An Introduction to the WELL Building Standards

In recent years the focus of building design has been on the reduction in energy use and efficiency to minimise it’s carbon footprint. This has led to new, energy efficient, ‘green’ buildings whilst the actual comfort and wellbeing of the occupants has been placed secondary to this. However, over the past 7 or more years now the International WELL Building Institute has been researching the methods, equipment and protocols required to design and construct buildings that are focused on the health of the occupants.

This has led to the publication of the WELL Building Standards which are based on 7 Concepts that are measured against 102 performance metrics, design strategies and policies called Features. Each Feature has parts that must be achieved to enable the building to achieve Silver, Gold or Platinum Certificates. To achieve these standards the building is assessed on-site by an Accredited Professional and performance tested by a third party.

Each Feature addresses issues that impact the health, comfort or knowledge of occupants. The institute have divided the body in to the following 11 categories and has assessed how each Feature will impact each of these.

Cardiovascular System - This includes the heart and blood vessels which are used to provide nutrients and remove waste from the body. Stress, nutrition, fitness and environmental pollutants are all factors that affect the cardiovascular system.

Digestive System - This system includes the mouth, stomach, intestines and other organs such as the pancreas which produce hormones and are used to breakdown and absorb nutrients. Reducing the intake of microbes and toxins helps improve and optimise the digestive system.

Endocrine System - The Endocrine system is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development. It also regulates tissue function, sleep and moods. Environmental pollutants, stress and chemicals disrupt this system so the exposure to these requires monitoring.

Immune System - The immune system is the network of cells, tissues and organs that protect the body from disease causing organisms or substances. If this is not maintained properly the body is exposed to infection by bacterial or viral pathogens. Improved water and air quality help reduce the exposure to these thus reducing the instances of illness.

Integumentary System - This system is the collection of organs that protect the body and includes skin, hair and nails, it helps maintain temperature and prevents water loss. The standards aim to reduce our exposure to toxins that can be absorbed through this system and is the first line of defence against pathogens and harmful toxins.

Muscular System - The skeletal and muscles of the body help to support good posture, movement and blood circulation, this is greatly affected by diet and physical activity. The promotion of small amounts of physical activity and good posture i.e. taking the stairs and ergonomic furniture design help reduce sedentariness and the likely hood of ligament injuries.

Nervous System - This consists of the Central and Peripheral nervous systems which together coordinates actions and transmits signals to and from different parts of the body. The Central Nervous System consists of the brain and spine whilst the Peripheral Nervous System is the collection of nerves that connects to the other parts of the body. The standards set out to promote good neurological and cognitive function through balanced diets and enhanced sleep quality.

Reproductive System - This system includes special hormone secreting glands in the brain as well as the reproductive organs. Poor maintenance of these can lead to poor overall health and prenatal health. Good diet, exercise and toxin avoidance all help support a healthy reproductive system.

Respiratory System - This includes the mouth, nose, diaphragm and lungs which work alongside the circulatory system to provide oxygen to the muscles and to remove carbon dioxide from the body. Elimination of harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), particulate matter and microbes from the air that we breath helps to protect the respiratory system.

Skeletal System - The skeletal system supports movement and protects internal organs. The standards supports these by promoting good fitness and nutrition which in turn improves posture and reduces physical stress.

Urinary System - Consisting of the kidneys, uterus and bladder this system filters out toxins, balances pH and maintains blood pressure. By incorporating stress reducing features the standards reduce the likelihood of high blood pressure and hormone levels that can badly affect the urinary system.

Project Typologies

The current WELL standard is only applicable to institutional and commercial office buildings and is sub-divided into three typologies dependant the buildings type or stage of construction, they are:

New and Existing Buildings - This covers the full project design and construction as well as its operation.

New and Existing Interiors - This applies to office complexes that only occupy a percentage of the entire building.

Core and Shell Compliance - This is available for projects that are seeking full compliance on the entire base building for future tenants.

Each typology has a requirement to fulfil a number of preconditional or optimising criteria (Features) to meet to reach the required certification level through a simple scoring system. As mentioned above these individual Features (of which there are 102) make up the 7 concepts that a building is scored against.

Concept 1 - Air. This Feature covers items such as Air Quality Standards, Smoking Bans, VOC reduction and Pollution Management. These parts provide benefits for all 11 of the body categories mentioned above but mainly focus on Respiratory and Cardiovascular systems.

Concept 2 - Water. The Water Feature comprises of water treatment, testing and measurements of organic and inorganic contaminants. This is vital to health as two-thirds of the body is comprised of water.

Concept 3 - Nourishment. The Nourishment Feature is focused on the availability to occupants of fresh, wholesome food and encourages better eating habits. It even covers allergy labelling, storage and artificial ingredients.

Concept 4 - Light. This Feature supports the circadian rhythm of the body which promotes more stable sleep patterns and better productivity when awake. To achieve this items such as automated lighting, dimming controls, daylight and glare are measured and monitored.

Concept 5 - Fitness. In our modern sedentary lives Fitness is one Feature that is actively promoted. The built environment can encourage physical activity and reduce sedentariness which will combat obesity and other chronic diseases.

Concept 6 - Comfort. This Feature aims to reduce distractions, disruption and irritation and encourage acoustic and ergonomic comfort. This reduces stress and promoted productivity. Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) design regulations are a prerequisite in all typologies.

Concept 7 - Mind. Mind and Body are inextricably linked, for example worrying creates stressed and tight muscles whilst exercise creates serotonin which can improve moods. Careful design, technology and treatments provide an environment that optimises cognitive and emotional health.

These Concepts, Features and Parts are all linked to the 11 bodily systems that provide us with a healthy body. Careful design of our buildings gives occupants with reduced stress, improved fitness and improved productivity. The WELL Building Standards provide a means of measuring and certificating those buildings that help us achieve that aim.

If you would like to find out how we can help your building achieve the WELL Building Standards, then contact us by calling 0115 7788227 or email