Acoustics and WELL-Being: A Closer Look at the WELL Building Standard

Well Building Standard

Acoustics and WELL-Being: A Closer Look at the WELL Building Standard

What makes a building sustainable? In the past, a mix of building design standards sought to provide guidelines for environmental or financial sustainability, whether through energy-efficiency, functional green space, or eco-friendly building materials and practices.

However, if we take a wider view of sustainability, we need to also consider how a building affects its occupants. From that perspective, for a building to be sustainable, it should benefit the environment and, at the same time, support the well-being of occupants.

The WELL Building Standard recognizes this position by providing a standard that considers the sustainability focused triple bottom line framework of social, financial, and environmental concerns. Fitting into the broader assemblage of standards for sustainable building design, such as LEED, BREEAM, and the Living Building Challenge, the WELL Building Standard is gaining popularity due to its focus on human health and wellness.

Here’s an overview of the standard’s vision according to WELL’s promotional brochure: “By placing people at the heart of design, construction, operations, and development decisions, WELL can add value to real estate assets, generate savings in personnel costs, and enhance human health, well-being, and experience.”

At BKL, we are proud to announce that two of our consultants, Forest Borch and Brigette Martin, recently became certified as WELL Accredited Professionals. With a thorough understanding of the WELL Building Standard, we can help our clients understand the synergies and trade-offs when designing for WELL certification.

WELL and Acoustics

How does a WELL building sound? The WELL Building Standard organizes its criteria under the concepts of air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind. A building project scores points for every feature it includes under each concept. When a project scores enough points, it is certified Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Acoustics plays a large role, appearing in both the comfort and mind concepts for a total of 7 of the 100 features including the following:

#74) Exterior Noise Intrusion

WELL states that “prolonged exposure to excessive levels of exterior noise can increase the stress levels of building occupants as well as the risk of health problems.” WELL defines limits to the levels of exterior noise ingress (e.g., traffic, rain, outdoor HVAC equipment) into the building through the building facade.

#75) Internally Generated Noise

The mechanical equipment used to provide ventilation and heating/cooling is often the main source of noise in work spaces. WELL specifies noise criteria depending on the use of each space.

#78) Reverberation Time

The buildup of sound can impact the level of speech intelligibility and the overall noise level within an indoor environment. By specifying the amount of time for sound to decay within a space, WELL intends to increase occupants’ productivity and acoustic comfort within working environments.

#79) Sound Masking

Small speakers producing white noise help mask small disturbing noises and improve the sense of privacy. The level of sound produced by the speakers is specified in WELL.

#80) Sound Reducing Surfaces

To mitigate sound transmission and buildup within a space, WELL specifies percentage areas that are required to meet a minimum noise reduction coefficient (NRC), depending on room use. NRC describes the amount of sound that is absorbed, and ranges from 0 to 1 with 1 indicating absolute acoustical absorption. Typical acoustically absorptive surfaces include acoustic ceiling tile and sound baffles.

#81) Sound Barriers

Sound barriers, including walls, doors, and windows, must provide appropriate levels of sound transmission loss between interior spaces. WELL gets right to the details, specifying door seals and addressing wall penetrations, noise isolation class (NIC) levels, and more. We often find that the majority of our work as acoustical consultants addresses sound transmission loss between spaces—and for good reason! It’s a major problem for workspaces and multi-family dwellings.

#89) Adaptable Spaces

Having dedicated quiet zones to give building occupants a place to rest and recharge during the work day helps the cardiovascular and immune system by mitigating stress and reducing distractions.

Office Space and More

While WELL was initially developed for office projects, it’s relevant to a variety of buildings from schools to residential high-rises. Indeed, WELL is organized into project types, and this accounts for specific considerations that are unique to a particular building type or phase of construction.

The health and well-being of a person is significantly impacted by the acoustical conditions inside a built environment. According to WELL’s brochure, “physical workplace is one of the top three factors affecting performance and job satisfaction.”

When it comes to improving an acoustical environment, it is not always a simple matter of designing background noise levels to be as quiet as possible. Speech privacy and the ability to concentrate require a thoughtful approach to building services, masking levels, and separating partitions.

Our firm has over five decades of experience working on architectural projects, and has consulted on countless commercial spaces and open plan offices. We believe that sustainability in design includes an ear for acoustics, and have been touting the health benefits of good acoustical design for a long time. At BKL, we are positioned to guide any project toward achieving WELL certification. Our acousticians can work with your design team from the initial stages to help meet acoustical requirements and improve the health and well-being of building occupants. Contact us today to learn more.


Written by Forest Borch and Brigette Martin

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