My obsession with wellness focused design began in 2015 when I was first introduced to the WELL Building Standard. I was at a sustainable design conference and kept hearing the word 'Well' in every workshop I attended.
I finally sat in on a course that covered the fundamentals of the WELL Building Standard, and I felt as if I just entered a whole new world of impactful design.
A guideline for designing buildings that promote health, energy and longer living?! I was sold. The idea behind wellness focused design so deeply resonated with me because for the past few years I was pretty much in a perpetual state of having a cold, and I was so sick of being sick! I was doing all things right - eating well, exercising - but the constant colds and lack of energy kept on coming. So I dove right into wellness design research and haven't looked back since.
The WELL Building Standard (WELL) is similar to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in that it is a rating system that promotes ethical building design. Both rating systems are third party certified by Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI). Where they differ is that LEED focuses on sustainable design and the impact the building has on the environment, and WELL focuses on the health of the occupants that will be using the building. As you can imagine there is some overlap between these two standards. Generally what is good for the environment will also be good for human health. Win Win!
WELL was introduced in 2013 and has been gaining momentum ever since. It was founded by Delos, the 'pioneer of wellness real estate'. The company teamed up with wellness experts across the board during their seven years of research before releasing the program. Their advisory board is full of brilliant minds and passionate wellness experts/environmentalists (wellronmentalists?) including Deepak Chopra and Leonardo Dicaprio. Yes, Leo is a wellness expert/ super environmentalist. We have so much in common. We should probably meet.
The WELL Building Standard is broken down into 7 main categories:
Air - We want to breathe clean air and eliminate indoor air pollution.
Water - Clean, contaminate free water is a must when it comes to drinking and bathing water.
Nourishment - Encouraging healthy eating habits and availability to fresh produce are key here.
Light - Better sleep comes from being aligned with our biological clock (circadian rhythm). Let's get more restful nights and more energized days by using light to keep our inner clocks ticking the right time.
Fitness - We all know we need to do it, but it's just so hard. This category puts fitness front and center so there is no hiding from it.
Comfort - Let's minimize distraction and maximize comfort factors like air temperature and noise levels.
Mind - No more negativity, no more un-ordered chaos, no more machine-centric design. Bring on the indoor plants, calm spaces, and positive cultural values!
WELL can be applied to many building types including offices, schools, retail, and multi-family residential. Version 1 of the program focuses on commercial and institutional, but they do have pilot programs for the other building types. One building type you may notice is not on the list is single family (SF) residential. SF homes are much less complicated in so many ways compared to the list of applicable building types, so following the WELL Building Standard to a T would not make sense. But as you can see from the list of categories above, the standard provides a great starting place for residential wellness design. Every category is applicable in residential design and will pave the way for a healthy home.
You may be thinking 'This all sounds great, but how does one measure the effect a building has on human health and turn it into a rating system?' Good question. I was wondering the same thing. As I mentioned earlier, this rating system was generated from seven years of research and practice. The research is out there that shows the metrics in the WELL standard will improve human health. For example, there is proof that people take less sick days when they work in well lit offices with fresh, healthy air. The standard uses 100 performance metrics to quantify the wellness of a building. Some of the metrics are mandatory and some are optional. Once you meet the mandatory metric for each category, you can pick and chose which optional metrics you want to pursue to reach the total required metrics for certification. Just as there is with LEED, WELL has multiple tiers of certification, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Is it worth it? I say yes! These days it's hard to miss the buzz around health and wellness. Gadgets that monitor a person's every move and even their vital signs are everywhere. It is clear that our culture is understanding the importance of preventative health. But the frustrating (and scary) thing is that the buildings where we spend almost every moment of our day in are making us sick despite our own best efforts to prevent illness. The WELL Building Standard is starting the movement for healthy buildings, just as LEED set out to do over 20 years ago for a healthy environment. It takes awhile for the momentum to kick in, but once it's there it can change the world. LEED is now mainstream and has been the reason for increased energy efficiency and indoor air quality in building codes. I have this funny feeling that WELL is going to do the same.