The WELL Certification: What Changed Between v1 and v2?

Topics: indoor air quality, WELL, WELL certification, wellness, thermal comfort

Michael Tobias
Author : Michael Tobias on February 27, 2020

The WELL certification for buildings has recently gained popularity. Unlike other certifications like LEED and EDGE, which focus on buildings, the WELL certification focuses on humans. The US Environmental Protection Agency has determined that we spend 90% of our time indoors and modern society, and that indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. The building environment has a major impact on human wellness, but this aspect often gets low priority in project designs.

For companies, providing healthy and comfortable indoor conditions is not only about social responsibility. During the service life of a building, salaries and professional services represent a much higher expense than rent and utilities. Occupants are more productive in a healthy and comfortable environment, and this increases the return on each dollar paid in salaries.


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The 3-30-300 rule from Jones Lang LaSalle is an interesting way to visualize building costs. For every square foot, companies can expect to spend $3/year on utilities, $30/year on real estate costs, and $300/year on salaries. This is a very general rule of thumb, but it emphasizes the financial impact of health and comfort - low productivity is very expensive.

A second version of the WELL building standard is currently being introduced. WELL is characterized by being rigorous, and getting a WELL certification is generally more difficult than getting a LEED certification for the same building. The scoring system in WELL v2 is similar to LEED and more flexible than WELL v1, motivating more building owners to seek the certification.

Comparing WELL v1 and WELL v2

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The first version of WELL considers 100 performance features when certifying a building. 41 of these features are mandatory preconditions, while the other 59 are described as optimizations. There are three certification levels, which are earned as follows:

  • WELL Silver: All 41 of the mandatory requirements.
  • WELL Gold: All mandatory requirements + 40% optimizations.
  • WELL Platinum: All mandatory requirements + 80% optimizations.

WELL v1 classifies the 100 performance features into seven categories called “concepts”:

Concept

Preconditions

Optimizations

Air
Water
Nourishment
Light
Fitness
Comfort
Mind

12
5
8
4
2
5
5

17
3
7
7
6
7
12

TOTAL

41

59

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WELL v2 uses a scoring system similar to LEED, with four certification levels. The mandatory preconditions have been reduced from 41 to 23, while the optimization have increased from 59 to 92 (as of February 2020). WELL v2 has also increased the number of concepts from 7 to 10. With these changes, building owners have more freedom when choosing how to score points:

  • WELL Bronze: 40 points (only available for core and shell projects)
  • WELL Silver: 50 points
  • WELL Gold: 60 points
  • WELL Platinum: 80 points

The following table summarizes the preconditions and optimizations under WELL v2:

Concept

Preconditions

Optimizations

Air
Water
Nourishment
Light
Movement
Thermal Comfort
Sound
Materials
Mind
Community

4
3
2
2
2
1
1
3
2
3

10
6
11
6
10
6
5
11
13
14

TOTAL

23

92

This scoring system is more flexible than WELL v1. However, the standard provides additional guidelines when certifying a building:

  • Meeting all 23 preconditions is mandatory. If at least one precondition is missed, the building is not eligible for WELL certification, regardless of the score obtained.
  • The project must earn at least 4 points under the Air and Thermal Comfort concepts combined, and at least 2 points under all the other concepts.
  • Many of the 92 optimizations award 2-3 points. However, project owners can apply for a maximum of 12 points under each concept, and a maximum of 100 points across all the 10 concepts. 
  • An additional 10 points can be earned for innovation, and there are no preconditions in this performance category. This brings the total possible points to 110.

Since WELL v1 has more preconditions and less optimizations, more similarities can be expected among projects that are certified under the first version of the standard. On the other hand, more diversity can be expected from WELL v2 projects, since there are less mandatory requirements and more optimizations to choose from.

With the rigid requirements and limited choices of WELL v1, the standard can be difficult to apply in many buildings. One of the main reasons for creating WELL v2 was to make the certification appealing for a larger market.

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