Global expert talks to TDIndustries about facility health recommendations, WELL Building Standard
With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic firmly entrenched in our minds, many employees and customers are a little more wary about entering a place of business. Does the company practice social distancing? Is the building healthy for them to return? Are there plans for additional upgrades, or a new building?
Americans are likely to take these lessons with them long after the virus comes under control. Since 2014, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) has delivered standards to improve health and well-being in our offices. Companies that follow these suggestions will have a large advantage on retention, customer acceptance, and employee health.
TDIndustries (TD) sat down with Nathan Stodola, Chief Engineer at IWBI and asked him about their standards, and what owners should expect in this new normal:
TD: What is the WELL Building Standard, and how does it help create healthy work environments?
WELL: The WELL Building Standard (WELL) is the leading global rating system and the first to be focused exclusively on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve our comfort, drive better choices, and generally enhance, not compromise, health and wellness. WELL provides a framework for organizations seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness through design, operations and policy decisions.
TD: Based on what we know now on highly infectious diseases and airborne transmission, will the WELL building standard be making any changes centered around mitigation of possible future outbreaks? Do any features now help address this issue?
WELL: In March, we brought together industry experts by creating the IWBI Task Force on COVID-19 to determine what changes, if any, should be implemented to the WELL standard. Much of the feedback we received showed us the extent that WELL already addressed many relevant strategies, though we did make 20 changes in seven of the 10 concepts. One of the additions we made to Air has to do with avoiding potentially contaminated recirculated air. Previously, WELL included features related particle filtration of outdoor air and UVGI treatment on cooling coils (to manage mold growth), but the only treatment specific to recirculated air was carbon filters to deal with Volatile Organic Compounds.
TD: How would the features in the WELL Building Standard equip buildings to manage occupancy changes with most people were working from home?
WELL: Another change that resulted from the Task Force was allowing classes and courses to take place virtually rather than only in-person. This allows the programs to maintain their engagement, even as people travel only for essential services.
TD: Many technologies which claim to have air quality benefits (bipolar ionization, photocatalytic oxidation, etc.) have come to public attention in an effort to make buildings safer for occupants. How does the WELL Building standard address the use of emerging technologies?
WELL: It is important for designers to fully understand every technology used in their buildings. Even non-emerging technologies such as air filters can disrupt a ventilation system that is not designed to accommodate them. For novel technologies, it is important to be sure that they don’t produce unhealthy byproducts and that they are robust enough to operate in “real world” conditions.
TD: Many companies cannot afford to make major capital expenditures for what may only be a two-year problem. How do your standards address the long-term health of employees, customers, and the business itself?
WELL: What’s unique about WELL is that we’ve tried to think about all of the different ways buildings and organizations can influence health. When we get out of the immediacy of responding to COVID-19, we will need to think about the longer-term necessities and implications, such as mental health support and preparedness planning. WELL looks at both design features but also policies and cultures that can be implemented immediately and evolve over time. In addition, while some countermeasures for COVID-19 are unique to the pandemic and likely short-term, most strategies promoted in WELL are “evergreen” and will continue to be beneficial even after the current crisis. For example, increasing ventilation rates is not only a way to expel virus-containing particles, but also reduces the likelihood of sick building syndrome.
TD: Plumbing fixtures and water flow are also parts of your standard. Why should businesses be worried about this?
WELL: Many buildings have undergone reduced occupancy (or even complete closure) as a result of COVID-19. One result of this is that the water within moves more slowly than usual (if at all). Letting water get old can have serious repercussions due to chemical and biological factors. Because drinking water pipes are never sterile, municipalities add disinfectant to water to prevent pathogens’ spread.
The disinfectant – usually chlorine - travels with the water, preventing microbial growth from the treatment plant to the user. Because of reactions with pipe materials, other chemicals, natural organic matter and microorganisms, chlorine concentration in water decays with time.
If the water becomes too old, all chlorine may decay, potentially allowing pockets of bacteria attached inside pipes and fixtures (biofilms) to grow.
There’s solid evidence that water age increases the diversity and concentration of bacteria in drinking water pipes and raises the potential for some waterborne pathogens to develop. In addition, stagnation of hot water with no disinfectant inside fixtures and pipes may create a niche for Legionella, the bacteria responsible for Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever.
To learn more about the WELL Building standard, visit www.wellcertified.com.
Chief Engineer Nathan Stodola develops the IWBI WELL Building Standard, leads educational efforts, and WELL AP credential program.
TDIndustries is a premier facilities services and mechanical construction company. Founded in 1946, we are well-positioned to exceed customers’ expectations on any project regardless of size, complexity, within budget and on time.
© 2023 TDIndustries. All rights reserved.