The WELL Program Explained

By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting

Health and Wellness in sustainable buildings continues to create interest as to how to quantify the level of occupants’ well being. One of the newer certification programs in this field is the WELL Standard which is gaining ground. WELL was first introduced in 2012 by the Delos Living LLC company. The group was initially supported by the Clinton Global Initiative to develop spaces that enhance occupant health and quality. The program was based on seven years of research and collaboration with physicians, scientists and industry professionals on the effects of indoor space on individuals. The research was conducted at the Mayo Clinic Center and the Cleveland Clinic on Wellness.

The first building that received certification was awarded in 2014 after the creation of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) which maintains and administers the standard.

This is not the first time I've written about WELL in a column for DesignandBuildwithMetal.com, but the current article takes a deeper dive into the program.

The WELL Standard uses a structure of seven Categories (referred to as “concepts”) and prerequisites (referred to as “preconditions”). The Concepts are:

  1. Air (ex. air quality)
  2. Water (ex. water purity)
  3. Nourishment (ex. on-site food service)
  4. Light (ex. daylight air access)
  5. Fitness (ex. steps instead of elevators)
  6. Comfort (ex. acoustics, thermal comfort)
  7. Mind (ex. biophillic design and wellness education)

Within each Concept there are a number of “Features” that are similar to credits within Categories in the LEED program. The program shows how compliance to the standard can impact the human body’s systems. Those systems include:

Cardiovascular
Endocrine
Muscular
Nervous
Reproductive
Skeletal
Urinary
Digestive

As an example, let’s look at the Concept of Comfort. That Concept has Features that include ergonomics, exterior noise intrusion, thermal comfort, sound reducing surfaces, ADA accessible design standards, and many more. Each of those Features may have a positive or negative impact to any number of systems in the human body. The intent is to maximize the strategies that have positive impacts on the human body and minimize or prevent strategies that impact the body in a negative manner.

The combination of the Concepts, Features and the Preconditions results in 102 performance metrics, design strategies, and procedures in the WELL Certification program. Similar to LEED, the WELL standard uses a point system based on how many of the details within the seven Concepts are in compliance in a registered building. A Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum level of certification is then awarded.

Beyond the use of a point system, A WELL Assesssor must check compliance at the building site. A third party  must also be used to test the air and water. Another difference from LEED is the fact that a WELL certified building must be re-certified every three years.

The third party that certifies to the WELL Standard is Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the same group that reviews LEED projects. If you are starting to wonder how the WELL Building Standard fits with the LEED program, you are not alone. The WELL Standard was designed to complement the LEED rating program. The former President and CEO of the USGBC is now working with the WELL Institute activities. But WELL addresses issues that don’t get the same level of attention in LEED or in the Living Building Challenge program

The WELL Certification program is catching the attention from several large architectural firms.

Unlike LEED the WELL certification program relies on user’s feedback to modify the program. WELL comes out quarterly with addenda. Every feature in the program is open to an Alternative Adherence Path (AAP). A project can use the version in place when the building project is registered or it can upgrade to a newer version that uses AAP changes.

The WELL Certification program is still in its infancy. There are many positive components of the standard and certification program. But one of the biggest complaints to-date is the cost. According to IWBI, the assessor fees can reach $9000. BuildingGreen Inc. estimates costs for registration and for the certification fees could total another $5000, bringing the estimated cost for certification of a WELL Standard building project to more than $14,000. Then there is also the cost to implement the features needed to comply.

In next month’s column we will describe yet another Health and Well related certification program called “Fitwel”. Some believe that Fitwel will actually replace WELL in the near future due to its simplicity and lower cost. Tune in to this column next month to learn more.

Scott Kriner is the president and founder of Green Metal Consulting Inc. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who began his career in the metal construction industry in 1981. His company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the California Association of Building Energy Consultants and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). Scott can be reached by email at skriner1@verizon.net or by phone at (610) 966-2430. You can also visit him on the web at www.greenmetalconsulting.com.

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