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3 ways smart sensors can help you achieve WELL certification

For some time now, the hottest topic in buildings and facilities management has been sustainability: the need to create energy-efficient, low-impact spaces. Now, the focus is shifting. New standards and certifications are asking us to consider not just the impact of our buildings on the environment, but also the effect they have on the people who inhabit them.

Given that we spend over 90% of our time indoors the built environment has a huge influence on our health, wellbeing and comfort. According to the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), ‘our physical environment impacts our health more than lifestyle, medical care and genetics’. And since many people spend most of their waking hours at work, employers are coming under increasing pressure to invest in their people’s physical and mental wellbeing.

The WELL Building Standard was launched in October 2014 by the IWBI and is the first standard of its kind to focus on the health and wellness of its occupants. The first iteration is made up of seven different categories, or ‘well concepts’: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. For each category, the project must meet a series of mandatory conditions to achieve certification. You can also go one better by meeting optional requirements that lead to higher levels of certification.

WELL: Healthier people through better buildings | Source

While some of the requirements rely on an optimised building design, or the provision of extra facilities like employee gyms and kitchens, others depend on being able to maintain comfortable and safe working conditions. With that in mind, here are three ways smart sensor technology can help you look after your employees and work towards the standard.

1. Monitoring and maintaining air quality

According to the IWBI, air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature mortality, contributing to one in eight premature deaths worldwide. Air is generally of poorer quality indoors, so inadequate ventilation can lead to a concentration of pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon dioxide (CO2). And it’s not just our health that can suffer – productivity can be impacted too. High CO2 levels have been shown to reduce concentration, attention span and memory.

By detecting and monitoring CO2 levels in your building, you can meet several of the requirements within the WELL Building Standard’s Air category. You can see air quality standards and measure the effectiveness of ventilation.

By using the data collected to automate smart controls, you can even fulfil some of the requirements needed to achieve higher levels of certification. At Jones Lang LaSalle’s Shanghai office, a base HVAC already kept air quality high. However, to meet the higher target required for platinum-level certification, JLL used sensors to control a second, independent air filtration system that would maintain air quality in more challenging weather conditions. During the days when the base building system ensures sufficient air quality, the system automatically turns off.

At the New South Wales headquarters of Mirvac, an Australian property company, a smart system are used to achieve Feature 18: Air Quality Monitoring and Feedback. Sensors are used to monitor a number of environmental factors, including thermal comfort and indoor air quality. The data is then displayed to staff and visitors on a number of interactive screens throughout the space.

2. Maintaining optimal light conditions

Light conditions can also affect productivity at work, and not just because low light makes things harder to see. As the WELL Building Standard site explains, light is one of the main drivers of our internal body clock, or circadian system. This system regulates bodily rhythms, hormone levels and the sleep-wake cycle. In other words, low light can throw your body clock and cause you to feel sleepy.

The WELL Building Standard guidelines are designed to minimise disruption to the body’s circadian system, enhance productivity, support good sleep quality and ensure good vision to minimise eyestrain and headaches.

To comply with Feature 60: Automated Shading and Dimming Controls, the IWBI recommends that features such as blinds and dimmer switches be managed to automatically adjust to ensure optimum comfort levels and light conditions. Occupancy sensors can be used to automatically dim or switch lights off when an area is unoccupied – but also to ensure adequate lighting for rooms or areas that are in use.

3. Maintaining thermal comfort

Temperature is another factor that impacts building occupants’ health and productivity. In the WELL Building Standard’s comfort category, thermal comfort sits alongside sound, ergonomics and smell, with the aim of creating distraction-free, productive and comfortable indoor environments.

Unsurprisingly, both high and low temperatures cause people to be less focused on work. In fact, a 2004 study found that people were more productive (and made fewer spelling errors) when their working environment was warm enough.
Again, use of a smart-building system can help you to maintain a comfortable environment by monitoring temperature and automating heating or ventilation controls based on live conditions.

While new building standards bring more considerations for facilities managers, new technologies mean it’s never been easier to monitor and control the indoor environment. For a relatively small outlay, you can improve people’s comfort and productivity. Whether you’re working towards WELL Building Standard certification or not, that’s a huge benefit.


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