Many of us have probably taken notice of, if not joined in, on the rising popularity of personal wellness in our daily lives. But how many of us are also considering wellness in building design? While designing for occupants’ wellbeing is definitely not a new concept, the building industry seems to have jumped on the wellness train with more enthusiasm than before.

And why shouldn’t we? Studies have continually shown that designing for wellness is a win-win for stakeholders and occupants alike. A small investment in employee health in building design can translate to large healthcare cost savings. An increase in employee wellness programs can directly foster greater productivity, higher retention rates, and reduced absenteeism.

The WELL Building Standard

No wonder the WELL Building Standard is seeing a rise in popularity as more and more designers catch on to the benefits of designing for wellness. The first of its kind in the building industry, the WELL Building Standard focuses on health and wellness interventions with the overall goal of preventing ill-health and encouraging holistic wellness.  

Like the sustainability standards in the AEC industry, WELL works on a rating system. In lieu of credits, the WELL Building Standard has features that fall into one of 7 categories. Let’s take a stab at guessing the categories: What comes to mind when thinking of designing buildings for wellness? Healthy food options? Ability to exercise? Physical comfort and the feeling of being at ease? Peace of mind? If these are some of the thoughts that crossed your mind, then you’ve hit the nail on the head!

Image 2: The 7 concepts in the WELL Building Standard. Source: The WELL Building Standard V1.

WELLness meets early stage building performance analysis  

While the WELL Building Standard primarily focuses on the social bottom line of a project, its impact doesn’t need to stop there. With the synergies that are possible with other green building and sustainability programs, designers can explore how the WELL standard affects the environmental and financial bottom line of a project.

Image 3: The Triple Bottom Line framework for Sustainability. Source: Real Building Consultants.

Since we know that early stage performance analysis helps reduce the environmental footprint of a project along with the capital and operational costs, a logical extension is to ask if such analyses jibe with designing for wellness. And if so, what are the trade-offs between designing for wellness and designing for the environmental and financial bottom line?

To answer these burning questions, let’s look at Performance-Based Design in Sefaira, which creates a unique intersection of all three factors. Within the WELL standard there are eight features that Sefaira can either directly or indirectly contribute towards. The features are as follows:

Table 1: The eight features in the WELL Building Standard that Sefaira is applicable towards.

“Direct” and “indirect” contributions towards WELL Certification  

Air and Ventilation

To satisfy any of the air features above, designers would have to employ strategies that could impact their system requirements, floor plan layout, and capital and operating costs. For example, in order to achieve Feature 15 – Increased ventilation, the fresh air supply needs to be increased to 30% over the minimum requirements stipulated in ASHRAE 62.1. If the design team were to pursue this feature, there invariably would be capital cost implications to contend with (i.e., increase in the cooling, heating and AHU design capacities). This is where Sefaira would contribute “indirectly” towards the WELL certified design. In this case, Sefaira analysis does not directly help you meet the feature requirements but instead helps you understand and balance the multiple trade-offs while trying to meet them. Along the same lines, the design team is also able to understand the relationship between the Capex and Opex costs if the team were to select one type of HVAC system over any other in the project.

Why is this valuable? At any stage in design, the team is confronted with a set of design options and decisions that need to be made on whether to pursue one over the other. Having data about the financial implications of each option this early in design equips the design team to weigh their options side by side and make better-informed decisions.

Natural Light & Thermal Comfort

How about the “direct” contributions toward a WELL certified design?  It turns out that the WELL feature for daylight modeling has a direct synergy with LEED V4 daylight simulation requirements and the great news is that running daylight analysis in Sefaira applies to both standards!

Image 4: sDA & ASE analysis in Sefaira. Source: 2030 Studio Case Study.

Another direct benefit of Performance-Based Design in creating a WELL certified design is to incorporate thermal comfort analysis during design, which can be achieved with Sefaira. Sefaira’s Thermal Comfort analysis feature helps teams identify the zones that are not meeting the ASHRAE 55 thermal comfort requirements. It further equips designers to figure out the reasons why those zones are failing, and how they might be improved to ensure superior thermal comfort indoors and fulfill the WELL criteria.

To put occupant wellness at the forefront of design, designers must integrate these and many more considerations from the start of the design process. We believe a Performance-Based Design approach, collaborating with other professionals, and using the right tools at the right time will help designers balance the essential factors of cost and environmental impact while creating better buildings for happier occupants.