Blog Post

Finding the Building Products You Need to Do WELL

The WELL Building Standard has stringent transparency and health criteria for products and materials. Here’s how to find what you’ll need for certification.

Office at Center for Sustainable Landscapes

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was certified Platinum under the pilot WELL Building Standard.

Photo: Denmarsh Photography, courtesy IWBI
As a standard that seeks to promote occupant health, WELL requires project teams to use clean and green products to get with the program.

The International WELL Building Institute organized the system by outcomes rather than inputs, so we have categories…er, sorry—concepts like Air, Comfort, and Mind instead of the LEED categories of Energy, Water, etc. That means that product-related requirements are sprinkled throughout the standard.

Most of these requirements in WELL are not new to the team at BuildingGreen, however—we’ve been screening products for substances like perfluorinated compounds and phthalate plasticizers for years. So we’re all set up with product collections that will put a smile on your WELL auditor’s face.

Here’s a quick guide to the key things to look for.

Spec it (and install it) or lose it

Several features in WELL, including one “precondition” (prerequisite), specify actual criteria for products to use (or avoid). Three of these are in the Air concept and one in Mind.

SUPPORT INDEPENDENT SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING

BuildingGreen relies on our premium members, not on advertisers. Help make our work possible.

See membership options »

Air Feature 04: VOC Reduction

To meet this precondition, you have to use products with low VOC content and/or low emissions, depending on the product category. The thresholds here will be very familiar to anyone who has dared to unpack the low-emitting materials credit in LEED v4, though the way they’re put together makes WELL’s a little easier to achieve than the LEED credit (which is good, since this one isn’t optional).

Air Feature 25: Toxic Material Reduction

This feature reads like a small, targeted red list: Avoid perfluorinated compounds in furniture; those are in many stain-resistant coatings on fabrics. Avoid halogenated flame retardants in a whole host of product types. Avoid certain phthalate plasticizers in… well, you get the idea.

There are a few freebies in here: avoiding urea-formaldehyde in insulation isn’t hard since UFFI insulation got a bad name for making people sick and disappeared from the market in the 1980s. And you’re not likely to find plasticizers in rigid, venetian-style window blinds.

But there are also some challenges, like avoiding synthetic polyurethane coatings in interior finishes. There is a loophole for the flame-retardants ban, however—if local codes require it, then you’re off the hook.

Air Feature 26: Enhanced Material Safety

Earn this feature by using products with Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification or GreenScreen vetting, or just comply with the entire Materials petal in the Living Building Challenge. (Did you know that Jason McLennan, founder of the Living Building Challenge, was an advisor to Delos in developing WELL?)

Mind Feature 97: Material Transparency

This one is all about the peace of mind that comes from knowing what’s in your building. (What happened to “ignorance is bliss”?) Declare labels, Health Product Declarations (HPD), and C2C are all fair game; along with anything else that’s approved for Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients in LEED v4. The HPD option here is even easier than in LEED, as there is no minimum disclosure threshold.

Get the performance you need with the right products

A few WELL features push you to use certain systems, like entryway walk-off systems that will help keep outdoor pollutants from coming in on people’s shoes. But most other features in WELL are more performance-based.

The fact that they’re looking for performance metrics doesn’t mean you don’t need the right products to get there, of course. Energy-efficient windows and glazing will help you with thermal comfort, for example. Displacement ventilation for enhanced ventilation effectiveness often requires an access floor system. And for solar glare control, you can use interior shades or blinds, exterior shading systems, or specialty glazing systems.

BuildingGreen has tagged the WELL features that can be met with the help of high-performance products and has created collections to help you find good options for all of these functions. We also have a fun 90-second video that describes what we do.

Disclosure: Nadav Malin was a paid technical reviewer of the WELL Standard in 2014.

Published July 25, 2016

Add new comment

To post a comment, you need to register for a BuildingGreen Basic membership (free) or login to your existing profile.

Comments

July 26, 2016 - 11:29 am

Thanks for the piece, Nadav. I always look forward to your insight and perspective on navigating materials.

In the piece above, you write that "the way they’re [WELL VOC requirements] put together makes WELL’s a little easier to achieve than the LEED credit."

Can you unpack that a little bit? I have felt that WELL might be a little tougher since compliance with 5 of the 6 LEED product catagories (including furniture at a slightly higher cost threshold) is required.  In LEED, teams have a little flexibility depending on the number of desired points (2-5 categories achieved for 1-3 points).

Might your consideration be the language of using the VOC content per the ASTM standards in WELL as an option as opposed to last resort in LEED v4? Or the decoupling of composite wood from these requirements (WELL parks formaldehyde reduction in Feature 25: Toxic Materials Reduction).

Thanks! Looking forward to your thoughts!

John M

July 27, 2016 - 8:09 am

Great comment, John. What I had in mind in making that comment was for the wet-applied products: LEED makes you meet both the emission levels and VOC content levels, while in WELL it's either one. That would seem to make WELL much easier for those two categories. 

But you're right. The fact that LEED provides a sliding scale--more categories included, more points--while WELL says you have to hit them them all, pushes the balance back the other way a bit. 

And as an aside, I love the Health Rating Systems Comparison that you guys just published. Very handy! http://www.yrgxyz.com/yrg-blog/health-rating-systems-comparison/