WELLness at Home

Industry professionals must seize the opportunity to push beyond requirements and create healthier spaces

By SARAH HUNTER

Today, more than ever, place matters to the future of protecting our families, our businesses and the public at large. As we navigate the vast impact that COVID-19 has had on our everyday lives, it is hard to know how many of these changes are here long term. One thing that we know for sure is that healthy living, from the individual level to an entire building, is a trend that will continue to gain traction during and after this pandemic.

International WELL Building Institute President Rachel Gutter stated, “As we move into this stage of recovery, we need to recognize which changes will be critical for increasing our resilience at home, at work and across our communities. In the midst of this pandemic, a space is only as safe as the people inside are interacting with it and with one another; public health is everyone’s responsibility and each of us has a role to play.”

It is up to designers and builders/developers to seize this opportunity and create positive change in the built environment by executing green strategies to improve overall health.

The WELL Building Standard was established to promote the mental and physical health of humans in the spaces they inhabit. Guidelines provided by the International WELL Building Institute™
(IWBI™) can guide us through this pandemic and assist in understanding what we can do to minimize the impact of illnesses in the future.

An easy place to start is with air quality and occupant comfort. Studies have shown that increasing the ventilation in a building and ensuring the minimum amount of outdoor air that is introduced can reduce the spread of illnesses such as influenza. Without the proper systems in place, viruses such as COVID-19 may be able to survive longer. As designers, we can increase the quality of our ventilation systems by adding in more outdoor air. Adding as many operable windows as possible can help achieve this. The installation of ultraviolet air treatment in forced-air and non-forced air-cooling systems can destroy bacteria that may be present within the system. This helps prevent the growth of microbes and mold. WELL Features A03, A06, A07, A12, A14 help address these factors.

During a time when spreading illness is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, limiting the number of surfaces people interact with is key. Using touchless fixtures in common spaces is important to help
stop the spread of pathogens. The WELL Feature W08 addresses the importance of handwashing in maintaining overall health. WELL also suggests the use of paper towels over hand dryers as a more effective way to remove bacteria from the hands. An article by the National Center for Biotechnology (NCBI) claims, “Most studies suggest that paper towels can dry hands efficiently, remove bacteria effectively, and cause less contamination of the washroom environment. From a hygiene viewpoint, paper towels are superior to electric air dryers.” It is also important to maintain effective cleaning measures for the sink and the soap dispenser. Well Feature X09 details the proper cleaning regimen for these types of spaces.

With more people working from home and home becoming the catch-all for our daily needs, lighting is more important than ever. Access to natural daylight is one of the key factors in producing happy, productive building occupants. It also helps maintain a healthy circadian system. The disruption of circadian rhythms has been associated with health problems such as metabolic diseases, depression, and some types of cancer. Designers can impact the quality and success of a space by creating access to natural light. WELL Feature L03 discusses the use of circadian lighting and the positive impacts it can have on the human body.

The health of a building greatly impacts the health of the occupant. It can affect both the mental and physical needs of the people that live and work in the space. It is important for designers to study these effects and lead the effort in creating healthy spaces that positively affect their users. By pushing beyond requirements and following the guidelines of the WELL Building Standard, we can improve health and mitigate the spread of a deadly virus such as COVID-19 through factors such as air quality and occupant comfort, limiting interaction with surfaces and increasing cleaning protocols, as well as adjusting lighting to increase occupant comfort. Builders and developers will also see the benefit of creating healthy buildings as it continues to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind and will help distinguish their product in the marketplace. It is up to designers and builders/developers to seize this opportunity and create positive change in the built environment by executing green strategies to improve overall health.

Sarah Hunter AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a Director, Design at KTGY Architecture + Planning with offices in Irvine, Los Angeles, Oakland, California, Denver, Chicago and Tysons, Virginia. Sarah can be reached at shunter@ktgy.com.