Ventilation and Wellbeing

What is Wellbeing?

Depending on which organisation or individual you ask, the definition of wellbeing can change dramatically. Put simply, wellbeing is creating a green, healthy atmosphere where employers think both about the building’s impact on the environment, and its impact on the occupants and their health.

The World Green Building Council (WGBC) has presented its report: Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices (2017) as a business case towards green building and wellbeing. It defines ‘Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)’, ‘Thermal Comfort’, ‘Daylighting & Lighting’, and ‘Noise & Acoustics’ (to name a few) as key defining factors when creating an atmosphere of wellbeing.

Stale, carbon dioxide-laden air causes tiredness. Add dim or harsh artificial lighting, which strains the eyes and causes headaches, and this environment starts to impact on productivity and even health – this is before even mentioning ‘Thermal Comfort’, ‘Noise & Acoustics’ or any of the other points that the WGBC considers to be factors of wellbeing.

Currently the UK government has a range of policies regarding wellbeing in terms of personal health, as well as regulations on building emissions; however, due to the subjective nature of wellbeing in construction, many of the topics from the WGBC report can only act as guidelines rather than strict rules and regulations. This means that businesses have to make moral choices as to the wellbeing quality of their buildings, rather than regulations dictating that they have to.

The WELL Standard

With similar principles to those outlined in the WBGC report, the International WELL Building Institute has its own certification that businesses can achieve based on a set criterion. The WELL Standard defines its WELL concepts as: ‘Air’, ‘Water’, ‘Nourishment’, ‘Light’, ‘Fitness’, ‘Comfort’, ‘Mind’ and ‘Innovation’. The Standard is designed as a platinum certification based on industry scientific research that prioritises health. It is based on performance, and requires a pass score in each of the eight concepts.

Certification is awarded at one of three levels: Silver, Gold or Platinum, and allows businesses to present the fact that they are putting people first. It is the world's first building standard focused exclusively on human health and wellness, and so far encompasses 847 projects, over 157 million square feet, across 33 countries.

Ventilation and the WELL Standard

Focusing on the ‘Air’ aspect of the WELL concepts, the Standard states:alt text

“concentrations of some pollution indicators can be 2-5 times higher indoors compared to outdoors…polluted air is the number one environmental cause of premature mortality worldwide.”

The Standard promotes adequate ventilation to achieve a higher standard of IAQ, thus improving overall wellbeing. WELL describes how difficult testing for every potential air pollutant would be, so uses carbon dioxide, which is easy to detect, as a proxy for other air quality pollutants.

For a building with demand controlled ventilation, the WELL Standard states that carbon dioxide levels in a space must be below 800ppm. WELL advises using CO2 sensors to continuously monitor carbon dioxide levels and adjust ventilation rates accordingly.

Nuaire’s example strategy: utilising a mechanical ventilation unit with a built-in Ecosmart control package allows the installer to commission the trickle, boost and run-on parameters of the unit. Using an ES-CO2 sensor, which boosts the fan speed if the space has a high level of carbon dioxide, the project can meet exact demand ventilation requirements. The unit eventually returns to the trickle rate or standby once the CO2 has finally decreased to an acceptable level, so no unnecessary energy is wasted.

Up to 32 components can be fitted to one Ecosmart system. This means other parameters can factor into the ventilation demand. For example, an ES-TEMP2 can monitor the temperature levels in the room and adjust the unit speed accordingly; therefore improving thermal comfort and achieving required wellbeing levels for occupants. Complete control over a space is very important to not only achieving but also maintaining a high level of wellbeing.

Ventilation fits primarily into the ‘Air’ WELL concept; however, it can be argued that indoor air quality is also an important factor when it comes to ‘Comfort’. The WELL Standard breaks ‘Comfort’ down into several sub-categories – noise, including internally and externally generated sound, and thermal comfort and control; all important factors.

Concentrating on noise firstly, there is evidence to suggest that intrusive levels of noise, whether generated from the building itself or the occupants, can affect a worker’s mood, stress levels and ability to retain vital information. All mechanical objects, especially those with moving components, produce noise, so when constructing a WELL Standard building, a consultant needs to consider the technology being used to increase wellbeing throughout the project, and the balance between the noise levels produced from these technologies.

Nuaire’s example strategy: to achieve minimal sound levels projects should choose ventilation systems designed with sound in mind. Nuaire’s Aire-Volve units were designed for noise-sensitive projects. The AV range consists of double-skinned units, with internal baffling and matched-silencers available to minimise the noise levels produced by the system. These units come with Ecosmart speed controls as standard, which will also assist in reducing noise, as the fan can be commissioned to the correct speed, rather than being pushed to its maximum - this will reduce the motor RPM and therefore the overall noise level of the fan.

The other primary ‘Comfort’ factor that ventilation can play a large role in affecting is thermal comfort. ‘Ventilated Thermal Comfort’ is Part 1 of the ‘Thermal Comfort’ section within the WELL concepts, and states that all mechanically-ventilated spaces must meet the specific criterion as per the ASHRAE Standard. This standard bases the thermal comfort acceptability of a space on various factors, including: ‘outdoor temperature’, ’indoor conditions’, ‘metabolism rates’, and ‘clothing’. As an example figure: when the prevailing mean outdoor air temperature is 15 °C, the internal temperature must be between ≈ 20 and 25°c, with acceptability limits of 80% either side.

When a specified level of ventilation is required, this can often result in a large amount of the warm air generated by the building being discharged outside– this loss of energy can result in unpredictable heat levels, not to mention an inefficient building.

Nuaire’s example strategy: for efficient, well-ventilated spaces, with minimal heat loss, heat recovery is highly recommended – specifically, the XBC range of units. Heat recovery allows heat generated from the space to be recycled back into the building, and in the case of XBC units, with an efficiency rate of up to 95%. Compared to natural ventilation, or even mechanical extract ventilation, heat recovery is the superior option as it can consistently recycle heat throughout the building, allowing the building to reduce its emissions, whilst maintaining thermal comfort and therefore wellbeing.

The WELL process for certification is strict to keep the quality of the Standard high - companies are even forced to recertify after three years when their certification expires. This type of consultancy is fairly new to the industry, however with green building and wellbeing becoming progressively important; it may prove to be the next direction the construction industry needs to take.

Is It Worth It?

Investing in high quality ventilation; buildings with lots of natural light; using an intuitive BMS system – it all comes with a large upfront cost. Because of this, many companies decide the initial investment isn’t worth it, as they simply can’t quantify the return on investment; however, there is sufficient evidence to say that improving these conditions can increase productivity considerably.

A study was completed in 2017 by Harvard and Syracuse Universities on the correlation between indoor air quality and productivity. Office environments were simulated with varying levels of ventilation and carbon dioxide, with results showing that employees who were put in a well-ventilated space performed 61% better on cognitive tasks than those who were exposed to levels of carbon dioxide. Not only this, but their performance increased by 100% compared to their normal daily activity. This suggests that investing in a high quality, greener workspace with a high standard of wellbeing is not only good for the occupants, but also for the company


Wellbeing is becoming increasingly important in modern day society as companies begin to think inward and consider not only how buildings affect the environment but also how they affect employees and customers.

Contact us on 02920 858200 or if you would like to discuss ways of improving wellbeing in an upcoming development.