Finding the products you need to achieve WELL certification

Nadav Malin

The WELL Building Standard doesn’t have a materials category, but finding the right products is essential for certification. 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 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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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 it 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, such as avoiding synthetic polyurethane coatings for interior finishes. There is a loophole for the flame-retardants ban, however—if local codes require it, then you’re off the hook.
  3. 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?)
  4. 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.

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