Well Building

By Barbara Huelat, FASID, EDAC, AAHID

Have you heard about the WELL Building Certification? No? Well, that’s not surprising because the WELL Building Certification is a newly launched accreditation program shaped by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI). The WELL Building Institute (WBI) is a public interest corporation whose mission is to improve human health and well-being through the built environment. The WBI administers the Well Building Certification as well as LEED professional credentialing.

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This is not just another building certification, it deals specifically with the health and wellness of the occupants. There is no other certification which addresses this. Spaces can actually help create healing environments to help improve a person’s nutrition, fitness, mood, and sleep patterns which lead to better health outcomes. We spend an average of 20 hours a day within our homes, schools, workplace, retail, places of entertainment and healthcare. Are these environments healthy for us? Do they support well-being? Can they even make us sick?

Everyone cares about their personal health and that of their family and love ones. It is scary to learn that indoor air quality in 70% of our built environments is worse than outdoor air quality. Most of us have experienced off-gassing from a new carpet that can lead to headaches, nausea and fatigue. The wavelengths of light can interrupt our natural circadian rhythm which lead to sleeplessness at night and attentiveness during the day, and we are often office “couch potatoes”, leaving our workstations only to recline at the lunchroom table full of unhealthy food options. Some never see daylight. Research is now linking our health effects to our built environment.

Traditional healthcare focuses on healing the individual after disease or sickness has occurred. However, within the growth of chronic disease, especially diabetes and heart disease, cancer research is finding there is a need for greater emphasis on lifestyle and prevention. Can design intervention produce a healthier Well Building? And a healthier population? This is the “take away” from the WELL Building Standard which moves design interventions to measureable outcome which can be directly linked to health benefits of the occupants.

User satisfaction is a prime factor of certification as is overall health. Elements such as acoustics, thermal comfort, access to nature, ergonomics, aesthetics, and comfort have been found to reduce sick days and increase productivity. However at the end of the day, it will be a business decision that will link WELL to a better ROI, Return on Investment.

This rendering illustrates our newest Well Building certification pursuits. The MeadowView facility in Marion, Iowa, is a Senior Living campus that is focused on the residents’ experience. Designed using the small house model; it provides homelike amenities that support the WELL Building components of quality water, fresh air, access to nature, good nutrition, comfort and ergonomic, beauty, quality of light, and mindful experiences. It has not been without challenges. Many of the requirements are components that have always been a part of our design strategy such as quality of lighting, ergonomics, and access to nature. However, one of biggest challenges has been specifying products that are not on the “RED LIST.” Red List items are toxic components of finishes and furnishings, such as PVC and formaldehyde. We were very surprised to find out how difficult avoiding Red List items can be. Vinyl flooring, plastic laminate and common interior materials are full of these components. We are moving to natural materials like rubber flooring and solid surfaces.

Personally, I have dedicated my professional life in pursuit to “Healing Environments” totally believing that an environment can and does support healing and wellbeing. I have researched and authored two books on the topic and have lectured nationally on the subject. I often thought I was on the fringes. However I am so thrilled to find that I am not, and there are now organizations that have recognized that WELL Buildings can and do make a difference to the health of its occupants.

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Huelat Davis and Davis Partnership Architects are proud to support this WELL Building initiative with active WELL certification projects in the Denver office with the Colorado Heath Foundation and the Huelat Davis office with the MeadowView facility in Marion, IA.