WELL Design: The Health-Focused Building Design Standard

Most people don’t know this, but before I started my design business I worked in the environmental field. For over a decade, I worked with companies to be certain they managed their hazardous materials in an environmentally compliant manor. The work was fascinating and enjoyable because I knew my efforts were making the planet a better place to live and work. That’s why, when I heard about WELL building standards, I immediately wanted to learn more.  

Building Green: LEED vs. WELL

The idea of sustainability or sustainable development has been around since the mid 1980’s. In a nutshell, sustainable design takes the environment into consideration during building construction. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is one of the most popular green building certification programs.

As of 2015, more than half of American’s Fortune 500 companies have adopted LEED practices which greatly benefit our environment. So, we’re making buildings better for the planet – shouldn’t we also make them better for people? This is where the WELL movement stepped in.  

The WELL Building Standard™: A Focus on Human Health & Wellness

I attended a seminar and started doing research into this new movement. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned so far:  

The WELL Building Standard™ is the world’s first building standard focused exclusively on human health and wellness. WELL is grounded in a body of research that explores the connection between the buildings where we live and work and how they impact us as occupants. Just like the LEED standards for building sustainability, WELL standards are the first globally applicable standards on the relationship between buildings and the humans that work and live in them.

How WELL Standards Were Developed

Over the last decade, researchers, including scientists, doctors, architects and wellness thought leaders, have observed and compiled data on the impact of the built environment on humans. They studied things like the links between chronic health issues and the environments where we spend 90% of our time. Scientists considered the role of nourishment of the body and mind and its impact on performance.  Using evidence-based medical and scientific research, the WELL Building Institute™ has developed standards that will utilize the built environment as a vehicle to support human health and well-being. Yes, buildings may be taking care of us!!!

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Health Factors of the WELL Building Standard™

The WELL Building Standard™ sets performance requirements in seven Concepts relevant to occupant health: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. WELL Certified™ spaces can help create spaces that improve the nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns and performance of its occupants. The standards provide a third-party, evidence-based, science-backed rating system that tells you how your building is performing.

The WELL Certification for Commercial Buildings

The WELL Building Certification is based on performance and requires a passing score in each of the seven categories of the WELL Building Standard™. In commercial applications, WELL Certification is awarded at one of three levels: Silver, Gold and Platinum.

Why would a company want to invest in WELL? Simple: employee spending represents the lion’s share of corporate spending. Satisfied and healthy employees are more productive, have less sick days and give stellar feedback on WELL programs where they’ve been implemented. At a cost of less than $2 per day per employee, WELL makes good economic sense.

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WELL Standards for Residential Buildings

WELL can and is being applied to residential dwellings. And because WELL actually gives designers the opportunity to create spaces that incorporate solutions that affect human performance, it is opening an entirely new realm of possibilities for the homeowner.

WELL concepts are being applied to the residential environment, particularly in multi-family dwellings in cities like New York, Denver and even here in Maplewood, NJ. This building will have light-filled apartments with specially designed amenities to encompass the concepts of WELL, like air and water purification systems, light-filled rooms, a bike-share rack and car charging garage.

Incorporating WELL Standards Into Your Home 

This all sounds great, right? How can you as a homeowner get started? Here are few tips for you:

Purification Systems

Advanced Purification Systems use scientifically backed criteria for air and water quality, bringing in precisely what the body needs and filtering out the elements that harms it. These include both air purification systems that enhance indoor air quality by removing allergens, toxins, pathogens, pollen, particulates and other pollutants and water purification systems that remove inorganic, organic and biological contaminants.

If you can’t upgrade your water purification system you can always add a shower infuser to your existing shower head with a Vitamin C cartridge, which reduces chlorine (used in municipal water sources for purification) and makes your hair and skin soft and silky. Aroma Sense even makes one that releases natural oils for a beautiful, relaxing aromatherapy shower! And make sure you change your air filters often.

A shower infuser.

A shower infuser.


Or course, the main function of light is to enable us to see; however, light also influences our bodies and can affect our mood, alertness and cognitive ability. Just think of how many people are affected by SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Humans have an internal clock that is impacted by exposure to light and dark and keeps the body on a roughly 24-hour cycle, referred to as the circadian rhythm. There is more evidence now that circadian disruption from electric light exposure may play a role in diabetes, obesity, depression, as well as breast cancer. Thoughtfully designed combinations of day-lighting and artificial light can provide an optimal lighting environment for circadian alignment. 

Advanced indoor lighting technologies can be used to enhance performance and promote alignment with the body’s natural circadian rhythm to improve energy, mood and productivity. Well-designed combinations of day-lighting and artificial light can provide an appropriate lighting environment for circadian alignment. 

For example, Hunter Douglas Silhouettes were designed with day-lighting in mind as they draw light into and throughout a room. And several styles of wake-up light therapy alarm clocks have UV-free light that perfectly mimics sunlight, allowing for a natural boost in mood and concentration without the caffeine kick.

Automated Wellness

This incorporates a sensor-driven monitoring system that detects changes in environmental quality and either fixes them immediately or notifies you of the problem. These kinds of systems would require advanced systems as mentioned above, but the average homeowner can easily install an affordable Nest thermostat which senses when you’re home or away and adjusts the temperature accordingly.


I’ll be researching this topic and learning more. If you’re as interested as I am, reach out. I’d love to hear your thoughts and help you incorporate some of these features into your home!

Green DesignDebi