As a newly minted WELL AP with an evergrowing interest in this emerging area of sustainability, I’m often asked what WELL is all about—specifically, what it means for us as builders. I usually start by comparing it to LEED, one of the most established green building rating systems, and say, “WELL does for human health what LEED does for environmental health.” In a nutshell, the WELL Building Standard is a recently developed rating system with great potential to improve the way buildings impact the people that use them on a daily basis.
As a general contractor, there are several opportunities to contribute to a successful WELL-certified project. I outline a few of these below but want to emphasize that similar to LEED, builders can implement the WELL practices on any project—whether pursing certification or not—to promote healthy and safe spaces for our clients and communities.
OVERVIEW OF THE WELL BUILDING STANDARD
As mentioned above, the fundamental purpose of the WELL Building Standard is to improve the way that buildings impact the health and well-being of the people that use them. The International WELL Building Institute [IWBI] administers the standard, which was launched in 2013. A few key terms are helpful in understanding the standard's structure:
Project Types: The current standard is specifically applicable to commercial and institutional office buildings. Projects are classified as Buildings, Interiors, or Core and Shell based on specific criteria. These classifications determine which features apply and what is required for each level of certification. Pilot Programs are also in the works for Multifamily Residential, Education, Retail, Restaurant and Commercial Kitchens.
Certification Levels: Silver, Gold, or Platinum are available based on achievement of the applicable percentage thresholds for each project type.
Concepts: The seven core categories the WELL standard focuses on are: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind.
Features: There are 105 total features across the seven concepts. Each feature describes the intent, body system[s] affected, and requirements. Some features are required Preconditions and some are Optimizations depending on the Project Type.
Crosswalks: Many of the features overlap or are directly based on other building standards, such as LEED and the Living Building Challenge.
Performance Verification: An on-site inspection must be performed by a third-party WELL Assessor at project completion and again every three years in order to maintain the WELL Certification.
The best resource for current and comprehensive details about the WELL Building Standard can be found on the IWBI website.
GENERAL CONTRACTOR RESPONSIBILITIES + OPPORTUNITIES
The WELL Building Standard requires meaningful participation from all members of a project team including the owner, designers, facility managers, tenants, general contractor, and specialty contractors. General contractors should understand the following activities and requirements to help guide the team to a successful project delivery and WELL Certification process.
Cost + Feasibility Analysis
Many of the WELL Building Standard features exceed current industry standard performance in various building systems [air and water filtration, lighting design, envelope performance, acoustics, etc.]. Contractors should be ready to help owners and designers through a cost-benefit analysis to determine the best combination of WELL features to pursue. Specialty contractors, particularly mechanical and electrical specialists, should also be prepared to analyze systems and offer life-cycle evaluations.
Toxic Material Identification + Enforcement
Applicable Features: 04 VOC Reduction, 25 Toxic Material Reduction, 26 Enhanced Material Safety, 97 Material Transparency
Feature 04 VOC Reduction is a precondition for all project types because it is essential for maintaining a healthy environment for future building users, not to mention the folks installing the systems and in contact with these materials on a daily basis. Limits are set for VOC levels in all paints, sealants, insulation, and other finish materials. Contractors are responsible for reviewing product data submittals to ensure compliance as well as checking to make sure the correct materials are in use throughout the duration of construction. Some materials are odorous but completely safe while others are non-odorous but extremely toxic. It is the contractors' responsibility to be diligent about checking all materials before installation.
Construction Best Practices
Applicable Features: 07 Construction Pollution Management, 24 Combustion Minimization, 85 Integrative Design
Contractors should apply best practices to maintain clean jobsites on all projects, regardless of the building standard certifications in pursuit. Feature 07 Construction Pollution Management requires protection or cleaning of new HVAC ductwork, replacement of HVAC filters prior to occupancy, dry and clean storage of new materials, and dust containment and removal measures. Applying these best practices reduces the risk of new material degradation and ensures optimal air quality from day one. Similar to Feature 07, Feature 24 Combustion Minimization limits harmful emissions from construction equipment and thus reduces the associated environmental pollution.
Feature 85 Integrative Design is another best practice that contractors should encourage and participate in when possible. This feature offers guidelines to align the team’s objectives from the very beginning of the project—something that we encourage regardless of project certification, size or scope. The IWBI description of this feature says it all: "A truly collaborative design process ensures that construction and upkeep of a space follows the original expectations and goals for the building."
The WELL Building standard focuses on ways to improve a building's processes and performance to create a healthy place for people to work, live, shop, and play. General contractors are one of the many team members it takes to successfully deliver a WELL Certified project. As our clients and design partners continue to focus on the environment and users, our knowledge and skill set should grow to understand how we can best contribute to healthier communities.