WELL Building Verification Testing 101
Occupant health is often our clients’ top priority. When a design looks great on paper and the builder thinks they’ve done a great job, how do you know if a building really meets owner goals for healthy building? WELL Building Verification Testing is where rubber meets the road. These verification measures are created and defined by IWBI and the WELL Building Standard. WELL Building Standard testing requirements are middle-of-the-road, as they go beyond LEED IAQ Testing but not as far a Building Biology Inspections.
Why WELL verification testing? Follow the money…
We know that for most buildings over 90% of the life cycle costs are spent on salaries and wages.
We also know that indoor air quality directly impacts employee productivity and cognitive ability.
The money businesses spend on people far outweighs whatever is spent on construction, utilities and maintenance costs of a building over time. As long as the cash is available, it is a no-brainer (pun intended) to invest in design and construction techniques that will have lasting benefits on occupant health and productivity.
WELL, unlike LEED, requires many verification tests by an independent, 3rd-party WELL Assessor or industrial hygienist. WELL building testing proves whether or not the design build team actually met WELL Building preconditions (“prerequisites”) and optimizations (“credits”).
What does WELL Building Testing involve?
WELL Building certification requires a site visit by a WELL Assessor. The duration of the site visit and number of assessors required depends on the size, layout, and type of spaces within the building. Many aspects are verified simply through visual examination, but some require onsite or lab analysis. Lab results take time and you should not expect to know “if the building passed” during the site visit. It takes 1-4 weeks before you receive a WELL Building Verification Testing Report from GBCI.
Visual WELL Verifications require only that the WELL Assessor “see” evidence of compliance:
- 02 – Smoking Ban
- 06 – Microbe and Mold Control
- 08 – Healthy Entrance
- 18 – Air Quality Monitoring and Feedback
- 22 – Pest Control
- 24 – Combustion Minimization
- 29 – Cleaning Equipment
- 41 – Hand Washing
- 44 – Nutritional Information
- 45 – Food Advertising
- 57 – Low-Glare Workstation Design
- 64 – Interior Fitness Circulation
- 84 – Health and Wellness Awareness
- 97 – Material Transparency
- 99 – Beauty and Design II
WELL Verifications Requiring Testing necessitate specialized sampling equipment and lab analysis:
- 01 – Air Quality Standards
- 30 – Fundamental Water Quality (Water)
- 31 – Inorganic Contaminants (Water)
- 32 – Organic Contaminants (Water)
- 33 – Agricultural Contaminants (Water)
- 34 – Public Water Additives
- 37 – Drinking Water Promotion
- 74 – Exterior Noise Intrusion
- 75 – Internally Generated Noise
- 78 – Reverberation Time (Acoustics)
- 79 – Sound Masking
Success without WELL Building Standard Certification?
Projects can pursue WELL Building Standard goals and implement WELL Building Testing without actually going through the certification process. WELL targets the ways in which buildings can enhance occupant health. Indicative of the increasing emphasis on how work areas are designed (i.e., Google, Facebook, Air Bnb, Linkedin), the first version only addresses offices for both commercial and institutional settings. Offices are an interesting arena to start with; unlike residential projects, an office’s main function is to provide a space which fosters work. By creating a green certification specifically focused on employee health, WELL links good office design to a company’s prosperity. It also broadens the scope of what constitutes sustainable building design. WELL does have pilot versions out that concentrate on other building types such as multi residential, public assembly, health care, and educational facilities, yet for the time being, the principles of this first round can be applied to your current building project. Below is an overview of what the WELL Building Standard addresses and how to frame it to suit your particular needs.
The WELL Standard is divided into seven “Concepts”; these concepts consist of Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, & Mind. Within these concepts are “Features” which explain specific design strategies to employ. Similar to LEED there are features that you must meet called “Preconditions” and features that earn a higher rating, called “Optimizations. Concepts such as Air & Water deal with more obvious health areas. Some of Air’s important take-a-ways include best ventilation and filtration practices as well as material selection, and construction pollution mitigation. One needs to make sure that carbon dioxide levels stay in check and that buildings receive ample amounts of fresh air from the outdoors. Different filters address different pollutants. For example, carbon filters take care of VOCs (volatile organic pollutants), ozone, and large particles, media filters remove smaller particulate matter that can be inhaled into the lungs, and UV sanitization targets microbes, bacteria, and viruses. In a tightly sealed home, an air filtration system serves as an ace in your back pocket. Similar to Air, Water sets parameters for common contaminants and where they come from. For instance, WELL water testing may include pesticides (Atrazine, Glyphosate), public additives (Chlorine & Chloramine as well as their byproducts: Trihalomethanes and Haleoacetic acid), synthetic chemicals (found in consumer goods & building materials), and inorganic compounds such as Lead, Mercury, & Arsenic. Different water filtration strategies are used depending on what you want to target. Akin to air filtration, the Water concept recommends carbon filters, UV filters, and sediment filters (which are similar to media filters).
Light & Comfort are two other Concepts that WELL addresses. Both Concepts have technical components but they are more nuanced. These Concepts ask the team to focus on a set of design strategies making sure there is healthy light and healthy forms of comfort. In order to get started you have to know what healthy light and healthy comfort mean.
Two of “Light’s” primary focal points are glare mitigation and light design for maximum productivity. Light addresses color temperature (how light hues relate to natural light at a given time of day), CRI (a light source’s ability to mimic the full light spectrum), lumens (brightness of the light) and lux (the amount of light in a given space). According to the WELL Building Standard, spaces aimed at productivity should have color temperatures between 5000K & 65000K. These temperatures correspond to the light one experiences at noon. It also suggests that CRI should be at least 80 or above; fortunately LEDs are available with CRI’s of 90 & above. In addition to light sources, the Light Concept addresses how surfaces play a role in shaping how light is perceived. LRVs or light reflectance values measure a surface’s ability to reflect light. Walls, ceilings and furniture are all given values that are intended to encourage focus and alertness. Concurrently, the magnitude of surface reflection is controlled by glare mitigation strategies; these are aimed at managing glare from solar and electric light sources such as windows and lamps. Considerations include window shading devices – that are automatic, self controlled, and/or part of the glass, as well as the relationship between bulb light intensity and the angle needed to diffuse it.
A large part of the Comfort section involves acoustic testing, ergonomic furniture selection, and thermal comfort. WELL’s features walk projects through important metrics such as NIC (noise isolation class), NRC (noise reduction coefficient), reverberation time (RT60) and NC (noise criteria). All have to do with making sure acoustics are not too loud, support a sense of privacy, and are diffused evenly. In addition to sound, Comfort addresses musculoskeletal health through ergonomic furniture including adjustable seats and standing desks; Thermal Comfort is addressed through ASHRAE 55 building code, radiant heating, humidity, and temperature variations throughout the space.
Nourishment and Fitness – have more to do with how offices known as sedentary places promote movement as well as how the environment can promote proper eating. These two features do not apply to residential projects because occupants are feeding themselves and in charge of their own movement. Nevertheless anyone benefits from knowing that you should have organic and humane certified meat and produce, multiple servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and avoid refined sugar and trans fat. The Fitness section addresses how fitness can be integrated into the layout of the building, such as having stairs that are readily available and aesthetically pleasing to walk up. Landscape design is also included to encourage walking and exploration.
The Mind Concept deals with design details that some brush off as purely aesthetic, but in actuality, make a great impact on the desirability of a space. According to the Mind Concept whether a space feels good or not has a direct correlation to one’s psychological and physical states. Two of Mind’s features are based on the imperatives of the Living Building Challenge (another green building certification) – one is named Biophilia emphasizing the importance of being surrounded by different forms of nature such as plants, water, natural light, and stones. Sources of nature improve air quality, calm the nervous system, and make people feel part of the greater ecosystem. The other Living Building Challenge Imperative explored are features Beauty & Design. This addresses formal qualities that charge a space with energy or calm it down with tranquility. Art, high ceilings, placement of furniture, and color selection all contribute to an interior environment’s ability to create a sense of well being.
The WELL Building Standard is unlike other building standards in that it asks project teams to design environments to achieve a sense of emotional well being. Our WELL AP’s work with the team to implement WELL Verification Testing. Developing a comprehensive environmental testing plan for WELL is not so clear cut because there are extensive sampling and testing requirements buried within each WELL Credit.
WELL Building Verification Testing Qualifications
HBS is uniquely qualified to offer full-service WELL Building Verification consultant services. Our industrial hygienists are well versed in LEED IAQ and WELL IEQ verification testing. We look forward to supporting your next WELL Building project with our team of sustainable architects and industrial hygienists.
Healthy Building Science is an environmental consulting firm providing WELL Testing services to clients in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and all of Northern California. Cities we service include San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Hayward, Sunnyvale, Fremont, Concord, Salinas, Santa Clara, Berkeley, Vallejo, Fairfield, Antioch, Richmond, Daly City, San Rafael, San Mateo, Vacaville, San Leandro, Livermore and Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Marin County, Napa County, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, Solano County and Sonoma County.
You don’t know how the design-build team really did – until you test!
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Who is Healthy Building Science?
Environmental Testing Services at HBS
- Air Quality Testing
- Water Quality Testing
- Soil Testing
- Asbestos Testing
- Lead Testing
- Mold Testing
- RF Testing – EMF Testing
- LEED IAQ Testing
- Silica Air Testing (OSHA)
- Compliance Testing USP 797
- WELL Building Verification Testing
- Environmental Testing
- Industrial Hygiene and Compliance
- Cleaning, Verification & Coronavirus Testing
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