Building WELL: Lighting and Health

Published On
Sep 12, 2018

In 2016, the World Green Building Council published a report, “Building the Business Case: Health, Wellbeing, and Productivity in Green Offices,” which identifies eight building features that can have a positive impact on occupants and the bottom line, using 15 case studies as examples.

Delta Development Group’s 12-story global headquarters for Heerema Marine Contractors in the Netherlands, for example, maximizes daylight, air quality and thermal comfort. As a result, Heerema projected a net present value of $47 million in productivity, staff retention and reduced absenteeism, based on a study by KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory service company.

The takeaway is that building design can have a positive impact on the environment, reduce costs, and improve building value and marketability. An even bigger potential economic impact may be realized, however, by improving occupant health and productivity.

Traditionally, buildings designed to be green also aim to optimize occupant satisfaction. If we look at building operating costs per square foot on the 3/30/300 rule of thumb, sustainable design focuses on 3/30 (utility and real estate costs), while occupant health and productivity focuses on the 300 (employee costs). We might also add a 3,000 or some multiplier thereof, this being revenue generated and connected to productivity.

Sustainable construction has been driven by market interest converging around standards such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. Launched in 1998, LEED has grown to include projects in 167 countries and territories, with more than 90,000 projects certified representing more than 19 billion square feet. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, which administers LEED in the United States, LEED-certified buildings generate 34 percent lower carbon dioxide emissions, consume 25 percent less energy and 11 percent less water, and have diverted more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills.

In 2013, LEED v4 launched, covering new construction, commercial interiors, and existing buildings, and with specific requirements for certain applications such as schools, retail and healthcare. This major update included numerous changes involving selection of building systems, including lighting.

Specifically, interior lighting is recognized with two points, one for lighting quality and another for personal control. Additional lighting-related requirements and opportunities for points include power reductions relative to the ASHRAE/IES 90.1 standard, demand response, commissioning and minimizing outdoor light pollution.

While LEED is associated with user- friendly workspaces, its focus is on sustainability. What was missing was a building design standard focused entirely on occupant health and well-being. As a result, in 2013, Delos launched the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), which developed the WELL Building Standard.

Similar to LEED, WELL is a building rating system, covering new and existing buildings, new and existing interiors, and core and shell projects. Designers achieve a WELL rating based on satisfying preconditions and then realizing points through optimization features. It works well with LEED, though its focus again is people instead of systems. In its first three years, more than 120 million square feet of projects in 31 countries were registered or certified through the WELL. In May 2018, the IWBI released the version 2 pilot of the standard.

The WELL standard is based on seven categories, with various features or specifications in each category. One such category is light, including 13 specifications for light output and levels, lighting controls, reflectances, visual comfort, and daylighting. The goal is to improve alertness, mood and productivity while minimizing disruption to the body’s circadian rhythms.

For the color quality feature, a CRI of 80-plus must be specified for all light sources except decorative, emergency and special-purpose. Additionally, the light source must have an R9 of 50-plus. Not captured in CRI, R9 is an additional test color indicating color fidelity for saturated red and how well the light source renders warmer hues.

For the automated dimming and controls feature, there are two main requirements. All windows larger than 6 square feet must have automatic shades that respond to light sensors indicating sunlight could create glare. All lighting (except decorative) must be controlled by continuous dimming controls that respond to daylight levels, and occupancy sensors that automatically dim to 20 percent or off when the zone is unoccupied.

Other features cover circadian lighting, glare reduction, visual acuity, daylighting, surface reflectances, and night lighting, with each requirement based on third-party scientific evidence. If all lighting preconditions and optimization options are satisfied, the result should be a space in which the lighting is highly responsive, promotes circadian response, provides daylight, and maximizes visual acuity and comfort.

As with LEED, WELL compliance can be complicated and go beyond traditional design. Use of circadian lighting metrics and daylight modeling can present an education hurdle. Compliance with this type of rating system typically involves high-level design produced by architects and engineers. ECs may benefit by having some familiarity with the standard and its electrical requirements such as lighting.

To learn more about the WELL Building Standard, visit

Editor’s note: See also Jeff Gavin’s “Take Your Construction Vitamins” (May 2017).

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