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Well building standard

The Well Building Standard and What It Can Mean for Homeowners

By Joy WoodRise Writer
Oct 9, 2019

Have you ever worked in a poorly lit space? Or tried to focus amidst unrelenting street noise? If so, you probably know that besides zero VOC paint and proper water filtration, there many elements of a space that affect our physical, mental, and emotional health.

But what happens when we take that concept a few giant leaps further? Asking questions like: can buildings be designed and constructed to help occupants make better choices— thereby leading better lives? What if buildings could be designed with the wellness of the individual or family and promote the health and welfare of whole communities, with a particular focus on disadvantaged populations?

That's the thinking behind the WELL Building Standard. Founded and managed by the International WELL Building Institute, the standard's overall intention is to design and build structures that help individuals and communities thrive. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it's been featured on Fast Company's 2019 World's Most Innovative Companies list. 

If it sounds like a combination of LEED and GreenStar with a woke new vibe, that's because it is.

well building standard
Photo Credit: Pro Literacy

What is the WELL Building Standard?

The WELL Building Standard provides a framework by which builders can evaluate their design, material choices, and process regarding sustainability, energy efficiency, and the environment. It operates in much the same way as the LEED and GreenStar rating systems in that it is a third-party verified point-based system. The difference is that with WELL, the net is cast more extensively than merely focusing on physical components. How? WELL also considers design, materials, and spaces to affect everything from nutrition to fitness and even mood and sleep patterns.

WELL certification takes buildings into next-level thinking regarding how each aspect affects occupants' health and wellness. The IWBI describes WELL as "focused exclusively on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve our comfort, drive better choices, and generally enhance, not compromise, our health and wellness."

Interest piqued? You may also be jazzed to discover that this innovative global structure rating system wasn't developed in some ivory tower. It is the collaborative result of a fairly diverse group, self-described as "tri-athletes, chemists, urban cycling enthusiasts, backyard gardeners, non-toxic product aficionados, and globetrotters." Each of the founding members defines wellness in the context of their own unique lives.

How Does WELL Differ from LEED?

LEED got its start in the 1990s and has had more time to grow in the marketplace. It much more widely recognized—over 90,000 projects are involved with LEED worldwide. WELL is currently counting 3,813 projects

WELL and LEED standards share a number of the same requirements and components. Both are point-based scorecards with silver, gold, and platinum levels of certification. But WELL branches out further into the realm of human sustainability. Good to know: because WELL builds off many of the same principles as LEED, if you're aiming for WELL certification, you are likely to attain LEED certification. 

LEED revolves around six main categories: Location and Transportation, Site, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. WELL is based on ten areas of building performance: air, water, light, nourishment, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, and community. So the primary difference is WELL's focus on mental and physical health, supporting creativity and productivity. 

LEED takes into account naturally lit spaces. But WELL would evaluate the same lighting for how it would affect circadian rhythms and enhance or detract from the occupants' health. Where LEED ends, WELL picks up the thread and applies it directly (through an evidence-based investigation) to the human experience. A "WELL" space prioritizes human health and well-being. 

And just as people can become LEED Accredited Professionals (AP), you can also become a WELL AP. These are people that have learned the requirements, studied, and taken exams. These are the people who will help your building project achieve certification. 

From a cost standpoint, WELL is pretty pricey. A 250,000 square foot building, for example, would cost $2,800 for registration and $43,750 for initial certification. On the other hand, LEED charges $1,200 for registration ($1,500 if you are not a member of the USGBC) and $14,250 for project certification. These costs do not include any incremental upgrades or consultation fees, so the total price for certification is significantly higher in both rating systems. 

WELL: One Standard, Two Versions

When WELL was launched in 2014, the program highlighted seven concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, mind. Some of the more exciting components have to do with food and fitness—a departure from other building rating systems that focus more on energy efficiency. 

In terms of nourishment, the WELL (version 1) standard requires the availability of fresh and wholesome foods, limits highly processed ingredients, and supports mindful eating. Recognizing that human health and diet are inextricably intertwined, the protocols for achieving WELL status include having: 

  • fruits and vegetables easily accessible
  • a ban on trans fats as an ingredient
  • detailed stipulations on processed foods regarding sugar content.

The fitness concept of WELL recognizes that "Regular physical activity is essential to achieve optimal health, including weight management, chronic disease prevention, and fitness maintenance." To achieve this component, spaces with more than ten regular occupants must provide access to a dedicated exercise space, depending on how many people are in the area. 

The mind concept is perhaps the most unique: it removes the delineation between physical and mental health. Observing that physical exercise promotes serotonin and the corrosive effects of constant worrying aims to create spaces that promote positive mental health. Tying into the concept of biophilia, it recognizes that people have an affinity for the natural world and that exposure to it can improve mental health. 

The pilot was WELL received, and the IWBI has now launched a second version of the standard. WELL V2 operates on the following principles (taken verbatim for accuracy):

Equitable - provides the greatest benefit to the largest number of people, including all demographic and economic groups, and special consideration to less advantaged or vulnerable populations.

Global - proposes interventions that are feasible, achievable, and relevant across many applications throughout the world. WELL v2 offers regionally appropriate pathways for meeting health intents based on where projects are located.

Evidence-based - promotes strong, validated research leading to conclusions that can reasonably be accepted by the scientific community.

Technically robust - draws upon industry best practices and proven strategies, offering consistent findings across the relevant field or discipline.

Customer-focused - defines program requirements through a dynamic development process, with multiple opportunities for stakeholder engagement, and by tapping the expertise of established leaders in science, health, business, design, and operations.

Resilient - responds to advances in scientific knowledge and technology, continuously adapting and integrating new findings in the field.


Going beyond the foundation set by the certification programs of LEED and GreenStar, the WELL Building Standard creates solid links between our buildings and structures and the occupants' overall health and well-being. It focuses on the fundamentals of human health, applies them to the building's design and features, and aims to create spaces where office workers, tenants, and everyone who visits can thrive.

WELL is excellent for commercial buildings, as many of us spend all day in offices. WELL applies to many different types of buildings, including schools, police departments, and hotels. Unfortunately, there is no WELL program for single-family homes (yet). But the broader focus on health and wellness brings valuable lessons to how we can create buildings that enhance our well-being.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-11-26T16:41:53+0000
Joy Wood

Article by:

Joy Wood

Joy grew up in the natural beauty of the North Okanagan, nestled near the foot of the Monashee Mountains. Hailing from a family of home builders, both the environment and home construction became closely intertwined in her youth. Today, she and her builder hubby are raising their family in Vancouver, where she avidly follows the current sustainable construction trends as the city aims for the title of ‘Greenest City’ by 2020.