What is the WELL Building Standard™?
What is WELL?
The WELL Building Standard™ as defined by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI™) acts as a map, creating a customizable path that leads building owners and designers to create a space that inspires healthier, more productive, and happier people. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) explains WELL as, “a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing, through…”
In other words, WELL implements measures, based on the seven areas above, in building design and tracks the results to confirm that the efforts taken actually result in positive change. These measures help buildings become an extension of a person’s environment, rather than simply a structure.
How do Words Become Design?
These seven areas are very broad. How does an engineer take a word like mind and turn it into a part of a building?
Take light, for instance. It means one thing on paper, but when you are trying to read the word on paper, it means something else. Most people today recognize that too little light or too much light causes stress on the eyes, but many factors can affect eye health, including the warmth of the light and daylight versus electric light. More than just eyesight, light impacts many other aspects of overall health, such as circadian rhythm, which plays an important role in sleep patterns and energy. By using electric lights that mimic daylight, a WELL building can help a person maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, often leading to more energy and better focus.
Air is another seemingly abstract word. The average person can walk into a room and determine whether or not the air is “stale,” but many do not know what bacteria and pollutants they cannot see floating in that air. As reported by the World Health Organization, “WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer…”
These pollutants can be introduced to a building’s air supply from indoor and outdoor sources, making filtration and cleaning protocols essential. WELL guidelines not only require regular cleaning of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, but restrict the cleaning materials used throughout the building to ensure the most non-toxic and ecofriendly measures are being taken.
According to the United States Geological Survey, the adult human body is made up to 60% water. This means that proper hydration is essential and is encouraged in WELL buildings. Water filtration, water dispenser location, and options for water temperature give occupants plenty of opportunities to drink more. However, water reduction is also important when it comes to sustainability, which is why WELL supports measures like low-flush plumbing options and landscaping with native, water-conscious plants.
One of the greatest investments a person or company can make is in people. “A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.” Because a person’s environment has a great impact on his or her mental health, as well as physical health, WELL also incorporates requirements for mental stimulation.
So how does a building design promote a healthy mind? One way is through biophilia, which is the idea that people are naturally drawn to nature and living organisms in general. A building can embrace biophilia through the use of organic patterns and lighting that connects color with the outdoors. Incorporating large windows, patios, and green roofs are other ways of ultimately bringing nature indoors.
What is a WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP™)?
According to the IWBI, a WELL AP is an individual who has passed the rigorous WELL AP exam and, therefore, “…has advanced knowledge in human health and wellness in the built environment.” These professionals, including engineers such as Brian Hadfield, P.E., F.P.E., LEED AP, WELL AP and Brandon Rich, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, Fitwel Ambassador, both associate principals at Alvine Engineering, can help a client or building owner navigate the WELL Building Standard to result in a WELL Certified project. They are also a part of the WELL AP network, which provides them with connections to colleagues, as well as health and wellness leaders, capable of providing additional collaboration and inspiration for greater project success.
Does WELL Really Work?
The headquarters for Alvine Engineering and IP Design Group was designed to the WELL Building Standard and is currently seeking WELL Certification. Employees have been vocal about their appreciation for the positive benefits provided by WELL features.
“I love the drinking water options throughout the office. I find that I drink more water because it is easy to access, which keeps me from feeling dehydrated during the day.” — Steph Guy, P.E., LEED AP, Associate Principal at Alvine Engineering
“Being in control of my environment makes me feel more comfortable and more productive, which is why I appreciate the adjustable floor vents at every workstation. Whenever I am cold or hot, I simply have to adjust the vent.” — Nathan German, Mechanical Designer at Alvine Engineering
“The sound masking implementation is my favorite WELL feature because it provides a constant calming background noise all through the office. This allows me to remain both focused and relaxed throughout the day.” — Cameron Gilinsky, Telecommunications Designer at IP Design Group
“I really enjoy all of the windows around the office. They not only provide plenty of daylight and great views of the area, but allow me to stay connected with the events going on outside, which often spark conversations with coworkers.” — Jordon Kramp, FoodService Designer at Alvine Engineering
“I’m the first person visitors see when they come into our office, so I get to hear their first impressions. Like me, they love all the sunlight coming in and find the lighting of the front desk especially interesting because it changes color depending on the temperature outside.” — Beth Olson, Receptionist at Alvine Engineering
Is WELL the Only Workplace Wellness Standard?
Fitwel® is another option to measure and regulate the health of building occupants. According to the Fitwell website, the seven health categories of focus include:
- Impacts surrounding community health
- Reduces morbidity and absenteeism
- Supports social equity for vulnerable populations
- Instills feelings of wellbeing
- Enhances access to healthy foods
- Promotes occupant safety
- Increases physical activity
In general, the certification system for Fitwel is more straightforward and less expensive than WELL. WELL, on the other hand, is often considered more comprehensive because of its strict regulations. Although more expensive, WELL is currently the more popular of the two certification systems; however, both have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, it is not a case of which certification system is better overall, but of what certification system is better for an owner’s specific goals for each individual project.
A large multi-tenant building may be more suited for Fitwell, whereas a school might be better suited for WELL. However, one of the best ways to make an informed decision is to speak with an engineer like Brandon Rich, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, Fitwel Ambassador. Having a certification in WELL and Fitwel, Rich is in a unique position to offer clients a first-person perspective of both processes and help them make the best decision for their particular project. With the average person spending more time indoors than ever before, it is essential that buildings promote healthy lifestyles.
To learn more about The WELL Building Standard™, including requirements, certifications, benefits, and WELL APs, visit the International WELL Building Institute™ website.
See how WELL design becomes reality in “What Does a WELL-Designed Building Look Like?”
To learn more about Fitwel® standards, certification, and ambassadors visit the website.
Read stok’s article “WELL vs Fitwel: The Battle for Workplace Wellness” or Sustainable Investment Group’s “Fitwel vs. WELL” to learn more about the differences between WELL and Fitwel, as well as some of the advantages and disadvantages to each program.
Knox, N. (2015, April 2). What is WELL? Retrieved July 16, 2019, from U.S. Green Building Council: https://www.usgbc.org/articles/what-well
 World Health Organization. (2018, May 2). 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air, but more countries are taking action. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action
 United States Geological Survey. The Water in You: Water and the Human Body. Retrieved November 6, 2019 from USGS: https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
 World Health Organization. (2019, May). Mental Health in the Workplace. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/
Merriam Webster. (2019). Biophilia. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from Merriam Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biophilia