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What is the well building standard?

A buzzword in architectural circles since 2014, the Well Building Standard emphasises health and wellness in building and design.

In an effort to make indoor spaces more beneficial from a health perspective, the Well Building Standard measures seven key elements:

  • Air: The reduction of indoor air pollution.
  • Water: Proper filtration to ensure a continuous supply of clean water.
  • Nourishment: Availability of fresh and nutritious foods that encourage healthy eating habits.
  • Light: Illumination that is in natural alignment with the body’s circadian rhythms and supports healthy sleep patterns.
  • Fitness: Integrating physical activity into an employee’s professional life by encouraging movement and making it easy to take the stairs instead of the lift.
  • Comfort: Using acoustic, thermal, ergonomic, and olfactory comfort to optimise indoor spaces and improve productivity.
  • Mind: Creating an ideal blend of design, technology, indoor air quality, light, and spacing for optimal emotional health.

In practice, the Well Building Standard could include measures like the following:

  • Better access to daylight
  • Improved acoustical design to enhance concentration
  • Increased ventilation to help occupants be more comfortable all year-round
  • Replacing vending machines with healthy snack opportunities
  • Desks that allow employees to work while sitting or standing
  • Biophilic design that introduces elements of nature indoors

Some scepticism exists regarding the measurement of and correlation between well being and productivity. Yet it is immediately apparent that air quality, lighting, noise, design layout, thermal comfort, and even access to nature has a firm impact on how employees feel in their workplaces. Subjective measurements can be made using post-occupancy surveys while smartphones, IEQ monitors, and other readily available technologies support objective measurements such as air quality, noise levels, and daylight.

Evidence from the first Well Building Standard-certified offices in the U.S. suggests that the standard is worth the investment. There was considerable variation in costs, with certified spaces built for a range of prices between $10.76 and $43.04 per sq. metre. Acoustics, zone control, and enhanced HVAC filtration accounted for the biggest expenses.

Advocates of the Well Building Standard say that its benefits are demonstrated by higher productivity figures and reduced absenteeism. In the U.S., this is especially important because the annual absenteeism rate is 3% per private sector worker, which costs employers over $2,000 per year.

Research has demonstrated that offices that are well-ventilated and have good indoor air quality can improve employee cognitive function as much as 101%. Other studies have shown that comfortable indoor temperatures and access to daylight can increase worker satisfaction and productivity. For most companies, even a 1% increase in productivity can contribute more to the bottom line than $10.76 per square metre.

The Well Building Standard is also compatible with BREEAM certification. BRE and the Building Institute (IWBI) have both published details on where the same evidence can be used to make it easier for project teams and clients to achieve dual certification, saving time and money. As of now there is no indication that it changes project timelines in any way. Similar information has also been made available for those seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

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