healthy buildings

Want a healthy building? Follow this primer on two new wellness standards

This article is republished on Sustainable Benefits for educational purposes.
View the original article here: Perkins+Will’s Ideas + Buildings

By Kate Kerbel

WELL

While our industry’s focus on wellness may seem like just the latest trend, occupant health has been an important goal of the built environment for centuries. In the 1800s, urban infrastructure allowing access to fresh water, natural light, and clean air significantly reduced the number of deaths from infectious diseases like tuberculosis, cholera, and yellow fever. Additionally, in the 1900s, doctors consulted on the design of school gymnasiums, advising on how the environment could help support human health.

Today, with individuals spending on average over 40 hours a week at work, health and wellness are taking center stage. Labor and healthcare spending also comprise the bulk of operating expenses—making happy and healthy employees a smart investment.

Since its development in the 1990s, the LEED rating system has been applied to over 19.1 billion total commercial square feet. Along with other systems like BREEAM, Energy Star, and the Living Building Challenge, green building design and operations work to conserve energy across the globe. A serendipitous byproduct of green design has become apparent: people like working in green buildings better. Green buildings ensure access to daylight, incorporate biophilia, provide clean air, and leverage healthy materials; it’s no wonder people like spending time in them.

In recent years, two new wellness rating systems have emerged. Both use research-based strategies to evaluate buildings not by how much energy they save or how they impact the environment, but by how they can directly contribute to occupant health.

WELL was developed by Delos and has a somewhat similar framework and documentation process to its “cousin,” LEED. Both certifications are administered by the Green Business Certification (GBCI), which continues to improve and streamline the synergistic documentation processes.

Fitwel, developed by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the General Services Administration (GSA), and administered by the Center for Active Design, aims to identify the most impactful strategies for space and does not require a technical design background to administer.

Perkins+Will is well versed in both systems. We’ve committed to achieving Fitwel certification for all our North American offices, and we have a handful of WELL-certified projects, including the ASID Headquarters—the first space in the world to earn both both LEED and WELL Platinum Certification.

ASID

The ASID Headquarters in Washington, D.C., was WELL Certified at the Platinum level under WELL v1 in June 2017.

As a Fitwel Ambassador and our firm’s first WELL Accredited Professional, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the two systems. In just one year, I have seen a huge increase in interest, especially from developers. In response, here are my answers to two of the most frequently asked questions from those considering these emergent systems.

HOW DOES WELL DIFFER FROM LEED?

Impact Categories

As opposed to LEED’s Location & Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality categories, WELL divvies up its 100 Features (credits) into: Air (Quality), Water (Quality), Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind. There are naturally some synergies between the categories: For example, an automated daylight sensor that dims overhead lights when sufficient daylight is present saves energy, but it also reduces glare and allows people to work in a naturally lit space. Conversely, some of the categories prioritize occupant health over energy savings . For example, WELL requires that paper towels be provided in restrooms because automated hand blowers are less sanitary. Through the LEED lens, the additional use of material would be discouraged.

On-Site Testing

LEED requires thorough documentation for the majority of credits, including annotated floor plans, measurements, manufacturer documentation, etc. WELL, on the other hand, requires signed letters of assurance from the architect, contractor, MEP engineer, or owner for many Features. Then, the GBCI sends their own WELL Assessor to the site to visually observe that all the policies are in place, and to conduct rigorous testing to confirm air and water quality standards.

Recertification

Unlike LEED, WELL requires project recertification for construction/major renovation projects as well as interiors projects every three years, which means a WELL Assessor will come back to the site to make observations and rerun quality tests. Projects may either meet the same level of certification they originally earned, be awarded a higher certification than their original level, or lose certification. Core and shell projects, however, do not need to be recertified.

Preconditions

There are more preconditions in WELL (called prerequisites in LEED) than you might expect. For certification or compliance to be awarded, all applicable WELL preconditions need to be met. The number of preconditions that must be met depends on the project typology. For example, new construction/major renovation projects have 41 preconditions, while core and shell projects have 26.

Levels of Certification

Certification starts at silver and consists of Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Meeting all of the preconditions earns a silver certification. Gold level certification is achieved by meeting all WELL preconditions, in addition to between 40 to 80 percent of the optimization features. Platinum level certification is achieved by meeting all preconditions, as well as 80 percent or more of the optimization features.

WHICH STANDARD IS BEST FOR MY BUILDING?

There are several compelling reasons to use each system. For instance, if a client comes to us with a large real estate portfolio and is interested in tracking hundreds of locations, Fitwel would be the best choice. Fitwel is relatively quick and straightforward for facility managers to use themselves to find out if their buildings earn zero, one, two, or three stars. Furthermore, with a large portfolio, facility managers would be able to benchmark all of their locations and set company goals. For example, they may want to bring all of their locations up to two stars over a certain number of years. Fitwel gives the user feedback regarding what changes the building/operations can make that will have the most impact on improving their workplace.

WELL, because of the more substantial effort and cost, realistically would be ideal for a few featured locations of a large portfolio at this point in time. The process of achieving WELL looks similar to that of achieving LEED: It should be discussed early in the project design process and will require members of the architecture, engineering, and operations team to work together to submit documentation.

Lastly, a client could also pursue both Fitwel and WELL for a building, as we are doing with our own Perkins+Will Dallas office, since there are unique benefits to both. Also, keep in mind that certifications are not necessary to ensure the design of a healthy space. Similar to designing green buildings, it is completely possible to design the healthiest of spaces using thoughtful design concepts that great architects have pursued throughout history without completing a formal documentation system.

 

Survey: Doctors Key in Promoting Positive Impacts of Healthy Building Design, Construction & Maintenance

June 27, 2014
Original post here

The critical connection between a healthy building environment and patient health is often missed by the one group of professionals who may matter most – physicians, according to a new SmartMarket report by McGraw Hill Construction sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), United Technologies Corp. and other partners.

“It’s becoming clear from this initial research that doctors and other health professionals must engage with architects and the design community in a major way if we are to be successful in improving public health through design,” said AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA. “We look forward to furthering that dialogue with physicians and to helping support additional research into this critical public health issue.”

The survey results were announced at the opening session American Institute of Architects Annual Convention.
The report, “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: The Market Drivers and Impact of Building Design on Occupant Health, Well-Being and Productivity,” finds that though 18 percent of homeowners say that doctors are their primary source for information on healthy home products and decisions, only 53 percent of pediatricians, 32 percent of family doctors/general practitioners and 40 percent of psychiatrists believe that buildings even impact patient health. Only 15 percent report receiving any information on this connection, but the results also reveal that a key challenge is not just getting information to them but gaining their attention in ways that would alter their perspective, with nearly a quarter (22 percent) reporting that more information would likely not change what they do today. You can access the full report.

The study suggests that getting more information to this group is essential to help create demand for more healthy building design and construction, given the limited understanding that physicians demonstrate of building health impacts. Physician awareness and recommendation of more fundamental healthy building design and construction practices that connect with the health risks of most concern to public health—lack of exercise, chronic stress, poor diet and obesity—could help create the market demand needed to drive investment, but only if physicians expand their engagement with these issues.

Today, the only issue the medical practitioners agree is a link between buildings and health is around mold and mildew, but that is only one of a plethora of factors in building decisions that could impact health.
“Most homeowners rely on family members and friends or colleagues to influence their choices of healthy products and practices, with very few seeking advice from builders, remodelers, contractors and architects who know most about how these decisions affect the occupant. As the construction industry increases its engagement in healthy building, this represents an opportunity for industry professionals to assist clients make decisions in order to positively impact their health,” said Harvey M. Bernstein, F.ASCE, LEED AP, vice president, Industry Insights and Alliances for McGraw Hill Construction.

The report also finds that, contrary to the position held by physicians, the general public is aware of the link between buildings and people’s health.
• 63 percent of homeowners believe products and practices they use at home affect their health, with the majority (50 percent) pointing to impact on allergies, followed by asthma/respiratory illnesses (32 percent) and headaches/migraines (30 percent).
• 90 percent of homeowners believe school buildings affect student health/productivity, and 95 percent believe hospital buildings and operations affect patient/staff health and productivity.
Human resource executives also recognize the link between buildings and health, with its top emphasis on spaces that encourage social interaction. Sixty-six percent of their companies consider spaces for social interaction when making leasing decisions today, and even more (75 percent) expect it will be considered in the future. Yet, the architect community is not as attuned to this need, with creating spaces for social integration being eighth in a list of key factors. This gap suggests the industry needs to be more sensitive to this issue given how the millennial and subsequent generations work, learn and interact and thus, improve their productivity.

The report reflects a landmark research project that is the first to span across five key stakeholders that influence the prevalence of healthy design and construction practices in buildings, including the physicians noted above, construction industry professionals in the residential and non-residential sectors, owner HR executives and homeowners. The breadth of the study is essential in critical gaps between stakeholder responses that are preventing the design and construction industry from fully capitalizing on the specific healthy building investments sought by other stakeholders.
The report reveals the increasing attention industry professionals and owners are placing on health in design and construction plans—as well as some of the needs the industry has to increase these efforts.

According to the study:
• All firms are reporting increases in addressing occupant health in design and construction decisions—59 percent of owners, with architects leading other players in adoption of healthy practices.
• Firms that are doing more green building work are also more attuned to health issues.
• Owners need more data and greater public awareness of the health impacts of products, practices and buildings holistically in order to support additional healthy building investments. Those are reported as the top drivers at 40 percent and 48 percent of owners, respectively.

“Green buildings have real, proven health benefits including improved employee productivity, lower health care costs and reduced absenteeism,” said John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer, UTC Building & Industrial Systems. “This study shows that human resource professionals and building owners see the benefit of investing in a healthier physical work environment — in fact, 66 percent of those who measured occupant well-being saw an improvement after moving to a green building.”

The report cites the need for further investigation into the specific benefits of different design, construction and product decisions, in order to overcome obstacles to investments in these areas that influence health and wellbeing.
The study is comprised of five separate market research surveys, all benchmarking at the 95 percent confidence level—(1) survey of architects, contractors and owners in nonresidential construction; (2) survey of residential builders, architects, remodelers and interior designers; (3) survey of U.S. homeowners; (4) survey of human resource executives at U.S. firms; and (5) survey of medical professionals, including general practitioners, pediatricians and psychologists/psychiatrists. Each survey captures the unique perspective of these stakeholders in terms of their awareness of healthy building impact, use of healthy building products and practices and drivers for them to prioritize health factors in future building decisions. More detailed findings on insights from all these groups are in the report.
“The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: The Market Drivers and Impact of Building Design on Occupant Health, Well-Being and Productivity SmartMarket” Report was produced by McGraw Hill Construction in partnership with the American Institute of Architects and other premier research partners: United Technologies, CB Richard Ellis and the U.S. Green Building Council. Other support for the project was provided by the project’s two supporting research partners—the American Society of Interior Designers and Delos—and contributing partners Armstrong Ceilings Systems and Armstrong Commercial Flooring, Dewberry, Integral Group, Sloan Valve Company, Urban Land Institute, U.S. Green Building Council—Northern California Chapter, Webcor and the World Green Building Council.