WELL certification is essentially LEED for healthy built environments for people. Similar to LEED, WELL has a points-based rating system and ranked grades of achievement (Platinum, Gold, Silver). Designers can become accredited WELL professionals (WELL APs) to evaluate and submit a project to the WELL committee and for field verification. Building compliance is based on seven categories for v1, and 10 categories for the v2 pilot:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Nourishment
  • Light
  • Movement/Fitness
  • Thermal Comfort
  • Sound (v2)
  • Materials (v2)
  • Mind
  • Community (v2)
A project's submission under v2 is currently elective, and owners can choose which version to pursue

A project’s submission under v2 is currently elective, and owners can choose which version to pursue. The impetus behind v2 was to clarify and simplify some parts of the validation process, and to improve equity by providing access to the greatest number of people, demographics, and economic groups, centering on more vulnerable populations. This was achieved by reducing barriers of entry by offering more choice while retaining rigor, considering wider applications in project type, new and existing buildings, and international application. The WELL v2 guidelines also increase attention on resiliency by becoming more responsive to advances in scientific knowledge and technology, through continuous adaptation and integration of new findings in the field, creating a positive feedback loop.

From the WELL website;

In order to make WELL v2 a better fit for people and spaces around the world, we approached the goal of globalization through a strategy of localization; taking into consideration regional health concerns, cultural norms and market realities. This new version of WELL will be regularly and proactively adapted to varying contexts and constructs, making it even more relevant and readily applicable to spaces and places across the globe.

Lighting factors

The WELL (v2) lighting prerequisites require appropriate light levels for tasks and educating building occupants about lighting systems. Additional points for optimizations (several of which were required in v1) include melanopic lighting criteria to support human circadian response, balancing contrast ratios and limiting source brightness, glare control, daylighting and views, user controllability, gradual transitions in light level intensity over time to ease visual adaptation, managing flicker, color rendering, and measurable daylight exposure coverage across the floorplate.

WELL may at times conflict with the LEED environmental conservation initiatives. With respect to the lighting industry, for example, the criteria to meet an equivalent melanopic lux at workstations could potentially raise the LPDs. However, in the WELL projects Arup has delivered, LPDs are consistently well below code requirements (including the stringent Title 24 LPD thresholds in California). It is possible to achieve both WELL and LEED certifications. The Washington, DC, offices of the American Society of Interior Designers earned both WELL and LEED Platinum Certification, the first building in the world to do so.

The most debated lighting subject is the equivalent melanopic lux (EML) criteria, which have two pathways to demonstrate compliance. The preferred path involves a lengthier calculation tailored to the specific light source and color temperature. The second involves a table provided with designated multipliers for each light source type. The accuracy of the second validation method varies widely. With LED and fluorescent sources, a single multiplier cannot address the wide range of spectral power distributions possible by varying the combination of rare earth phosphors. But this alternate route to validation may support the goals of accessibility to those project types without lighting specialists. Professional lighting designers are encouraged to use the more accurate, lengthier process.

Study well

The WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) credential denotes expertise in the WELL Building Standard and a commitment to advancing human health and wellness in buildings and communities.

WELL offers extensive online resources (including help presenting a business case to the client) along with WELL exam prep packages and practice exams. The first DESIGNWELL Conference will take place in San Diego in January. WELL faculty and staff present WELL design tools frequently, but because WELL hasn’t been around for more than a few years, there are few sanctioned IWBI (International WELL Building Institute) exam prep instructors. Green Building Education Services is selling online courses and study guides, and ASID is offering workshops at their HQ. I have yet to find an in-person course to prepare for the exam, like an LC prep course, for the West Coast design community. Please provide comments to this blog post if you offer, or know of, an in-person training course or study group.

Check out the WELL events page to see more workshops and opportunities to learn about WELL.

Regarding widespread adoption of WELL as the standard for healthy buildings, according to the WELL website the program is used in 30 countries. They currently list more than 1000 registered projects in their database with about 10% achieving certification. Twelve hundred WELL APs are based in the United States alone; 15 list themselves as lighting designers, including Austin Anderson, my Arup colleague here in San Francisco.

Time will tell if WELL will change the world or if it’s just a passing trend. But the IWBI organization has already proven adaptable to expanding information, and their policy to iterate with academic research and applied results should ensure the certification maintains relevancy.

Toby Lewis

About Toby Lewis

Toby Lewis is a senior lighting designer in the Arup San Francisco office. She graduated from the lighting program at CU Boulder in 2006, and is passionate about making the built environment more human centric through new metrics. She has worked on five WELL-certified projects within the US, including the Arup San Francisco office pictured at top. She is spearheading a collaborative effort to administer post-occupancy surveys to her Arup colleagues, hoping to better understand the psychological effects of a tunable white lighting system and the physiological effects achieved by meeting melanopic lux criteria in the workplace.

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