by Delos and is administered by the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI™). WELL‘s beginning date actually has years of research and development behind it. WELL continues to receive input and research that allows their standards to meet current sustainability and human health demands. We as humans spend more than 90% of our time indoors, and WELL has based its efforts on improving the overall health of building occupants. Our built environments impact our health immensely. WELL intends to make improvements in occupant’s wellness, performance, levels of fitness, and even nutrition.
Is WELL More Popular than LEED?
Both certifications hold a lot of merit and are much more stringent than many building codes in terms of sustainability, human health, and energy efficiency. The certifications are similar in that they require integrative design and a high level of sustainability for both the building and the building’s surroundings (compared with standard building practices). WELL and LEED are frontrunners in the sustainability certification game and each seek to improve constantly. Both are based on science, testing, and input from seasoned sustainability professionals.
WELL places human health at the forefront of its certification system and, like LEED, is verified by the GBCI (Green Building Certification Institute). Project teams can choose which of the numerous sustainability certifications applies to their overall project goals. This is usually done during the project’s sustainability charrette. More on sustainability charrettes in this blog post.
Steps to WELL Certification
WELL uses four certification levels to denote the amount of points WELL Certified building projects achieve. Bronze, silver, gold, and platinum represent projects that have received a minimum of 40, 50, 60, and 80 points respectively. These points are earned in various ways using the category or concept system described below. Most concepts will have preconditions that must be met before certification is possible. Once the preconditions are met, projects can work toward achieving optimizations which are features in each concept that earn projects more points. WELL adapts its requirements based on the project typology. For example, an interior renovation project will likely not be required to earn features based on exterior elements.
WELL’s Air concept carefully considers multiple options for achieving ideal indoor air quality. Buildings can establish a baseline indoor air quality level via a high performance HVAC system using appropriate air filters. The amount and treatment of outdoor ventilation will be optimized for individual project needs. HVAC systems can be paired with natural ventilation that often involves operational windows. WELL’s rating system encourages building designers to reduce or eliminate sources of pollutants. Studies have shown the effects that poor indoor air quality has on human’s respiratory systems. Poorly designed building systems can expose humans to pollutants including radon, carbon monoxide, and VOCs. Air pollutants and ineffective ventilation can result in asthma and other severe respiratory ailments which, if severe enough, can result in death. The most immediate measure WELL projects take to improve indoor air quality is eliminating indoor tobacco smoke and tobacco smoking near building air intakes and entrances.
Water, as one of our life sources, is thoroughly covered in this WELL concept. Access to safe drinking water is a major factor for human health. So, WELL certification requires projects to filter and test water as needed to give building occupants access to healthy and safe water. WELL also gives points for building designs that reduce their indoor water use and safely reuse non-potable water. This concept also addresses appropriate humidity and moisture levels.
The Light concept approaches lighting in the interior environment as a major factor in building occupant health and productivity. WELL Certified buildings have lighting designs that are considered optimal balances of artificial and natural light. Building occupants will have access to and often control over the amount, sources, and direction of light in their space. WELL encourages building designs with access to outdoor views as part of the effort to help building occupants maintain healthy circadian rhythms. Windows and lighting are designed to reduce glare that can make occupants uncomfortable and less productive.
WELL knows how universally important movement is for human health. Many preventable conditions and even deaths can be attributed in some way to physical inactivity. The built environment can play a major part in encouraging and making physical activity possible. Choosing a project site that makes walking, biking, jogging, etc. safe, fun, and accessible is part of the approach for the Movement concept. Additionally, building owners and managers can contribute to occupants’ well being by providing subsidies for physical activity involvement, spaces designated for exercise, fitness trackers, and ergonomic working environments.
Thermal Comfort is a WELL concept that everyone can relate to. We know how tough it is to focus and be productive if we feel too hot or too cold. This concept addresses this seemingly ever present struggle by establishing ranges of ideal indoor temperatures. Temperature zones can also be utilized to provide comfortable spaces for everyone. The Thermal Comfort concept also encourages individual control of both the temperature and operable windows.
The Sound concept seeks to optimize the acoustic qualities of indoor environments and the unique spaces in them. A WELL Certified project’s acoustic design establishes zones that delineate spaces based on the amount of expected noise. Steps can then be taken by the project design team to minimize sound transmission from loud to quiet zones, for example. Sound reducing surfaces including flooring and furniture can reduce the reverberation time of noises, resulting in a quieter space. Project design teams should address outdoor sounds such as traffic or airport noises that can reduce focus or agitate building occupants.
Building materials are necessary to create built environments, of course, and the Materials concept outlines strategies for choosing and utilizing high quality, healthy materials. Building materials can contain toxins and VOCs which can be eliminated or reduced with informed selection of manufacturers and products. The WELL Building Standard does not end when a building is complete. This concept also outlines proper waste and pest management during occupancy. Keeping a clean and hygienic indoor environment is addressed in this concept with operations and management strategies.
This concept establishes WELL as a leader in upholding human health in the built environment, in my opinion. The Mind can be nourished with WELL’s precondition that requires access to nature for occupants. Mental health and stress management services can be built into building owner’s operations. The Mind condition also addresses tobacco and addiction services. WELL Certified buildings can provide their occupants with restorative spaces that meet certain design requirements that have been proven to contribute to mental health.
The Community concept is a big one. It covers vital operations including emergency preparedness and recovery. This concept covers family leave and child care and diversity and inclusion. Accessibility and universal design optimizations can make the built environment inclusive of all people. Appropriately, this concept includes opportunities for paid time off for volunteer efforts and providing space for community use. Integrative design is covered in this concept which requires the project design team to work alongside the building owners and other project stakeholders to achieve shared goals and successful project completion.
Lastly, the Innovation concept allows project teams to go above and beyond WELL’s certification requirements. A project team can earn points for hiring a WELL Accredited Professional and/or achieving another approved green building certification. Project teams can attempt to earn Innovation optimization points by proposing an innovation that meets WELL standards. It must be beyond the existing requirements and backed up by research.
New Version, Who Dis?
WELL v2 was launched in 2020 and advances on the original version (v1) in important ways. Its development included feedback from a high caliber council of advisors, testing, and stakeholder feedback. v2 includes universal preconditions that apply to all project types. It also condenses the project type rating systems down to two major types. Originally there were multiple project type rating systems and pilot rating systems. One of the goals of v2 is to be globally applicable and equitable for all. The WELL Building Standard will continue to evolve with new research, developments, and human health needs. It will continue to be at the forefront of human health in the built environment.