How technology helps achieve WELL Building Standard
As the global community grows more conscious of the environmental impact of buildings and the well-being of their occupants, the WELL Building Standard has become a prominent framework in the UK and worldwide. We examine how tech can help.
The WELL Building Standard is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring the features in a space that impact human health and wellness. There has been significant uptake in the UK, with numerous projects nationwide seeking certification to demonstrate their commitment to the health and well-being of their occupants.
Buildings can be awarded WELL certification with Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum rating. WELL v2 was launched in May 2018 and expanded the original seven concepts to 10: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community.
What's new? The original Comfort concept was divided into Thermal Comfort and Sound. Ergonomics features have been incorporated into the Movement concept, and Materials have been removed from the original Air and Mind concepts. Community is a new concept that emphasises equity, social cohesion and engagement.
Premises can achieve either WELL Certification or WELL Core Certification. Core Certification is generally for the whole building; the alternative is for areas or projects within a building.
The intersection of the WELL Building Standard and technology
To meet the WELL Building Standard, buildings must adhere to the ten core concepts. Smart technology and innovative design strategies can significantly facilitate certification under these categories. Here’s how technology plays a pivotal role in attaining WELL certification:
Advanced air purification and monitoring systems can vastly improve indoor air quality. Smart sensors detect pollutants in real-time, while air filtration technologies, like MERV* filters and UV-C** sanitisers, actively purify the air, ensuring adherence to WELL's stringent air quality requirements.
To comply with WELL's water standards, smart water filtration systems and quality monitors can be installed to provide real-time data on water purity and alert facility managers to deviations from desired quality levels.
Technology can assist in promoting healthier eating habits in buildings by providing access to smart vending machines and apps that encourage the consumption of nutritious foods, aligning with WELL's nourishment principles.
Automated lighting systems, which adjust based on natural light levels and occupancy, ensure optimal lighting for performance and comfort. These systems can reduce eye strain and improve sleep quality, which is critical to the WELL Light concept.
Technology like sit-stand desk sensors and apps encouraging regular movement can promote a more active work environment, meeting the WELL Movement concept's criteria.
6. Thermal comfort
Smart thermostats and climate control systems ensure that indoor environments are maintained at comfortable temperatures. These technologies can help achieve WELL's Thermal Comfort standards by allowing occupants to personalise their thermal preferences.
Sound masking technology and smart acoustic planning apps can help create a sound environment that meets WELL's Sound criteria, ensuring that indoor spaces are conducive to concentration and relaxation.
Utilising software that tracks the sourcing and safety data of building materials can help ensure they meet WELL's Materials requirements. These tools can manage inventory and documentation, proving that materials are free from harmful chemicals.
Technology such as biophilic*** design elements can be integrated into smart building systems to reduce stress and enhance cognitive function, supporting WELL's Mind concept.
Smart building platforms can foster a sense of community by facilitating more accessible communication and interaction among occupants, scheduling events, and providing health and wellness programs that meet WELL's Community standards.
The popularity of WELL in the UK
In the United Kingdom, the adoption of WELL certification is multiplying. According to the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), as of my last update, the UK ranks among the top countries globally for the number of WELL-accredited professionals and WELL-certified projects.
The appetite for healthy buildings varies significantly in each country, with the USA far ahead. However, considering the limited land available for construction in the UK, the country does well in a league table of properties with WELL certification.
The number of WELL buildings per '000 km2 of land
|Country||Area (km2)||No. of WELL buildings||WELL buildings per ‘000 km2|
Figures correct at November 2023
The UK has seen a year-on-year increase in WELL-certified square footage, reflecting the growing emphasis on health and well-being in the built environment.
Alternatives to WELL
While WELL is a leading standard, some other frameworks and certifications also aim to improve health and well-being through building design:
BREEAM: Originating in the UK, BREEAM is a widely recognised sustainability assessment method that also addresses the well-being of building occupants.
LEED: Although focused on sustainability, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has aspects that overlap with WELL, mainly indoor environmental quality and resource efficiency.
Living Building Challenge: This certification goes beyond WELL by aiming for a health-focused and regenerative building with a net-positive impact on the environment.
Warning: Security Threat
Smart devices in a building, often called the Internet of Things (IoT), are essential for monitoring and controlling a premises' environmental and well-being goals.
Although called 'smart', they are often basic technology designed to do one thing. They prioritise ease of use and cost-effectiveness, frequently lacking robust built-in security features.
These devices, from smart thermostats and lighting systems to access controls and security cameras, are designed to be connected to the internet or other networks for remote management and data sharing. However, this connectivity can make them vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
For instance, a smart heating system in a commercial building could be targeted by hackers. They could exploit unpatched vulnerabilities or weak passwords and take control of the system. This would enable them to manipulate temperature settings to disrupt normal operations.
In some cases, if heating controls are connected to the network, hackers could access confidential data via the smart device. This could result in operational paralysis and a possible ransomware attack.
An infamous example was Target, a USA retailer whose finance system was hacked via a connection to the heating and ventilation controls. Target said the breach exposed approximately 40 million customer debit and credit card accounts. While Target had to pay an $18 million settlement, their estimated losses were over $200 million.
The WELL Building Standard is redefining the fabric of built environments in the UK and beyond, with technology at the forefront of this transformation. By integrating cutting-edge tech solutions into building design and operations, developers can significantly enhance their ability to meet and maintain WELL’s stringent requirements, leading to healthier, more sustainable buildings for all occupants.
But construction firms, facilities managers, and IT departments must all be aware of the security risks associated with connecting 'smart' devices to the network.
As we continue to witness the rise of WELL-certified spaces, it’s clear that the intersection of technology and wellness is not just a passing phase but the cornerstone of future-forward, sustainable design.
For details on BREEAM certification, check our article 'What is BREEAM in construction and can tech help certification.'
* MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. It lets you know what air particle size an air filter will trap.
** UV-C is germicidal, meaning it can kill microorganisms like bacteria and viruses.
*** Biophilic design seeks to connect building occupants more closely to nature. It incorporates natural lighting and ventilation, natural landscape features, and other elements to create a more productive and healthy built environment.