Craig’s Lighting Articles, Light + Health

WELL Building Standard Explained

Below is my contribution to the September issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED. Reprinted with permission.

Based on research suggesting a correlation between building design and human health and wellness, in 2013 Delos created the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), which launched the WELL Building Standard. As of March 2019, more than 1,500 projects encompassing 315 million sq.ft. in 48 countries have been designed to WELL certification.

The WELL building rating system covers new and existing buildings, new and existing interiors, and core and shell projects. Designers gain a WELL rating for their projects by satisfying prerequisite features and then achieving points via a series of optimization categories, including lighting. Currently, two versions of WELL are available for implementation: WELL 1.0 and WELL 2.0, which launched as a pilot in May 2018.

For the building industry, WELL offers an objective rating system similar to LEED, while focusing on wellness instead of sustainability. For the lighting industry, it provides a roadmap to lighting quality while confirming the correlation between good lighting and human wellness. For electrical distributors, it poses a defined premium lighting market segment with a specific set of prerequisites and incentives.

“WELL-certified spaces may help create a built environment that improves the nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns, and performance of their occupants,” said Michael Jouaneh, CEM, LEED-AP, WELL Faculty, Manager—Sustainability and Energy Standards, Lutron Electronics Co., Inc.. “Light is one of the main WELL concepts, and as such, lighting plays an important role in WELL certification.”

WELL and lighting
WELL 1.0’s lighting category includes specifications covering light output and levels, lighting controls, reflectances, visual comfort, and daylighting. WELL 2.0 simplifies the specifications while providing methods to achieve the given feature. The stated goal is to improve alertness, mood, productivity, and support of healthy circadian rhythms. Note that while LEED and WELL cover similar ground, there are few free rides.

WELL 2.0’s Feature L07, for example, contains two parts addressing electric light quality. First is color (1 point). With the exception of specialized lighting such as decorative and emergency, all electric lighting must have a color rendering index (CRI) rating of 90+; 80+ with an R9 (saturated red) of 50+; or have an IES TM-30 average fidelity rating (Rf) of 78+, average saturation rating of 100+, and a red chroma saturation of -1% ≤ IES Rcs,h1 ≤ 15%, based on recent color preference research.

“Feature L07, Part 1 is the simplest to achieve with its straightforward metrics and thresholds that define an acceptable color rendering quality,” said Mark D’Ambrosio, Senior Project Engineer—New Technology Strategy, Focal Point. “To meet the requirements, one must simply select a luminaire that meets the provision.”

The second part of L07 is flicker (1 point). With specialized lighting again exempted, all lighting in regularly occupied spaces must either 1) operate at a frequency of 90+ Hertz at all 10 percent light output intervals from 10 percent up to full light output, or 2) be an LED product with a low risk of flicker of less than 5 percent, especially below 90 Hz operation.

Another example is Feature L04, Part 2 (2 points), which is aimed at reducing direct glare by light sources, and with properly aimed wall washers and decorative lighting being exempted. To achieve these points, the luminaire must either emit 100 percent uplight, have an appropriate unified glare rating for the mounting height, be properly shielded for the luminous intensity, or produce an acceptable level of brightness.

A third is L08, with Part 1 focused on occupant lighting control (1 point) and Part 2 on supplemental lighting. For Part 1, general lighting in regularly occupied spaces must be tunable and automated to satisfy occupant visual and circadian needs, while providing occupants the ability to override automated settings to control light level and color temperature. For Part 2, supplemental task lighting must be made available that can increase light levels to at least twice recommended light levels.

While these features are fairly straightforward and can be satisfied through knowledgeable product selection, the rest are heavily dependent on design. These features focus on provisioning light levels for visual acuity, managing brightness in the space, circadian lighting, and daylighting.

“The WELL Standard takes us one step closer to systems thinking and holistic building design, in that several disciplines are likely to be involved in the design process,” said Chris Bailey, Vice President, Integrated Solutions—Lighting, Hubbell Incorporated. “In any lighting application, no matter how great the product, its effectiveness is almost always dependent on its application. Therefore, lighting equipment selection and lighting design should not be considered disparate work streams; instead, they are interdependent.”

For this reason, he advised distributors not to go it alone. “Find a reputable lighting designer,” Bailey added. “The WELL Standard is very approachable, but there are nuances that need to be considered. Working with a professional lighting designer will go a long way toward interpreting the criteria and reducing it to practice in both new and existing buildings.”

While achieving the right level of design requires a certain amount of expertise, lighting product selection in a WELL project again can be fairly straightforward, with distributors conversant in the standard and its requirements potentially having an advantage in this market segment.

“It can seem daunting and complicated to achieve all the light-related provisions of WELL,” said Jouaneh, “but most of them can be achieved by combining appropriate light fixtures with a lighting control system that can tune and adjust both illuminance and color temperature levels of electric lighting plus control solar glare and daylight with automated window shades. Manufacturers can also provide resources to help navigate WELL with respect to their product solutions.”

“A distributor should begin by addressing the impact of a WELL-certified environment—a positive outcome on one’s health and well-being through design,” D’Ambrosio added. “There should be emphasis placed not only on the benefits for the users of the space but also that of the owner of the facility. Studies have shown employees who feel more comfortable achieve improved productivity, engagement, and retention, reduced absenteeism, and ultimately cost savings.”

Building WELL
With its lighting features addressing visual acuity, glare reduction, color, flexibility, daylight, and circadian health—and with each based on third-party, scientific evidence—WELL offers an achievable platform for implementing quality lighting in buildings.

While adoption is currently low, it poses a growing premium lighting market segment for electrical distributors. Otherwise, its requirements and incentives offer a benchmark for achieving an objective level of lighting quality.

“Designers are finding new ways to enhance spaces and create environments that maximize occupants’ comfort,” said D’Ambrosio. “Now is the time to familiarize yourself with the standards that help to deliver more humancentric environments.”

Distributors interested in learning more about the WELL Building Standard can view its requirements at

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Craig DiLouie


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