Long Awaited Residential Wellness Design Standard Rolls Out


You know that feeling of relief, pride and happiness that envelopes you when you get a clean bill of health? Now your home can get one too. The International WELL Building Institute, known for the WELL certifications used by more than 25,000 design and construction professionals for close to 10 years, has just finalized and rolled out its WELL for residential certification. It’s been two years in the making.

Twenty-five pilot participants have committed to implementing WELL for residential across nearly 30,000 residences in both single-family-home and multifamily communities, the announcement shares. The projects span 10 countries, including the United States, Canada, China, Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Spain, Montenegro and the Netherlands.

WELL Concept

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen an unprecedented level of demand for healthier homes,” shared IWBI president Rachel Hodgdon in an email interview. “We set out to fundamentally shift the standard of design for all different types of residences, for market-rate single family homes as well as for multi-family buildings, to be far healthier and more conducive to our well-being.”

The goal was to create a flexible roadmap for healthier homes that could be used by architects, designers, engineers, developers, home builders, homeowners and tenants. It would be a tool for credentialed WELL AP practitioners and a seal of approval for the individuals who’d live in the residences they design.

WELL for Residential

This would not be a scaled-down version of the organization’s respected commercial program. “Homes are not tiny commercial buildings,” Hodgdon declared. “While there are shared goals, she added, the pathways to achieving them are quite different. “We wanted to create a system that would speak specifically to living environments.” She cited sleep as one major example, with the residential WELL standard encompassing acoustics, air quality and lighting to enhance this health essential.

“Both the WELL Building Standard and WELL for residential program focus on these concepts: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Sound, Thermal Comfort, Materials, Mind and Community,” the IBWI executive noted. Nourishment focuses on how a home’s kitchen and related spaces like kitchen gardens can facilitate healthy meal prep and consumption. “We’ve also created a number of brand-new features within the WELL for residential standard.” She cited a new requirement for quiet appliances.

WELL Advantages

WELL for residential addresses both new builds and existing structures. It can cover construction, design, remodeling and even operation of the property. Hodgdon is using a home she’s building for her multi-generational family as a pilot. “We brought on a WELL AP as a member of our design team, someone the architects and builders could rely on to supplement their knowledge and expertise.” Explaining why, she cautioned, “If you don’t have an experienced and knowledgeable professional working on your healthy home project, you’re going to pay significantly for their learning curve.”

With all that we’ve learned in recent years about the surprising impacts of noise on our health, as well as the dangers of indoor air pollution and contaminated tap water, such expertise can have a significant impact on resident health. Homebuyers are extremely aware of these issues now, and seeking healthier homes in their searches. Homeowners are also looking to make changes for healthier outcomes.

WELL and Real Estate

When asked if WELL enhances a property’s value to real estate agents and buyers, Hogdon responded this way: “We don’t just think so – we know so. We’ve seen through the adoption of WELL in multifamily buildings that they not only have higher rents or are sold at a premium, but that there is also higher demand for those units.” She also cited an MIT study showing that rents for WELL-certified buildings ranged from 4.4% and 7.7% more per square foot than non-certified peers. “We anticipate that we’ll see similar, if not stronger, value associated with WELL homes,” she predicted.

San Diego area residential real estate agent and chairman of the City of Chula Vista’s Sustainability Commission Christos Korgan agreed: “Buyers are looking for wellness indicators without even realizing that they’re doing it,” he shared in an email. This cuts across age groups, from young parents buying their first home to retirees downsizing into condos, he noted, and exceeds the levels at which they prioritize sustainability. “People don’t express care or concern for LEED, [a respected sustainability certification] but are inadvertently pursuing wellness measures when choosing their home purchases.” In many sunbelt communities like San Diego, that includes prioritizing outdoor living space, ample natural light and nearby recreational opportunities.

WELL and Home Values

Ted Caplow, principal of Miami-based Caplow Manzano, has been designing and building wellness-designed homes since 2017. He was one of the WELL for residential pilot participants. Though experienced in wellness design, Caplow did find that the WELL program added some new ideas, and he sees value in offering buyers a health certificate for their new homes. “Seeing the WELL mark next to our designs will, we believe, meet people’s minimum expectations when a home is touted as healthier than the norm, just as a LEED mark is expected of a green building.” His firm is certified in both.

“When compared to LEED, we feel that WELL offers a greater inherent alignment between the buyer’s interests and the values of the standard.” He anticipates that WELL could add approximately 5% to the home’s $2 million price tag and will exceed its certification cost. “A healthy home environment is a high and ongoing priority for most homeowners. In South Florida, it is common to fear that older, deteriorating homes are harboring mold and allergens, stressing the occupants both physically and mentally.”

Dayson Johnson, chief development officer for Utah-based Magleby Development, is another WELL for residential pilot participant. “Velvære felt like the perfect place to pilot the certification,” he wrote. “It improves upon our water and air, affecting all the materials we select for the home to ensure less VOCs in the home from new products in a closed environment,” he added.

Johnson too is expecting a return on his certification investment, but it wasn’t a motivating factor in participating, he said. “We see WELL as a differentiator and something that is currently perceived as an emerging need, but will soon be in high demand and seen as a must in the luxury real estate space.”

WELL and Interiors

Northern New Jersey interior designer Marina Umali used some quiet time during the pandemic to add to her credentials with a WELL AP designation. Even though she primarily works on residential projects, she saw the previously commercial-only program’s concepts as valuable for her knowledge base; the addition of the residential component makes it even more so. “I think it’s a great opportunity to provide my clients with information that has research to back it up,” she wrote. She too sees a growing demand in healthy home features among residential clients. Interior design is not just about aesthetics, but also about health, she commented.


“Health begins at home,” IWBI’s Hodgon advised. “Every homeowner, homebuyer or tenant should be educated so that they can be informed about what questions to ask, what type of products to select and how to operate and maintain their homes to support their healthiest, best life.”


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