Sustainability consultant, Alex Johansen, investigates the WELL Building Standard and considers if it can deliver occupant needs in an increasingly overheated built environment.

Building standards within the built environment are continually improving, with a primary focus on delivering reduced CO2 emissions. Assessments such as BREEAM and LEED offer guidance of how to produce sustainable buildings, which cover topics such as energy, water, management and occupant health and wellbeing. The assessment tools rate buildings on a range of issues, however do not specifically focusing on any one topic.

The WELL Building Standard seeks to solve this problem for the building occupant’s health and wellbeing. The WELL Building Standard has been developed for the built environment to change occupant habits, give residents enhanced sleep cycles and encourage healthy life choices. It is an opportunity to design and build projects with building user occupants as the key focus point, which supports the industry in comprehensively addressing human health. Within the working environment, research has highlighted that employers spend 90 percent of their annual operating costs on their people, (CRBE Global Corporate Headquarters, Los Angeles, California, Workplace 360 Study, 2014).

This implies that even a small impact on productivity will result in satisfaction in the workplace that will ultimately lead to returns on investment. Continual improvements in building standards are reducing CO2 emissions, however buildings are receiving less oxygen through infiltration and ‘overheating’ in the summer months is occurring as a result. Discussions to incorporate WELL into National Building Standards have begun, as occupant health is now being highlighted as a major ‘driving’ factor within the construction industry.

All aspects of each National Building Regulation standard have generally improved in each new edition. For example, Technical Booklet F1 2012 states that the limiting area weighted U-value for a new external wall is 0.30 W/m2.K, whereas Technical Booklet F 1994 states that the maximum U-value for a new external wall was 0.45 W/m2.K. Roughly, (assuming the same construction type), this improvement in U-value can be achieved with an extra 15mm of rigid polyisocyanurate (PIR) insulation board. Other improvements include external opening standards, air permeability and performance of building services.

This is good for energy efficiency in general, as the heat loss from external elements will be reduced, openings and air tightness of new buildings are improved, and system efficiencies are higher, therefore retaining more heat, leading to less energy being produced to heat the building. However, as standards continually improve, and national standards develop schemes such as zero carbon homes, there is increasing evidence that new buildings are at risk of overheating, and causing detrimental effects to occupant wellbeing.

In many cases, the lack of ability to reject the heat build-up from normal occupant activities means that a risk of overheating exists in summer. A review of existing overheating criteria suggests that they are based on the upper limit of thermal comfort, rather than the threshold for long-term temperatures that may cause serious health problems for vulnerable groups.

The medical evidence shows that although the health effects of exposure to excessive heat can be mild, if left untreated symptoms have the potential to develop quickly into severe, often fatal heat illness. With global climate change, increasing episodes of extremes in heat and an ageing population and urbanisation, this risk is expected to grow. This has therefore led to increasing pressure on governmental institutions to enforce standards to not only reduce energy efficiency within the built environment, but also promote occupant health and wellbeing. The WELL Building Standard was created by Delos Living LLC.

Delos is a company that develops wellness real estate solutions that merge medicine and science with design and construction to focus on health within the built environment with a mission ‘to build a better world’. WELL seeks to transform the indoor environment by placing health and wellness at the centre of design and construction decisions through research, consulting, real estate development and by offering innovative solutions for the built environment. It is a combination of best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research, which will use the built environment as a vehicle to support human health and well-being. The WELL Building Standard sets performance requirements for seven concepts relevant to occupant health in the built environment. The seven concepts are air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

WELL Certified spaces can help create a built environment that improves the nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns, and performance of its occupants. WELL Certification is based on performance and requires a passing score in each of the seven categories of the WELL Building Standard. WELL Certification is awarded at one of three levels: Silver, Gold and Platinum. There has been discussion within the Industry between stakeholders of sustainability in construction that new building standards should continue to improve on reducing energy production, whilst also creating a balance of occupant health and wellbeing.

This can pose a difficult task to project teams to deliver such standards, as increased fabric U-value targets and reduced infiltration within buildings can lead to overheating and reduced oxygen levels leading to negative health impacts on building occupants. Solutions such as incorporating standards such as WELL and mechanical ventilation within approved documents throughout the UK can be explored, to make sure that ‘occupants’ needs are adhered to, along with continual reduction of CO2 emissions.

At GreenBuild Consult they are focused on delivering client needs. As a result, they have high client satisfaction by certifying buildings to sustainable standards. With the predicated changes in building standards, GreenBuild Consult will continue to work with clients to make sure that building occupants’ health and wellbeing is satisfied when in-use, by using WELL Certification.

For more information abou the WELL Building Standard follow this LINK.