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HOK Provides Expertise on Demystifying the WELL Building Standard

Mara Baum HOK

Mara Baum, leader of HOK’s global health and wellness design practice, participated in a U.S. Green Building Council – Northern California panel on the WELL Building Standard. The following is from an article Baum wrote about the event for USGBC.

Excerpted from the U.S. Green Building Council:

The WELL Building Standard, which builds on the success of and complements the LEED rating system, is playing an increasing role in green building design. WELL is a holistic, evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building features that impact health and well-being. These goals are closely aligned with the USGBC Northern California community’s longtime focus on human health, dating back to its Building Health Initiative that began in 2013.

Speakers at USGBC Northern California’s panel demystified the rating system, highlighting lessons learned from current and recent projects including HOK’s WELL Gold certified TD Office in Toronto. Panelists also discussed ongoing projects implementing the three WELL systems: Core and Shell, New and Existing Buildings and New and Existing Interiors.

LEED and WELL have many similarities, and both certifications are managed by Green Business Certification Inc. However, differences in the certification processes need to be considered by even the most seasoned LEED team managing a WELL project. When a project is registered, the team is assigned a WELL Assessor, who is available to answer technical questions throughout the process. After construction, the WELL Assessor visits the project for on-site performance verification. He or she tests air quality, water quality, acoustics and light, and conducts visual spot checks of other WELL features. This ensures that the building or space fully achieves the WELL criteria. It also cuts down on the amount of documentation paperwork by the team.

Going for both LEED and WELL? Teams can use the new WELL Crosswalks resources, which describe where LEED credits and WELL features overlap. In some cases, achieving a prerequisite or credit in LEED will automatically qualify a project to achieve part or all of a WELL requirement.

Some teams, particularly those working toward certification for existing buildings, want to know in advance if they need to include air or water filters in the design and construction scope. Other teams wait for final decisions on additional filtration systems until they see the performance verification results.

The panelists shared perspectives on their most challenging WELL features, which ranged from air quality to human resources policies. WELL for new and Existing Interior projects located in existing buildings with outdated HVAC systems can be especially demanding. International Well Building Institute offers case-by-case flexibility when building systems are out of a project’s scope. Air quality performance verification, however, is never optional, and this may be difficult to achieve in antiquated buildings.

The lively discussion and questions from the audience demonstrated their thirst for knowledge about the WELL Building Standard. This event was the first in a series of USGBC Northern California “WELL-specific” education programs intended to help WELL APs with credential maintenance and to increase our community’s understanding of this new rating system.


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