What is the WELL Building Standard

O que é o Well Building Standard e por que foi criado
What is the WELL Building Standard and why it’s been created

O Well Building Standard or WELL has been designed by the International WELL Building Institute or IWBI, a Public Benefit Company (PBC) as a different approach and focus for sustainable buildings. WELL takes on health aspects and human comfort at the same time it complements LEED rating systems (more on future post). System has been created from wellness concepts and studies of buildings occupants, a way of improving social responsibility and fairness. WELL is the result of people following on the Clinton Global Initiative in improving people lives through social actions.

These sets of systems do not exist only as metrics for improvement per se, but as results of scientific studies of health professionals participating on the standard creation. A part of social aspects, the standard application has to make financial sense to be justified and adopted, so the highlight on the scientific studies behind the requirements and actions to be done. As people spend large parts of the day inside buildings, according to studies in the standard, a better care with factors that affect their health will bring financial and commercial benefit for the project owners. For companies or tenants this means less absenteeism reflecting in savings on lost or delayed work and employee replacement. For owners of commercial spaces, better rent value and selling prices as their offer a more attractive space to talents, feature that is seek by the market as they go over office renovations or relocations. For government it means less spending with public health system and early retirements as less people will be sick and won’t need to use the public health system as often.

Months ago IWBI disclosed a partnership with the Green Building Certification Institute or GBCI to work on spaces certification and accreditation, and although it does not use the same method or tools of LEED certification, a similar process and market recognition of GBCI will make the process flow better and more trustful.

How the certification works and why is is important

WELL defines features in 7 knowledge areas that are related themselves and impact on people health: Air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. For each area there is a set of requirements (pre-conditions) and recommendations (named optimizations) to the project. The requirements must be all attended in a project so it can be considered certified. Failing to meet a single requirement item prevents the project certification and demands a review. The optimizations are recommended design measures that sums up together to reach Gold or Platinum certification levels. Silver levels means the project has met all requirements or pre-conditions, while Gold means at least 40% of optimizations are met and Platinum 80% of them are met. This is valid for current project typologies, while for pilot projects, at least 20% of optimizations must be met to reach Silver certification level.

Project Typologies

Today there are three project classifications, named typologies:

— New and Existing Buildings: Although this might look like exterior focus (envelope), it is applicable to projects where the owner occupies at least 90% of the total floor area. This applies usually to companies offices (maybe retail stores) that own the building and control most of the construction and interior items and it varies a lot by region or country usual business way.

— New and Existing Interiors: Perhaps the most used typology, for interior offices (similar to commercial interiors). Will be used mostly to work wellness and health of office occupants rented by a tenant. Usually it will not include building core or technical areas, but can benefit from projects in compliance with the next typology where some of the requirements must be met.

— Core and Shell: Typology that assures projects where the owner will deliver facilities like electrical, hydraulic and air conditioning systems, but not the interior finishing, furnitures and other office items. It is complementary to the other typologies as it is in the early stage most of important decisions are taken, that later will affect window placement and daylight, thermal performance, location and others. In this case certification is named Compliance.

Available pilots: Multifamily Residential, Educational Facilities, Retail, Restaurant and Commercial Kitchens.

Future pilots: Communities, Exercise Facilities, Public Assembly and Healthcare. For example, Health project requirements can have variations for additional measures on asepsis, patients comfort for a quicker recovery.

WELL introduces a concept of primary and secondary space type that are applied in cases where one typology does not fit totally and on pilot projects. In those cases, both spaces must be worked according to their own typologies requirements and applicable optimizations, if a distinction is possible between spaces. This does not apply to the regular typologies already defined.

Certification

Project certification is worked over WELL Online tool and takes two phases: Documentation Review and Performance Review. Each item to be met as pre-conditions or optimizations may be assessed just by documentation (or evidences), by performance verification or both (the standard guide explains where each situation applies). The performance verifications are done by an WELL Assessor professional assigned to the project. The Certification Guide details this workflow. At the end of the process a report is presented about the project explaining each item assessed.

Project operations must send annually, performance data about some items in certification to the IWBI for latter studies and WELL improvements and each 3 years must perform a recertification. Project must have recertification process started before the end of the 3 year period, which will ensure 6 more months to run certification assessment. The process is very demanding and requires that after the first recertification, each new only must adhere to new items of the latest version of the standard available up to 12 months before the limit date of recertification. This makes sure the project will be updated with new technologies and methods at the same time it guarantees performance indicators have not fallen down since last (re)certification.

Critics

WELL looks like to be an excellent way to assess, standardize and develop better methods to accommodate people and take care of them, bringing social and financial benefits on long term. The standard is based on US centric norms, regulations and associations standards like EPA and ASHRAE. Because some of the requirements I’ve seem the following critics sometimes:

— An additional certification cost besides LEED plus consultant fees: It is a fact and maybe WELL certification is a short term investment where one does not know all variables and results as well in LEED or in other rating systems. However it can be a good selling point as certification gains traction and becomes more known on the market. Other certifications already educated the market so it is has a shorter path to market assimilation.

— Some of the pre-conditions are expensive or hard to achieve: There will be some requirements considered complex or expensive at the beginning, like light control, movable furniture/workstations for example, and this can be a factor in giving up certification. Ideally, the standard will amend the requirements at each review to improve the market, so there should not be any provision to those demanding requirements.

Opportunities

WELL has today lots of synergies between its requirements and optimizations with LEED ID+C projects for Commercial Interior and can benefit in common features. It is an advantage following Integrated Project processes so the common requirements can be considered and used early in the design meetings, so the process start better prepared with major stakeholders. Their opinions and input will make sure there are no barriers and rework needed as there is lots of integration between the knowledge areas.

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