Demystifying the WELL Building Standard
The WELL Building Standard, which builds on the success of and complements the LEED rating system, is playing an increasing role in green building design. WELL is a holistic, evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building features that impact health and well-being. These goals are closely aligned with the USGBC Northern California community’s longtime focus on human health, dating back to its Building Health Initiative that began in 2013.
In April, USGBC Northern California hosted a panel discussion on WELL project management featuring leaders from HOK, Cushman & Wakefield and Perkins+Will and facilitated by the community's director, Brenden McEneaney. The speakers demystified the rating system for a sold-out audience, highlighting lessons learned from current and recent projects. I shared stories from the design of HOK’s WELL Gold certified TD Office in Toronto, and we all discussed ongoing projects implementing the three WELL systems: Core and Shell, New and Existing Buildings and New and Existing Interiors.
How LEED and WELL work together
LEED and WELL have many similarities, and both certifications are managed by GBCI. However, differences in the certification processes need to be considered by even the most seasoned LEED team managing a WELL project. When a project is registered, the team is assigned a WELL Assessor, who is available to answer technical questions throughout the process. After construction, the WELL Assessor visits the project for on-site performance verification. He or she tests air quality, water quality, acoustics and light, and conducts visual spot checks of other WELL features. This ensures that the building or space fully achieves the WELL criteria. It also cuts down on the amount of documentation paperwork by the team.
Going for both LEED and WELL? Teams can use the new WELL Crosswalks resources, which describe where LEED credits and WELL features overlap. In some cases, achieving a prerequisite or credit in LEED will automatically qualify a project to achieve part or all of a WELL requirement.
To identify potential problems before they happen and limit surprises during performance verification, some teams retain private testing companies to conduct pre-tests. The panelists debated the pros and cons of this strategy, which adds a slight cost to a project.
Getting down to specifics
Some teams, particularly those working toward certification for existing buildings, want to know in advance if they need to include air or water filters in the design and construction scope. Other teams wait for final decisions on additional filtration systems until they see the performance verification results.
The panelists shared perspectives on their most challenging WELL features, which ranged from air quality to human resources policies.
Several of my WELL for New and Existing Interiors projects are located in existing buildings with outdated HVAC systems. This makes it nearly impossible to use appropriate filtration or to achieve minimum required ventilation rates. IWBI offers case-by-case flexibility when building systems are out of a project’s scope. Air quality performance verification, however, is never optional, and this may be challenging in subpar buildings. I encourage clients to, when possible, lease space within a LEED for New Construction or Core and Shell building. LEED-certified buildings always meet at least some of WELL’s HVAC requirements.
Perkins+Will’s Dalton Ho discussed potential air quality challenges related to use of low-emitting materials. Though WELL VOC requirements align loosely with LEED v4, WELL addresses more product types. I was happy to see several people representing manufacturers in the audience—their interest in WELL is growing.
Alex Spilger of Cushman & Wakefield described challenges beyond design and construction. WELL also requires specific operational and human resources policies. The Activity Incentive Programs precondition, for example, mandates financial incentives for fitness activities. If an organization doesn’t already offer this—and many do not—then it may face difficult decisions about how to structure these programs and whether to extend the benefit to staff at other locations. These issues typically are far removed from the design team’s purview.
The lively discussion and questions from the audience demonstrated their thirst for knowledge about the WELL Building Standard. This event was the first in a series of USGBC Northern California “WELL-specific” education programs intended to help WELL APs with credential maintenance and to increase our community’s understanding of this new rating system.
See other upcoming community events