WELL Performance Rating: Making Health Central to Building Performance

New WELL rating is fueling new opportunities to drive health performance in homes

By Jason Hartke

When we talk about building performance, historically we’ve been referring to how a home performs on environmental indicators, and, even more specifically, on energy. However, with the advent of smart building technology and its ever-increasing capability and sophistication, understanding and assessing building performance in the context of human health and well-being is now a burgeoning area of possibility. Indeed, a new era of smart and healthy buildings is here.

This capability to more seamlessly track, assess and improve health performance in our homes couldn’t come at a more important time. Two years into a pandemic and the world is distinctly aware of the critical role buildings can play to both protect and enhance our health. We spend roughly 90% of our lives indoors, which further underscores the imperative to quickly unlock the use of these new technologies to drive health outcomes. 

Last year, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) set out to do just that – make health central to building performance.

“The industry has done a great job of capturing environmental building performance metrics on site – energy and water use, for example – but we need to be able to marry these eco-friendly indicators with health performance metrics to enable balanced choices about the health of planet and the health of people,” said Rachel Hodgdon, president and CEO of IWBI, when announcing last summer efforts to develop the WELL Performance Rating in collaboration with smart building leaders.

A Rating to Meet the Moment

This past April, IWBI introduced the WELL Performance Rating, a new rating that recognizes building owners and operators for achieving excellence in healthy building performance aimed to enhance the well-being and experience of the people inside. In short, the rating provides a roadmap for homebuilders to demonstrate excellence in occupant experience and building performance across key indoor environmental quality (IEQ) indicators related to air quality, water quality, thermal comfort, acoustics and lighting. 

“Thanks to the contributions of our collaborators from across the globe, the rating will connect building performance with the experience of the people inside, allowing organizations to make actionable what was once invisible through data and occupant insights,” said Hodgdon.

During the rating’s development process, top players in the industry united around a common set of performance thresholds for healthy homes as well as best practices for continuous monitoring through the installation of sensor networks to advance human health and experience.

“There is new urgency in how we shape, guide and foster advancements in building performance to better align with the science of supporting human health,” said Liam Bates, Co-Founder and CEO of Kaiterra. “Through this collaborative launch of the WELL Performance Rating, we are doubling down on that promise of actionable, evidence-based solutions to drive continuous improvement across the key health metrics that help enhance productivity, increase comfort and support well-being.”

Early Adopters are Stepping Up

At the rating’s launch, several companies adopted the WELL Performance Rating to guide their smart buildings and their clients to achieve desired health and well-being outcomes. Not surprisingly, early adopters are companies who have been on the forefront of smart building technologies with a history of commitment to people’s health and well-being through technologies. 

“Based on research we’ve conducted, people want viable evidence that the buildings they use every day for work, school or care are healthier and use technology that helps to foster their well-being,” said Manish Sharma, vice president and general manager of sustainable buildings, Honeywell Building Technologies. “Our priority is to deliver an unmatched occupant experience to support the well-being of our employees and guests while also being conscious of our environmental impact.” 

Other companies are doing the same. “The WELL Performance Rating aligns with Cyclone’s airPLAN service which enables our team and occupants to continuously monitor key metrics of indoor air quality,” said Sumayyah Theron, Director of Sustainability, Cyclone Energy Group, acknowledging how Cyclone’s smart building technologies can help measure requirements of the WELL Performance Rating.

Clearly, our thinking about building performance is shifting in the right direction, a confluence in how our buildings can perform for human health and the environment. Looking ahead, building performance will be all about moving ambitiously on both fronts, so we can win on the environment and how our buildings support healthier, happier and more productive people. 

Jason Hartke is Executive Vice President at the International WELL Building Institute.