When designing a building, most architects consider the functions of the building to determine the building structure and materials. However, the WELL Building Standard rating system v1.0, launched in 2014, has increased the consideration of human health in design and construction strategies.
Seven years of development helped formulate seven wellness concepts included in the WELL Building Standard. A WELL building certification must demonstrate specific thresholds of compliance within each of those concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. The International Building Institute, which administers the voluntary WELL standard, is committed to balancing occupant health benefits with profitability.
Each concept in the WELL Building Standard has many features that focus on specific aspects of occupant health, comfort or knowledge. It also identifies specific aspects of human health it will impact.
As an example, consider the following about the first feature, Air Quality Standards.
Air pollution contributes to 50,000 annual premature deaths in the United States and about 7 million annual premature deaths worldwide. Indoor air quality is particularly important since the average person spends more than 90 percent of their time indoors.
Indoor air quality can suffer from a variety of sources, including material off-gassing, decreased outdoor air ventilation, indoor combustion sources, and surfaces that can accumulate airborne germs.
These conditions can contribute to negative health effects such as asthma, upper respiratory illnesses, allergies, headaches, and decreased work productivity.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates indoor pollutant exposure and pollutant concentrations with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. These standards limit exposure to six major pollutants: carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particular matter, and sulfur dioxide.
The WELL Building Standard incorporates these U.S. standards, as well as the World Health Organization requirements.
Those compliance requirements also limit exposure levels for formaldehyde and radon. A radon kit can be purchased for testing and then mailed in to obtain free results. Formaldehyde, a carcinogenic, can be released into the interior spaces from adhesives in new materials, called off-gassing.
- There are three easy ways to remove indoor air pollutants.
- Increase outdoor ventilation by opening windows and/or doors as well as turning on exhaust fans.
- Purchase High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that have different diameters of fibers that can retain smaller airborne pollutants.
- Avoid materials and products that might contain chemicals or produce chemicals such as those for which the National Ambient Air Quality Standards recommends limited exposure.
Another option is that certain plants can absorb chemicals. The gerbera daisy and chrysanthemums are most effective at removing formaldehyde. Spider plants are best for removing carbon monoxide.
Good indoor air quality is important for everyone’s health. It is helps occupants live longer, feel better and be more productive.
— Morna Hallsaxton has degrees in interior design and environmental design and operates EcoCreative Design, an interior design business with an emphasis on healthy environments. Her work has included reviewing LEED projects, auditing BIFMA Furniture Sustainability Standard compliance and certifying products for environmental volatile organic compound emissions.